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September 5, 2021

I am a living symbol of today’s gospel.  All week I’ve been on an antibiotic fighting a cold and, like the man in today’s scripture, I’m asking God to heal me.  I also symbolize people grateful for blessings—as the MSU Spartans began their season with a victory.  And that’s the way it is each week.  We come to the altar with illnesses of body or spirit, and gratitude—each of us asking God for help.  Today’s readings are both consoling and challenging—as scripture always is.

Isaiah, for example, speaks of us being blind, deaf, and hungry—and that God will unseal our ears, give us new eyes to see, and satisfy our varied hungers.  That is the vision of what can be—in contrast to what IS the scene so often in our lives.  We are being called to a greater vision of who we can be—instead of remaining who we’ve settled for.

The Letter of James continues what it started last week—and is very concrete in calling our attention to social situations.  Namely, we interact with people who are good-looking, in positions of power, and who look just like members of my family—but so often we’re off-putting toward others (avoid them or even belittle them). 

This passage reminds me of a Cree Indian woman from Hudson’s Bay who told me about life on her “reserve” (what Canadiens say instead of “reservation”).  She said the government agent there paid no attention to an old man who sat at the door of their meeting hall—probably thinking that old man was a nobody.  He didn’t know that the old man was our leader. 

That incident from Cree country brought to mind my not wearing clerics (clerical collar) except for certain occasions (otherwise, I appear in secular clothes).  I intentionally seek interaction with people as a “neutral” person undefined by a status.  I’ve also never referred to myself as “Professor” or “Doctor” in dealing with the public.  The Letter of James—and the gospel as a whole—calls us to break down barriers that separate us from one another.

Today’s gospel presents Jesus “spitting” and somehow healing a deaf-mute by touching and saying “be open” to the man.  This scene would not be all that uncommon in the first-century world of the bible.  Healers used such things as spittle and touching to bring about cures.  Early Romans and Greeks had the custom of spitting toward someone who is thought to be the source of an “evil eye” (a curse).

The gospel might have a metaphorical meaning, too.  That is, maybe the person needs to “be open” to, or be able to listen to, or see, change that needs to take place (instead of carrying on as they have).  Jesus might be asking and showing I need to be more open than I’ve been—more universal in my outlook instead of being so parochial, or close-minded.

This topic dovetails with what the prophets of old encountered—“stiff-necked” people who would not change, and not listen to what the prophets said.  And this is a topic which anyone in pastoral ministry confronts on a very personal level—a rabbi, a priest, or clergyperson from any denomination.

All clergy have the challenge of speaking scripture’s truth—just as the prophets did.  But what happens if what they say (i.e., what the bible says) goes AGAINST what people in the congregation think?  The rabbi, priest, or clergy woman or man is confronted with “I have to live in this community—and if I suggest that people are not thinking as the bible instructs—my family (wife/husband/children) will be without an income.” 

So the temptation for someone in pastoral work is to not say anything that will make their congregation think about things in new ways.  Don’t say anything that’ll upset anyone, but instead just offer pious and patriotic affirmations at prayer meetings and church gatherings.  As today’s scripture reports, we are blind and deaf to God’s word—and when Jesus tells us to “be open” to change, it’s easy to resist.  “Thank you, Jesus, but no!  I have all the truth.  Who better to lead the blind than the blind!!”

People say they can do without churchgoing by saying they are good people and that they talk to God on their own time.  But withdrawal from one’s communal, social identity as a Christian/Catholic cuts them off from input their faith calls them to consider.  Not hearing what their Church is saying about different issues, these persons are lessening the impact of the gospel on earth.  For example, they won’t know about the annual Labor Day statement put out by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Last week, the Letter of James reminded us that if our faith consists only of wishing others well–but doing nothing to improve their condition—that’s not much faith.   Which is why I think our collection of $2800 for Haiti was really beautiful.  How many non-churchgoers sent donations to Haiti?  How many even heard of the problems in Haiti?  THIS is an example of locking horns with current issues as a faith-community (and not assuming you know all there is to know about the issue).

The bishops’ letter is an example of how our identity as Catholics is more than a private affair just between “me and God.”  People who aren’t part of our faith community don’t have access to the reflections and guidance offered by top-notch theologians from around the world calling us to greater discipleship.  Do non-churchgoers think of what the bishops have offered us for reflection?  Here are some quotes from their document—our challenge being to help the faces behind the statistics:

There is a grotesque inequality of billions of people facing extreme poverty while the richest one percent own half of the world’s financial wealth.

 47% of adults experienced employment income loss from 3/20 to Feb 2021.

 Women accounted for more than half of the job losses [yet they are less than half the work force].

 42 million people in the United States experienced food insecurity this year, including 13 million children [roughly 1 in every 8 people].

 43,000 minor children in the U.S. have lost a parent as a result of Covid.

 We sometimes justify our indifference to the poor by looking the other way and living our lives as if these people simply do not exist. Not only are our actions insufficient, but our sight as well, when we ignore the poor and do not allow their pleas to touch our hearts.

All of these speak to priorities of the Gospel and the principles of the church’s social doctrine.

 The “present ills of our economy” invite Catholics to reflect on ways to propose new and creative responses to vital human needs . . . an economy that works for all of God’s children.”

 The answer to economic inequality lies in engaging in politics for “proactive policies centered on the common good.”

 As a faith community, we can ask God here at mass to open our ears so that we hear his word afresh—and not assume we have all the answers.  In prayer we can ask God to open us up to the conversion of heart we need to experience on issues of our day.

Communion Reflection

The past 2 weeks, I’ve referred to Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.  Being a military man, he saw the world as one big battlefield—and we have chosen to fight under the banner of Christ or the banner of Satan.  Here is a prayerful reflection on this theme:

Nurturing the Life of Prayer

My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar,

Nor a confession of love.

Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman:

Give me and I shall give you.

 

My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general:

This is what I did today,

This is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector;

These are the obstacles I found,

This is how I plan to fight tomorrow.

 

My God and I are horsemen

Galloping in the burning sun or under a drizzling rain.

Paled, starving, but unsubdued, We ride and converse.

“Leader,” I cry.

He turns his face towards me.

And I shudder to confront his anguish.

Our love for each other is rough and ready;

We sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.

Thank you, Lord, for calling us together in this low tavern of John the 23rd parish.

 

August 29, 2021

As the gospel points out today, the Pharisees had many, many rules and regulations they insisted people observe.  In today’s passage, they accuse Jesus and his followers of not following purification rules.

Whenever I read this passage, I’m taken back to the Jesuit novitiate and I was living at Flint St. Joseph’s hospital on what we called a “hospital probation.”  We worked as an orderly 15 hours a day—having a room on the maternity ward.  A complete bed-care patient was hanging onto life as his body deteriorated and his mind remaining sharp.  He was a joy to converse with, and one of his only pleasures was to smoke.  We would hold the cigarette for him since he was paralyzed.

Asking me one day to light up for him, I was presented with a moral dilemma. Our superior pretty much elevated “no smoking” to be the 11th commandment from God (and so I told my patient that I couldn’t light up for him).  He apologized for asking—saying he forgot about the rule.  I finished my visit and went to my room.  During my prayer period, it occurred to me that I had been a Pharisee.  I went to the patient’s room, lit a cigarette for him, held it when he wanted a puff, and had a nice visit.  He died a week later.

All religions present rules to live by, and the challenge is for one to observe the “spirit” if not the “letter” of the law.  Islam, for example, has members pray 5 times a day and wash each time.  If no water is near, they can “wash” via gesture with sand (the Middle East providing much sand).  The letter isn’t observed but at some point someone found a compromise of “sort of” washing by using sand.   A Jewish friend of mine, whose son is a rabbi, thinks nothing of violating the prohibition against eating pork—and will have a ham sandwich for lunch.  His position is that times have changed and religion needs to adapt to changing times.

Many moons ago I would be a sub at masses throughout Michigan and did one in the Irish Hills (the Adrian area).  I did the mass as I do masses here, and people visited with me afterward asking if I could come again.  They were very affirming when all of a sudden an older man pushed his way through the crowd—and angrily chastised me for saying mass in a way that differed from what he thought mass should be (at homily time I moved about in front of the altar when speaking to people).  The man’s behavior was scary.  I thanked him for his input and was eager to leave the place (all sorts of parishioners apologized for his behavior as I left the premises).

The man’s memory haunted me over the next couple of months—me realizing that people can fly off the handle on all sorts of subjects.  When I subbed at a town 60 miles northwest of the parish here, I processed in and right away spotted that same man in the congregation.  Had he been stalking me?  Was he going to shoot me?  I asked God to help me be a gospel presence to the faith community gathered that Sunday morning.

After mass, people again surrounded me and enthusiastically expressed gratitude for my coming to their parish—and there he came, as before, to the crowd that was gathered.  At worst, he’d shoot me.  Short of that, he’d simply be another Pharisee challenging the theology I professed (all solid material and nothing bizarre).  Surprisingly, he held back until the crowd dispersed and approached me saying: “You probably don’t remember me.”

If only he knew!  I replied that I did remember him and that it was good to see him (Jesus would have greeted him kindly, I thought).  Whereupon he confessed, as near as I recall: “I went after you down in the Irish Hills, but up here you celebrated mass just as you did there, and people loved it—so I was wrong.  God IS using you.  Would you like to go to breakfast with me and my wife?”  Not wanting to push my luck, I declined.

Following Jesus, observing the gospel, letter or spirit of laws—how DO we define being Christian?

Last week I told you that my vocational search was the same as yours—and that each of us is called to learn how BEST we can use the gifts God gave to each of us.  In further shortening the distance between our respective identities, I suggest you consider yourselves as taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—and that these words are not scary behaviors designated solely for monks to pronounce.  Here’s what I mean.

There are 4 religious “orders” in the Church—Jesuit, Dominican, Franciscan, and Benedictine.  Diocesan priests do not belong to an “order” and do not formally take the vows.  Non-diocesan priests, brothers, and nuns belong to “congregations” (e.g., Little Sisters of the Poor, Vincentian Fathers, Servite priests, etc.) who likewise take the 3 vows. 

In the first millennium of the Christianity, priests married, but the rule was changed in 1139—a pragmatic move related to inheritance of property.  As you know, there are different “rites” in the Catholic Church—ours being the “Roman” rite with unmarried priests.  We belong to the Latin or Roman Catholic Church–the largest of 24 Catholic Churches (the 23 others referred to as Eastern Churches–with their own traditions and forms of liturgy).  Some of these Churches have married clergy—as does the Roman Church since it received Lutheran and Episcopalian priests in recent decades.

People might think poverty, chastity, and obedience are exotic penances undertaken by priests and nuns when, in reality, they are simply words that describe gospel orientations or frames of mind which all Christians are called to internalize.  Alternative words have been proposed—such as “stewardship” (for poverty), “hospitality” (for chastity), and “partnership” (for obedience). 

Understood colloquially, “poverty” refers to the destitution of reservations or Appalachia.  The God of the gospel does NOT call people to live a life of destitution but rather a life in which they “steward” (judiciously oversee) their belongings and reach out to others in need, e.g., clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc.  This weekend all parishes are being asked to take up a collection for Haiti—which is one way we can “steward” our resources in a way Jesus calls us live.

Similarly, God has zero interest in someone undertaking “chastity” as a penance.  What’s the “essential?”  A potent Old and New Testament theme is our call to be “hospitable” to the alien, receptive of others, gracious in greeting people whose lives touch ours, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc.  Sexual activity has nothing to do with these behaviors.  When nuns and priests choose not to have families, they do so in order to more fully devote their time to all of God’s family. 

So too, each of you who is married know that a good marriage is a good “partnership”—and that quality of partnership is at the heart of what we traditionally call the vow of obedience.  A nun, brother, or priest—just as a married couple SHOULD do—discern with their religious community how they are to serve God, their family, community, and world.

In the end, vows point to one thing—living our gospel identity.  Today’s Letter of James puts it this way:  What good is it . . .  if someone says they have faith but does not have works? . . . if someone is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”         

Remember!  Jesus is coming—so look busy.

Communion Reflection

While today’s gospel listed things we should NOT do, the prayer of St. Francis reminds us what we SHOULD do.  Last week I told you about entering the Jesuits after high school.  It was this prayer I carried with me each day of my senior year.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.  Where there is discord, let me bring union.  Where there is error, let me bring truth.  Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.  Where there is despair, let me bring hope.  Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.  Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.  Let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

August 22, 2021

Sunday’s 2nd reading from Ephesians is one that some parishes will not read because of the controversy it has stoked over the years.  It is a passage much cited to criticize Christianity’s “take” on women.  Misunderstanding the passage arises if one interprets it literally–not knowing the cultural context or paying attention to what Paul himself stated.

The passage in question is “wives be submissive [or subordinate] to your husbands.”  Stated simply, Paul was not writing a theology of marriage but was instead articulating a theology of Church—based on an example taken from everyday life of the eastern Mediterranean region.

Paul’s reference to wives was based on early Christian codes that were common to Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultures of the period.  These codes set forth the duties of wives, husbands, parents, children, masters, and slaves.  The “point” of the wife/husband relationship in these codes was that of devotion to one another.

Paul was not setting forth a Christian position paper on the meaning of marriage for all time and in all places.  Rather, the last sentence of the passage is his topic.  Namely, Paul writes “I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”  He is NOT talking about decision-making or power differentials in a marriage. Rather, he’s simply using an example from everyday life.

The 1st reading, like so much of scripture and our faith-tradition, presents to us a challenge—one which you might not consciously think about.  Here it is: every morning God says to us: “Choose this day whom you will serve.”

A theological term is “polytheism”—the belief in many gods.  By contrast, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are examples of “monotheism”—the belief in one God.  You might muse to yourself “Right.  I’m a monotheist.”  But are you?  Do you live that belief each day? 

Maybe you’ve just not noticed your own polytheism!  Huh?  Yes, there are many gods in everyday life which compete for your allegiance/devotion/time/attention.  Do your possessions own you?  Are you solely family-oriented or do you have any sense of responsibility to the larger community?  Do you feed the hungry, and clothe the naked?  Are you a “consumer” of every new fashion, food, or “fun” entertainment—but do not share your plenty with those in need?

Being a military man, founder of the Jesuit Order, St. Ignatius, asks us: “Under whose banner do you fight in this battlefield of life? Christ’s or Satan’s?”  Different forces face off against one another in subtle ways—evil gods camouflaged by advertising and seductive ads that hammer away at your mind and heart—in a battle for your soul.  

There are different value-systems, and our faith daily asks us “by whose values will you live?”  Are you fighting for self-giving care for others or Satanic self-interest?  Gods other than our Creator seek to immunize you from asking that tough question—and make you think that whatever you’re doing is what Jesus taught.  Joshua (Hebrew name for “Jesus”) said what each of us should say, type out, and put on our refrigerator at home: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

This weekend is the anniversary of my entrance into the Jesuit Order.  Instead of just sharing a reminiscence, I think the event can be instructive for everyone here.  The point I hope to make is that my experience might illuminate your own—when having to decide a course of action.

The 2nd semester of my senior year in high school, I was accepted into the Jesuits for August 20th of that Fall.  Although my course seemed set and God’s “will” clear, I was to experience the powerful meaning of “God writes straight in crooked lines.”  As luck would have it, I became a 17-year-old who totally lost his heart to a 15-year-old girlfriend—a relationship developing that swept me off my feet as never before.  My parents were quite frustrated with my desire to live in la-la land forever with Molly, or become a vowed religious confined to a monastery.

My diary reported that on June 26th Molly and I attended her sister’s wedding.  I wrote: “That night was most memorable in that we were with one another—she in her yellow bridesmaid outfit.  We danced to the flip side of a Zombies record and I recall how our dancing would become motionless and we would simply stand there embracing.  It was on that night she whispered to me ‘I love you’.”

In short, the memory of a night like that competed with my entering the Jesuits 2 months later on August 20th.  Which option seems more attractive or magnetizing to you?  Powerful emotions and thoughts warred within my heart (me angry at my parents for badgering me to make a decision—entering the Jesuits or staying home and going to college). 

Here is a point I hope you find instructive with decisions you make. What came to mind was that I had for a long time considered a religious vocation, so I might as well give it a try.  Since teaching bible school to inner-city youth had been a positive experience in the past, I decided to do it again that summer.  It would affirm whatever sense of the gospel I carried within my heart.  The point?  Go with the decision that MOST reflects self-giving to others.

22 of us entered the Jesuits on August 20th, and one of them emailed me this week: “This is the anniversary of you saying to me as we left our first meeting, ‘Well, I will be the first one out of here’.”  I also recall telling my parents that I’d probably be home within the week.  As it turned out, my fate (God’s will?) was not to be the first to leave the Order, but to be the only one of those 22 who remained IN the Order.

Today’s gospel reminded me of this history—since my life pretty much followed the script reported in John’s gospel.  Down through the years, as nuns and priests left the religious life, I was always being confronted with what was said about people who followed Jesus: “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  Meanwhile, I heard what the gospel has Jesus say: “Will you also go away?”

Like Peter, I always asked: “Lord, to whom shall I go?”  Over the years, I experienced the same wrestling as that of my friends.  I felt the fantasy represented by Molly and me dancing motionless with her.  But how could I cast my lot and leave the priesthood on the basis of a fantasy when I was seeing how much God had blest me as a Jesuit? 

Nuns and priests left the religious life for various reasons and I knew what they experienced.  For example, a diary entry reminded me of someone who moved me to write: “She seems to have come right from God.”  Many chose to pursue a different lifestyle, but for me the question seemed to be: did I want to leave the religious life and serve my own, emotion-based self-interest, or use what gifts I had in the service of God’s people?  Eventually, it seemed that my wrestling was no different than anyone else’s. 

Every Christian is called to exercise their God-given abilities and not just go with the flow of life that all cultures present each citizen.  My call, or rather “our call” is to first learn what “skill-set” is ours, and then apply those skills in a manner consistent with the Gospel.  Via sacramental participation, spiritual direction, and prayer, we discern/discover/learn where to employ our “gifts” (the meaning of “grace” is “gift”).  

My entering the Jesuits illustrates yet another key point about Christian decision-making.  Namely, our decisions do not automatically present us with a heavenly sense of peaches and cream.  Our decision might entail “biting the bullet” and moving ahead with what seems to be what God (not I, necessarily) emotionally want.

I’m reminded of when it came time to teach high school (in the Order, we have a period in our training which has us teach at a high school or college for 3 years).  Jesuit high schools tend to be well-endowed prep schools that draw tons of teacher applicants because of the institution’s prestige.  I was scheduled for assignment to 1 of 4 top-drawer schools within my province.  However, for years I had a hobby-like interest in the American Indian world and requested to teach at one of our Indian schools.  When it came time to go to Red Cloud Indian School, I was feeling resistance—other gods competing for my time and attention. 

Just as occurred with Molly, I acted on the best intentions within me—putting my self-interest aside and acting on whatever sense of Christian outreach I could muster—and off I went to South Dakota.  Best decision I could make—even though fraught with anxiety and pulls to the contrary.  Similarly, after ordination, I hoped to have my first assignment as a priest be in campus ministry at a Jesuit college. 

My superior (who we call the “provincial”) asked me instead to go to Sault Ste. Marie as pastor of St. Isaac Jogues parish.  I had no interest in parish work and even reminded the provincial that our guys don’t serve as pastors until they’re much older than my 29 years.  He countered my resistance and said that I was the only one with experience in the Indian world, and so he really hoped I’d have a more positive sense of the assignment.  Rather than kick and scream, I complied willingly and in retrospect consider that assignment to be a highlight of my life.

Since entering the Order on August 20th, and since leaving behind that bridesmaid in a yellow dress, I have been blest with many life-highlights–experiences with good people from different backgrounds on our common journey back to God.  I look at parish faces and once again see many blessings for which I’m grateful—and which I never would have received had I chosen differently that August day.

August 15, 2021

Whenever a Marian feast occurs, I stroll down memory lane to when I was in high school—a school named “St. Mary’s”—and my being a member of the “Legion of Mary” (a very traditional Catholic organization dedicated to prayer and apostolic work inspired by Mary’s example). Back then, NO high school boy would join the Legion of Mary.  If one wanted to be in the category of being “cool,” the route to that identity was NOT the Legion.  

Although considered a good guy by my peers, I was one day reprimanded by a nun who was in charge of the group. As a punishment that she thought I merited, I was told to attend a Legion meeting.  Over the next 2 years, I was the only guy in the group, and surprisingly enough it was this membership that helped direct me to enter the Jesuits upon graduation (my anniversary of entering the Jesuits is this week, the 20th of August). 

From time to time, someone might characterize me as not appreciating Catholic tradition when, in point of fact, I was literally a member of the Catholic choir throughout grade school.  Taught by nuns from kindergarten through the 12th grade, I was raised with the Latin mass and lived as traditional a Catholic life as anyone.  So these Marian feast days (such as the Assumption this weekend) have a longstanding role in my experience.  I fully appreciate Church tradition—and certainly do my best to serve the people of God within that tradition. 

Just as my devotion to Catholic tradition is sometimes challenged, so is my patriotism when I don’t orchestrate the singing of patriotic hymns at mass.  With my brother a Marine in WW 2 in some of the worst Pacific hot spots, and with his PTSD partly responsible for his early death, I was raised in a family that honored the USA more than most.  My brother and family, however, never confused patriotism with allegiance to God. 

Had German Catholics and Lutherans separated their faith from their “fatherland,” Hitler might never have created the hell that he did.  My brother and family knew better than to mix patriotism with the mass.  We pledged allegiance to God–who we never confused with flag-waving and toxic nationalism.  After all, people from every country wave their flag–as at the Olympics–thinking God is on THEIR side most of all.  That’s not what Jesus preached.

With today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation, a peculiar aspect of our Catholic tradition came to mind.  Namely, when the New Testament books were “canonized” in the 4th century (i.e., were officially recognized as inspired), half of the Catholic dioceses did NOT want Revelation included (and did not read the book for a few hundred years), Eventually, debate subsided, but over time, the book was read and did, in fact, create confusion due to misinterpretations it spawned.  Today’s reading shows how a text can be variously read. 

For the Assumption text today, we read about the heavenly woman fighting the demonic dragon, and assume it’s depicting Mary versus Satan. However, this is only one possible reading of the text—an interpretation that became popular in the Middle Ages.  After all, the woman could also be Israel—with the 12 stars of her crown representing the 12 tribes of Israel.  The child she is about to bear could be referring to the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. While some think the dragon is clearly the devil, bible scholars instead say it represents the Roman empire—the dragon’s 7 heads being the 7 hills of Rome.  The Book of Revelation was a late first-century work that was written after the Jewish revolt in 70 AD (the year the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem). 

Apart from being Israel, the woman might also be the Church. Why? Because Revelation says that the dragon “became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”  So the reference to her “other” offspring suggests she’s NOT Mary (whose only child was Jesus).  Since the Roman empire persecuted the Christians after putting down the Jewish revolt, this understanding of the woman being the Church makes perfect sense (i.e., the Roman empire dragon first went after the Jews and then the Christians–which is exactly what took place historically).

What ARE we to think?  Is the woman Mary, Israel, or the Church?  Let’s settle this by saying she is all three.  The reading describes the reality of Israel and Church being persecuted, and of us called to be “Mary-like” in fighting the world’s evils.  This, of course, leads to what we here in the parish can draw from this feast of the Assumption. 

First of all, you should know that only the Catholics and Greek Orthodox observe the Assumption.  For Protestants, the Assumption is not a concern (whereas the Catholic Church declared it a “dogma” in 1950).  To be exact, the Church stated that “having completed the course of her earthly life,”  Mary was assumed into heaven.  

As Catholics, we are supposed to believe that either Mary died and went to heaven, or that she was spared death and went to heaven (which is what Renaissance artists depicted).  The early Church Fathers were split on this topic (her Assumption not an issue for the first few hundred years of the Church’s existence).  Some Fathers thought she died and was assumed  into heaven while others thought she went directly to heaven “at the end of her life.”  

Protestant critics sometimes say that Jesus alone went to heaven first, but both Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament are thought to have ascended there somehow.  Saying Mary’s Assumption is a Catholic obsession with Marian devotions isn’t the case on this point.  Ultimately,  I doubt any Christian would have trouble accepting that Jesus accommodated Mary, his mother, being in heaven with him in some way.  So the Assumption seems nothing to debate. 

A few weeks ago, I used 15 year-old Greta Thunberg as an example of God calling us to serve one another–she being the teenage girl who has captured world attention for her advocacy of fighting climate change.  While the issue is considered by many to be the world’s #1 problem, some think it is overblown (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).  Her role in changing minds is an illustration of one of the bible’s main themes–which should be typed and taped to your mirror so that you see it each morning.

 God chooses unlikely people to accomplish great things.

Aged Abraham and Sarah became the parents in their old age and had descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Moses with a speech-defect led his people out of slavery and to the promised land.  Young shepherd-boy David slew Goliath, and doubting Thomas preached faith in the risen Lord.  And at age 13, Mary said her “Magnificat” prayer that we read in today’s gospel: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord who has done wonderful things to me.”

We are like Mary–an unlikely person called to accomplish something great.  

Her example this day calls us to realize that each of us is an unlikely revelation of the Divine—because each of us is a word of God—and you might be the only bible someone ever reads.  

So what do people read when they read you—do they see you as one willing to forgive? as one who upbuilds others? as one who admits error?  who shows compassion and caring? who lends a hand and asks “what more can I do?”

What follows is called a “Contemporary Magnificat.” Based on: Gospel of Luke (1:46–55)

Why not write your own?           _______________

If there’s anything I am sure of, it’s that God is #1 and is the final word on all things great and small.  Although I fail at times to realize this, deep in my heart I am glad to know that my God is a God of love.  Such a God looks at me, smiles, and holds me close because my God is like the most loving mother or grandmother, father or grandfather that I could ever have.

I rejoice in having the Creator of all things actually care about me this way.  Who am I to deserve such loving?  In light of my smallness and God’s largeness, and in light of God knowing me through and through and still having affection for me, I will never speak ill of God.

This is the God who has mercy on all of us who realize we are not Gods.  He alone is number one.

No one can match God’s strength—even though many think they are powerful.  Arrogant people who think they are praiseworthy, are nothing compared to God.

Those who Lord it over others will eventually lose their power, and be replaced by those they once oppressed.

God has compassion on us who hunger for the basic things of life—health, food, and a roof over our head.  Those who take these things for granted might one day find themselves without anything.  Will they remember how they once took so much for granted—when they find themselves in the very same position?

God is true to his word—and will pick us up when we’re down.  This is the story reported in scripture—and it is the same story that unfolds in my life.  Like Mary, may I always ponder these things in my heart—and reveal in my everyday life that I am God’s child.

August 8, 2021

Some may recall the 1971 musical Godspell having a song within it titled “Day by Day.”   Its verses were “Day by day, oh dear Lord, three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”  This song came to mind when this week I received a prayer-site email attributing those verses to St. Ignatius.  While I like to think of the Jesuit founder saying that prayer, I was not sure that he did.

Further investigation (Wikipedia) revealed the verses were drawn from a deathbed prayer of St. Richard of Chichester (1197–1253).  Richard was canonized nine years after he died—it being the custom at one time in Church history for people to be named saints shortly after their death.  It seems that if anyone was popular, or a decent ruler, they were canonized—such that if the Church hadn’t changed its rules for the canonization process, it might have named Princess Diana a saint, or John Lennon, or Prince, Janice Joplin, or Michael Jackson.  Eventually, Church practice required 50 years to pass before one could be named a saint.

2 recent exceptions to that rule were Mother Theresa and John Paul the 2nd.  Interestingly, biographies since their canonization show why the Church instituted the 50-year-rule.  While admirers might think otherwise, there was no pressing reason to put them on the “fast track” to sainthood.

St. Richard’s deathbed prayer was reported in Latin.  Since there were no tape-recorders at the time, its scribe’s role in composing the piece will never be known.  Moreover, the poetically rhyming triplet of “clearly, dearly, nearly” did not come about until the Latin was creatively translated in 1913 (700 years after Richard’s death)!  So the question of “who composed the prayer familiarly known to us?”—will never be known with certitude.   

One is reminded of how little we know about so much (which applies to most people’s knowledge of liturgical history).  We attend mass our entire lives but may well not know why certain rubrics exist (“rubrics” are the ritual gestures we see at mass).

Early depictions of the Eucharist show that people reclined at table, and that bread was broken and passed around.  However, modern depictions exist which show Jesus wearing vestments and distributing hosts from a ciborium to people kneeling at a communion rail.  Some might say that they miss the communion rails and that only the priest should distribute, but those traditions were not how “mass” was celebrated until centuries after Jesus was at table with the apostles.

There was, in fact, a time when the Church adopted a liturgical theology that was the exact opposite of what took place in the early Church.  Of particular note is that it came about that people only received communion once or twice a year.

All were required to attend mass, but their participation consisted only of looking AT a consecrated host (not receiving communion).  Bells would be rung before the consecration—calling people into the cathedral in case they were outside having a smoke.  And when the words of consecration were uttered, the bells would be rung again—calling people’s attention to the priest elevating a large host for all to see.  He would hold the host on high and perhaps show it to the right and left—bells ringing (and perhaps reminding people that the bread/wine was now body/blood of the risen Lord).  Not until the last several centuries did regular reception of the Eucharist become our tradition once again (promoted by Jesuits).  People might think it’s nice to hear bells during the mass, but their purpose now is primarily to give servers something to do.

People also see a priest put water into the chalice and say a prayer about the humanity and divinity of Christ being present.  This theological interpretation of water & wine mixing was a nice thought, but it came about only because the Church had lost track of why it had this rubric in the first place.  Like non-Christian religious rubrics, so do our rubrics “hang on” for long years after their meaning has been forgotten.  Ritual specialists in those other traditions, if asked why they do certain rubrics, will often enough just say “It’s our tradition,” or “We’ve always done it this way,” or “You don’t understand. This is just how we do it.”  It is thought that if the action did not take place, the ritual would not “work.”  We can own this same mind-set.

In the case of mixing water with wine, this was an ancient custom in the eastern Mediterranean related to diluting the wine into something more palatable.  The custom was practiced by the Greeks, Romans, Israelites, and everyone else from that region long before the time of Christ.  Advances in “enology” (wine-making) and time obscured our liturgical reason for blending the two liquids—and so a religious meaning was associated with the mix.

What we know as the “fraction rite” in the mass emerged out of 2 traditions.  This refers to the priest breaking off a piece of consecrated host and dropping it into the chalice.  It is common for contemporary Catholics to receive from the cup and see a piece of host floating in it.  Some will conclude that the piece of host came from someone’s mouth—unaware that the priest had placed it there.

This custom is rooted in the Roman bishop breaking off bread for suburban communities who were unable to be at his mass.  Consecrated bread from his mass would be taken to those communities and a chunk put in their chalice.  This showed their being in union with their bishop.  This was reinforced when the pope put a piece of previously consecrated bread into his cup—showing that this mass was descended from the “first supper” which Jesus had on the first Holy Thursday.  A theology arose saying that it symbolized the body and blood of Jesus being together fully in the Eucharist.

Whatever the history or interpretation of the mass, we can read scripture’s theme of Eucharist these past weeks—and simply be assured that we have the Lord’s physical (and spiritual) presence here at mass.  And we can be assured that this “bread from heaven” that John addresses—can feed us still (like those fed through 5 loaves and 2 fishes).  We can leave the liturgy and face whatever life throws at us.  God’s tangible presence is not an antidote against all pain or suffering, but it is a guarantee that we’re not alone in facing challenges or in being “good news” (“gospel”) for others.  And on this note, a return to Day by Day is apropos.

Below is the Youtube conclusion of the film-musical Godspell.  The songs from this musical were popular—especially the concluding one “Day by Day” (based on the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester).  Of theological interest in this concluding “finale” is the joyous disciples carrying Jesus from the cross.  Viewers may or may not spend time thinking of the conclusion’s meaning—but you can do so now.  Namely, are the disciples taking the dead Jesus into modern life to show that modern life is crucifixion in diverse forms—thus a commentary on modern life being the crucified Jesus?  OR, are the joyous disciples taking the dead Jesus into modern life—knowing that his ultimate message for them is one of resurrection (thus, their happy dancing as “pall bearers” and bringing “good news”—the meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word “godspell”)?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndOBdlL6Uwg

Today’s first reading spoke of an angel helping Elijah.  Keep in mind that “angel” in scripture refers to any “messenger of God.”  One needn’t think only of winged-creatures.   I don’t hear of angels in our lives without thinking of a prayer experience I once had at a retreat house.  Chagrined at various life experiences, I spoke to God and said that it’s nice to be on the retreat house grounds and have hope because the landscape is like Eden—a river flowing through the premises and deer feeding everywhere; rabbits and birds visiting with one another and benches on which to sit and meditate (as I was doing).   However, walking off the retreat house grounds, I encountered a loud truck kicking up dust and dirt as it sped by, and horns honked angrily at one another.  Where are you, God, when life ISN’T like Eden—and it’s more like hell!

Reflecting in that vein, I passed a white picket fence and was attacked by a viciously barking, demonic little dog that walked with me shouting nastily the length of the fence.  “Where are you, God, when devil-dogs are barking at me in everyday life?”  No sooner did I think that thought than a woman opened the door of her house and shouted “Here, Angel!”  And the little dog went happily running toward her and inside the house.

  I couldn’t help but think God was reminding me that when I feel alone and assaulted by unpleasantness of some kind, I need to be aware that angels are present—just difficult to recognize.

May we recognize or be angels of the gospel–alive in the world today.

 

Pastor’s Pen August 1, 2021

Scholars tell us that between blinks of the eye and what are known as “saccades” (rapid eye movements), we are functionally blind about a third of our life.  Added to this peculiar deficiency, some social psychologists have said that, at most, a person develops 10% of their mental/emotional/physical potential.  For example, an Olympic athlete might score a “10” in their event while I would score a “1” (at best).

A friend was teaching a class on the Dead Sea Scrolls—an important archaeological find of the1940s that advanced our knowledge of the bible.  After class, a student approached the professor and said: “I just don’t understand why finding some squirrels by the Dead Sea is so important!”  

Confusing “scroll” with “squirrel” reminded me of a colleague’s experience when teaching political science.  Throughout the course, he referred to how many revolutions, especially the Russian revolution, was waged by peasants against the ruling regime.  Come the final exam, a student submitted their test and told my colleague that she never realized how important pheasants were in human history.  She said she regularly saw them in the field near her home and took them for granted.  My friend was speechless when he realized she wasn’t joking but had, in fact, confused “pheasant” with “peasant.”

All of the above examples point to our blindness, weakness, deafness, and ability to miss the point in ordinary communication with one another.  Aren’t we a sorry lot?  

Yes.  But all is not lost.  After all, one reason we come to mass is because individually and communally we confess to God our need for grace, for strength, for insight into ourselves and the world around us.  Our faith-life and sacramental practice provides us with much-needed help.  God sees we are like sheep without a shepherd (in the readings of 2 weeks ago) and so alleviates the varied hungers we long to satisfy (as indicated in last week’s story of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes feeding the crowd).  That is, last week’s miracle story is not about feeding a famished crowd but of a God who can send you from mass knowing you can face anything that confronts you.  Despite evidence to the contrary, our sacramental practice reminds us that our life has a purpose (and that, as I’ve mentioned so often, creation is not complete without you).

This week, we read about Israelites starving and being at the end of their rope.  All of a sudden, they’re saved by what seemed a miraculous, supernatural act of God.  They woke up to find “manna” and quail to eat—as if buckets of Kentucky fried chicken suddenly fell from the sky—garnished with honey.  Historically, the Israelites found “manna” which, in reality, was the sweet excretion from certain insects of the region, and quail that were migratory fowl dropping onto the ground from exhaustion in their flight over the Sinai desert. These natural phenomena still take place today, but the Israelites interpreted the occurrence as God’s special intervention to save them.  Therein lies a key lesson for us.

We are the Israelites.  Do we see God’s saving action, love, and concern for us, in the ordinary—non-supernatural—occurrences of our lives.  That’s the example set for us when reading of the Israelite experience—to see God in all things (a concept emphasized by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, whose feast is this weekend).

Speaking of which–2021 is the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius being wounded at the Battle of Pamplona.  A cannonball disabled him for life by shattering his knee—an event that sent him into a great depression.  Having been somewhat of a playboy of the royal court, his “lady’s man” appearance was lost with his now walking with a limp.  His “cannonball experience” led him to change the course of his life, found the Society of Jesus, and write a classic in spirituality titled The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  He referred to “exercises” being just like an athlete regularly exercising to stay in shape.  If you don’t go to church, don’t pray, don’t reflect on God’s making you, don’t read scripture, or have just a passing relationship to the faith-community—your spiritual state will suffer.

Ignatius, being from a military background, saw life as being on a battlefield, or as having 2 kingdoms at odds with one another.  He said that individuals must choose which kingdom they will serve—Christ’s or Satan’s.  Which “standard” will you follow?

Everyone probably thinks their decisions are good ones, but are they?  A classic work on this topic is titled Moral Man and Immoral Society.  That is, with everyone thinking they’re making good decisions, why is it that we have all the problems we have—from murders, to robberies, to domestic violence, to drug abuse, to the varied forms of bigotry?  If everyone’s so “moral” or so “Christian,” why are we in personal or social turmoil so often.

How can we overcome the heat of the moment or the stress that accounts for so much emotional disruption?  Being at mass is one way—as we try to center our self and be more mindful of how to be with Christ under his “standard?”  

When things are going our way and we’ve won the lottery, or been kissed by the love of our life, it’s easy to do as Ignatius said and “find God in all things.”  It’s not so easy when we confront hurt of some kind.  Sacramental participation doesn’t provide an antidote to suffering, but minimally, it can remind you that God is with you in your travail, your tears, or worries.

How can you see manna and quail in your life?  How can you see God working in natural events that happen every day?  Ignatius proposed what is known as the “examen.”  This is an exercise intended to make one more attentive to how God can be felt within our lives.  The Internet has descriptions of the examen—the essence of which is below. 

At the end of a day, find a place where you can be alone—and ask God to be with you in this moment of reflection.  Ask God to help you review your day (for which, you give thanks).

From when you awakened, recall the events of your day—who you spoke to, what you spoke about, how you interacted with each person (as if it were a film you were watching of your day). 

Pay attention to your emotions—what moved you (God speaks thru them).  You may be shown and remember some ways that you fell short of the Christ-like person you intended to be. 

Thank God for seeing you thru the day, and ask for help relating better than you did to the day’s cast of persons the next time you meet them. 

A Chinese film featured a hero who fought on behalf of the poor and the mocked—and the children who were pushed around by the warlord’s brutal men.  The kids loved the hero—and called him “monkey king” because the monkeys seemed to play with him.  After he got the kids to safety, he left to face the warlord’s horrible men who would kill him.

The children all shouted: “don’t leave us, monkey-king.” He calmed them by saying: I have to go and protect you.  I am going to fight monsters.   

Ignatius said this a different way.  Seeing 2 standards fighting against one another, he said that once you are grounded on the gospel: “Go forth and set the world on fire.”   And so it is with our Christian identity. 

Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the 28th Jesuit Superior General, wrote:   In our schools and parishes today, our prime objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others . . .  people who cannot think of God without thinking of their neighbors at the same time; we need to form people who are convinced that love of God includes seeking justice for all human beings. All of us would like to be good to others, and most of us would be relatively good in a good world. What is difficult is to be good in an evil world, where the egoism of others and the egoism built into the institutions of society attack us. Evil is overcome only by good, and egoism is overcome by generosity. It is thus that we must sow justice in our world as the driving force of society—and eliminating love for self-interest.  

Pastor’s Pen July 25, 2021

(For a change of pace, here’s a Catholic baseball story for the baseball season)

“. . . there is no joy in Mudville, mighty Casey has struck out.”  This 1888 lyric about a fictional baseball player is just a few years older than the real-life failure of a Detroit Tigers pitcher.  Just as “Mighty Casey” became an immortal in people’s imagination, pitcher Aloysius (“Al”) Stanislaus Travers became a real-life immortal in professional baseball history.  He also came to claim a unique place within American Catholic history.

Details of Travers’ stint on the mound have varied over the years and from one telling to the next.  What did not vary was the man’s baseball legacy.  His name became equated with failure. Ninety years after his pitching debut, the Batter’s Box website even created the “Allan Travers Award (sic),” bestowed on “the outstandingly bad pitcher of the year” in each league.

As transparent as a pro baseball player’s career might seem, statistics do not tell the whole story.  He was not a professional, or even an amateur ballplayer but was instead a college junior who played the violin and kept the books for his school’s baseball team.  His “pro” debut saw him stay on the mound despite being pummeled so he could earn the full salary, $50. Knowing that his baseball career would be short-lived, Travers was quite happy to pocket the money and the memories he would make for giving it “the old college try.”

But how did a kid from Philly, a student at Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s College, end up on the mound against some of baseball’s toughest hitters? It was infamous baseballer Ty Cobb who started it all. After an altercation with a fan from an opposing team, during which Cobb allegedly attacked a physically handicapped onlooker (one Claude Lueker) who’d been jeering him, the slugger was suspended from play.  Teammates rallied around the future Hall of Famer, and decided that if he did not play, neither would they.

In fairness to the Tigers, the fan apparently was like many others in that era.  He belittled and taunted players who, in turn, harbored legitimate concern for their safety.   The Tigers were standing up for Cobb, but they were also standing up for a principle.  Before walking off the field in baseball’s first strike, the Tigers were told by American League president Ban Johnson that if they refused to play, he would fine the team $5,000 for each missed game.

Since there was real concern that a lengthy walkout could jeopardize the future of the franchise, Tigers owner Frank Navin recruited replacement players — including the 20-year-old Travers — from around the Philadelphia area (where Detroit was scheduled to face its opponent). Travers pitched his first and only game on May 18, 1912 against the world champion Philadelphia Athletics, allowing a staggering 26 hits and 24 runs from the 50 batters he faced.  He walked seven batters and struck out one (shortstop “Jack” Barry, later inducted into the baseball coaches Hall of Fame for his forty years at Holy Cross College).  Never pitching another major league game, Travers entered the record books with a lifetime record of no wins, one loss, and an earned-run-average of 15.75.

“To fight and not to heed the wounds” is a line from the Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola that became part and parcel of the pragmatic spirituality Travers received while in college at St. Joe’s.  This spirituality served him well when asked to compete against professional ballplayers whose skills created a gross mismatch.

Even with the sorry pitching, Philadelphia’s mighty lineup could not produce one home run against Travers — either by future Hall of Fame third baseman Frank “Homerun” Baker or future Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins. Try as they might (and they did try), these legends of the game could not solve Al’s slow curve.

In fact, most of the runs were scored by fly balls that sailed over the heads of the sandlot outfielders who misjudged most everything hit their way, or the third baseman who often was unable to pick up the ball.

When the game ended with a 24-2 score, the crowd of 20,000 was livid, some demanding a full refund.  So irate were the fans that the replacements had to be escorted off the field by police. Travers, meanwhile, despite his performance on the mound, was approached by scouts after the game and asked to sign a contract!  Perhaps those scouts were doubly impressed with his handling of seven chances in the field (all assists) without an error (thus finishing his career with a fielding average of 1.000).

“For the greater glory of God” is the well-known motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  It cast special appeal to young Travers because of what he learned on the baseball diamond (that human “glory” is very fast-fleeting, or here one moment and gone the next).  His Jesuit mentors at St. Joseph College instilled within the young man a desire to devote his life in the service of a God (who ultimately deserved all the glory).  Upon graduation in 1913, he entered the Order and thereafter sought to showcase God’s grandeur.  His ordination in 1926 won for him the distinction of being the only major league baseball player to become a Catholic priest.

For his religious confreres, the one-time pitcher who became Father Al Travers seemed to symbolize something more important than athletic fame or failure.  His mere presence would remind them of how important it was to know about one another’s metaphorical experience of striking out, or singling, or hitting a home run in the course of everyday events. Those who knew this down-to-earth, regular guy valued his presence among them and easily came to understand why Travers neither identified with, nor accepted, the label of “failure.”

Over the years, Travers was assigned to Georgetown University, St. Joseph University, and several high schools.  While he was at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., he drew upon his baseball experience when concocting a plan that worked to everyone’s advantage.  At Gonzaga, he was in charge of a school band that did its best to stumble through two or three tunes a year.  With a reputation for so modest a repertoire, the band surprised spectators at the annual May procession of 1919.  Marching through the streets, the band stepped lively, and its tunes came through loud, clear and crisp.

No one knew that the band’s moderator had drawn upon his experience as a replacement ballplayer.  Each family saw its son play, and did not notice that Gonzaga’s band had grown in size.  Travers had recruited a dozen crack musicians from the nearby Fort Myer Army Band, dressed them in Gonzaga’s cadet uniforms, and interspersed them among his high school charges.  Experience taught him to choose replacements who could perform decently.

As a young Jesuit, Father George Hohman lived with Travers and recalled Travers giving advice on how to preach a homily.  His mentor suggested that the homilist always be short and succinct in stating scripture’s message.  He illustrated his point by drawing upon the gospel story about the man who was beaten and robbed.  Others passed by him, but the Good Samaritan stopped and helped the man get proper care.

Travers said that most listeners will have heard the story, so the challenge was to keep their attention with an economy of words—fast balls down the center.   He then told the priest to present the homily this way:

“Those who assaulted the man said, ‘What’s yours is mine. I’ll take it.’  The priests and Levites who passed him by said, ‘What’s mine is mine.  I’ll keep it.’  The Good Samaritan said, ‘What’s mine is yours.  I’ll share it.’  And that is what God does with each of us.  God has shared all of creation with us.”

Hohman listened to Travers’ simple homily, and detected the pace of a pitcher intent on taking care of business.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Three up.  Three down.

Travers bequeathed the memory of a good man whose dark life-moment was almost always a ray of light for others.  He was a living reminder that Jesuit community life would be more livable if those men of the cloth somehow communicated that they were one another’s “fans”—listening to, applauding, or commiserating with, one another’s experience of the day.

The legacy of Al Travers had nothing at all to do with failure.  Instead, he bequeathed to his fellow priests the Hall of Fame memory of a man whose well-known stats did not tell the whole story.   For those who went beyond those stats and got to know him, he was a winner.

Post Script Oddly enough, while Fr. Travers is associated with one of baseball’s worst performances, it is another Catholic priest whose one-liner is similarly associated with one of the sport’s lowest, but emotionally moving and memorable, moments.  As a child of 12, a Fr. Kenney learned of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s involvement with the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919.  Going to Comiskey Park in Chicago when the news broke, it was this future priest who pleadingly shouted at the idolized ballplayer a question that has become part of baseball mythology “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

I wrote the above for Catholic Digest

Pastor’s Pen July 18, 2021

This week, I noticed our natural world was very different from the world I had known all my life—or the world you have known all YOUR life.

Seeing this major event occur, I found it strange or coincidental—that the weekday reading was about Moses also seeing something very different in his world—a burning bush.

I could say that the occurrence of these 2 events was a coincidence, but in both instances, I need to remember that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

Moses saw a burning bush—something that captured his attention in a distinctive way—-and I saw a burning bush-event.

Another part of this coincidence was this week having the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha —patron saint of the environment & 1st Indian saint.  Born in NY state, she was a Mohawk who piously practiced the faith under the guidance of Jesuit priests.  She died at the age of 23 in 1680, and the two Jesuits who were present at her death reported that her smallpox-marked complexion became creamy smooth. After her death, the Jesuits claimed to see apparitions of her.  A chapel was built where she was buried (it being a pilgrimage site over the years).

Zoom ahead to 2005 on the Lummi reservation in Washington state where 5-year-old Jake Finkbonner is shooting baskets.  He slams into the upright pole holding the basket and cuts his lip.  Taken to the hospital, he was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating bacterium that scarred his face).  Hmm—a facially-scarred Indian woman of 1680 and Indian boy of 2005.

Doctors did all they could to clear up the infection but had to induce a coma.  They advised the family to call their priest to have the child anointed.  The family learned of Kateri being on the path to canonization and contacted the national office of the Tekakwitha Conference (then located in Montana, now in Louisiana).  They asked its director, Mohawk Sister Kateri Mitchell, if she might come to Washington and pray over Jake with a relic of Blessed Kateri.  Maybe his cure would be the miracle needed for Kateri’s canonization to sainthood.

As it turned out (coincidence?), Sr. Kateri was leaving for the Lummi reservation that week since a meeting was planned for the reservation long months before.  She rendezvoused with Jake’s mother, and they prayed over him (his mother pinning the relic to his pillow).  Within a day, doctors were surprised to see the boy’s condition improve.

When Jake came to consciousness, he said that he had visited with God and had a wonderful time.  He also said that God told him that he’d be returning to his family because God had a mission for Jake to fulfill.  With all this unfolding, the local bishop appointed a committee to investigate this “miracle,” and in 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized a saint and “patron of the environment.”

At a Tekakwitha Conference some years earlier, I met the “Postulator” for the cause of Kateri.  He was a Canadian Jesuit named Henri Bechard.  His role was that of what used to be called a “devil’s advocate”—the person in charge of collecting all the good and bad facts of a saint-nominee’s life.  He knew of my work with Indians, so I hoped I might acquire a “first-class relic” of Kateri from him (a tiny piece of bone within a “reliquary”—a container 1¾ x 1¾ inches).

The visit was cordial, but Bechard said that relics would be needed for churches that would one day be named after “Saint” Kateri (should she be canonized).  I returned to Nouvel CC in Saginaw (where I was then stationed), and some months later wrote Fr. Bechard thanking him for a nice visit.  I also asked one more time if he might make an exception and send me a relic.

Some weeks later, I received a box from Montreal, and it contained a relic of Kateri—sent by Fr. Bechard.  I was elated—until receiving a notice that week saying Fr. Bechard had died days earlier.  One of his last deeds was to send me that relic.  Since that time, as mentioned above, Kateri has been named a saint, and named patron of the environment—which takes me back to the “burning bush” point I initially raised.

An environmental matter (burning bush) slammed home to me this week when I noticed there were no songbirds anywhere.  In fact, I saw only an occasional mourning dove or starling or sparrow.  Where before I used to hear the music of bird voices in the morning, I was hearing nothing this week but an occasional chirp.  Investigating the matter, I learned that some epidemic was taking out the birds.  Researchers are not sure why they were disappearing in such large numbers.

I was reminded of the secular “patron saint” of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson, who wrote the 1962 classic titled Silent Spring.  This book addressed the effects of DDT on eggshells of eagles (eagles endangered because DDT caused the shells to break easily).  Carson was trying to draw our attention to the use of pesticides which might one day produce a Springtime in which there were no songs to be heard sung by our bird friends.  I never thought 2021 would bring us this silence.  N.B., a former Jesuit friend recently learned that his use of pesticides affected his heart negatively (making this more than just an eagle eggshell issue).

As you drive, count how many birds you see.  You won’t see many because they’re gone—Rachel Carson’s prophecy fulfilled.

The “burning bush” experience of Moses should be understood as something that happens to each of us—and is not, literally, a burning bush that eventually turned to ashes.  Rather, the experience is one in which you are stopped in your tracks and made to pause and reflect on some event, or some person, some special encounter, or some tragedy.  Moses had an experience of God trying to speak to him and inspire him to new self-awareness and his role within the world.  If you read the story of Moses and the burning bush, and simply say “Boy, that was weird.  I never saw a bush like that”—you’ve missed the point.  You and I are Moses—and we have burning bush experiences throughout life.

Loss of our bird friends is one such experience.  God is speaking to us.  What will be our response?

Some might say “Thank God, I won’t have to clean bird-do off my car windows.”  Others might commit themselves to helping our fellow creatures survive in a world that decimates their numbers daily.  Still others might see animal numbers diminish, and not care one way or the other.

God gives us all that we have—and we are free to live our lives as we please.  God speaks to us in all of our experience—and we are free to live our lives as we please.  God gives us burning bush experiences—and we are free to live our lives as we please.  In short, we have the freedom to choose.  This is a life issue—because in looking at what we’ve been given, we are seeing and hearing God’s revelation to us.  If we are attentive, we can learn more about our unique vocation.

A fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut, addressed “the purpose of life” in his best-selling novel Breakfast of Champions.  Essentially, he was addressing a person’s identity—which changes over time (e.g., you are not the person you were 20 years ago or who you were 20 days ago).  It is burning bush experiences that make our identity what it is.  They (i.e., burning bushes all around). They can  reveal what our “purpose in life” is supposed to be.

A character in the novel is asked about everyone’s purpose in life, and he equivalently replies just what the gospel says our purpose is: “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe – you fool.”

And so, we pray: “Grant each of us here today, O God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the riches of creation are honored and not destroyed just to serve self-interest; a world where different skin shades, cultures, and creeds live in peace and harmony, with equal regard for one another; a world that provides liberty and justice for all.

To the extent we are able—in our own unique way–give us the inspiration and courage to go forth with willing hearts, minds, and hands to build such a world as called to do through Christ Jesus, our Lord, Amen.

Pastor’s Pen July 11, 2021

I knew a married couple who really took today’s scripture to heart, and as they home-schooled their children, they traveled the country as itinerant singers of church music.  They relied on the charity of parishes to take them in via parishioners, and in exchange for being taken care of—would provide concerts.  They relied on the goodwill of fellow Catholics who’d “take them in” just as people in the gospel provided accommodations for the apostles.  The couple took the words of Jesus literally, but their interpretation was incorrect.  Why?  Because Mark’s gospel only reports Jesus giving pragmatic travel advice for the first-century Mediterranean region.

Sending people out two by two is important because it was never wise to travel alone.  Had Jesus fleshed out this travel-formula, he probably would have said “and join a caravan heading for your destination.”  Moreover, traveling light was likewise important so that brigands would not assault you for the goods or cash that you carried.  If predators saw that you carried only a walking stick, they would not be inclined to rob you.

Mark’s gospel also reported that the apostles had authority over unclean spirits. In order to understand the healing profession that the apostles practiced, it is necessary to understand the “power hierarchy” of the first century’s unseen world.  Notably, at the top was one’s God—FOLLOWED by the gods and archangels of others.  In 3rd place were non- human persons such as angels, spirits, and demons.  THEN came humans.

In these ancient cultures, illness, misfortune, or any physical suffering was seen as caused by spirit-power of some kind.  When Jesus imparted power to his apostles, this was their commission to “heal” illnesses which were associated with the spirit-world.  Healers who were not apostles likewise reported acquiring their power via some vision or experience of some dream-sort.

When Jesus told them to go where they would be welcomed, he was acknowledging the premier custom of the region: HOSPITALITY.  This custom was well-depicted in the film “Lone Survivor.”  In it, real-life Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was saved by an Afghani village.  The village’s effort was a good example of the traditional code of honor known as the Pashtunawali.  This entailed being a good host, and granting asylum to the outsider (i.e., Luttrell OR the apostles).

Scholars say that Mark is giving a good example of the historical Jesus (and not making a theological point).  Jesus knows a cultural norm and rightly says that apostles should stay in a house until finished with business.  Or if the host was not hospitable, they were to shake the dust off their feet.  In short, Jesus is not teaching any great spirituality or theology in this passage (although it is true that being people who do not flaunt their wealth is a mode of being within Christian spirituality).

This role of blessing and healing continues the theme from last week.  Like Amos in the first reading, each of us is called to be a prophet (that is, we don’t predict the future but rather point to what God is calling us to do NOW).  Like us, Amos doesn’t “feel” like a prophet (but says he is a “shepherd”—which appropriately is what the God of the Old & New Testament calls us to be—a shepherd of others).  We’re NOT to be like Amaziah—court chaplains or spokespersons for an uncritical patriotism.  Our role is instead to do what a weekday reading reported—healing the mute person and helping them find their prophetic voice.

But is finding your prophetic voice, or rebuking unclean spirits just a question of telling someone where to go if they disagree with your opinion on any issue?  NO. We’re not called to be opinionated bigots, racist newsmakers, or someone who spouts out prejudices against one or another individual or group.  In finding our voice, we need to come here to the sacrament—as we seek to understand how each of us, in our individual identity as child of God—can speak OUR  revelation—since each of us is a “word” of God.  Our task is to speak that word in the manner of Jesus.

Here’s one practical way to know if you’re speaking a prophetic voice.  Namely, can you picture Jesus saying what you’re saying when speaking about a person or issue?  If you CAN, then go ahead and speak your prophetic word.  Unfortunately, this strategy won’t help everyone.  Why?  Because fewer and fewer people are going to church or reading scripture—and so they don’t know WHAT Jesus would say, or what his tone would be (because they’ve not read or heard about him in scripture).

Here’s yet another way to speak your prophetic voice.  As St. Francis of Assisi said: “Each of us here is ALWAYS to preach – and if necessary, through words.”  May our actions be the best homily one could hear.

Mother Teresa had these words of wisdom hanging on her wall in Calcutta:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.  If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.  If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.  If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.  What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.  If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.  The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.  Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.  In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

 Communion Reflection:

May the God of Surprises delight us, inviting us to accept gifts not yet imagined.  May the God of Transformation call us, opening us to continual renewal.  May the God of Justice confront us, daring us to see the world through God’s eyes.  May the God of Abundance affirm us, nudging us towards deeper trust.  May the God of Embrace hold us, encircling us in the hearth of God’s home.

May the God of Hopefulness bless us, encouraging us with the fruits of faith.  May the God of Welcoming invite us, drawing us nearer to the fullness of God’s expression in us.   May God Who is Present be with us, awakening us to God in all things, all people, and all moments.

“May we be forever freed to reach out to the God who is among us that together we may approach the God who is beyond us and within us. May that God bless us, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Pastor’s Pen July 4, 2021

This week’s readings have “prophecy” as a theme.  It’s an important topic because our baptism and gospel identity calls each of us to be a “prophet.”  Unfortunately, we tend not to use the word “prophet” very much in everyday speech.  When we use it, we are referring to a person who is able to predict some future event. This meaning is NOT how it is used in scripture or our theology.

Instead of predicting the future, our theological use of the word “prophet” is a reference to someone able to see what God is calling us to do NOW.  In the case of scriptural prophets, they’d tell the people what God was asking of them—and the people would revolt—and want to kill the prophets.

And so it goes with us today.  Scripture has entered our street talk when someone we know moans that people are avoiding them—and we try to console them with a line drawn from today’s gospel: “No prophet is accepted in their hometown.”

Part of each Christian’s identity—is to be a PROPHET—which is a role that challenges people, conscience-like, to re-think what they’re doing.  One doesn’t have to be an “in your face” critic-prophet, but sometimes one has to tell those around them “Stop!”

You might come into a family, neighborhood, or business setting—and see the need to change how people are interacting with one another.  Often enough, change will not come easy.  People will either ignore you, or flat-out state: “Look, we’ve always done it this way” (and your effort to be a Christ-figure in the new setting falls on deaf ears).

I’ve often said that when we read scripture we’re reading about ourselves.  Today’s 1st reading from Ezekiel humorously reminded me of coming here to John 23rd parish.  In personalizing this passage, I could have read it this way:

The LORD spoke to me [and said] I am sending you to Hemlock, Merrill, and Ryan–rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.  Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. They are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Thank heaven, I have not experienced you in these terms—and still wonder how on earth I am supposed to be a “prophet” among you.  I have no idea what my prophetic contribution is to be for the people of this parish.  Rather, I am like you—and I come to mass asking God for help in articulating a gospel vision.

Each of us is like Paul in the 2nd reading.  Like us, he had to contend with “false apostles” who were seducing the Corinthians with slick appeals that went counter to those of Jesus.  He felt hampered in speaking a prophetic voice because of what he calls a “thorn in the flesh.”

Readers have speculated what this “thorn” was—epilepsy, vision problems, and chronic depression being possibilities argued by some commentators.  The consensus position now is that we just do not know what the thorn was (which is good for our edification—because we can identify our problematic “thorn” with Paul’s).  Each of us has SOMETHING that badgers our progress in life.  Paul was like us, too, in that he never met Jesus one-on-one in everyday life, but he did meet him in some kind of sacred encounter—and therein discover his call to make a difference.   So we thorny people carry on like Paul.  We’re told to have confidence in being apostles with our own unique identities.

In contemplating prophetic voices, I’m reminded of John 23rd.  He was elected Pope with people thinking he’d continue being a nice grandfatherly presence who’d retain the status quo and not make any changes in the Church.  Lo and behold, he assumes the papacy and sees a need to open the windows and let fresh air come into a Church still living in the 1500s.  And so came Vatican Council 2.  As expected, many cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity wanted no change at all.  Studies have shown that this is a typical institutional response.

Here’s the rule of thumb: an institution will not change unless threatened with extinction—and then it will only change enough to offset the threat.  This explains why new ideas take decades to become normative.  People don’t like change.

John 23rd had to contend with thorns who resisted his call for adapting to modern times—a battle that still goes on today.  Many today refer to themselves as “restorationists” who say they are changing with the times and simply wish to “restore” what was lost in the years after Vatican 2.  To a large extent, if you hear a bishop, priest, or layperson speak in these terms, “restore” is a code word for eliminating Vatican 2 changes and returning to the Latin church.  EWTN, a Catholic TV network, is within this mold—a Jesuit friend of mine is one of its leading lights (Mitch Pacwa, S.J.).

Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was also a prophetic voice.  Like John 23rd, he was a conservative El Salvadoran bishop who did not “make waves” and who remained neutral toward the military and corporations who were oppressing the working class.  Not until priest-friends of his were murdered by the military and corporate folk did he have a conversion-experience and speak out against the oppression.  Assassinated for being a prophetic voice, he is today a canonized saint and inspiration to millions (the film “Romero” is really good).

I’ll even give an example from my life.  Namely, when I finished studies at MSU and became “Dr. Michael Steltenkamp, Ph.D.”—I wanted to get my dissertation published.   Thus began my submitting it to one publisher after another.  Long story short is that I have many rejection letters over a number of years—each one of them a thorn in my ego telling me that my contribution to the world was not going anywhere.  I nonetheless trudged forward and finally got it accepted at the premier university publisher of Indian books, the University of Oklahoma.  Not only did my book get reviewed in the prestigious NY Times Sunday Book Review Magazine, but it was also called “a real step forward in American Indian religious studies” (and won a national award given by the honor society of 33 universities).

As I stated earlier, my task now is to discover what “prophetic voice” I am being called to speak within the parish context.  My book adventure and challenge is a thing of the past, and this new parish horizon is where I ask for God’s help afresh.   Same with you.  I cite my book experience above to suggest that YOU are being called to write your own book, make your own contribution, and speak your own prophetic voice within the thorn bushes of your life.

Finally, here’s an example that I think dramatically illustrates how we are to live the gospel call.  I turn to a 15-year-old Swedish girl who, for all I know, is an atheist with no religious motivation.  Still, her story is instructive and her name is Greta Thunberg.  Just as I suggested God is calling you to write your own book, so God is calling you and me to be her—in our own way.

Greta is an introvert, and is shy.  She is also the youngest to win Time magazine’s person of the year award (along with the “Ambassador of Conscience Award” from Amnesty International).  As Time explained why she was its choice: For creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions . . . into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change . . . [and] For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have [planet earth], for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”

When I speak to you about the Holy Spirit accessible to you—empowering you to have new imaginings—it’s easy to shrug off what I say.  Which is why I share the following thought that Greta said (which echoes what I’ve told you):

“If a Swedish, teenage, science nerd who refuses to fly and has never worn makeup or been to a hairdresser can be chosen a Woman of the Year by one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world then I think almost nothing is impossible.”

Hers was a nice, upbeat message which the gospel tries to communicate to us down through the centuries—but as we know, Greta’s prophetic voice is offensive to powerful corporations and governments.   She said her parents weren’t “thrilled” when she decided to join protests against the fossil fuel industries.  Her simple response to them was that there would be no need for her to get an education—much as she wanted one—if the world itself would not exist by the time she became an adult.

Jesus speaks through Greta and you, too.  Let us pray that we find our prophetic voice so that we can speak His word.

Lord, help us realize that our limited charity is not enough.  Help us know that our soup kitchens and secondhand clothes are not enough for the Church to be the ambulance service that goes about picking up the broken pieces of humanity for American society.  Lord, help us know that God’s judgement demands justice from us as a rich and a powerful nation.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will provide new gifts to meet new needs.  We pray that There will be new voices of justice, and new prophets who will hear the words of the Lord and stand up, as Christians, to say: Yes, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me–sending me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  Lord, make our parishioners the kind of people who follow in the footsteps of an earth-shaking Pope John 23rd, someone open to conversion like Romero, and youthful spirited visionary like Greta–so that together we might be the change so needed in our world.

Pastor’s Pen June 27, 2021

The book which a priest reads during the Eucharistic prayer is called a “sacramentary.”  It is different from the book which contains the epistle and the gospel.  This latter book is called a “lectionary.”  It is designed such that the readings for Sunday have a common theme whereas the readings for weekday masses do not necessarily have a common theme.  This Sunday’s selections are different in that the second reading has no relationship to the other two.

Paul is dealing with a Corinthian community that does not want to raise funds for the community in Jerusalem.  Paul is trying to win them over by saying they are rich with the blessings Jesus provides and should share their wealth with others.  The more I read commentary on this letter, the more I mused that human nature has not changed.

In my life as a Jesuit, my assignments have been to places that exist because of generous benefactors supporting the “ministry” (also called an “apostolate”).  For example, before coming here, I was at a university in Appalachia—which the Jesuits and graduates could no longer support financially.  Benefactors could not be found.  There at the college, we needed a St. Paul to get for us the assistance of Corinthians.  None were found.

When I was at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the entire operation depended upon donations that our Development Office raised through mailings sent nationwide.  Maybe you have received one of those mailings.  One year, our fund-raising efforts suffered a blow due to a “scandal” (some thought) that unfolded at Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska.

You may recall the old Spencer Tracy/Mickey Rooney film “Boys Town”—which showed how one Father Flanagan started an orphanage for boys in the 1920s.  It grew to be quite the institution—expanding to include girls, becoming a 1300-acre suburb of Omaha, operating a renowned hospital, and having living quarters for children from pre-school through the 12th grade.  Unfortunately, when it was learned that the institution was well-funded, many people stopped giving to many charities.

It was thought that places like Red Cloud Indian School were wealthy, using the Indians as a way to raise funds for Jesuit schools elsewhere, and just another example of how the Church’s “white people” oppress Indians.  As you should know, none of these charges or suspicions had any substance.  The Development Office was unable to raise enough funds to sustain the place, so the Jesuit province subsidized it with manpower and funds.

For example, I was one of about 10 Jesuits who taught, coached, did the bus driving, operated the dormitory, and oversaw students 24 hours a day—our services all gratis.  Had we been at one of our nice, well-subsidized SJ schools in large cities, our salaries would have been high, our accommodations comfortable, and we’d be doing half the work load we were expected to perform at Red Cloud.  [N.B., My living space for 3 years was a room in the boys dorm that was a 10’x15’ former storage closet with desk, bed, and chest of drawers.  I held the record for catching 14 mice in one week in that room.  So much for the Jesuits getting rich and living “the good life.”]  Critics would indict us as minions of the Church getting wealthy off Indians—all because of the Boys Town scene prompting people to think all Catholic charities were corrupt.

And so it goes—down through the centuries—new Pauls telling new Corinthian communities—that we need to support Church efforts elsewhere, and not just in our own place.  Naturally, this reminded me of the diocesan collection—named “Christ’s Mission Appeal” by Bishop Gruss.  I think we’ve done pretty well with it—and that we’ll hit our target one of these days.  The diocese informed us that 35% of the parishioners have given to the CMA (the diocese keeps tabs on this—we don’t).  This made me muse that if EVERYONE had donated to CMA, we could have TRIPLED our donation J.

The Corinthians were just like people today.  Some were not fond of donating funds to certain places (like the Jerusalem community) or didn’t like certain points that Paul addressed (he wrote against the practice of some people who followed philosophies that were not Christian).  Over the years, I’ve often thought that priests or nuns or deacons or anyone with the task of fostering Christian responsibility—is bound to upset someone’s apple cart (i.e., get someone upset).

Had Paul just told the Corinthians to take care of themselves and no one else, he’d not have to bother with raising funds for Jerusalem.  Or had Paul told any of his audiences to just embrace whatever faddish leader or thought that was making the rounds—he’d never have to spell out what, exactly, Jesus tried to communicate.  But therein is the lesson of the 2nd reading for this week.  We HAVE to reach out and perform corporal works of mercy—and outreach others beyond our community.  We HAVE to wrestle with how to apply the teachings of Jesus to all aspects of life.  Jesus did not come to just say “keep doing and thinking whatever appeals to you.”  He told us to look at our behavior and determine if it was consistent with the gospel.

MEANWHILE, the first and third readings are about far more than fund-raising!

We’re first of all dealing with the gospel of Mark—which itself is a uniquely different presentation of Jesus (just as each of us CAN be a uniquely different presentation of Jesus).  For example, Mark is the shortest gospel, is the first written, has no birth account, speaks of Jesus as the “son of Mary,” is the only gospel to call him a carpenter, and only gospel to use Aramaic words (as in today’s reading having Jesus say “talitha koum—arise, little girl”).  Like the other gospel writers, Mark was not an apostle, and is the only one to refer to “sisters” of Jesus.  This is in all probability a reference to cousins (and not what we’d call sisters) since the Hebrew kinship system has one call certain cousins “brother” or “sister.”

Did you notice he starts today’s story talking about the daughter of Jairus being sick and his going to visit her to see if he can help the 12-year-old girl?  Then, all of a sudden, this story-line is interrupted by another one—about a woman wanting to touch his cloak—she suffering with an affliction for TWELVE years.  Then it returns to the Jairus story.

How old was the sick girl?  Hmm—she was 12.  And again, how long did the woman suffer?  12 years!  Hmm.  And there were 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles. A symbolic number at play?   Hmm—maybe these stories are referring to more people than just these 2 characters (of a twelve-year-old girl and adult woman suffering for 12 years).  Maybe what we’re reading about is a story about US—we being that girl and that woman—we being an apostle or tribe of Israel who is afflicted in some way and in need of the help Jesus offers.

WE are that woman when we come to mass—reaching out to God—asking for help that might heal us of (fill in the blank).  We are but one person in a crowd and tempted to think that God can’t possibly know us as an individual.  We’re one of 7 billion people in the world!  But wait.  Jesus stops—and asks his apostles “who touched me?”  And the apostles are WE—who can’t imagine God knowing who, on earth, “touched” him/reached out to him in the crowd of humanity.  Whereupon Jesus sighs—aware of their lack of knowledge—and addresses the woman (us).  “I hear you.  I feel you.  I am here to help you.”

And he arrives at the home of the girl—someone about whom the crowd no longer has hope.  The girl is lifeless—lost—not worth visiting—at a dead end.  Hmmm.  That sounds like the young girl could be us—when we are dismissed by others, or when we have gone astray and are “lost” in some way.  We’re “down and out”—and Jesus says to you and me “Little girl, get up, arise—and be the blessing I intended you to be.”

We never again hear what happened to that woman or that girl.  However, we DO know their legacy.  All we need do is look around us—and see fellow parishioners who have taken the girl’s and woman’s place—bringing our afflictions to God at mass, needful of new life, and being told here at the Eucharist by Jesus—exactly what he told the girl 2000 years ago.  “Have something to eat.”  He has invited us here to the table of the Lord to find new life.

The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, popularized a prayer called the Suscipe (“receive”).  It no doubt captures the spirit of the woman and the girl who were transformed by personally experiencing God’s love for them through Jesus.

 

TakeLordreceive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will–all that I have and all that I possess. You have given all to me, Lord; I here pledge myself back to you. Do with me as you wish, according to your will. All I ask is that you continue to bless me with your love and your grace.  With these, I have all that I need.”

 

 

Pastor’s Pen     June 20, 2021

Coming to mass is like going to a doctor appointment and explaining your ailments and getting the therapy you need.  You might not like going to a doctor’s office or mass, but somewhere deep in your heart you know it’s good for you to get treatment.

Some people don’t go to a doctor.  Or they go to one infrequently (as when church-goers attend Christmas or Easter mass only).  And some people say they get the same health care by sleeping in on a Sunday or walking through the woods or on a beach. 

Just as a physician provides counsel, so the church-goer hears “the word of God” read or interpreted or sung, and somewhere within their mind, body, and spirit—something healthy is being provided.

We leave this special time set aside—sacred time—with a prescription that offers us hope and guidance for steering a healthy course in life.

The book of Job tells of his suffering and of his friends explaining why suffering takes place.  At the book’s conclusion, God interrupts their conversation and subtly puts them (us) in their (our) place.  God asks them “Where were you when I put the mountains in place?  And when I dug out ground into which I placed the seas?  And where were you when I set the sun, moon, and stars in sky?  Since you think you know everything, just give me the answer to where you were on those days?”  They, of course, could not give an answer to God—and that they need to have faith and trust that God knows what God is doing (even if we don’t).

Today’s reading from Job brings to mind the lightning storm that killed his sheep and servants.  And the “powerful wind” that destroyed his house and killed his children.  Mark draws upon the Old Testament understanding of Yahweh (God) who stills the raging sea and about whom the prophets said could calm the raging storm.  Mark is showing us that Jesus is the God of the storm and sea, and that Jesus can control these mighty, primal forces.

Did you notice the contrast between the apostles and Jesus?  The boat is tossed upon the waves—water coming in to sink it—the fishermen hysterical in trying to keep themselves afloat—and where is Jesus?  Asleep on a cushion???  Huh???

The most basic message of the passage is that Jesus has what you and I want—peace in the storm.   It might sound like a cliché, but another basic point being made is that “we’re all in the same boat”—the good ship “Mother Earth.”  All God’s children in the quiet times and turbulent times together.   

We hear people say variations of: “it’s their problem, not mine,” “it’s their life—so they can do what they want—it’s none of my business,” or like Cain (who killed Abel) we can defensively retort “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (the answer being “YES! We are one another’s keeper.”   

And so the passage in Mark plays out in our lives, too.  Jesus shouts at us in our desperation: “Silence! Be still!”  In the face of life’s storms, we lack faith, and we are those “stiff-necked/hard-hearted” people of the Old Testament.  We are Job’s friends who claim to have answers but don’t.  

There are a lot of lessons we learn about God in the middle of the storm.  When challenged, we cry to heaven like the apostles saying “Don’t you care about us?” (we’re drowning, perishing, complaining, and adrift).

A dear Indian grandmother-friend was the only woman to own a commercial fishing license in Ontario—and she knew the storms of Lake Superior, and life, well.  She lost 5 of 10 children to various forms of early death.  And was a woman of great faith—me thinking of her being in the boat with Jesus holding his sleeping form on her lap.  Asking how she was able to endure the loss of her children, she calmly said that she knew God took care of them, so how could she feel bad about their being with God?

Boat symbolism is not unique to the New Testament.  Recall Noah’s ark?  That ancient story calls us to be people of faith, like him—and trust that God is present in our varied storms—even if silent.  Humorously regarded, we are called to be brave like Noah—who was asked to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.

Here’s a prayer which can be our prescription from today’s visit with our Divine healer.

Lord, Open unto me, light for my darkness. 

Open unto me, courage for my fear.

Open unto me, hope for my despair. 

Open unto me, peace for my turmoil. 

Open unto me, joy for my sorrow. 

Open unto me, strength for my weakness.  

Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion. 

Open unto me, forgiveness for my wrongdoing.

Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness.  

Open unto me, love for my hates.

Open unto me, Thy Self for myself.

Lord, Lord, open unto me.  

Pastor’s Pen     June 13, 2021

This past Friday was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—after which the Merrill church was named.  There are many places named “Sacred Heart”—such as the regional seminary in Detroit that supplies priests to this diocese.  There are Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and “academies” named Sacred Heart.  Curiously, for the first 1000 years of Christianity, there was NO devotion to what we today call the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.”  Hmmm.   How did this  change take place? No one thing was its source, but momentum fanned by saintly luminaries made it reach a crescendo with the 1673 experience of a French nun who is today known as “Saint” Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Having a Jesuit spiritual director who today is “Saint” Claude de la Colombière, this pious nun had “visions” which became the impetus for the devotion.  The mission of propagating the new devotion was especially confided to the Visitation nuns and to the priests of the Society of Jesus.  Margaret Mary’s “visions” might today raise skepticism among some, but whatever the devotion’s source, many have benefited from contemplating the heart as a symbol of God’s love for us.  It also symbolizes our being called throughout life to experience a “conversion of heart.”

Throughout the land this weekend, dioceses ordained young men to be priests—and this event in their lives reminds me of the “conversion of heart” they, and we, are called to experience—not on one day of our life, but EACH day in our life.  I read one young man’s reflection and he said—without knowing it—what each of us SHOULD have asked at some early point in life.  Namely, “why did God put me here?”

The parable in scripture today can play into this question, but it has a theological point that’s not quite that explicit.  The tiny mustard seed growing into a shrub that provides shade for all sorts of birds—refers to the lowly Jewish boy from Bethlehem fulfilling the Hebrew scriptures.  From these small beginnings will grow the worldwide kingdom foretold thru Israel/Prophets And yes, secondarily, we are small seeds who can grow mightily by accepting this Messiah.

Which leads to combining the reading from Paul and this gospel.  The point of doing good works is to fulfill OUR human destiny—not God’s.  Our “good deeds” are not a laundry list that wins us entrance to heaven but are how we achieve fulfillment.

Recall Luke’s gospel saying that Jesus grew “in wisdom and understanding?”  His story was also the story of the Sacred Heart devotion.  People reflecting on the life of Jesus made the devotion arise out of nowhere after the first millennium of Christianity.  And the bible itself tells of Israel growing in its understanding of God—which is our story, too.

When Moses told the people they should leave Egypt and head into the desert in search of a promised land, do you think everyone cheered and said: “Yay, let’s pack the car with all our stuff and get out of here—even though we just got this house and even though I have a decent enough job?”  Or how about when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and announced that God had revealed laws by which they should live?  Do you think the people cheered?

“Yay, we no longer need to murder one another, or steal from one another, and lie to one another.  Thank God, we can now share our wealth with one another and not keep it solely for our personal benefit since that will manifest greed.”  Instead of cheering, Moses probably met with “booing.”  People no doubt found fault with each “commandment,” reduced them to “suggestions,” and found exceptions in each case—which prompted him to describe his fellow Israelites as “hard hearted” and “stiff-necked.”  People no doubt said: “You can’t tell me what to do!  I know what’s best for me.”

And WE are those Israelites—in plus and minus sorts of ways.  Positively, we go through life and HOPEFULLY realize we do NOT have all the answers that that we need to grow into a “conversion of heart”—realizing we have “not” arrived in the promised land, but are at least making progress toward it.

I spent many years in Ohio State country—and realized Buckeye fans are identical to Wolverine fans.  As a Spartan, I’d talk to fanatical OSU people, and they were as blindly loyal to the Woody Hayes tradition as my UM relatives are to Bo Schembechler’s legacy.  Neither group cares about my Spartan identity.  If you don’t follow sports, forgive my stab at trying to find a relevant example in this realm.

Devotees of UM/OSU (maybe all schools) are as stiff-necked as the Israelites.  When Woody Hayes pushed an opposing player in the middle of a play, excuses were made to justify his behavior.  In the news now is Bo being accused (by his son and others) of ignoring abuse that took place within athletics (similar to what occurred at Penn State).  And at MSU, Tom Izzo is being criticized for not intervening when warning signs arose among his players (his one-time team captain now charged with murder).  The bible and religious tradition TRY to steer us through our human condition.

How do we navigate the worlds of opinion and behavior on all fronts of life?  You and I are here because we know that the best answers are here at church—tough as they may be to discern.  But a first step is that we need to realize we DON’T have all the answers.

I’m reminded of the college student’s conversion of heart (conversion of opinion and behavior) when coming to campus and saying after the first semester: “I thought I was middle class until I went to college and learned that I was poor.”  The same can be said of you and me thinking we know about a subject until meeting a specialist in the field who makes us realize we are misinformed.  And so it is with us thinking we are living the Christian life—until we encounter someone who is really living it.

My fellow mustard seeds—we have the potential to grow and provide comfort to many by becoming more and more the blessing-for-others who God intended us to be.  May we admit that each of us needs watering to become that special grace.

P.S. When thinking of the parables of Jesus, realize you have experienced many in your life.  Here is one from your childhood.

Parable of Kindergarten—the kingdom of God is like kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

Some years back, an author said he learned all the important rules of life in kindergarten.  He said: These are the things I learned:  Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The seeds go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Pastor’s Pen                                 June 6, 2021

Last week, I mentioned that the sacraments were like spiritual vaccines.  They don’t fully immunize us from falling prey to toxic behaviors, but they sure help us face life’s challenges.  Whereas epidemics hit the world from time to time, we always have to deal with assaults to our spirit.  Left on our own, we fall prey to a world that can’t avoid war, and countries that forever struggle to keep their people from killing one another.

Many can recall getting the polio vaccine (I still have a memory from age 5 of a playmate who had polio and couldn’t walk; he proudly showed me one day that he could stand up—but not move).  Dr. Salk’s vaccine eliminated polio from the U.S (416 reported cases of polio worldwide in 2013).  Times change and instead of getting vaccinated for Covid, many Americans choose not to receive it.  Meanwhile, Central American and African nations cry out for the Covid vaccine.

Today, the Church has set aside this Sunday for what USED TO be known as The Feast of Corpus Christi.  It now goes by the name of “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” (“corpus Christi” is Latin for “body of Christ”).

Just as some people argue against vaccines, the Church has not been spared from people arguing about the sacraments.  In the 1500s, we had between 20 and 30 sacraments, but reformers who “protested” (thus, the world “Protestant”)—persuaded the Church to reduce the number to 7.  However, most Protestant groups today just recognize baptism and the Eucharist.  Different groups likewise have different “theologies” of baptism and Eucharist.

Differences of opinion back in the 1500s shouldn’t be a surprise.  Studies done on contemporary American Catholics also show disagreement on many issues.  Even the gospels reveal different “takes” on subjects.  Today’s account in Mark, for example, places the “Last Supper” (sometimes called the “first supper”) within the context of a Passover meal.  John, by contrast, says it was not a Passover meal.  This variance is not a major problem.  It is simply showing that the theology of the 2 evangelists is different—both depicting what Jesus did for a particular theological reason.  They are not writing a biography of his activities.

As for understanding the Eucharist, Catholics tend to speak of the “real presence” of Christ in the sacrament.  This is rooted in what might be called a theology of “table fellowship” that defined what Jesus did with his apostles.  That is, eating together in a ritual context meant that people shared common ideas and values, and their “breaking of bread” with Jesus signified his union with them—and us at the table/altar.

Interestingly, you may recall Judas separating himself from the group—going off and betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  This has moved many to see in Judas a reflection of ourselves.  The story of Judas reminded me of  Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching that won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film.  Cameras followed him on his final set of revival meetings in California, Texas, and MICHIGAN (are we Michiganders particularly vulnerable to con artists?).

Unknown to everyone involved – including his preacher-father – he gave “backstage” interviews to the filmmakers between sermons–explaining how he and other ministers operated (as grifters). The filmmakers also shot footage of him counting money he collected (Marjoe commenting how he was able to con people into giving donations to him).  As disappointing as it was to see this man’s “ministry” portrayed in these terms, a ray of light was that Marjoe himself was quitting the business—and eventually did some good charitable work.  His conscience got to him?

Since the gospels are mirrors for each of us, we are Judas, too.  Judas does not just refer to “apostles” like Marjoe who got wealthy passing himself off as an evangelist.  Through the example of Judas, we are called to reflect on whether or not we’ve sold our souls/conscience/heart for 30 pieces of silver.  For example, I read an article that showed the yachts of famous people—sports stars, corporate heads, and celebrities who acquire fortunes in different ways.

I’m not a stick-in-the-mud sort of person who thinks everyone should go around wearing “sackcloth and ashes,” but I do know that Christians are called to “steward” their resources so that God’s people are helped (clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc.).  Could I, as a Christian, own a 50-million-dollar yacht for my use only?  As I read the article, and saw some yachts costing 75, 100, 150 million dollars—I could only wonder if the message of Jesus was for me to invest such vast sums only in myself and my own pleasure.

In fairness to yacht owners, I then thought that if Jesus had 50 million dollars, maybe he WOULD acquire a yacht!  However, he’d use it to take kids for a ride on the Sea of Galilee, or teach kids how to captain a boat, or take people out to go fishing—thus investing his 50 million in more people than just himself.  And so it is with each of us at John the 23rd parish.  The gospel calls each of us to “steward” our “pieces of silver” not just on behalf of ourselves but on others, too.

Returning to the “first/last supper,” St. Augustine said that a sacrament is something given to us by Jesus—which is a visible sign of an invisible reality.  The bread and wine re-presents Jesus with us (today’s apostles) at the table-altar.  We claim to be united with him in shared values—just as at Thanksgiving time, we’re not celebrating the turkey, but rather the felt sense of gratitude for loved ones who are near.

Each celebration “makes present” that mighty deed of God for those present—the visible signs of bread and wine (food) of the invisible reality of God’s presence—in scripture and in the people.  The Israelites felt God’s presence in the Torah (the “word” of God) while Jesus WAS the Word of God at table in the Eucharist.

Another angle of eucharistic theology is that many people come to mass for consolation, or a sense of God helping them with life’s challenges.  This is certainly a valid aspect of the Eucharist.  However, gathering at the Lord’s table also includes a challenge or confrontation—not in the nasty sense of challenge or confrontation—but in a sense of helping us expand our horizon of understanding.

When we come here, we are admitting that we’re NOT saints or persons with all the answers.  Just the opposite!  We are SUPPOSED to come to mass to get our conscience more in conformity with the gospel.  After all, if you claim to be Christian, your conscience is NOT formed by TV, movies, clubs or political parties you belong to.  Let non-church-goers be formed by those media, Madison Avenue, or Internet forums that peddle A to Z philosophies.   As people of the gospel, we gather to have our attitudes and behavior formed by the gospel.

A neat experience reminded me of sacramental experiences—from a totally odd point of view.  I was looking out the window and noticed 3 brothers, ages 7-11, uprooting flowers from the church’s front garden.  I knew these boys, so went outside and shouted their names as they ran away.  Calling them to return, I wondered what on earth I could say to them that hadn’t been said to them a hundred times before (since they tended to get in trouble).  Kneeling down and extending my arms creating a kind of huddle in a football game, I told them how much I considered them my friends and how sad it was to see them hurt the flowers which people in the parish really liked.  I said something to the effect of friends not treating one another this way—and suggested we start afresh—with a group hug.

The experience came to mind this weekend when reading a theologian’s reflection on Corpus Christi.  He wrote: “So on the night before his death, having exhausted what he could do with words, Jesus went beyond words. He gave us the Eucharist, his physical embrace, his kiss, a ritual within which he holds us close to his heart.”

Among the many things that might come to mind during the mass, try and get a sense of God embracing you—holding you close to his heart.

Communion Reflection

From St. Theresa of Liseux (the “little flower”—d. 1897)

“Our Lord does not come from Heaven every day to stay in a golden tabernacle.  He comes to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our mind and heart–is where he most loves to stay.” 

 From St. John Chrysostom (d. 407)

“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.” 

Pastor’s Pen    May 30, 2021

This past week we had a full moon and lunar eclipse–that some call the “blood moon” or some other name.  Since full moons are thought to affect people’s moods, you’ve perhaps felt emotional tugs this past week (or now).  It is during times of emotional unrest that we often turn to God for peace of mind and heart—so it’s good that we be here on what’s known as “Trinity Sunday.”  We need to be here—because we have disturbances of spirit that need the spiritual strength we derive from this sacrament.

Fact is, we need the sacraments year-round—be it full moon or not.  The human condition is such that we need the “vaccines” of grace which ARE the sacraments.  They protect us from the various epidemics of spirit that challenge us year-round.  Today we offer the sacrament of the sick to anyone who wishes to receive it during the Mass.

The gospel reading for this Sunday is a foundational one for my spirituality.  It’s at the end of Matthew’s gospel and it tells of Jesus calling the apostles to a mountaintop (recall a mountaintop throughout all of scripture is a signal to us that God is going to make a major revelation or announcement).  Jesus tells them that he’s about to depart, but that he’s leaving them with a very important message.

Oh?  What’s that?

He tells them that their life, their existence, their every-day-ness—is VERY important.  Why?  Because all that he lived for is now in their hands—to spread the word that each life is sacred—is meaningful—is here for a reason—and that we are all brothers and sisters of one human family—his!

And as he departs, he says “Oh, and one more thing.  Remember I’ll be with you in a special way until the end of time.”

Appropriately, we celebrate “Trinity Sunday” with this reading because he says the above via what Protestants tend to call “the great Commission”. (“Baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”).

The Trinity

This basic understanding of the Christian “godhead” is what our theology describes as a “mystery” of our faith.  That is, we can’t fully understand how there are “3 persons in 1 God” (Father/Son/Spirit).  We can “kind of” conceive of analogies of 3-in-1 when thinking of a 3-leaf clover or musician/sheet music/sound—but distinct “persons” is hard for us to conceptualize.

Nonetheless, grounded in scripture, we have an understanding of God as Father (or Creator/Grandfather, or Grandmother/Mother, Elder wisdom keeper, etc.), Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit (symbolized by a flame or whirring-wind sound at Pentecost).  We even pray to these 3 persons without consciously thinking “I’ll now pray to the Holy Spirit,” “Next I’ll pray to the Son,” and “Finally, I’ll pray to the Father.”

No, we tend to pray in this fashion, for example, to the Father: “Father in heaven, you made this beautiful earth and this wondrous summer day with the shiny blue-water lake—thank you so much for so many gifts all around me that I take for granted.  And my wonderful wife/husband/kids—who I love so much—gifts from you dearest God of all creation—to you I raise my heart in thanks.”

Whereas on another day, we might pray to the Son: “Lord Jesus, you know what I’m going through now.  You were human—like me.  You faced the cross, and fell on your way to that cross.  Please give me strength to face this cross I now confront.  It seems too much for me to carry—but you have shown me that I can do so.”

Or to the Holy Spirit we might say: “Holy Spirit, place a fire in my heart—that I might match the challenge of today’s meeting.  I feel so overwhelmed in dealing with him/her/them—that I feel defeated before I’ve begun.  So kindle within me the strength to rally myself and my spirit—with your grace—so that together we might bring about something good.”

These illustrations show that we naturally pray to the Trinity—and don’t really have to think of how they are 3-in-1.  We simply relate to God as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.  And today we’re called to reflect on this theological reality.  Sadly, most Catholic young people (not to mention everyone who isn’t Christian or who has no faith-life background) don’t know what you’re referring to when you say “Trinity.”

Our religious formation programs have had to contend with too strong a secular culture for our youth to learn about or care about theology.  Electronic games and hand-held devices are far more appealing.

That said, today’s mass is offering people the opportunity to receive the sacrament of the sick.  Our lector will first lead us in a litany of prayer:

Our response to the following petitions is: “Compassionate God, hear us.”

Lord, we entrust to your care our loved ones of John the 23rd parish.  May they be given a strong faith in your healing power.  Trusting in God’s care for us, we pray:  COMPASSIONATE God, hear us.

May the Spirit bring consolation to any who are struggling with discouragement.  Trusting in God’s care for us, we pray, “Compassionate God, hear us.”

For all who are seriously ill, may they be given a courageous faith in God’s saving power.  Trusting in God’s care for us we pray, “Compassionate God, hear us.”

Let us pray for divine assistance for all who feel the burden of years or whose minds are not as reliable as they once were.  Trusting in God’s care for us, we pray.  “Compassionate God, hear us.”

For Persons facing treatment and care-decisions for themselves or those they love, May your wisdom guide them.

Trusting in God’s care for us, we pray, “Compassionate God, hear us.”

We ask your blessing upon all health care personnel and caregivers.  May they be instruments of your healing and compassion.  Trusting in God’s care of us, we pray.  “Compassionate God, hear us.”

Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  May the Lord renew your confidence in his loving care at this time and always.

Pastor’s Pen                              May 23, 2021

Pentecost is celebrated 10 days after Ascension Thursday (unless the Ascension is celebrated on a Sunday—in which case Pentecost Sunday is one week after Ascension Sunday).  It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. The term “Pentecost” comes from the Greek and means “fiftieth.”   It refers to the Jewish festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Jewish First Fruits holiday.  In rabbinic (“rabbi”) tradition, the Jewish feast of Pentecost (“Shavuot”) was primarily a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, but it was later associated with a remembrance of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (the 10 commandments). Christians changed this feast of the Law to a feast of the Spirit.

Although Pentecost is now celebrated 50 days after Easter, the New Testament is not unanimous on this point (Luke saying it occurred 50 days after Easter while John saying the Spirit came on Easter).  It is considered to be the birthday of the Church—and since we are “church,” it is our spiritual birthday.  The color associated with the Spirit is red—which also is used for martyr feast days (signifying blood).

So often within discussions of Christian practice, all we hear about is the word “sin” (hamartia in Greek).  All sorts of images probably come to mind when that word surfaces.

It technically refers to “missing the mark” as with a bull’s eye target.  With excellent, value-laden behavior represented by the bull’s eye, we sometimes hit it, sometimes miss it by a little, and sometimes by a lot.  Traditionally, near-misses of perfect behavior are called “venial” sins while major misses are called “mortal” sins.  Overall, “sin” refers to an evil force or power within our experience with which we all contend.  And our arsenal of defense against sin is the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives some (but not all) examples of missing the mark and begins his list with “immorality.”  Morality or immorality is today a synonym for “ethical” or “unethical” behavior.  But regardless of which word you use, morality or ethics, what do you think of when you hear those words?

Many might think of sexual immorality.  However, much more is involved than how we handle our sexual drives.  They are good in themselves (gifts from God) but as with anything, those drives can be misdirected and cause us many problems.

How about the morality of nuclear war?  Are you quick to say we should bomb some place in the world and make a parking lot of that country?  Would you be waving the flag when the nuclear sub named the “Corpus Christi” was launched (“Corpus Christi” translates to “body of Christ”)?  Is it “right,” or is it hitting the bull’s eye of what Jesus taught to associate his name with nuclear weapons that can destroy millions of people?

How about the viral video a couple of years ago which showed the young teen girl smiling next to the giraffe she shot in Africa?  Or those who go on hunting trips to shoot elephants?  Both creatures are fast disappearing from the face of the earth, but some people—for some reason—want to shoot and kill them.  Is that hitting the bull’s eye of Christian morality?  Is the killing of majestic creatures who evolved over millions of years and bringing them to extinction—what Jesus taught about being a good steward of creation?

You get the point.  There are different kinds of “immorality” and “sin” in the world.  As with the word “immorality,” so it is with “impurity.” Often enough we hear that word and think of “impure” sexual thoughts.  St. Paul, however, was referring to many other things, too.  There were dietary laws and ritual behaviors that were common to the Mediterranean cultures—and he implored people to observe practices that kept God foremost in mind.  Cultures observe “purity” laws—and these are what he was referring to.

Sadly, many people today are so uninformed about religious behavior of ANY kind, that they don’t think of impurity of any sort—related to anything.  Maybe they think of impure water, and so they buy some bottled water which they think is “pure.”  Religion?  God?  Many have no sense of what’s Christian and what’s not.  Their only sexual morality is what they see on the Internet—(which is every behavior you can imagine).  As for having any sense of the Sacred—in any religion—and acting in respectful ways that honor that religion’s teachings—is foreign to many people.  They don’t have a clue about sacred behaviors.

Paul refers to “lust” which, of course, can refer to seeing another solely as a sexual object.  Lusting entails feeling passion for someone (which is okay), but no compassion (which falls short of the bull’s eye).  Lust, as we all know, can lead us into diseases that can kill us (venereal diseases which we soften with the term “sexually transmitted disease”).  This is a good example of all practices which Paul designates as sin.  Namely, if we choose to miss the Christian bull’s eye, we’re asking for trouble.  God doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves.

So don’t think of missing the bull’s eye as opening the door for God to punish you for your behavior.  No.  God gets no thrill out of bullying you for your being weak in some area.  If anything, God wants to help you work on your aim.

Some thinkers have said there’s no such thing as an atheist.  Why?  Because everyone has some “ultimate concern.”  I might think of God as my ultimate concern while another might think of acquiring wealth as their ultimate concern.  All sorts of things can become our preoccupation or focus of our life’s efforts.  Call that your “god.”  It’s just not the God who Jesus revealed.

Each of us can be guilty of another sin that Paul points out—idolatry.  What “shrines” do you worship at?

Paul lists such things as “hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, creating dissension, occasions of envy, drinking, orgies, and the like.”  I especially like this last one “the like”—meaning that you and I can list any number of behaviors which we, as individuals, have that prevent us from being the person of blessing we are called to be.

All of our families have been affected by alcohol or some other addiction, and AA individuals have shown us that these addiction-demons can be overcome or held at bay.  And think of those who are known as “anarchists.”  There is a “force” (that’s sinful) within some people which moves them to create chaos—for no reason at all.  Computer “hackers” who just want to create problems for people are examples of anarchists.

Paul says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  What he means by that is NOT that you won’t go to heaven when you die, but that you will not find fulfillment NOW if you behave these ways.

So what behaviors SHOULD you practice?  Paul lists them, too.  You can identify where God exists when you see people exhibit these traits when conversing with you.  They have an aura, or mode of dealing with people and issues, that reflects joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

When you see people behave or speak the OPPOSITE of these traits—be careful.  They are not exhibiting what Christianity calls the “fruits of the Spirit.”

I’m reminded of a video on M-Live which showed a militia man shooting his military weaponry, stopping, and facing the camera, and nastily saying something to the effect that he’s going to shoot anyone who doesn’t go along with what he and his army of patriots are going to “restore” in America.

Seeing the traits that Paul lists tells you the kind of language and behavior that Jesus would use.  If we are Christian, we do our best to live those traits and have our language, behavior, and tone of voice reflect what the gospel offers.

Communion Reflection

It makes me angry, Lord, when people treat me discourteously—and are unfriendly to me.

I also get upset when I see on television or hear of anyone killed or abused by those who unleash their hostility on others.  I think of the man who went and killed a number of people at worship—thinking they were Muslims.  Turned out they were Sikhs—not Muslims—a religion out of India and not related to Saudi Arabia’s Islam.  One man’s ignorance brought death to good people praying.

We think of some people as having the wrong family tree.  They belong to the wrong race, ethnicity, or social class.  And when I think of it, so do you, Lord Jesus.  You’re a nobody.

Your line has black sheep like Adam, white murderers like David, liars like Jacob, and in-laws like Ruth.  Boaz bought a foreign girl after a wild night on the threshing floor.

You certainly didn’t pick your ancestors.  Or did you?

You came as a nobody to give every person from everywhere 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 dignity to the human family, to set all of us free from fear, and instill in us the power to live a new life where love means building community and bridging differences.

In you, I have worth.  I am somebody—and so are they–the other, the man, the woman, and child who lives everywhere in the garden of Eden you gave to humanity.  Thank you, Lord, for reminding us of this truth on Pentecost.

Pastor’s Pen                                  May 16, 2021

When we think of the Ascension, we might get images from Renaissance art of Jesus rising into the sky and waving goodbye to his friends.  Luke offers this depiction while the gospel of John mentions nothing of the sort.  Hmm.  What DOES the Ascension refer to, and what DOES it mean for me?

In Acts of the Apostles, we’re told the departure of Jesus took place 40 days after the resurrection, but theologians say this number is used in a symbolic way—as the number “40” appears a number of times in Hebrew scripture and the New Testament—signaling something important.  For example,  the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before finding promised land, Noah was adrift for 40 days of the flood (at which time, significantly,  a new creation appeared), 40 is the period of years it takes for a new generation to arise,  Eli, Saul, David, and Solomon ruled for “forty years,”  Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for 40 days until David got tired of him, Moses spent 3 consecutive periods of 40 days/nights on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert.

Interestingly, for 300 years, the early Church did not celebrate what we today call the Ascension.  Theologically, the resurrection and ascension are 2 aspects of the Easter event.  Jesus faced the cross, overcame it, rose to new life, and passed the baton to us.  When we liturgically address this one event’s two aspects, we are paying special attention to the meaning of resurrection for us as individuals, and the meaning of ascension for us in our everyday lives.

Today’s reading has the apostles being asked “Why do you stand looking up to the heavens?”—waiting for Jesus to return?   The point here is that there’s no need to look up to heaven for some sort of divine intervention in our lives.  It has already occurred—so be up and on your way to be a witness of it. 

The magi looked heavenward at a star which led them to the child of Bethlehem.  But that child told us to look for the stars within us—within our minds and hearts and limbs—and everyday lives. 

 Spirituality-wise, Matthew’s account of the departure reminds us that God is with you in good times and bad, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re sick or in good health, until death & beyond.  Luke says the Holy Spirit is now with us to be the presence of Jesus alive in the world.

But what is it that we are to evangelize?  To share?  What “good news” is it that we’re supposed to preach (the Anglo-Saxon word “godspiel” meaning “good news”)? 

I recently watched a video of a Church leader speaking.  His presentation was dead on arrival—no “affect” in his tone of voice or on his face and speaking robotically.  How sad, I thought.  This wooden prelate didn’t seem to be feeling any “good news” at all.   But what IS he, or you, or me supposed to feel?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are SUPPOSED to feel the incarnation of Jesus as being an affirmation or embrace or divine blessing of OUR incarnation—its value now, and our value eternally.

When Jesus bade adieu to his friends, it’s as if he was speaking to their hearts and saying it was time for him to return to the Father, and for our incarnate, enfleshed reality to speak volumes about God, our Creator.

It’s as if Jesus were to take each of us one-by-one and stand us in front of our community—introduce us to the assembly—and tell everyone what a miracle you are—what a blessing you are to all creation—and the assembly is to rise and applaud your creation.

Now the fact of life is that each of us has fallen flat on our face at different times in our lives.  Like the beautiful turkey I saw on television courting lady turkeys.  He was beautiful—strutting near the girls and showing them his beautiful feathers.  Then, all-of-a-sudden, I heard a rifle shot, and that beautiful creature was dead.  I didn’t realize that I had channel-surfed to a hunter’s show.  One moment the beautiful turkey was happy—and the next moment he no longer exists.  He reminded me of us humans.

As did the several deer I saw running scared on I-70 one day.  Frightened by the traffic, the lead deer leaped over the railing—followed by the others—not knowing they had come to a bridge and would land on pavement 50 feet below.  They reminded me of us humans.

With all our missteps in life, our ups and downs, and in-betweens, each of us is a person who could stand in front of the assembly–as God’s beloved—valued as a pearl of great price.  

On Ascension day, the angels ask us “why are you standing there looking at the sky?”  Instead, you should look in the mirror and smile at the child of God you are.  And BE the good news you were intended to be in the unique circumstances of your life.

Language and Lies

I watched a presentation on how language can be deceptive.  Our human ancestral tendency is to accept as truth what someone tells us, e.g., there are no deer to hunt over there, don’t eat this berry because it’ll kill you, that river is too deep and dangerous to cross, etc. Consequently, when someone speaks to us, we EXPECT to hear the truth.  Deep in our genetic makeup is the desire for truth–because lying can lead to physical death.  

What makes the topic interesting is that in today’s world, a person can lie–but then be caught in their lie due to cameras recording what really took place.  Lies can temporarily get one out of a bad situation (e.g., I’ve never been there, I didn’t know the gun was loaded, I never spoke with that person, etc.) but later on, the person’s lies catch up–and they’re revealed as an untrustworthy liar.

Examples of lies-that-kill in American history are those of the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq (which didn’t exist), the tobacco industry saying there was no connection of smoking to lung cancer, and the petroleum industry knowing for decades but denying that climate change was occurring because of our using fossil fuels.  

Moreover, someone can state a bald-faced lie, but reports of the lie are couched in gentler terms.  Listeners (or readers) are led to be more kind-hearted if they hear a lie referred to as a “falsehood,” “false claim,” “inaccurate claim,” “unsupported claim,” “erroneous description,” or “unsubstantiated fact.”   The phrases “alternative fact” and “alternative reality” were used by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway who was reminded by listeners that a fact is a fact and reality is reality–and that no “alternatives” to fact and reality exist.  One can only imagine what dinner table conversation is like in her household–given her husband’s well-known, vocal opposition to Trump.

I didn’t lie.  No.  I just made an “unsubstantiated” claim.  See how language can alter perception?

Now part of everyday conversation is what’s known as “the big lie.”  Of German origin long before now, the Oxford dictionary defines it as “a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the facts, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician . . . ”  Coined by Adolph Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, it describes the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone could “distort the truth” to such an extreme degree.  His use of a “big lie” was to blame the loss of WW I on the Jews–historians today saying the lie brought about the holocaust.  Another was his claim that Germany was not defeated in WW I, but rather was betrayed by internal groups.

In WW II, the new CIA said this of Hitler’s psychological profile: His primary rules are: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind. People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one, and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. 

The “big lie” reality is still alive–now at play in the news with Arizona’s senate re-counting the Arizona vote–despite multiple state-conducted audits that each time proved the integrity of the 2020 election. The new re-count is being done by a company that was founded by a Republican donor with no experience in anything related to voting.  Tired of the nonsense and expense caused by this group and Mr. Trump’s series of lies related to Arizona, Maricopa County’s Republican election board said that the re-count was “outrageous, completely baseless and beneath the dignity of the Arizona Senate”–Trump loyalists simply lying in an effort to raise funds for the 2022 and 24 elections–selling the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent.  After refuting each charge laid against them, the Board said: “We ask everyone to join us in standing for the truth”–a statement similar to what Congresswoman Lyn Cheney said and for which she lost her leadership position in the Republican party.

[See: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/5/16/2030707/–Wow-This-is-unhinged-writes-Maricopa-County-Election-Official-about-trump-s-deranged-tweet?detail=emaildkre]

Meanwhile, Georgia congressman Andrew Clyde had the gall to say this week that the January 6th insurrection was a normal tourist visit and that if a camera was showing shots of the Capitol that day, it would capture tourists, casually and in an orderly fashion, looking at statues.  He probably knew that none of his constituents saw a video of him fearfully shouting on the 6th and trying to hold back protesters from breaking down the door leading into the congressional offices.  He used the gimmick used by others (accuse them of what you’re guilty of) and called people liars who said January 6th was anything but peaceful.  Lie about the election and then lie about the many people who stormed the Capitol–committing acts of sedition for which they can be sent to jail for not longer than 20 years.

I suspect that lots of these lying people consider themselves “Christian.” They apparently aren’t aware of the Christian tradition that teaches us not to lie.  As our genetic inheritance tells us, lying can lead to death.  God is a God of life.

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                               May 9, 2021

Imagine if we were to have St. Peter as a guest speaker.  People would come from miles around to meet him.  We’d be in awe of this key, New Testament, figure.  And he would say to each of us, as he did to Cornelius in today’s reading: “Don’t make me out to be someone I’m not. I myself am also a human being.  God shows no partiality.”

What he said is a major theme of Christianity. That is, God doesn’t favor one people over another.  Recall the scripture passage that says: “rain falls on the just and unjust alike?”  So it is with God.  If you think you have more rights than anyone else—you’re wrong.

Another major theme in scripture is that “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” God does not benefit from our practice of the faith—but WE do.  That’s the point of Jesus coming to us. Concretely, this means that through belonging to a faith community our sense of self is enhanced along with a better sense of what mission in life we were created to fulfill.  Church practice broadens our vision of who we are, who other people are, and where we fit within creation.  Belonging to a faith community awakens our consciousness of the world beyond our narrow-mindedness or limited vision.

People who don’t go to church or have no active faith life are not bad.  They might be saintly souls.  I’m simply saying that non-church people could be better people if they DID attend mass and receive the sacraments.  Hear me correctly.  I’m not saying you’re BETTER than non-church goers, but YOU are better for it—as they would be if they attended mass (they’d be even more saintly than they already are).

People have a hundred different reasons for not going to mass or having a Church identity.  I actually agree with many of the reasons people find church attendance a drag.  But what alternative do they have—sleeping in on a Sunday morning? Reading the sports section of some magazine or newspaper?  Watch television?  Playing music?

Where will people get their souls refreshed or enlivened?  Where will their minds be touched with thoughts of the world that exists beyond their front porch?  Our country’s experience in the Facebook experience of 2016’s election shows how vulnerable we humans are.  Foreign propaganda was bought hook, line, and sinker by many Americans.  The word “disinformation” was born—referring to foreign countries and political lobbyists planting lies within the population—and selling those lies as truth.

Courts and Trump-appointed judges have ruled that the 2020 election was clearly and fairly won by Biden, but people ignored this fact and stormed the Capital building—threatening the life of the vice-president and representatives.  Some of these people likewise believe that space aliens started fires in California via laser beams shot from their spacecraft.  Others believe that “lizard people” exist who are camouflaged as humans.  Again, Russia (primarily), Iran, Iraq, and a few other countries “plant” these stories on Facebook and other social media—and too many Americans accept this “disinformation” as fact.

I’m reminded of an example I saw featured on the “60 Minutes” TV show several years ago.  It was the video of a man in farmworker clothing standing with a little girl in a field.  It SEEMED to be the picture of a good old American pie dad and daughter.  The man used speech that was not “educated” but was, instead, the “down-home” vocabulary of a dad who loved his daughter and feared that Hilary Clinton would destroy the American farm, ruin his life, and that of his daughter.  In a pleading tone of voice, he told the interviewer that “It’ll be a sorry day for America if Hilary Clinton is elected.”—the camera capturing his sad face and that of his devoted daughter.

“60 Minutes” then showed where this “interview” was conducted.  Not in Pennsylvania as it claimed, but in Moscow—where a propaganda lab works 24 hours a day.  And it was found on Facebook and Youtube.  It was all a crock of disinformation peddled by Russia.  And we Americans eat up these lies and accept them as truth.

Even when turning to Christian ministers, we need to be wary.  Longtime TV evangelist Kenneth Copeland—also longtime dodging questions about his being a con-man—is worth 750 million dollars (which raises the question of Christians keeping for themselves vast amounts of wealth).  Mr. Trump’s White House-appointed “Christian minister,” Paula White, has been so associated with bankruptcies, multiple marriages, and preaching heresy, that it’s surprising she has anyone listening to her. She follows a trail that was blazed by Jim Baker who went to prison for fleecing his flock of funds, but who has returned to the airwaves and is again conning followers to subsidize his lifestyle.  In short, these are all illustrations of how we are all vulnerable to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The above scenarios are contrary to what our religious practice teaches. However, many folks no longer go to church—and so are influenced by the inanity and ridiculous claims made by these “evil” forces.  You don’t have to think of satanic forces from hell led by Lucifer.  Demonic powers appear in us humans—as we interact with one another—and we are a blessing or curse for people. 

 Especially contrary to the gospel are those who foment anger and hatred among minority groups.  One current ploy used by the wealthy is to stir antagonism between Hispanic peoples and blacks.  Get the poor to hate those they perceive as taking from them—and the poor are distracted from looking at those with vast wealth who should be the real targets of complaint. 

Southern plantation owners during the Civil War got poor whites to see slaves as becoming “uppity” and taking from them (the poor whites)—and so got the poor whites to don Confederate uniforms and fight ON BEHALF OF THE WEALTHY PLANTATION OWNERS.  In the U.S. today, Hispanics outnumber blacks, and well-funded special interest groups are buying up Spanish-speaking radio stations and hiring Rush Limbaugh types to broadcast hate-speech (veiled as political opinion).  Hispanic listeners are stoked to see blacks as culprits who prevent Hispanics from rising out of poverty (instead of a social system controlled by the wealthy).  I’m reminded of a waitress at Olive Garden 2 weeks ago telling me her hourly wage was 2.83–tips presumably elevating her take-home to a living wage (and relieving Olive Garden from paying her a just wage).

In today’s reading from Acts, the issue of circumcising converts is addressed.  The historical reality was that non-Jews (Gentiles) were becoming Christian, and many Jewish-Christians insisted that male converts be circumcised—as prescribed by God to Abraham (it being a “mark of the covenant” between God and Israel).  In the year 49, Church leaders met to settle this issue: to circumcise or not?

Today’s reading says that “circumcised believers” (Jewish) were shocked that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles.  How could this be (they thought)?  Could it be that “those people” who looked different from them and who had different cultural traditions—could actually be children of God—loved just as much by God as the Israelites?Yup!! 

Again, this event in Christian history points to our faith community asserting that we are all in this together—people with different backgrounds and appearances all loved by God (whether they’re circumcised or not). It should be clear how this applies to issues in our time.  As Christians, we are called to see all people—from all cultures—as our brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are NOT less-than-human. 

  There’s also the lesson of “spirit over law” in today’s readings.  If you go by the literal law, you might miss its spirit.  The early Christians learned through experience that God called them to suspend some laws in order to progress.  New circumstances required new thinking (but some Church contingent wanted to rely solely on the legal tradition, and not think creatively). 

We can’t let this weekend go by without saying something about mothers. 

Some people mistakenly think that the God of the Old Testament is solely a punishing God—and they have no interest in going to church and hearing about this nasty old man.  Contrary to what they think, the Hebrew scriptures have a number of “takes” on God.  The prophets, for example, saw an almighty power who could judge harshly but was much concerned about the people’s well-being.  Exodus saw God as a mighty warrior while Leviticus depicted deity as wholly “other” and approachable only through elaborate ritual.  The Wisdom books saw God as the essence of wisdom, thought, and profound insight in all matters.    

Cultures tend to see God/Jesus in cultural terms (as with this week’s bulletin showing a dark-skinned Mary and baby Jesus; or American Indian churches having Indian Jesus statues and portraits; and so it is with cultures everywhere).  One theologian said that if you think of color, God’s is the color of clear water.  

 Do you picture God with a body?  Male or female?  Older or younger?  3-headed?  What color eyes?  Is God a father—yes; a mother—yes.  Hmm.  How DO we conceive of God?  All we can be sure of is that Jesus said God is LOVE. Aha!!  So God can be thought of as “mother” (as scripture says “can a mother forget a baby at her breast” when speaking of God’s devotion to us). Could God be thought of as a faithful dog who’d fight to the death for you?  Why not? The fact is, God transcends our labels.  

I was in a Detroit mall parking lot and came upon a woman sobbing deeply.  I asked what was wrong, and she said she couldn’t find her car.  She made me think that God sees each of us lost and alone and crying—and it is God who wants to lead us to safety and comfort us.  

God is much like our mothers.  When my mom died, I then realized that I no longer had a home to visit.  I was on my own—no matter how kind or friendly anyone else was.  I’d always be welcome at mom’s house—with access to the refrigerator, front couch, tv room, etc. Maybe that’s why there’s a traditional phrase which refers to “holy mother the Church.”  The Church as mother is a good image of God.  We’re always welcome at God’s house, and always accepted when we visit. 

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                            April 25, 2021

Earth Day was on Thursday of this past week.  Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Because Pope Francis calls us to be good shepherds of the earth, here are reflections on our role within the environment.

Within geology (which anthropologists like me have to tap when doing archaeology and studying a people’s adaptation to various “niches” around the world), some say we are now in the “Anthropocene” epoch.  

To refresh your memory, there have traditionally been 7 epochs: the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene.  An epoch refers to an extended period of time usually characterized by a distinctive biological development or earth-modifying series of events, e.g., monkeys emerging in the Oligocene or weather changing in the Pleistocene.   It was recently proposed that the Holocene has given way to the Anthropocene because we now live in a world that has been so affected by the “footprint” of “man” (from the Greek word “Anthropos“) that a new epoch name is required, hence Anthropocene.  

More than 80% of the world’s surface has been changed by human habitation or alteration of some sort, e.g., mountain-top removal in West Virginia.  The Amazon forest is called “the lungs of the world” and acres of it are being cut down each day.  Meanwhile, there’s a mass of debris/garbage/refuse that’s floating island-like in the Pacific and that covers an expanse of water the size of Texas.    

Even our bodies are right now being affected.  Just as they evolved in the other epochs to what they are today, our bodies are experiencing “perturbations” (a term referring to something happening in the environment which causes a species to go extinct or adapt in some way, e.g., upright posture, skin-color, etc. were adaptations that came about over time–not consciously changed by humans but because of perturbations of some sort in the environment). 

As one scientist stated: “. . . the Anthropocene continually inscribes itself in all our bodies – we all have endocrine disruptors, microplastics, and other toxic things chugging through our metabolisms – it manifests differently in different bodies. Those differences, along with the histories that generated them, matter a great deal – not just to the people who suffer from them, but also to humanity’s relationship with the planet.”

The papal encyclical, Laudato Si, further notes: “Apart from a few obvious signs of pollution, things do not look that serious, and some say the planet can continue as it has for some time. This mentality serves as a license for us to unthinkingly carry on with our present lifestyles and modes of production and consumption. Having this mentality is the way human beings feed their self-destructive vices: they try not to see them, try not to acknowledge them, delay important decisions and pretend that nothing will happen.”

Laudato Si calls us to realize that care for the environment is woven into the Christian call to care for one another.  “It is inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking and being unconcerned about the poor . . . “  

Recall the photo of earth taken from the Apollo spacecraft?  It showed us for the first time in human history an objective view of our planet—a beautiful blue orb with green and brown (and white at the polar caps).  A thing of beauty—our human home and home to all that we know–floating in space.

If it was a small thing that you could care for as a terrarium—it’d be the main feature of your house—which you’d proudly show people.  Over time, however, people smoke in your house and you do your cooking, and these activities leave a residue on the orb.  Kids use crayons on it and roll it around as a ball to play with.  Then one day you pick it up and it isn’t the beautiful blue and white and brown and green fragrant thing of beauty it once was.  You contemplate throwing it in the trash or giving it to Goodwill.  

That is equivalently what we have done with the planet described in Genesis that God made.  Here’s another way of looking at what the papal encyclical addressed.

There was a huge forest being consumed by fire. All the animals in the forest came out and watched in horror as the forest burned.  They felt overwhelmed and very powerless–except for a little hummingbird. It said, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’ So it flew to the nearest stream and took a drop of water. The hummingbird put it on the fire, and went up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it could—with one beak-full after another trying to put out the blaze.   

Meanwhile, all the other animals, much bigger ones like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they were standing there helpless. And they were saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’   

But as they continued to discourage the hummingbird, it turned to them without wasting any time and it told them, ‘I am doing the best I can.’                                             _______ 

God calls each of us to be like the hummingbird. My efforts might be small, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching the forest around me be destroyed.  And so it is with taking care of the earth.  I will be a hummingbird and do the best I can.  

You might dispense my reflections as those of a “tree hugger” priest who pushes a liberal agenda.  Not so.  As with many issues, I was not born with a Laudato Si point of view.  Just the opposite.  As a kid, I was apprehended by the police for shooting birds and squirrels in my Detroit neighborhood.  Later on, I used to do target practice on rabbits, prairie dogs, and other wildlife.  Ashamedly, I confess having that background.  Today, I wouldn’t think of taking life of any kind–be it an ant or spider.

This past weekday’s scripture spoke of Paul’s conversion.  He went from persecuting Christians to becoming what some refer to as “the founder of Christianity” (since his writings were so influential in the beginning).  And so it was with me–and with all of us–as God calls us to change and have a conversion of heart in many areas of life.  We are always being called to be hummingbirds–making our distinctive contribution in diverse contexts.

I don’t speak as an authority on ecology but as a Catholic whose life took twists and turns leading to new self-awareness.   As with you, so with me–one thing led to another after some sort of Damascus experience (Paul was en route to Damascus when he got converted).  For me, it was finding a box turtle on the road. 

The local zoo’s director said “Years ago, we used to see them all the time.  Now we never see them.”  Sad to hear of their decline, I put the turtle in the campus garden and word spread that it was there.  Campus employees, visitors, and students stopped to see the turtle.  Some brought their box turtle to the garden where it could mix with others (and they’d no longer have the challenge of keeping it at home–or fear being fined for keeping a wild animal).

Wanting to “save the box turtles” for the region, I learned how to oversee their laying of eggs and care for hatchlings.  My vocation as box turtle caretaker and breeder was confirmed when I stopped at a nature Center outside Washington, D.C.  Before an appointment later in the day, I thought I’d stop at the Center to simply see what was on display.  To my surprise, many people were there–and I learned why when an announcement was made saying that the keynote speaker would soon be giving her presentation.  Looking at the auditorium sign, I learned that I had come upon the “National Conference on Box Turtles!”  Joining the group, I proceeded to hear authorities speak, and I conversed with them about caring for these special members of the turtle nation.

Believing that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” I was driving back to campus on I-70 and saw a large turtle on the side of the highway.  I stopped and picked up the wayward traveler (whose tribe I could not identify), but which had only half of a face.  Seeing with one eye only, the old girl apparently had some encounter that damaged her face years earlier.  I gave her to the zoo director and she lived out her final days in the zoo pond.

As I maintained a “box turtle sanctuary,” other thoughts came to mind as to how the campus could “be part of the solution instead of part of the problem” of environmental care.  I wrote up the thoughts in an essay and presented it to the university’s administration.  Shortly after, the University of Notre Dame sent out a “call for papers” to be presented at a national conference entitled “The Catholic University and the Environment.”  I put my thoughts together, submitted them to Notre Dame, and was one of two speakers invited to make a presentation (in addition to the keynote speaker and one other person).

I was NOT an authority on anything related to the environment.  I was like you–a hummingbird just trying to make some contribution to the region in which I lived.  I share my story with you so that it might be instructive for you (like the encyclical was supposed to be instructive for us).  YOU are being called to conversion–and can make a distinctive contribution to the well-being of all God’s creatures.

On that note, the following story: 

Star Thrower  

There was a man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the older, wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” 

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, the young man said, “It made a difference for that one.”  

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may we be the best hummingbird and star thrower that we can be.

 

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                     April 18, 2021

When we come to mass, think of all the concerns people bring with them. We have ages spanning from little ones to great-grandparents.  

Why do people attend mass?  Some might come out of habit.  They’ve been coming to church since childhood and continue reserving Sunday for mass.  Others might come to receive communion—a devotional basis for their presence.  Interestingly, Church history once reserved communion for reception once a year, and then Jesuits emphasized regular reception (which continues to be our practice).  

Some people are perhaps here because they might be lonely or wish to socialize face-to-face with others.  Others might seek a greater understanding of scripture or get religious wisdom of some kind from the homily.  And while some simply wish to be consoled when coming to mass, others want to be challenged—called to some new awareness of personal or social issues.     

Many probably come because they want to hear God say to them what Jesus said to the apostles in today’s reading: “Why are you troubled?  And why do questions arise in your hearts?”  They want to hear him say: “Peace be with you.”     

One challenge to that peace is what we’ve just celebrated during Holy Week. We confronted the death of Jesus—which brings to mind our own death—and we rejoice in His resurrection—and wonder if such a thing as life after death awaits us. 

When someone close dies, it’s common for us to wonder if there’s life after death.  It’s easy for someone to say “I don’t have a clue” if there’s such a thing.  We in the faith community DO have a clue—the story of Jesus and His resurrection.  But even we Christians experience what the apostles did.  The gospel says that they were terrified, startled, alarmed, skeptical, overjoyed, and in a state of wonder.  You could probably add that they felt frustrated, guilty, faithless, ignorant, and several other adjectives—when trying to make sense of what they were experiencing with the risen Jesus. 

Seeing what they thought was a “ghost” is a way of saying that they had an experience of SOME kind of an alternate reality.  Like them, we try to make sense of our experience—the highs & lows of our lives, why we think/behave the way we do, how to live our lives now, and making sense of what our eternal destiny will be.   

What’s neat about the post-resurrection passages—such as today’s–is that Jesus sits down at table with his friends.  He’s there to help them MAKE SENSE of their reality and answer their questions (or at least assure them in what direction they should go).  In the very real setting of having a meal with them—is the legacy we’ve been given in the mass.  Our gathering here is an alternate reality—God’s presence to us in this sacramental gathering.   

Luke’s reference to a fish at the meal reminds his early Christian readers that the Greek word for fish (ICTHUS) is an acronym for “Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior”—and THAT is who we are with at table in the sacramental experience.  At which, he asks us to set forth our troubles and tries to console us by saying “peace” to our hearts.    

As for the existence of heaven, the following, non-biblical parable offers some sense of its possibility. 

Twins in the womb 

The 1st baby asks the other baby “do you believe in life after being here?”  

The 2nd baby replied “Why of course!  There has to be something more than this–call it ‘delivery.’ I think we did not just suddenly appear for no reason–but that we’re here preparing ourselves for something more.”   

The doubting baby replied “Nonsense!  There is no life after delivery.  What would that be like?”    

The second baby replied “I don’t know . . . but there should be more light.  Maybe walk with our legs and eat with our mouths!”  

“That’s absurd.” said the first baby. ”Walking is impossible and eating with our mouths is ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies all nutrition.  The umbilical cord is just too short for us to walk in this life you call ‘delivery’.”  

The second baby held its ground.  “There is something . . . maybe it is just different than it is here.”  

The first baby replied.  “No one has ever come back here from this place you call delivery.  If this life stops, there is nothing.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see Mother.  She will take care of us in some way.”  

“Mother?” the baby scoffed.  “Do you believe in this Mother?  Where is she now?”  

The second baby tried to explain: ”She’s all around us.  Without her, there would not be this world.”  

“Ha! I don’t see her—so it’s only logical she doesn’t exist.”  

To which the other baby replied “Sometimes when you are in silence you can hear her, you can sense her presence.  I believe there is a reality I call delivery.  And we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes.”  

When God calls us to eternity, we might have fears and tears about leaving life—JUST AS WE HAD when entering this world at delivery time—frightened at what was happening to us and where we were going.    

One of Easter’s messages is that come eternity—loving hands will catch us—as they did when we were born; and we’ll be affectionately greeted.  The alternate reality presented to the apostles in the post-resurrection stories tells of the alternate reality  of Christ’s presence at mass and what eye has not seen nor ear heard.    

Communion reflection (as the baseball season gets underway)

Lord, help me be a good sport in this game of life. I don’t ask for an easy place in the line-up. Put me anywhere you need me. I only ask that I can give you 100 percent of all I have. If all the hard drives seem to come my way, I thank you for the compliment. Help me remember that you never send a player more trouble than they can handle.

Help me, Lord, to accept the bad break as part of the game. And may I always play on the square, no matter what the others do. Help me take to heart your word so I’ll know the rules.  

Finally, Lord, if the natural turn of events goes against me and I’m benched for sickness or old age, please help me to accept that as part of the game, too. Keep me from whimpering or squealing that I was framed or that I got a raw deal. And when I finish the final inning, I ask for no laurels. All I want is to believe in my heart that I played as well as I could and that I didn’t let you down.   

Announcements  

The parish thanks Mike Kenny and Kenny Inc. for donating screened black dirt and use of their equipment to haul the materials to Sacred Heart Cemetery. Jerry and Justin Buckley trucked and leveled the dirt.  This was a generous donation from Mike Kenny and Kenny Inc. 

Maria Becerra and Carol Jurek have also been making a great contribution to the parish via the fine landscaping at St. Mary’s.  

Pastor’s Pen         April 11, 2021

Being the author of 2 biographies, I really identify with what John writes at the end of his gospel.  I could say the same thing about Black Elk that he said about Jesus—in this sense: he wrote that Jesus did “many other things NOT reported” in his gospel (just as I could have written more about Black Elk—who did many more things not reported in my books).  John further stated that he hopes his readers will come to believe what he has written about Jesus—“and have life in his name.”  Not on a divine level, but on a human level, I hope my readers come to know Black Elk better and believe his faith was what moved him to be a saintly soul.  In learning about him (as with Jesus), readers will benefit. 

This is only to say that for me, John’s gospel has a ring of authenticity to it.  I affirm what the author of the gospel wrote about his authorial perspective—having had the same perspective myself. 

Here are some scriptural points to take away from today’s reading: John says the apostles rejoiced upon seeing the risen Lord while Luke says they were in fear & amazement (they were probably all this and more). Also, where it says Jesus breathed on them, “breathe” is the same Greek verb used in Genesis when the Creator breathed life into Adam—here implying Christian community/discipleship is the new creation. 

John also gives a rationale for why the gospels were written.  They are not histories but are “written that you may come to believe . . . and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”  Religious practice & faith are thus for OUR benefit—not God’s. OUR life will be better if we live the gospel. God won’t be any godlier or happier if we come to mass.  Instead, we will be called to greater self-definition, self-realization, and fulfillment in becoming the person God calls us to be. 

Interestingly, John’s gospel is the only one that refers to nails (the others speak of crucifixion).  Several years ago, archaeologists found an ankle bone from the first century with a nail in it—evidence that Romans nailed people to the cross and did not just tie them to it.  John speaks of Thomas as “the twin” but makes no reference to a brother named Jeff or Tony, or a sister named Jeannie or Sandra.  Hmm, we muse to ourselves.  I wonder who his “twin” is.  Ta-da—every time you look in the mirror, you are looking at that twin.  We are very much like our twin brother—doubting Thomas. 

The community for whom John writes is a 2nd generation group of Christians—the first generation pretty much all having died off.  He is addressing the issue of belief and unbelief in this story about Thomas (Jesus saying “blessed are those who have NOT seen [him] but believed”). 

Sunday’s 2nd reading dovetails with this Thomas vignette—this story about him confronting the nail marks in the hands, and spear mark in the side of Jesus. The 2nd reading spoke of Jesus as “the one who came through water and blood.”  Huh?  What does THAT mean? 

Think of water itself—and you can think of growth, fertility, new life, baptism—and so we associate water with good things, smiles, community, and growth! But today’s passage with Thomas is reminding us of the flip side of the coin—the other part of Christian discipleship.  Blood!  Martyrdom, sacrifice, hurt, pain, separation, aloneness.  When we come to mass, yes, we are coming to receive the bread of life, to be part of a community of earth-shakingly good people.  But we are also being confronted by Jesus, like Thomas, to look at the nail-marks, and reflect on how we have been responsible for his crucifixion still taking place today—in diverse forms. 

One might say to me “I don’t like what you said in the homily about—whatever.”  Or they might say “You say some things that are good, but other things I don’t like or disagree with.”  I can only reply that what I say at homily-time is not me preaching me, but it’s me calling our attention to what the Word of God is telling us, what our Church’s tradition is, or what contemporary theologians are calling us to contemplate.  Even I don’t like some of the things I have to say!!  I don’t like the gospel’s confrontational challenge. 

But that’s why our experience is the same as reported for Thomas.  We come to mass and God asks us to reflect upon and pray about our responsibility, or role, in making those marks in the hands—in our homes, communities, nation, or globe.  You might not like what I say at mass—and I join you in not wanting to be like Thomas.  WE don’t like looking at our attitudes or behaviors being nail-wounds.  WE don’t like realizing we are close-minded and just plain wrong in the opinions we spout, the vote we cast, the actions we perform, or the good we ignore doing.   

Put yourself in the role of Jesus.  If you or I lived as he did, underwent torture and execution, and then rose from the dead—WE would probably say to our friends and family “Seeeee!  I told you so!!  I was right and you were wrong—you know-it-alls.”   That’s what you or I would say—but not Jesus.  Instead, he is pictured today (and other post-resurrection appearances)—as saying “peace” to those he meets.  He doesn’t lord it over anyone.  Like Thomas, we see the error of our ways and sigh to ourselves “My Lord and my God—I sure was wrong . . . I’m so sorry.”   

In response, Jesus speaks softly to us, does not chastise us or condemn us, but calls us to greater conversion—greater insight.  Which is what takes place each time we come to mass.  We participate in this sacrament—hopeful that somewhere in our hearts we might proclaim “My Lord and my God”—because we know deep inside that God loves us, and that we woke up this morning because God wanted us to.  And go into the day being our own unique source of hope, light, and resurrection for others. 

 

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                                Easter Sunday

Holy Week is filled with rich and profound portraits of Jesus and those who knew him. We witness his interaction with people who reveal behaviors common to our experience, i.e., various forms of caring for others or convicting them.

During Holy Week, some might be absorbed with thoughts of how our Church cares for others (as did Simon of Cyrene and Veronica—the only 2 stations of the cross that refer by name to persons other than Jesus). Some people might be absorbed by thoughts of how Jesus continues to be crucified in different ways, e.g., street crime predators and white-collar criminals. Some might relate national issues to what took place 2000 years ago, e.g., with the Roman empire executing Jesus and the early Christian leaders, should we support our national policy of executing people (especially since we are one of the few countries that still do so)?

During Holy Week, we learn to appreciate the early apostles preserving their experience of Jesus—especially their experience of him at the dinner table. He told them to “do this in memory of me”—not because remembering him would stoke his divine ego, but because our remembering him would make him present to us and motivate us to be tomb-busters on behalf of oppressed others. Our candle-lit dinner with one another at the altar would entail our remembrance of God’s word spoken to us down through history—a word of love spoken in-person through Jesus.

During Holy Week, one reading occurs each year at the Easter vigil, and it conveys a truth that our faith-tradition pleads we take to heart. Namely, in Genesis, we learn that “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good.” Everyone in the world knows people who suffer from what is sometimes called a “low self-image.” Some get professional help to remedy the pain that this cross takes. Some people might further damage their self-worth issues via alcohol or other drugs. Perhaps this “low self-image” thing is so common to the human condition that it is addressed in the bible’s first book.

How often do we need to hear that God made YOU good? God had someone very special, unique, one-of-a-kind in mind when creating YOU—and “saw that you were very good.” Maybe this Easter, one or another person in our parish might internalize this biblical revelation. We’ll all benefit when that person takes wing with this insight.

During Holy Week, other thoughts might come to mind—triggered by one or another verse—some of which are the following.

“Not my will, but Yours be done . . . Into your hands I commend my spirit.” At the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary, Jesus uttered these words. They capture a Christian spirituality that SHOULD be part of each of our lives. Namely, instead of us behaving in cut-throat corporate ways, or instead of lording it over people with an attitude of “It’s my way or the highway,” we instead are called to always ask what GOD wants of us. What is the most loving act, loving decision, or loving mode of communication to employ with someone? Throughout life, each day—right up to our last day—we are called to say in prayer “Into YOUR hands, Lord, I commend my spirit . . . not my will but yours be done.”

“This day you will be with me in paradise”–is what Jesus spoke on the cross to Dismas, the repentant thief who asked for forgiveness. We pray to hear those words when God calls us Dismas-like people to eternity.

A reflection that should come to our minds on Good Friday is: “When Jesus was dying, he was thinking of me.” How could Jesus be thinking of you when experiencing his own death? Jesuit Anthony DeMello would say that he had a strong grasp of God beholding you and smiling. This was the seminal insight that surged through him on the cross–

His was the look of love. It is the same gaze Jesus gave to his friends at the last supper when he knew he was with them for the last time–cherishing their closeness–pausing for a moment and saying “remember me being with you this way.” And this is what Easter is about—God loving you in a manner that looks past the Dismas-like elements of your life-story—and smiling at you here at mass.

The poem below reminds us that the person we find so easy to condemn is not someone from another planet. That person is you, or someone like you who also has feelings—as the Good Friday poem reveals.

Two Mothers

A long time ago, so I have been told, Two angels once met on streets paved with gold.

“By the stars in your crown,” said the one to the other “I see that on earth, you too, were a mother.

And by the blue-tinted halo you humbly wear “You, too, have known sorrow and deepest despair . . .

“Ah yes,” she replied, “I once had a son,

A sweet little lad, full of laughter and fun.”

“But tell of your child, and how you were blest. From the moment you held him close to your breast.”

“Well, my heart almost burst with the joy of that day.” “Ah, yes,” said the other, “I felt the same way.”

The former continued: “The first steps he took– So eager and breathless; the sweet startled look

Which came over his face – he trusted me so.” “Ah, yes,” said the other, “How well do I know.”

“But soon he had grown to a tall handsome boy, So stalwart and kind – and it gave me such joy

To have him just walk down the street by my side” “Ah yes,“ said the other, “ I felt the same pride.”

“How often I shielded and spared him from pain And when he for others was so cruelly slain.

When they crucified him – and they spat in his face How gladly would I have hung there in his place!”

A moment of silence – “Oh then you are she – The mother of Christ”; and she fell on one knee.

But the Blessed one lifted her–drawing her near, And kissed from the cheek of the woman, a tear.

“Tell me the name of the son you love so, That I may share your grief and feel for your woe.”

She lifted her eyes, looking straight at the other, “He was Judas Iscariot: I am his mother.”

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                                               March 28, 2021

Welcome to Palm Sunday of Holy Week.  Today we wear the color red—which on the one hand symbolizes the Holy Spirit.  On the other, red symbolizes blood and martyrdom.   Those 2 extremes of human experience are what will be addressed this week in our liturgies.

Today, for example, we are the fair-weather friends of Jesus welcoming him into Jerusalem with palm branches.  The people heard about the carpenter-man-messiah from Galilee and flocked to see if he was the real thing.  Will their fervor and excitement last, and is their welcome based on devotion to what he has taught?

We know the answer to these questions (that is, everyone abandoned him).  But instead of keeping this historical-Jesus-event buried in the misty past, try to personalize the gospel stories we read.  For instance, Palm Sunday may be a biblical variation of what’s been called the “cult of personality”—defined by Wikipedia as a group drawn together via “techniques of mass media, propaganda, lies, spectacle, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” 

Evident as far back as the Roman empire and generally applied to political leaders, the term was coined by premier Nikita Kruschev when his administration was “de-Stalinizing” Russia.  Previously, Joseph Stalin had been elevated to heroic status when in power but his murder of millions led to his downfall).  Despite this origin, the cult of personality is now applied to anyone who for some reason captures widespread public attention and interest.  Some recent examples are the following.

While serving a life-sentence for plotting several murders, a maniacal Charles Manson received tons of mail from “fans” and women who wanted to marry him.  By contrast and parallel, Pope John Paul II drew crowds that numbered in the millions—most of whom were by no means saintly Catholics wanting to hear him speak (he was NOT a riveting public speaker or homilist).  For both Manson and JP2—the cult of personality was at play.

Mafia leader John Gotti was “accorded almost folk-hero status by many because of his acquittals, his designer suits, hand-painted silk ties and defiant manner as he grandly enjoyed himself at restaurants and nightclubs.”  Despite being convicted of “racketeering that included five murders, an additional murder conspiracy, extortion, illegal gambling and obstruction of justice,” hundreds of his “supporters stormed the [courthouse] and overturned and smashed cars before being forced back by police reinforcements.”  

An even more recent example is that of President Trump.  He won the minds and hearts of a faithful following that included evangelical (and other) Christians—despite his lifestyle (personal morality and business dealings) at odds with many of their religion’s teachings.  Whether it’s a Roman emperor, Stalin/Hitler/Mussolini, Charles Manson, Pope JP2, Donald Trump, or Pope Francis, the cult of personality is part of our human condition.  Why some individuals and not others are captivated by certain figures is impossible to fully understand. 

As stated, the reception of Jesus into Jerusalem—which Palm Sunday commemorates—may be a gospel example of the cult of personality.  The crowd’s excitement did not last long—and the heroic leader was dead within a week.  Like the parable he taught, the vine-like crowd was not grounded or rooted in his teaching, had little to no faith, and so did not grow.  As with all of scripture, we especially need to keep in mind this Holy Week, that the stories we hear are descriptions of OUR behavior.  On this Palm Sunday, WE are the people whose roots in faith are not deep, and whose moral presence during tough times is often enough not evident.

Liturgically, we next gather to remember what has been called “table fellowship” with Jesus (sometimes referred to as the “first supper”—but which is commonly called the “last supper”—since it reportedly took place on “the night before he died”).  That special event recalls why we’re here at mass today.  We’re at a candlelight dinner in the presence of Jesus who we see in one another—along with the risen Christ.  Holy Thursday occurs each time we go to mass.

Soon, however, the inspirational red of our vestments turns into a moribund red of martyrs—for Good Friday takes place, and we are reminded of hope being lost.  The cross of Jesus reminds us of every bad day or incident we ever experienced.  We are in transit, or a kind of limbo, seeking new life as the old testament’s sabbath Saturday transitions into Christianity’s Easter Sunday.

Today’s gospel and the passages read this week at mass present us with a number of persons who were part of that day in Jerusalem when the “greatest story ever told” took place.   If we’re attentive this week, each of us will be able to see ourselves in those diverse characters.  If one or another character stays in your consciousness, it may be that God is calling you to reflect on why you’re keeping that person in mind.  On different days and at different times, we are/have been each of the persons who are part of the story we hear. To get our minds thinking along these lines, consider: 

Judas Iscariot—do you have a price; what values do you betray? 

Chief priests—finding it easy to pass judgment on others; do you judge a person based on 1 lame thing they did or said in their life of many experiences?

Peter—are you called to stand for something but find you have legs of straw?  or are you close-minded and KNOW you won’t cave-in (or aren’t wrong)—when, in fact, you will cave-in or ARE wrong?

Jesus afraid in Gethsemane—what fears are you forced to confront–and say to God you need help?

Pontius Pilate—do you wash your hands of involvement with national, local, family issues?

Barabbas—do you benefit at other people’s expense (is your clothing made in sweatshops)?

Simon of Cyrene—do you help others carry their cross; he was conscripted to help–me often not wanting to do something for another but dragged into the mix–and benefiting from it. 

Soldiers whip Jesus—do you participate in the oppression of others/animals-environment?

Mary Magdalene & women at the cross—you’re a faithful presence to others in need—like the women?  Or are you like 10 of the apostles and nowhere to be found when the going gets tough or when help is needed.

Dismas, the good thief—do you admit you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness?  There’s nothing you’ve done which God can’t bypass in an effort to embrace your conversion of heart.

IN EACH OF THE PERSONS CITED ABOVE, WE SEE  

–HOW JESUS IS BEING CRUCIFIED TODAY

–HOW WE ARE WASHING OUR HANDS OF INVOLVEMENT

–HOW WE ARE DENYING SOMETHING IS OUR PROBLEM

–HOW WE ARE CALLED TO FACE OUR FEAR OF CROSSES.   

And that each of us is being called to new life—and out of our self-imposed tombs of routine and sedated existence 

Communion prayer

Grant us, O God, 

A vision of your world as your love would have it: 

A world where the weak are protected,
and none go hungry or poor. 

A world where the riches of creation are honored and shared
so everyone might enjoy them. 

A world where different races, cultures and creeds
live in peace and harmony, with equal regard. 

A world where peace is built with justice
and justice is guided by love. 

Give us the inspiration and courage to go forth with willing hearts, minds, and bodies to build such a world, through Christ Jesus. 

And may the God of hope fill us with every comfort and joy in believing. May the peace of Christ abound in our hearts and minds. and may the Holy Spirit gift and guide us now and forever.   AMEN. 

Pastor’s Pen

Last week I mentioned that Covid affected my olfactory sense.  I’ve always been accustomed to wearing cologne, but now I spray on “Aramis” and detect no scent at all.  Only by inhaling up close do I detect something.  I also read that Covid could affect one’s memory—and I identified with this, too.  Aging might take its toll on memory, but Covid people report being challenged more so. 

It occurred to me that this topic of “memory” or remembering is related to Lent.  We’re in a season when we look back at our life, and see where we’ve lived the gospel and where we’ve fallen short.  The Lenten season is a time for reflecting on where we need to improve our behavior—and simply acknowledge that we are very much NOT God. 

Last week I mentioned being concerned about young people completely missing the point of what we do at the Eucharistic prayer.  All they see and hear is a long prayer-narrative being read which has words that they might not know or which they think have no relevance to them (e.g., words like incarnate, savior, redeemer)   and that they lose interest.  In an era that has produced young people with short attention spans, the Eucharistic prayer becomes a test of endurance.  If they’re drawn to religion at all, young people might prefer going to a Christian service at non-Catholic churches that require little attention to any one thing (where services are not based on what we call the “Last Supper” or Passover Meal that Jesus gave as the Eucharist, or thanksgiving-meal we call “communion”). 

What comes to my mind each mass is that young people lose interest with each word the priest-celebrant recites.  In a way, I don’t blame them—because the language of what we call the “Eucharistic prayer” is not everyday speech.  Plus, they don’t know that what we’re doing is based on what Jesus did.  And what he did is based on a Jewish tradition that had families gather at table (our altar) and recount the history of God creating the world, saving them from floods and foes and famine, giving them prophet-leaders, and a promised land. 

Catholic tradition is rooted in this Jewish Passover meal that Jesus celebrated and told us to continue.  In the past weeks, I’ve indicated that Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Testament laws but to FULFILL them.  Sure, obey the commandments, but go BEYOND them (don’t steal—sure—but go further and be generous to others).  Our Thanksgiving meal, the Eucharist, puts us in “communion” with the resurrected Jesus—the Christ—and is the new “manna” God feeds us in the desert of life-experience.  It nourishes us to carry on and help others find the promised land of self-discovery as God’s beloved child—on earth with a mission of presence to others.  The communion host that we received is the sacred assurance of God’s presence. 

When we read scripture, and hear the Eucharistic prayer recited, we’re reading about earth’s history and the loving Creator-God who brought us here.  Each mass is a “remembering” of who we are and from where we came.  For example, today’s first reading refers to Nebuchadnezzar destroying the Temple (the destruction of the people’s identity) and taking the people into exile in Babylon.  Later, Persian King Cyrus defeated Babylon, and let them return—to rebuild the Temple (and restore Israelite identity). 

See God in your own nitty-gritty history—is what the Old Testament stories tell us. That is, we are called to reflect upon how God seemed present or absent to us in our past.   

As stated earlier, Lent is a time for remembering and reflecting—NOT to wallow in our guilt for wrongs we’ve perpetrated but for discerning what God is calling us to be in our present?  Remember: we are products of our past—not prisoners of it. 

Some of you may belong to Alcoholics Anonymous—a great program that has helped countless people get a better handle on their lives.  When I think of recovering from our past and making progress in new ways, I’m reminded of AA.  I say this because if ever there was a strategy for renewing one’s self (besides the gospel), it can be found in the AA program. 

Its founder, Bill Wilson, had a Jesuit priest friend named Ed Dowling, S.J.  When Catholics read about or practice Bill W’s 12 step recovery program, they might right away see that its spirituality is what they’ve been taught in good religious ed classes (in contrast to bad ones).  The program is Jesuit spirituality without being called “Jesuit spirituality.”  The 12 steps should apply to each of us, and have been (like scripture) the basis of many “self-help” programs.   

If you’re not familiar with the steps, here they are.  I cite them here because like any good spirituality, they do not turn one inward, but rather help one find inner-strength to become a living, breathing outreach (apostle) toward others. 

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable(substitute alcohol with your “unmanageable” area),
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity(admit help is available—which is what we do by coming to Mass). 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him(a secular program like AA doesn’t impose the Christian God on anyone; but we try to turn over our lives to God when we come here).   
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  

(Lent is a period in which we reflect on how we got to where we are.  Admitting our blindness and responsibility in making decisions that hurt ourselves or others.) 

  1. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.(Sort of like the expression “confession is good for the soul”—which Catholics literally believe.If anyone ever asks you to be the person they tell, be that person and accept the role.  They aren’t coming to you for wise counsel or advice.  They’re simply asking you to listen to them courageously admit to being a sinner.) 
  2. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 
  3. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 

(This step requires the person to focus on the positive aspects of his or her character – humility, kindness, compassion, and a desire for change—as well as step away from the negative defects that have been identified.  God takes no joy in seeing you in a constant state of shame). 

  1. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  2. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.(These last steps are like “penance” one receives in the sacrament of reconciliation—penance which opens doors to growth). 
  3. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 
  4. This step commits the one in recovery to continue their spiritual progress. For some, this may mean reading scripture every morning. For others, it may mean a daily meditation practice. AA doesn’t have stringent rules on what form spiritual growth takes. It simply involves a commitment to take time to reassess one’s spiritual and mental state. 
  5. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.(In Christian spirituality, this is the meaning of discipleship—each of us called to affect others positively through our words and deeds based on the gospels). 

Go for it. 

I can’t let Ephesians go by without comment.  Interestingly, although we speak of it as one of Paul’s epistles, scholars tell us that it probably wasn’t written by Paul.  Maybe one of his followers wrote it—because it’s the “sort” of thing Paul would write. 

Today’s verses raise an issue that was big during Luther’s time, viz., “faith and works” and their relationship to Christian identity.  Protestant tradition has tended to emphasize “faith” (professing “Jesus Christ is my personal savior”—as seen with people knocking on doors and “witnessing” to Jesus) whereas Catholic tradition embraces the Letter of James and asserts that any faith that produces no good works is not real faith.  As insightful as Luther was on many issues, he was deficient with this one.  He had the gall to claim that we should delete the Letter of James from the New Testament—since it directly contradicted what he was arguing. 

Today’s gospel reading is one whose chapter and verse you know—and maybe aren’t aware of your knowing it.  At most sporting events, you’ll see someone “professing their faith” with a sign that simply reads “John 3:16.”  Which refers to the section that says God so loved the world that He sent His only son—that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

Returning to and concluding with a line from Ephesians, I quote a line from the letter which I’ve quoted in the past and which I used on a holy card at my ordination.  The line reads: “We are God’s work of art.”  Think of that statement for a moment! YOU are God’s work of art—the God of all creation fashioned you! 

You were created by someone with skills that far surpass those of Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Grandma Moses or Andy Warhol. 

And in turn, God is always calling you and me to new insight, new understandings of who we are—and then proceed  

–to speak to others like Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson wrote poetry,  

–to leave an impression on others like the impressionist painter Claude Monet, or post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.  

God calls us to learn novel ways of being present to others like novelists Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee.

We might be up there in years like Grandma Moses—and be naïve about many things (just as she belonged to what’s called the “naïve” school of art)—but God calls us to creatively paint our interactions with people that exceed in value the 1 million dollars that Grandma’s paintings now fetch. 

As Sacred Scripture says: you are God’s work of art–but are more precious than silver and gold. 

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                         March 7, 2021

Scripture is rich—such that if you went to 20 different masses, you’d hear 20 different perspectives.  I see the homilist’s role as one of a farmer throwing out seeds of reflection—some of which may bear fruit and some not. One person might find something helpful in one thought while another is touched by something else.  Key thing is that God will speak to us in the sacrament as a whole–in the scripture or homily we hear, in the quiet of our reflections, the songs we sing, or the eucharistic prayer and communion we receive. 

Today’s first reading is the 10 Commandments–which are found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.  A homily could be devoted to 1 commandment each week for 10 weeks (or maybe longer–since the list ranges from 10 to 14 within the different traditions).  Sort of like the Big 10 Athletic Conference–there are 14 teams in the conference, but it’s still called the “Big 10” (the same goes for the commandments).   

When I learned the commandments, #9 was “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”  As a young kid, I wondered why “wife” was only mentioned, and not “husband.”  Couldn’t a husband be coveted as much as a wife (I wondered)?  And then I learned #10 was “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”  But some lists blend what I learned as two commandments into just one–“Thou shalt not covet your neighbors’ property.”  Similarly, I learned “I am the Lord your God” (was #1) and that “Thou shalt not have strange Gods before me” was the second commandment.  Some lists blend those two. 

The 10 commandments (known as the “Decalogue”) sound similar to an earlier set of Babylonian laws known as the “Code of Hammurabi.”   As with other cultures, the Babylonians and Israelites blended the sacred and the secular—the holy with the profane.  Not killing someone and not stealing from someone helped SOCIETY over which God (Shamash for the Babylonians and Yahweh for the Israelites) presided.  So, one’s civic duty in these cultures was the same as one’s religious duty, too.  Ideally, we conduct ourselves in the same fashion.  That is, we carry our Gospel perspective into our everyday lives.  

Last week, I mentioned that the commandments are the MINIMAL foundation of our religious identity—Jesus coming not to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it.  He thus called us to expand the Old Law (the Old Testament) into new ways (the way of the New Testament).  For example, we might not be someone who steals, but when you go to your grave will people say “He/She was a really generous person.  She gave of her time to anyone who needed it.  He gave the shirt off his back if someone was in need.” 

Remember, when Christians quote the Old Testament, that’s fine.  BUT, those Hebrew scriptures were the foundation of the gospels and epistles—the Christian bible.  And we’re called upon to apply all biblical passages to ourselves.  For example, today’s 2nd reading has Paul saying the Jews do one thing and the Greeks do another.  When looking at the parish, we could say the Hemlock people do one thing and the Merrill/Ryan people do another. AND BE REMINDED BY PAUL that “For Hemlock, Merrill, and Ryan alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of Godis what we preach, and not just what’s good for your group.”  

What inspires me each time I see you here, is that you share Paul’s insight.  Each one of you is here because you need help.  You realize that you might be a pretty intelligent and strong person, but you and I know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  You and I are here because we learn God’s wisdom and tap God’s strength in scripture, the sacramental system, and within the faith community.  

The gospel is the well-known story about Jesus overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  We wonder why on earth there would be people with money on tables in the Temple.  Here’s why.  In the time of Jesus, they wouldn’t allow Roman/Greek coins brought into the worship area to be given as an offering (what would be our collection for the offertory procession).  The coins had images of Roman and Greek gods, so moneychangers were needed to swap coins that had those images for coins that didn’t have them.  This system was around for years.  The Temple was a busy place—people buying animals for sacrifice, too.  So John draws upon Hebrew scripture, and portrays Jesus as a kind of second Jeremiah: “Stop making the house of my Father a house of marketing.”  

This passage is found in all 4 gospels, but John portrays it as opening the door for his arrest and crucifixion.  The other gospels place the event at the BEGINNING of his ministry.  This again reminds us that the gospels are not biographies of Jesus but theologies of him.  John also adds the association of the Temple’s destruction with the body of Jesus being destroyed but rising to new life. Historically, the Temple had, in fact, been destroyed in 70 AD—before John’s gospel was written.   The theology he neatly weaves into these images is that we no longer need the great Temple where God resides—because each of us is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit.”       

This gospel passage also raises the issue of “anger.”  Each of us has been and can be—an angry person.  Sometimes our anger is the root of horror and pain inflicted on others.  However, anger is part of our human makeup and CAN be an instrument of good.  For example, we SHOULD be angry at some things–such as seeing people treated unjustly.  Our anger CAN lead us to action that brings about a good. 

I get angry at myself for recalling times in my life where I wish I hadn’t behaved or thought a certain way.  I had to have a conversion experience because my thoughts and actions were not what I eventually realized as non-Gospel.  Just as the Temple moneychangers had been around a long time, and people accepted them as part of the cultural/religious scene, so we have maintained thoughts and behaviors which elicit from us “We’ve always done it this way,” or “You can’t change this.”  Simply put, you and I have “positions” on topics that are NOT the “last word” on those topics.  

Today I might seem to have a “progressive” position on such things as racial, environmental, & gender issues–but I wasn’t born holding these positions.  I had “conversion experiences” which led me to let go of what I once thought about these things. I needn’t give examples, but I roll my eyes today when thinking of what I once thought and what I think today.  This is because I was moved to think beyond the world of thought I had come to accept.  The moneychangers in my Temple had been there a long time and experiences of anger led me to banish them from the premises of my thought.

A less socio-political example that can apply to many people is this.  All of you have been part of weddings.  Everyone wants to have a nice event.  From a GOSPEL perspective, marriage is supposed to be one of those touch-of-God moments in our lives–as we gather to pray for two people committing themselves to one another.  But how many ceremonies does God get a hearing amid the clatter of coins & party-fest?  

Often enough, people are all caught up with gowns to be worn, menus, bachelor/ette parties, a honeymoon destination, photographer/videographer to capture the event, guest list, and rings.  Almost as an afterthought, the couple/families pay attention to the sacredness of the occasion.  The couple and their families are so caught up in the social aspects of the occasion that they neglect to prepare their hearts as a dwelling place for God.  

Today’s Gospel is not just the report of some event that took place in the life of Jesus.  It instead poses a very personal question to each of us:  What needs cleansing in me so that I can fittingly house the Spirit of God?  May this Lenten prayer help us reflect on this question.  

Where there is fear I can allay, where there is pain I can heal,
Where there are wounds I can bind, and hunger I can fill:
Lord, grant me courage, Lord, grant me strength,
Grant me compassion That I may be your heart today.
Where there is hate I can confront,
Where there are chains I can release,
Where there are captives I can free
And anger I can appease:
Lord, grant me courage,
Lord, grant me strength,
Grant me compassion
That I may be your heart today.
When comes the day I dread
To see our broken world,  protect me from myself grown cold
That your people I may behold.  And when I’ve done all that I could,
Yet, there are hearts I cannot move, Lord, give me hope,
That I may be your heart today.  

Additional Considerations Unrelated to the Weekend’s Scripture

Last week, I mentioned that clergy are scrambling for ideas that might best serve their people.  One aspect of “ministry” is helping the flock not be seduced by cultural, philosophical, or theological “fads” that come and go.  For example, when cable TV produced networks like the History and Discovery channels, it seemed the public would be well-served in learning about history and science. Unfortunately, these and other networks now cater to our baser instincts and the least common denominator of human intelligence.  We are given a daily diet of space aliens visiting earth in the past and present, of monsters that stalk our forests, ghosts that haunt houses, and persons whose psychic abilities allow them to speak with the dead and report their messages to emotionally distraught family-members. 

Because of the influence of these outlets (reinforced via social media like Facebook, Twitter, and several other BUSINESSES), the people in the pews have become fair game for deceptions.  In light of this reality, I call your attention to entities that a Catholic should keep at arm’s length.  How could someone like actor Tom Cruise entertain becoming a priest as a young man, and end up being a poster child for what its creator named the “Church of Scientology?”  Like many other people in the pews, Cruise was influenced by the cultural acceptability of thinking space aliens are in our midst.   

Voila—Scientology’s founder (science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard) thought he might make an easy buck by starting a tax-exempt “church” of his own—and thus was born Scientology.  For reasons hard to fathom, a number of film stars (John Travolta, Anne Archer, Kirstie Alley, Gary Busey, Will Smith) were drawn to Hubbard’s fiction and are today part of its devout following (despite Hubbard’s son saying his father consciously created a big scam). 

I bother to cite the above because Georgia elected a Congresswoman in a landslide vote—she being a “Qanon” follower who believes in space ships setting California forests on fire.  And this past week, an event took place known as “CPAC” (Conservative Political Action Conference).  You may or may not share political positions that this group endorses, but you should take notice of who CPAC included in its list of speakers.  Right after Mr. Trump spoke, Hrioaki “Jay” Aeba took the stage.  He is a Japanese cult leader viewed as a messiah from the planet Venus.  The cult’s beliefs included the ability for its leader to serve as a go-between for various people, including gods—who reveal messages through him.  He also claims to be the incarnation of multiple Gods. 

It’s part of my role as a shepherd to warn you of what I see as misguided thinking that has gone mainstream.  It will lead you nowhere good.  I’ll elaborate on this in a video I’m preparing for our parish website. 

 

Pastor’s Pen               February 28, 2021

Today’s story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a really strange story for us to hear. For some reason, Abraham thinks God wants him to sacrifice his son. Huh? What kind of God would want a parent to kill their child? Surely there must be some OTHER point to this story—other than it describing God as some sort of bloodthirsty deity. Fortunately, there IS another point that this story is making—and it’s not telling us that God wants human sacrifice. In fact, it’s saying just the opposite. Genesis reveals an Israelite God who is not like other gods. THEY want humans killed and offered at their altars—but not the God of the Israelites.

Recall that Abraham and Sarah never thought they’d become parents, but then God said they will be the parents of a great nation whose people will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Sure enough—Abraham proudly sees the birth of his son, Isaac. No greater gift could he receive than this child—and it’s this pride in his child that the doting father Abraham is asked to surrender. God is asking Abraham what is the most important thing in his life. And God asks if he’d forfeit, or sacrifice, his most important possession (i.e., his son, Isaac).

At this point of the story, it becomes OUR story. What is our number 1 priority? Is God #1, or do we cherish other things more than we cherish God?

Abraham has to make a decision: is Isaac more important to me than my doing what God asks me to do? And the story ends with Abraham being a role model for us. He’s ready to give up his most important possession—his son—because he knows that what GOD wants is most important (not what he wants). At which point God says “Okay, okay—I see you have your priorities in order. I don’t want your son sacrificed.”

Are we like Abraham—ready to sacrifice all that we have in order to stand for what’s right? Or do we make ourselves #1? Russ told us how we as a parish were doing with “Christ’s Mission Appeal.” Are you part of the 35% who’ve “sacrificed” and given alms to the Appeal—which goes to help God’s people in need in different places? Or does your generosity include only yourself?

Today’s gospel story is called the “Transfiguration” (a word we never use in everyday speech). It refers to Peter, James, and John going with Jesus up the mountain where they see him “transfigured” or changed—appearing as the chosen one of God, the Christ, in conversation with Moses and Elijah. Observing the premier virtue of hospitality, Peter suggests they build tents for the heavenly visitors—but in the blink of an eye, Jesus is alone and the 2 Israelite luminaries have disappeared. What’s THAT all about?

Simple, actually. Moses represents “the Law” of the Old Testament while Elijah represents “the Prophets.” This passage is showing that with Moses and Elijah gone, Jesus embodies both the Law and the Prophets—and is the Christ, the chosen one of God who now enlightens our lives with a NEW covenant, the fulfillment of the Old covenant.

This past week a scripture reading illustrated what this idea concretely means—the idea of Jesus fulfilling the Hebrew scriptures (remember Jesus said that he did not come to do away with the old but to fulfill it?). The reading showed Jesus saying “You’ve heard it said ‘you shall not murder!’. I say that if you’re ANGRY at someone, lay down your gift before coming to the altar and make peace with the person.” He was quoting a commandment (the old Law) but saying we should go BEYOND its minimal requirement (that is, go BEYOND “don’t murder”). THAT is what fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is about.

You and I are called to read the Hebrew scriptures and reflect on what MORE they are calling us to do. For example, we’re told not to steal. Fine. Don’t steal—but are you known as a generous person, too? We’re told not to bear false witness against our neighbor—great. But are we known as someone who always has a good word to say about another? You’re here today keeping holy the Sabbath, but do you “keep holy” any other day, in any other way, by means of some other practice (e.g., devotions at home during the week, attending mass on days other than Sunday, etc.)? You don’t worship “false gods,” but where do you spend your time, or what absorbs your time each day—any sort of work/effort that helps others (belonging to a parish or civic organization that helps others in some way)?

It’s frustrating to hear Christians quote scripture—as a congressman did this past week—and do so only to appeal to a constituency that will re-elect him because he’s a good old boy quoting the bible. The fact that his application of the bible verse was horribly misguided and erroneous—isn’t comprehended. But people’s knowledge is limited (I’m included in saying this) and often enough aren’t aware of scripture’s meaning.

For example, why do you hear politicians and regular Christians quote only the Old Testament (better referred to as the Hebrew scriptures)? Why don’t they quote the NEW Testament which, as stated above, is the FULFILLMENT and fuller definition of the Old? Or do these people think that what Jesus said simply echoes the Old Testament? If so, then why do we bother being Christians, and why don’t we just pitch the New Testament and read the Old?

If you’re Christian, the Hebrew scriptures are part of your religious heritage (after all, Jesus was Jewish). But Jesus elaborated those readings, as the gospels and epistles report. As a Lenten prayer exercise, why not read through the commandments and think of what MORE each one is calling you to embody—BEYOND the minimalist dictate NOT to do (or TO do) one of the ten topics. And conclude your reflection with the following prayer of petition:

Slow me down, Lord, and whisper a word or two – or more, in the quiet of my mind and heart . . .

When I’m cursing myself or others, whisper words of blessing…

When I’m judging another’s words and deeds, whisper words of patience…

When my voice is still and silent, whisper wise words that I might speak…

When I’m saying much too much, whisper words that quiet me

When I’ve failed and when I’ve sinned, whisper words of pardon…

When I’m facing loss and grief, whisper words of consolation…

When I’m stuck in my own foolishness, whisper words of wisdom…

When I’m confounded and confused, whisper words of counsel…

When I’m hearing lies, whisper words of truth.

When life is just too tough to take, whisper words of hope…

When my heart is broken, hurt and wounded, whisper words of healing…

When I’m at war with my neighbor or myself, whisper words of peace… Slow me down, Lord, and help me find a quiet place to hear the whisper of your word . . . and inspire me to be one who whispers your word of life to others. God be in my heart and in my thinking; God be in my death–at my departing.

 

Pastor’s Pen              February 21, 2021

As you know, biblical scholars help us understand scripture within its cultural context. This weekend’s 1st reading about Noah reminds me of what they’ve discovered about an element of this story. Here is the answer to the question “what kind of lights did Noah use on the ark?” Answer? FLOOD lights.

Kidding aside, this reading provides what scholars refer to as an “etiological tale.” Within cultures globally, people have stories (tales) that tell of how something came into being, e.g., why the sky is blue, the grass green, etc. Peoples have forever tried to account for how the world began, how life began, how different ethnic groups came into existence, etc.

Imagine 4000 years ago, a child saying: “Mom—look at the pretty colors in the sky.” And the mom might have replied: “Yes, honey, that’s called a rainbow. Once upon a time a great flood ruined everything in creation—and God said that creation will never again be destroyed by a flood. God would be reminded of this when seeing the rainbow in the sky.”

As you also know, the stories of Genesis originally were oral tales told around campfires. Eventually, editors cobbled the stories together, and the finished product is what we know as the first book of Hebrew scripture (and our bible). How the rainbow came into being is an ETIOLOGICAL tale that got included within the longer narrative.

40 days of lent parallel the experience of Jesus reported in today’s gospel which said: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days tempted by Satan.” The number “40” is significant to readers of scripture—such that people hearing of Jesus going into the desert immediately reminds them of the #40 appearing in the first testament/Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament. Namely, scriptural precedents include:

· Rain fell for “40 days and 40 nights” during the Flood

· Noah waited for 40 days after the tops of mountains were seen after the flood

· Spies were sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan for 40 days

· Israelites lived in the lands outside of the promised land for “40 years”

· Eli, Saul, David, Solomon ruled for “40 years”

· Goliath challenged Israelites twice a day for 40 days before David defeated him

· Moses spent 3 periods of “40 days and 40 nights” on Mt. Sinai:

· Elijah walked 40 days/nights before arriving at Mt. Horeb

· Jonah warns Nineveh that “40 days more, and it shall be overthrown.”

Depicting Jesus in the desert for 40 days is intended to show that his experience surpasses ALL of the Old Testament precedents.

Like us, “He was among wild beasts . . .” and “tempted by Satan”—we being in the deserts of our lives coping with wild beasts that take advantage of us and temptations that seduce us into being something LESS than God made us to be. The Lenten season is a time for us to look at the desert of our life-experience wherein we encounter beasts of different kinds, and struggle like the Israelites in the desert—fashioning golden cows that we treat as gods—only to learn that our “gods” are mirages. Yes, we have the occasional oasis, but we’re always en route to the “promised land” of self-fulfillment and our

eternal destiny with God. A key thing to always keep in mind is that “Satan,” or “the demonic” in our lives never presents itself in ugly, scary, fear-producing, demonic terms. Who wants any of that? Not I! Not you! Well, then, how is it that we make bad choices, bad decisions, and bad actions that hurt ourselves or others. The fruit that looks so nice to eat—ends up making us sick to our stomach.

There’s truth to the saying: “The devil’s greatest deception is convincing us he doesn’t exist.” Lent is a time when we fast or do penance or SOME kind of spiritual discernment which helps us RECOGNIZE behaviors or seductions or temptations that make a mess of our relationships. Lent is time we try to look at ourselves objectively—as when I’ve heard my voice tape-recorded. I THINK I know what I sound like—but cringe when a recording is played back and I hear myself. I thought I sounded so much better than that recording indicates.

The same goes for seeing myself in a video. Is THAT how I appear? When speaking to a group, or playing basketball and THINKING I made a Magic Johnson move—only to see myself on tape—and roll my eyes at the person I see.

Lent is a time when we try to look at ourselves objectively and do something about those areas of our life which need improvement. Most important to remember is that God does not want this Lenten season to be a time when you beat up yourself. Not at all. It’s a time for you and me to discover where God is calling us to GROW—grow into the unique and gifted and blessed person-for-others who God created us to be.

Here are some reflections that you might ponder during Lent:

Fast from judging others; Feast on realizing Christ dwells in them.

Fast from fear of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; Feast on speech that dignifies.

Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; Feast on hope.

Fast from negatives; Feast on encouragement.

Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; Feast on compassion.

Fast from suspicion; Feast on facts

Fast from gossip; Feast on praising others.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from anxiety; Feast on faith.

BEING A PERSON OF FAITH, PRAISING OTHERS, BEING COMPASSIONATE, ENCOURAGING PEOPLE, HAVING HOPE, BEING PATIENT AND GRATEFUL, USING LANGUAGE THAT DIGNIFIES, RELYING ON GOD’S HEALING POWER AND SEEING CHRIST IN OTHER PEOPLE—these are the qualities associated with being Christian—with us being a child of God.

May Lent bring us to rebirth as this kind of person.

Pastor’s Pen                                                                                           February 14, 2021                                                                                        

Valentine’s day took place this week.  While greeting card companies are quite devoted to this legendary (perhaps mythical) figure, the Church doesn’t reserve a Sunday celebration to honor the saint.  Nonetheless, when a saint’s day somehow gets national attention, I like to offer some reflection related to the event’s spirituality (in this case—balancing the focus on carnal “love” with that of something deeper).      

Scripture says many things about love (such as “God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God”).  For example, Ecclesiastes 4:9 offers this reflection: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”  Elsewhere, a narrator says in Proverbs 30:18-19: “There are three things that amaze me—no, four things that I don’t understand: how an eagle glides through the sky, how a snake slithers on a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, how a man loves a woman.”     

Love is NOT what is depicted in the chocolate candy commercial that shows an attractive model hypnotically gazing at a chunk of chocolate—and consuming it with kiss-like affection.  In crafting the ad, Madison Avenue no doubt spent much cash to learn what it would take to make consumers buy the product.  Are you won over so easily?    

Valentine’s day is special for me because I was born on November 14th—9 months to the day later.  I consider February 14th to be my conception day.    

The readings this week address other matters this week.  Mark’s gospel once again refers to lepers coming to Jesus for healinr, you should know that in 1868, Norwegian scientist Gerhard Hansen discovered the cause of leprosy which, contrary to popular belief, is not a very infectious disease.  Even though biblical lepers had to cry out “unclean, unclean” and stay away from people, we now know that spouses rarely contract it from their partner.  Moreover, biblical references are NOT to “Hansen’s disease,” but to skin conditions such as psoriasis.       

So why does the bible tell us that sick people should be kept apart from healthy people and that we should avoid people with deformities or some other physical condition that burdened the suffering?      

Here’s why.  Physical sickness of any form was some kind of sign that there was an imperfect interior condition.  Since one was called to be holy as the Lord is holy, physical imperfection reflected that one is not holy.  And since bodily integrity was required, one was cast out of the community so that it wouldn’t be polluted (religiously) by their presence.      

If there was anything Jesus stood for, it was re-integrating one into community—the opposite of the laws in Leviticus.  That’s why there exists a liturgical song titled “all are welcome in this place.”  Jesus returns one to community—to be part of the community—whatever your shortcomings—because you can both give to and draw life from the community.  That’s why we’re a sacramental faith community     

By connecting with the sacramental system—we are the lepers being brought back into the faith-community and being healed—as last week’s readings also emphasized.   But once connected, what are the sorts of behaviors are we called upon to incarnate?     

An example came to mind this past week when speaking with a parishioner whose sister had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”).  During the 1995 baseball season, people were waiting for Cal Ripken to break Lou Gehrig’s record of playing 2130 consecutive games.  I sent a letter to the Orioles office addressed to him.  I proposed that the day of the record-breaking game, he remove himself from the lineup.      

I suggested he announce that the name of Lou Gehrig had become synonymous with a disease that tortured and killed many people.  By telling people that he wanted Gehrig’s name to continue its association with the record, people will be reminded of the disease—and perhaps be motivated—to contribute to its cure.     

What an earth-shaking event it would be, I thought, for him to tell the world that conquering the disease was more important than his ego getting more accolades.  The eyes of the sports world had been on Ripken, awaiting the record to be broken.  He could use that time to solicit groundbreaking contributions to goodness (Ripken’s self-sacrificing act) and lose nothing (really) in the process (since everyone would know that all he needed to do was step onto the field to play consecutive game 2131; he’d break the record—so why hurt those afflicted with ALS when a simple act might proffer healing?).     

Maybe Ripken received my letter and threw it away.  Maybe he never got it.  Maybe someone screened his mail—and threw it away without telling him of the suggestion.  After all, the Orioles were making money on his record-breaking career. N.B. , He broke the record by playing 500 more games and is now in the Hall of Fame.      

Ripken later gave donations supporting research on the disease, so maybe he DID get my letter and offer something of value to the world outside the ring of public relations.  Too, the Orioles, along with private donors, created the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig Fund for Neuromuscular Research at Johns Hopkins University.     

I tried to think of examples from my own life where I did some self-sacrifice—and I had to rack my brain for examples.  I remember being Lieutenant of the Safety Patrol boys.  Like all patrol boys, I earned points that could be used at the patrol boys auction at the end of the year.  Thinking of how I missed some of my days, I didn’t want to unfairly deprive any of the boys of getting some auction item.  So I told the faculty moderator that I was withdrawing from the auction and would not bid on anything.    

While at St. John’s Student Parish in campus ministry, I befriended a couple.  After mass one Saturday night, the wife told me that her husband really liked my western shirt (snap buttons down the front).  Since I had a room in the building, I went and changed my shirt, and brought out the western shirt to the husband.  He was excited to receive “the shirt off my back” which I gave him.  From my perspective, I didn’t really need that shirt, so if giving it to him made someone happy—great.  That was the thinking I directed at Cal Ripken’s moment in the sun.  I proposed to him that he really didn’t need another accolade—especially if NOT receiving it would bring life (literally) to countless people around the world.    

The Gospel point to these illustrations is that we, as Christians, are called upon throughout life to offer “more” to others when performing some deed.  Would it have been morally okay to receive the “most consecutive games played” award?  Sure!  That’s okay.  But might Ripken have done something a little better that day?  Yes.  And could I have kept my western shirt? Sure.  But both of us, as people of the gospel, are forever presented with opportunities to make God’s world the place it was intended to be—by going a step further in each of our behaviors or actions.    

This is sort of like what so many of you do as parents and grandparents—when dealing with a young one.  The child sees that you’ve not taken your chocolate chip cookie.  Did you want it?  Yes.  But you see a young one looking for just a little touch of joy—and your caring heart hands the cookie to the child.  I’m sure you’ve done this sort of thing many times.  I’m reminded of older people at some social event—and some item is “the last one”—so everyone else will have to settle for the 2nd rate item.  The person next to you says something to the effect of “Darn! I looked forward to getting that __[item]___.”  Instead, you have “the last one.”  Keeping it for yourself is okay to do—like Ripken accepting the award, or the parent/grandparent keeping the cookie.  What will you do if given “the last one” of something just as the person next to you feels bad that they missed out?    

Communion reflection titled “Bouquet”—in line with the above.    

If I were to seek a precious gift, I’d gather wildflowers in a wicker basket.  To every blossom—a significance.  The biggest, understanding, is colored baby blue.  The warmest is affection—colored pink.  Patience, the hardest to pick, is deep purple.  The purest flower with milk-white petals is truth.  The strongest flower is yellow, like the sun—faith.  If I were to gather all these flowers–blossoms all different in meaning and hues–then there in the basket I would find one—you.  

May we be a bouquet for one another. 

Pastor’s Pen    February 7, 2021

This past week the Church celebrated 2 feast days of interest.  One is known as “Candlemas Day” (which included the same readings as we had on Presentation Sunday).  The gospel told of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple—as prescribed in Leviticus—33 days after his circumcision (the scarification rite of Judaism).  For Christians, Candlemas Day takes place 40 days after Christmas and is the official end of the Christmas season.  One is supposed to have their Christmas decorations down by this day (although in America people tend to take them down as early as December 26th).  From the 1600s are verses that relate to Candlemas: 

“Down with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, With which you dress’d the Christmas Hall.” 

Traditionally, Candlemas Day was set as February 2nd and was the day people brought candles to church to be blest, and then used at home to remind them that Christ is the light of the world (I’ve never had anyone ask me to bless candles on this day).   

The other feast day of this past week was that of St. Blaise.  He was a 4th-century physician/bishop/martyr who, while in jail, saved a boy who was choking on a fishbone. He became one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages (500-1400)—and the tradition of blessing throats on his feast day has been observed up to the present.  Why this part of the body captured the popular imagination as worthy of blessing (and not the head, or foot, or hip)—one can only guess. 

Also, during this past week, the idea of “political conspiracy” theories have been in the news.  As you know, adversaries of the U.S. (Russia, Iran, and China at the top of the list but “homegrown” adversaries likewise) have bombarded the social media with all sorts of “lies” that are passed off as being true (“disinformation” is a term used by those who study this sort of espionage).  These sources report such things as Bill and Hilary Clinton behind the death of JFK, Jr., and that Hilary is part of a child-molesting group that operates out of a Philadelphia pizza parlor. 

While you or I might roll our eyes at ludicrous material like this that floats around, be assured that some of it “sticks” to our fellow Americans who are susceptible to believing different kinds of input.  Those who plant these lies deluge cyberspace and are pleased in being able to “recruit” anyone to believe their lies.  Some sew “conspiracy theories” because they have a political goal while some just want to sew anarchy (these people might be foreign powers or your fellow Americans who have a gripe against society).  Some just like using social media to exercise power and have a good time in the process.

I’ve previously called your attention to charismatic leaders who have led their followers into hell—such as Jim Jones who led 917 men, women, and children to Guyana where they committed mass suicide.  And Marshall Applewhite whose 39 followers likewise committed suicide—thinking that their bodies would be picked up, resuscitated by extra-terrestrials, and taken to another planet.  Recall, too, “Branch Davidian” leader, David Koresh, who presided over the deaths of himself and 76 followers in Waco, Texas.  They burned to death when confronting ATF agents who came to investigate the group’s illegal activities. 

Conspiracy theories and charismatic leaders who seduce their followers are the stuff of newspaper and TV coverage.  You may notice some commentators, instead of saying that a public figure is “lying” or telling a “lie,” they will use more gentle words such as “falsehood” or say a person has a “difference of opinion” (which both the commentator and person know is a lie and not just an “opinion”).   Audiences can be deceived by commentators who use words/phrases that sound less harsh, i.e., “I’m not LYING—just having a DISAGREEMENT,” “He didn’t LIE but just stated a FALSEHOOD.”    These examples from the political world also apply to our religious universe.   “Disinformation” has arisen within our own Catholic tradition.   

Dis- and mis- information, falsehoods, disagreements—or LIES—have caused many major-league problems in Church history.  The Jesuits, the religious Order to which I belong, your ancestors, and you have endured prejudice (a genre of lie) disguised as truth.  Along with Jews and Blacks, Catholics have been targeted by the Ku Klux Klan hate-group.  During Black History Month you might hear how Blacks were lynched or murdered in the South.  If you’re “White” and living in the north, this might not register as strongly as it would with a Black person whose roots were in the South.  Hearing that priests, nuns, or lay people were beaten up or killed for being Catholic—brings the issue closer to home. 

When I was pastor of a parish in the Soo, there was a “Christian” bookstore that sold cheese, pantry goods, and magazines.  One of the latter was titled “Alberto.”  It claimed to be the autobiography of a former Jesuit.  I browsed through the magazine and realized I was reading hate-literature.  I also noticed it was distributed by Chick Publishing (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has named a hate group).  The shop’s “Christian” owner (her denomination was anti-Catholic) said they would keep the magazine on their shelves after I encouraged her to remove it.  My social activism was not successful.

Readers of the magazine were told that Jesuits take a vow to kill any Protestant they could not convert, and that they were given a dagger with which to kill those unconverted Protestants. Were Alberto’s account true, I would have been obliged to stab my grandmother to death since she was not Catholic.  The facts are that Alberto was a real person, but just not a Jesuit.  He was a fraud who made up stories that capitalized on anti-Catholic attitudes which depicted Jesuits as immoral minyans of the anti-Christ Pope.   

How many people do you suppose believed what Alberto reported?  The first magazine was so popular that a 2nd one followed.  Much has been written about the psychological phenomenon that occurs when a politician repeatedly cries “hoax” (or some other catchy phrase).  Social scientists have shown that when a lie is repeated enough times—people begin to believe it.  In the 18th century, the Jesuits had many opponents who charged them with all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors they didn’t commit.  The result?  The Order was “suppressed” for 40 years. 

Alberto and others also “informed” (i.e., misinformed) the public that between rectories and convents there are tunnels in which priests meet with nuns.  It is in these tunnels where you can find the corpses of babies born of these liaisons.  Readers also learned (as did readers from the 19th century when the dis-information first appeared) that Jesuits were responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  All of this is, of course, ridiculous.

We Catholics (once belittled as “mackerel-snappers” because of the tradition of meatless Fridays) were also charged with founding Islam—a bishop falsely reported to have asked a nun

in Saudi Arabia to marry Mohammed and convince him to start the new religion.  In case you didn’t know, Catholics also staged the sinking of the Titanic.  Businessman John Jacob Astor was aboard the ship and his death led to Catholics running the Federal Reserve Bank of the U.S.—and so be funded by it (a “conspiracy theory” as dim-witted as the one which claims the Pope has nuclear missiles in Washington, D.C. ready to unleash against the U.S.).  Most people MIGHT realize that the above “theories” are lies peddled as truth. However, there are some who accept these fictions as fact.

One could go on and on with all the lies that have been uttered in an effort to see the Jesuits and Catholicism go to the dustbin of history—and see YOU go to the dustbin of history.  They think you should be locked up, or lynched—because of the faith you profess by being a member of St. John 23rd parish. 

All in all, you and I need to be careful about sources of information—be it on the political or religious level.  As I’ve said in the past, even with Sacred Scripture we can be misinformed.  For example, at the root of our American colonial theology was a belief that there was one way you could tell someone was going to heaven–namely, if they had wealth.  This was the beginning of what has been called the “Protestant work ethic.”  A corollary to this “biblical thinking” was that poverty was a sign of not being within God’s “elect.”  THUS, wealth equals blessing & poverty equals personal sin. 

I raise this topic because one of today’s readings is from Job—a text that is used very infrequently during the liturgical year.  A basic thesis of this text is that suffering is NOT a punishment for sin.  Nonetheless, a misinterpretation of scripture guided or formed American thought and behavior—and this misinterpretation of scripture hurt many people.   

As I’ve said on other occasions, it’s best to have a good commentary on scripture if you’re going to understand it properly—and this leads into today’s gospel. 

Before the 4 gospels were canonized in the 4th century, many others were being read that portrayed Jesus as superman—a wonderworker who could change the weather, heal all diseases, turn people into stone, make birds and puppies out of clay, etc.   In these non-canonical gospels, performing miracles and exorcising demons were depicted as the principal feature of his ministry.  The human appetite for mythical figures is still with us.

Mark’s gospel, the first of the 4 written, corrects false Christological inferences (i.e., wrong conclusions) drawn from miracle stories.  For example, in today’s passage, Jesus does great things, but also gets up early to pray, and then moves elsewhere (and doesn’t hang around like a rock star to bask in the praise of his followers).  He flees the crowds—with miracles being only a subordinate feature of his ministry.  Mark “tones down” the “hero” depictions of Jesus.

The gospel today says “Everyone is looking for you, Jesus”—and so it is with us here AT MASS. Other than a couple of generic conditions, the healing stories don’t reveal what diseases he healed.  They just say that Jesus restored one to some kind of wholeness or health.  Which can happen within our lives by gathering here.  We, with varied illnesses (too numerous or embarrassing to name), encounter Him—who is our sacrament of the sick.  This sacrament is a re-enactment of today’s gospel. It entails reconciliation (acknowledging you are

frail/sinful and asking for help). It sends us forth to be a sacrament of healing in a world conflicted with cancerous, metastasizing prejudices.  

Mark writes contrary to the non-canonical gospels—and portrays a Jesus whose purpose was to preach good news of the coming kingdom—a kingdom whose inhabitants were touched by Jesus (like Peter’s mother-in-law) and “raised up” to wellness and serving others.  Like the mother-in-law, we come to mass to be “touched” by the Lord—and healed of our self-centeredness and motivated to “wait on others” as she had done. 

For Mark, to portray Jesus simply as a wonderworker would be misleading.  When we read the gospel today, we’re reading about how OUR demons can be silenced through our sacramental participation—of meeting Jesus in prayer and involvement with the faith-community.  Whatever “minor” miracles occur in the gospels or our lives–they foreshadow the ultimate messianic miracle—facing and overcoming the cross and finding resurrection—the greatest healing of all. 

May we leave here today realizing that we are the healing hands of Jesus called to bring the resurrection-miracle to others. 

Communion Reflection

Listen Christian

I was hungry–and you formed a humanities club

and discussed my hunger. Thank-you.

I was in prison and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar

and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

Listen, Christian. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold . . .

Our prayerful response to the above.

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve You as You deserve: to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward except that of knowing I do what you call

 

Pastor’s Pen                January 31, 2021

First a word about life in first-century Galilee, the stomping ground of Jesus. Mortuary archaeologists have concluded that the average man stood 5’5” tall and weighed 140 pounds. Imagining a group of people who were all this height brought to mind an experience I had when teaching at Loyola University in Chicago.

A student told me his parents were from southern India. I asked what faith his family practiced, and he said “Catholic.” I asked what “rite” did they practice and he said: “Syro-Malabar”—a group from southern India who is in union with Rome (we are members of the “Latin” rite). I’ll save the topic of “rites” or churches within Catholicism for another time, but the different groups celebrate the liturgy in a manner different from what we do each week. I had never been to a Syro-Malabar mass, so he was quick to invite me. The people there, very friendly, all stood about the same height as Galileans of the first century—about 5’5” tall. I was a giant among them. However, their hospitality was the real giant.

Also of historical note is today’s gospel speaking of Jesus in the “synagogue.” You may already know this, but Jewish people don’t go to “church.” They will say they are “going to Temple” or “going to the synagogue” (their gathering place—so named since the 1st century when the “real” Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans).

So today we see Jesus in the synagogue doing an exorcism. This might bring to mind the 1973 novel-turned-movie “The Exorcist” (based on a real-life exorcism). “The Exorcist” was the first R-rated movie to rule the box office (not due to sexual content but because of the subject matter being so abhorrent). It told the story of a young girl’s being possessed by “Pazuzu” (a demon). In real life, it was a young boy. While “The Exorcist” is the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history, its historical accuracy is lame, and its theology is not what a good catechism would contain.

Rid yourself of the film’s images and for today’s gospel, picture Jesus simply telling the possessed man in the synagogue to “SHUT UP.” Why did he command the “demon” to be silent? Because to name something is to have authority over it (as when God told Adam and Eve to name all the creatures). The demon had said, “I know who you are . . . Jesus of Nazareth . . . the holy-one of God.”

What is at play here is the demon speaking on behalf of the scribes and Pharisees (the religious and political leaders of the community). It is the demonic voice of these people who Jesus is commanding to be silent. They are the ones who don’t liberate, but who oppress the people—and it is Jesus who is putting a stop to their non-authoritative presence (recall the people comment how Jesus is unlike what they’ve been hearing from their religious leaders. Jesus actually “speaks with authority”).

Concretely, what do “demons” cause, or why is their presence so “evil?” In short, they are forces at play in our lives which destroy us, separate us from one another, create dissension within families, communities, and nations. But instead of thinking about Hollywood depictions of “devils,” think of real-life demons that affect us all (since none of us is immune to their seductions—seductions which offer us fruit that looks pleasing to eat but which will bring about our destruction).

Jesus sets the example for us today in the gospel passage. Like him, we have to NAME our demons—and in that way take the first step in having authority over them. I consider one of my life’s great experiences to have known Walt Halloran, S.J. He was the last living Jesuit who was part of the exorcism that became the grandfather of all horror movies. But what I learned from Walt was that the demonic is so much worse than what was portrayed in the film.

He said that he saw its many faces far more in Vietnam when he was a chaplain than what he witnessed in the exorcism. There in Vietnam, he found himself in a cesspool of death and human suffering—of killing and torture and addiction and rape and criminality that was normative. And sadly, these same demonic forces are in place all around us.

Can you name alcohol as a demon for you? It’d be a first step in exorcising it if you could name it. How about violence in your home—the untamed anger or moodiness you inflict on those close to you? Or self-centeredness? Or losing faith and thinking that there’s nothing you can do about one or another issue in your life?

Demonic forces have far-reaching social effects that make the world a battleground of wounded souls. Anthropologists more and more don’t use the term “race” because DNA has shown us that we’re ONE race—human—and that there exist cultural differences within the human community. You don’t have to look at someone who has more or less melanin (color) in their skin. People in Hemlock can say: “You know how those Merrill people are!” And Merrill people can say “You know how those Hemlock people are!” All sorts of forces are at play that pull people apart from the Christian teaching that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and children of one God.

When I lived in Sault Ste. Marie, I was in the “Marshunk” neighborhood (where Marquette and Shunk Roads intersect). People would characterize that section of the city as “THAT part of town” (negatively). It was home to me—and I loved my neighborhood and its people. The Federal government had to issue the city the threat of no more funding unless it paved those two roads—and not make excuses about how the earth wouldn’t take pavement. Once that threat was issued—surprise-surprise—the city discovered a way to pave the roads. Today, some of our parishioners go through the Marshunk neighborhood and land at the casino which is now there.

You hear the word “homophobia” at times—fear or dislike of gays. One issue for which we can be thankful—is the gay community calling attention to the importance of marriage! Some Christians might rail against gay marriage.  Meanwhile, people in their own churches live together and avoid the sacrament (or civil form). Gays have called us to appreciate more deeply the sacred bond that can exist when two people commit themselves to one another in good times and bad. Meanwhile, demonic forces move some people to stalk gays and persecute them.

Or what about political forces at play in our world that drive us apart? Recall when the U.S. declared war on Iraq based on the lie that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction?” Despite UN inspections and nuclear experts telling the world that there WERE NO weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President Bush’s administration sold to America the lie that we had to defend ourselves from an imminent invasion.

This isn’t me spouting off my private interpretation of what occurred. Even Colin Powell, then secretary of state, admitted years later that even he was misled with what a recent spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway, would call “alternative facts” (i.e., lies—since a fact is a fact). France wouldn’t permit our air force to use its air space—and maybe some of you even tried to popularize the phrase “freedom fries” instead of “French fries” (since the French wouldn’t support our attacking Iraq).

A Catholic friend of mine on campus said she wrote her congressman—encouraging him to vote for war against Iraq. I bemoaned her report and asked if she had not been reading any analyses of the issue, or had she not been watching any TV news that was reliable? She angrily retorted that FOX news said it was a real possibility that Iraq’s missiles might be aimed at people like her. And so, contrary to the teachings of the Prince of Peace (Christ), the demonic forces ruled the day, and lies were the foundation of a war that was declared. It continues these 30 years later with thousands dead. Again, surprise-surprise, no weapons of mass destruction existed.

Demonic forces are at play when Muslims are targeted as the enemy here in the United States, and the American public is sold a bill of goods that present Muslims and riotous blacks as “the enemy” within. It should come as no surprise that more terrorist killings have occurred via white hate groups than by anyone else. Imagine if blacks and Muslims went to the capitol on January 6th. Police and the national guard would have been there right away—and one hates to think how many would have been killed. You might not like this reflection on how evil works in our lives. I don’t like thinking about it, either.

All of this is intended to point out that “demons” or “devils” or demonic forces are not the stuff of Hollywood movies in their depiction of fiends from hell. Rather, you and I deal with demons daily, either in our personal lives or social world. They are forces at play which move us to make bad decisions—decisions that hurt ourselves or others. They are forces in the world that separate people from one another—and move people to hate others. They are forces that place us at the center of the universe and think only of our own well-being—and not that of others.

When we gather at mass, we don’t retreat into prayer so as to resign ourselves to “evil” and hope we make it through the day. Rather, we gather at mass to learn how we might identify the demonic forces at work in our lives—name them—and create strategies to defeat them. Here at the altar, we ask God to inspire the “good angels” within us—to overcome the serpents that deceive us. Unless we name the demons, they will name us—and have authority over us. With Jesus, when confronted by seductive lines that promise mirages of happiness—we need to say: “shut up.”

 

Pastor’s Pen                    January 24, 2021

It’s “Word of God” Sunday—so here’s a brief explanation of today’s scripture.  

In scripture studies, the word “type” is used to refer to someone in the Old Testament who prefigures Jesus in the NT.  For example, today’s first reading refers to Jonah (whose 3 days in the big fish is a foreshadowing of the 3 days in the tomb) is depicted as preaching to Nineveh to repent.  Today’s gospel shows Jesus telling his audience in Galilee to repent.  Moses was a “type” of Jesus when leading people out of slavery and taking them to the Promised Land.  So was King David a “type”—as his leadership foreshadowed the greatest messiah-king, Jesus.  

The 2nd reading shows how Paul initially thought that the 2nd coming could be any day—but he changed his mind.  His later writings show him saying the 2nd coming might be in the distant future. The 3rd reading tells of the call of the apostles (and us).    

End of homily—3 minutes long.  Isn’t there more to say about the word of God?  Yes, there is!  

On Word of God Sunday, I’m sure we WISH we could hear Paul or the first apostles give the homily.  Surely, we’d be swept off our feet by their dynamic presentation.  

The problem with this “golden age” kind of thinking is that it’s a fantasy.  In Acts of the Apostles, we read: As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below.”

It appears that Paul didn’t set the bar very high when homilizing.  

I must admit to not pulling out a bible all the time.  Others are just the opposite.  They play what might be called “bible roulette” for decisions they have to make.  

For example, parents might say: “We’re having trouble with our son—give us direction, Lord.”  They then shuffle or fan through the bible pages—they stop and point a finger at some random page.  Voila!  Will they find an answer?  

What should the parents do if they land on these verses?  

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or mother and who will not listen to them after being chastised: Then shall his father and his mother bring him to the elders and say to them: “Our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” All the men of his city shall stone the son to death.

What if a couple is at a pub, and someone picks a fight with the husband?  Not to worry—as scripture provides the following counsel.  

When men fight, and the wife of one goes to rescue her husband from the other man—if she puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.  

Does the above sound reasonable to you?  I hope not.  

Or what if you’re in love—and you can’t seem to win the heart of a certain person.  Calm down—for the bible will come to your aid with the following:  

“I am lovesick, so refresh me with apples, and sustain me with raisin cakes.”  

Oh, please!  I’ve been paralyzed with love—for which apples and raisin cakes served no purpose.  

Some scholars say there are 613 laws in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Among them are the following.  Do you, as a Christian, agree with what they say?   

Whoever has a blemish, let him not approach the sanctuary—nor shall a blind man, or a lame, or one with a flat nose, or a man with a broken foot, or broken hand, or crooked back, or a dwarf, or who has a blemish in his eye, or who has scabs–He shall not come near the altar, because he will profane my sanctuary. Moreover, no male whose private parts are crushed or cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.

Some people have no faith-practice.  Nor do they take the time to get a commentary on scripture—and learn what different passages mean.  Some people will agree with the writer who said: “Most of the Bible is neither horrible nor inspiring. It is simply dull and irrelevant.”

How sad that one bases their decisions and opinions on such ignorance. 

One way of looking at the Bible is to see it as the story of each of us—and the evolution of the human race as a whole.

Our biography begins in Genesis as each of us is born as an Adam or Eve in a universe we try to make sense of (i.e., Who made all these things in creation?  Where did I come from? Why do I make bad decisions? Etc.). 

Each individual (and the human race) goes thru a period of tribal identity in which our people recognize supernatural forces which they try to enlist on their behalf—by observing 613 laws (at least in the case of the Israelites—but all peoples everywhere went through a similar religious history).  Individuals and ethnic groups go through desert experiences in search of survival. 

The Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) shows God speak to us—and how we hear/don’t hear God’s voice in our history.  Over time, we strive as a world community to recognize our common bond, e.g., United Nations on a secular level (that we are all brothers and sisters—as the New Testament points out). 

In short, the bible is the story of humanity. 

The “Word of God” is also each element of creation.   This partly explains why, on Word of God Sunday, the Church didn’t offer the gospel that had Jesus reading from the book in the temple.  Instead, the gospel we’re given is the call of the apostles.  Why THAT passage? 

We read the call of the apostles—which is a call to each of us.  Be we a fisherman, tax collector, small business owner, politician, thief, construction worker (these are different identities of the apostles)—WE are the apostles being called to discipleship (their diversity reflecting our own). 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, each of us is a WORD OF GOD.   Creation is not complete without your being in it.  So how might you experience this personal call, this realization that the world would not be complete without your presence?  Try this. 

Founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, suggested we use our imaginations when praying and meditating.  So, imagine Jesus visiting you.  Picture him as a great friend/person/presence who right away puts you at ease and with whom you have a great back-and-forth conversation.  You can tell him anything, and he immediately understands what you’re expressing.   

After conversing with him in the privacy of your room, and covering all sorts of personal subjects, he thanks you for a great visit and now it’s time for him to go visit someone else.  You stand facing one another as he’s about to depart, and he puts his hands on your shoulders.  Smiling in a warm and loving way, he looks at you eye-to-eye and says your name in the same way he spoke to Magdalene when she discovered him in the garden on Easter Sunday: “Mary” (only it’s your name he utters—Jerry, Leona, Carol, Dennis, Mike, etc.).  Like Mary Magdalene, you get a powerful sense sweep over you that you are really loved and special and here on earth for a reason.  He knows all there is to know about you—the good, bad, and gray areas of your experience—and all that’s important is this farewell affirmation he bestows on you before leaving.

THAT’S why we read today about the call of the apostles—the “word of God” coming to individuals (you included).  Jesus knows your name—and that your name represents all that you are—whatever your shortcomings—whatever your strengths.  YOU have been called.  

Jesus is looking at you, saying only your name, and right away you get the sense that he is saying that all the paths you’ve walked, on which you’ve stumbled or moved with elegance, and that all the people and experiences you’ve encountered or lived—are the mysteriously gifted person he is calling from this moment on to be his apostle—his word of God.  

You are different from all others, and it’s that difference he sends forth to make a difference—with the family member, neighbor, storeowner, WHOEVER you encounter.  

Knowing this, whenever you come to mass from now on, when you hear the lector say, “This is the word of the Lord,” you know in your heart that YOU are that word—for which you can gratefully exclaimThanks be to God. “

From Russ Milan, Chair of Parish Finance Committee

As you may know, the Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) was changed by the Diocese in name and administration to Christ’s Mission Appeal (CMA). CSA used to be managed directly by each parish with the support of the Diocese. Beginning with the 2020-21 campaign, CMA is administered by the Diocese (with support from each parish). You may have noticed these changes from mailings sent by the Diocese.

The aspects that have not changed are the goal calculation formula and the requirement for each Parish to pay what remains if the targeted goal is not met. This campaign will conclude at the end of December 2021. Past campaign payments were due in June. The diocese has not officially determined the start date of the 2021-22 campaign, but we expect it to be in December 2021 or January 2022.

Our goal for the current campaign is $85,649. Based on the number of registered households of St. John XXIII, this means that each household needs to pledge and pay in the range of $124 to $200. We are 68% ($57,995) of the way toward our target (which is fantastic for only being a couple of months into the campaign). Only $27,654 to go!

Now that the holidays are past and ‘Ordinary Time’ is upon us, let’s try to meet our goal by Easter, April 4, 2021. The pandemic and surrounding economics is putting a strain on everyone–so if you cannot make a one-time payment toward CMA at the level suggested in the preceding paragraph; perhaps you could throw $5 a week into the collection box at Church.  All loose currency, change, and bills, are being put toward the CMA campaign.

If you have any questions about CMA, you can inquire with Irene during business hours or any of the Finance Council members at any time. Thanks and God Bless from Father Mike, Irene Kruth, Russ Milan, Bill Fleming, Mike Manzoni, Jerry Rohde, and Norma Brown.

Pastor’s Pen           January 17, 2021

In looking at this week’s scripture and thinking of the inauguration, I was taken on a stroll down memory lane.  Namely, I recalled being elected Junior class president–a short-lived victory since I did not win re-election senior year (my wounds were somewhat salved by being elected Student Government president).  Along with these thoughts of my election experiences as a teen, I also thought of this week’s holiday honoring Martin Luther King–a religious leader whose words and actions inspired so many.

I remembered witnessing over many years the activist-Indian leader, Russell Means, (probably better known to you through films like Last of the Mohicans, Natural Born Killers, Pocahontas, and a number of others).  Newspapers first brought him national attention when he and others occupied Alcatraz Island and the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in D.C.  He then became globally known for leading the American Indian Movement (AIM) takeover of Wounded Knee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation.   I later attended his trial in the Twin Cities of Minnesota where he was defended by the legendary William Kunstler.

While I shared his desire to see justice come to Indian America, I did not like his strategies for social change.  He was outspoken against Christian presence in Indian country at a time when I stood just a few feet from him at the funeral mass of Black Elk’s son, Ben (when I sang in the choir wearing my clerical shirt).  Before donning Indian garb, he wore a suit and tie when working in urban California.  Saying he “became a professional Indian” when attracted to AIM, he cut quite a figure with flowing braids and wearing silver & turquoise, and beadwork.  His ability to woo women was well known, but in his autobiography “Where White Men Fear to Tread,” he admitted to being a poor father to the 17 children who were known to be his.  He became a role model for many American Indian boys.

Sadly, one of his intoxicated sons broke into a Church rectory, and in shooting one priest (who survived) caused another to have a heart attack and die.  The 2 wayward souls who perpetrated the crime were not aware of Jesuit Father “Sarge” O’Connor being an outspoken social activist all his life on behalf of Indian people.  Raised on hateful rhetoric, young Means ended the life of someone who was a tireless advocate for wayward youth like him.

When I was asked to do a book signing in Pittsburgh, the store manager was pleased that I could be present.  She said that Russell would be there the week before me, and so the Lakota would be well covered in our respective visits.   I asked her how his appearance went, and she excitedly reported that “traffic stopped for him when we crossed the street.”  Her account was easy to understand since Pittsburgh drivers (and people everywhere) would no doubt stop or slow down for a 19th century-looking Indian crossing a busy downtown street.  I was not surprised when she said that he called her during the week and asked if they could get together.  I WAS surprised, however, to learn that he was eternally grateful to a Catholic nun who helped him get a handle on his addiction to anger.  At least in this one instance, he seems to have mellowed in his attitude toward Christians in Indian country.

In thinking of Means, and King, and one president leaving while another arrives, I was reminded of the many classes I taught which described religious leaders who cast some spell over people or who were charismatic in the minds of some.  I thought of Jim Jones–the Los Angeles preacher who convinced 918 people to “drink the Kool-Aid” laced with cyanide and commit mass suicide–his people thinking he was some kind of divine leader?  Similarly, Marshall Applewhite’s “Heaven’s Gate” group of 39 willingly feasted at a restaurant the night before drinking poison and killing themselves.  These people were taped before dying and came across as “regular” folks who are your sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers–good folk who seemed “normal” but who were convinced by Applewhite that an alien spaceship would pick them up if they all killed themselves.

In my specialization of Native American Studies, I covered what’s known as the “Ghost Dance” of 1890.  At that time, all the plains tribes were doing a dance taught by a Paiute Indian named Wovoka (he died in the 1930s).  He said that the dance would hurry the day of deliverance–when Jesus would return, and this time bring salvation to Indian people.  The earth would swallow up the white people (and black cavalry that patrolled the west), return the buffalo, and raise their dead.  The day of deliverance would be in the spring of ’91, but the 7th cavalry clashed with the Sioux (Lakota) at Wounded Knee in December of 1890, and that incident put an end to ghost dancing.  Men, women, and children were slaughtered, the spring flowers bloomed, but Jesus didn’t return.  The promises of a charismatic religious-political leader were empty.

Charismatic leadership will forever be the focus of anthropologists and sociologists because human communities are forever following one sort of person or the other.  We are vulnerable to people who can mislead us.  The American presidency of the past 4 years will forever be analyzed by scholars from around the world if for no other reason than how Mr. Trump won the hearts of half the population while the other half saw him as the embodiment of evil.  On this topic, the articles cited in the bulletin address how the Catholic community was so split.

An Australian psychologist studied 11 religious leaders (like Jim & Tammy Baker, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson) and after a battery of tests found all of them to be quite ordinary in their skills but had “a way” in tapping a resonant note within their listeners.  German psychiatrist Heinz Kohut found “charismatic” leaders go according to their own lights and can’t be told anything contrary to their version of reality.  They also carry zero anxiety or guilt when their decisions affect people negatively.  Such people emerge in societies that experience social turmoil of some kind.

Thoughts of the above were triggered by this week’s Sunday readings which told of Jesus passing by, and of John the Baptist declaring that Jesus was the “lamb of God”–prompting Andrew to follow and for Andrew to get his brother, Peter, as a disciple of Jesus.  Also, the first reading was about Samuel hearing a voice–and eventually realizing that it was GOD’S voice calling him to discipleship.  Key to these followers was articulated in the 1st reading which had Samuel say what we’re SUPPOSED to say, viz., “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.”  How have you responded to God’s voice?  Why do you respond to certain human voices?

You and I might right away say “Of course!  I’ve always asked God for guidance and listened for a reply.”  Oh, really?   You’ve listened to God’s word to you and have acted upon it?  Or have you listened to voices in your head or on TV which simply confirmed longstanding prejudices or positions you’ve always maintained?  Has your “circle of inclusivity” expanded–such that you recognize the rights and beauty of people beyond your own family or neighborhood or nation?  To be “Catholic” means to be “universal” in our recognition of all people being brothers and sisters in Christ–and children of God.  Has the “voice” you’ve heard been the voice of self-interest–or self-giving?  

One day you’ll be an “ancestor.”  What’s the legacy for which you’ll be remembered?  Will it be one that your descendants will say was praiseworthy?  It WILL be praiseworthy if we are able to say, with Martin Luther King, the following: 

When I pass away, I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others.  I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to be right on the war question.  I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.  I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.  I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.  I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.  

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major for anything, say that I was a drum major for peace, that I was a drum major for righteousness, and that all of the other shallow things that I accomplished will not matter.  I won’t have any money to leave behind.  I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind.  But I just want to leave a committed life behind.  That’s all I want to say.  If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cure somebody with one song, if I can show somebody they’re traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.

Fellow parishioners of John the 23rd, I hope King’s reflection could just as well be our own.

A Catholic pastor speaks out

How should Christ-believers counter insurrectionist cults?
A “Respect Life Rally” followed by Mass with Bishop Gruss will be Friday, Jan. 22 (rally at 10 a.m. and Mass at 11 a.m.) at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption,  615 Hoyt Ave.  Both will be live-streamed.
Pastor’s Pen                       January 10, 2021
New Testament scholars refer to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the “synoptic” gospels (from a Latin word which means “seen together”). These 3 gospels tell many of the same stories, often in the same words, frequently following the same order. Instead of repeating the 3 names, people will say something like “the Synoptics are filled with parables whereas John’s gospel is not.

The 3 have a similar account of the baptism of Jesus while John doesn’t report it in the same terms. John leaves it out and just records the meeting of Jesus with John the Baptist. In today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we see reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who we call the “Holy Trinity.”

A dogma of our faith (meaning we’re supposed to accept the truth of the doctrine), the Church says that “3 persons in one God” is a mystery we can’t fully understand. However, the early Church Fathers combed through scripture and tradition and named the Godhead. Non-Christians sometimes say we have a “polytheistic” religion (meaning we have more than one God). However, we are “monotheists” (like the Muslims and Jews)—and believe that these 3 persons are 1 God. We point to analogous examples—like a 3-leaf clover being a 3-in-1 thing, or a triangle being one thing (but 3 angles)

We “preach” this dogma when we make the sign of the cross. We might not think of ourselves as “preaching” theology, but the custom of the sign of the cross is essentially a catechism lesson.

The Orthodox have a sign of the cross that’s a bit more complicated. When they bless themselves, they put the tip of the thumb, index, and middle finger together. This represents 3 persons (joined together into one). They also join the baby finger with the finger next to it—and those 2 fingers represent the divine and human nature of Jesus. They then turn those 2 fingers toward the palm of the hand—representing Jesus coming to humanity.

The baptism of Jesus initiates his public persona—his work—his realization that he has been called to do something very special. Have you ever had that experience? Of sensing a special calling? Jesus wasn’t born as superman—but grew into his vocation (as we do).

His baptism was the moment he had an EPIPHANY—his awakening, a new awareness of what he was called to do.

We have infant baptism (as do Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and some others). Some Christian groups hold off baptism until later in life.

Some weeks back we had a darling 4-month old baptized. The baby has no clue as to what’s going on, but WE do. And that’s what sacraments are all about. They bring God to us in understandable terms and we get the grace, for example, of baptizing that baby and getting a sense of how God “feels” for each of us. That is, God loves you much like we love the little child being baptized.

Some parents don’t raise their child in a religious tradition. They’ll say that they want their child to make a decision about religion later in life—and not bias them toward Catholicism or some other faith.

I’ve always found this position pretty lame—because parents teach their children values all the time. Without raising their child in the faith, they’re equivalently saying “we don’t value being raised in the faith—or learning that there’s a God—or that God created the world—or that God loves you—or that you should regard Jesus as the premier role model.

Your child is raised in a secular culture that “preaches” its gospel of self-interest and self-centeredness. MTV evangelizes your children with its sterile teen trends. And young ones read from the gospel of Facebook and Twitter all the time. With no exposure to an alternative worldview, young people pursue mirages. I’m just saying I’d want my children raised according to the synoptic gospels and the sacraments.

I know it’s tough to raise children in the faith. I sometimes think God made me a priest because I’d not be able to face the challenge of raising children of my own. I rebelled against going to church as a young child. My parents were not regular church-goers (mom never, dad once in a while and on holidays). In reporting this background, I’m simply saying that I salute your efforts to make religious practice a reality in your homes. No easy job.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday shows Jesus receiving an affirmation from God and a commission. Same for us who’ve been baptized. We’ve received a call or commission to be Jesus alive today in the unique circumstances of our lives.

How do we do that?

When parents bring their baby to church, and then bring their children as they grow up, they’re telling their children that it’s in the sacramental context that God speaks to them—and helps them. You might be seeking counsel—God will give it. You might be seeking strength—God will provide it. That’s what mass attendance is all about.

God doesn’t get any godlier for you going to church, but you and I receive thoughts or inspirations from different angles—which are part of the liturgy. Scripture, songs sung, Eucharistic prayer, reflections that come to mind—are all ways that God speaks to you and me. Each of us is called to engage the world and bring our gospel perspective to the issues of our time. So maybe offertory petitions bring issues to your consciousness that you’d otherwise not think about.

When I have infant baptisms—I remind you that what we’re doing is communal—that God is speaking to us about OUR baptism. Yes, the child is being received into the church, but the sacrament reminds all present that God loves us adults—much like a proud mom and dad loves their little child.

Even though we are mature and in control of our lives—infant baptism tells us that we’re just as needy as the little person of the day.

In the gospel today, God the Father says to Jesus what we’re also supposed to hear. “You are my beloved One.”

In your own way—go, baptize all nations by this example you set. Our life work will be as God intended if only we remember:

Upon entering heaven, God won’t ask you what kind of car you drove. He’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation. God won’t ask the square footage of your house, he’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet, he’ll ask how many you helped to clothe. He won’t ask what your highest salary was, he’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it. He won’t ask what your job title was, he’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability. He won’t ask how many people on Facebook you “friended.” He’ll ask how many people to whom you were a face-to-face friend. He won’t ask what neighborhood you lived in. He’ll ask how you treated your neighbor. He won’t ask about the color of your skin. He’ll ask about the content of your character.

We had 3 funerals this week. If you were called back to God today, what would you say to God that you think would qualify your going to what we call “heaven?”

What would you say you did with the gift of your life? If you’re not pleased with what you’d now reply, rejoice, you still have time to do better.

Pastor’s Pen               January 3, 2021

When I was 8 years old, my parents had to sell our 2 boxer dogs. I was heartbroken that this happened but because my parents needed the money, necessity forced their hand. I was pleased several weeks later when the family who got my pup called to report how things were going.

Their little girl was born with a full arm on one side and half of an arm on the other. The mother called to say that my pup and the little 5-year-old girl were inseparable. He was by her side all the time (like being another arm for her). When I later in life read about boxer dogs, I learned that his behavior was typical of the breed. In the 1890s, Germans created the breed to be a “super dog”–clean, affectionate, protective of children, and loyal to death when defending the family. Boxer-owners think the Germans succeeded in their experiment.

I report this to you because of a video I saw this week of a boxer greeting his family’s newborn baby. It reminded me of the Christmas season and the spirituality each of us should own. In our everyday life, we can learn from the most ordinary events–such as a boxer dog meeting the new member of his household.

Typical of boxer owners, a mother came home from the hospital, and upon entering the house, knelt down with her blanketed baby, and showed the child to the family’s almost-equally beloved boxer (whose stub tail was, typical of the breed, wagging a million mph). Gently, the boxer went face-to-face with the newborn, sniffed from head to toe, and licked the baby’s face. He sat down and peered, with the mother, at their bundle of joy (mother and boxer both lovingly looking at their newest family member).

I report this not because boxers are special to me and I need to express my affection for them. Rather, what came to mind were the Magi–whose experience was probably very similar to that of the boxer’s. They saw the baby–and waves of affection washed over them–the wise-men, in turn, pouring forth their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I wondered if anyone today really tries to imagine themselves in the stable–in the presence of a living God who tells them that He was there in the flesh–with them. Does anyone try to imagine themselves at the cradle—the God-child smiling at them as if feeling something very special for them? Do you ever feel a sense of God’s Bethlehem presence?

The feast of Epiphany that we celebrate this weekend addresses the Magi coming to Bethlehem. Again, their story ISN’T a quaint tale from generations past that tells of people long dead. No, it’s an account of our faith’s origin and our responsibility as Catholics.

In everyday conversation, one might say “I had an epiphany.” I wonder if they know that the word they used has religious roots (viz., the Magi at Bethlehem). In everyday English, the word means one has a sudden “discovery” or found new meaning in something. This is what took place with the Magi–and what’s SUPPOSED to take place with each of us. That is, in some way we come to realize why we were born, and that God loves us, and intended for us to be a great gift to all people.

On Christmas day we read Matthew’s lineage for Jesus. It showed that the great King David was his ancestor, and in keeping with that reality, he was born in the “City of David” (Bethlehem). However, this NEW “messiah” (“anointed of God”) is for ALL people (represented by the non-Israelite wise men from the East) and is not just an ethnic/Israelite God-leader.

Dispute exists regarding the story’s “slaughter of the innocents” which is what occurred when the Magi did not return to Herod. The king ordered all Israelite baby boys to be killed–Mary and Joseph learning of this in a dream and fleeing to safety in Egypt. Scholars report that there’s no record of Herod issuing such an order. However, others say that Herod did so many horrible deeds that the killing of 10 or 12 babies in Bethlehem–wasn’t as remarkable as other slaughters he oversaw toward the end of his reign. These slaughters got the press whereas the killing of babies did not.

Others will join the discussion and point to the THEOLOGY that Matthew is trying to teach his Jewish converts (regardless of the story’s historical accuracy). Namely, his readers/listeners knew the Exodus story of Egypt’s pharaoh ordering the death of all Israelite baby boys, of Moses being spared, and of Moses later leading his people out of slavery in Egypt to the “Promised Land.” The argument here is that Matthew is symbolically showing that Jesus is the new Moses–leading all people one day to the Promised Land of heaven, and showing them how to live.

There was a Mediterranean understanding that the East was a place of wisdom–and so the coming of the gentile Magi from the East reinforces the sense that all people with any intelligence should seek and find Jesus. Moreover, the star is a symbol of the Messiah (the “star of David” worn as jewelry by practicing Jews today), and a light in the darkness as it shines in the night sky. As the prophet Isaiah says: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. bearing gold & frankincense . . . . . “

I like to think of Epiphany being “the feast of attending mass on Sundays.” I say this because we need to celebrate and reflect upon the big mistake being made by family members and others who say they have something more important to do than come to mass. If you know someone who says they have more important things to do than go to church, or that they think they’re doing fine without mass–then simply ask them if there’s anything more important than discovering anew why God made them who they are, or why they even exist. Is there anything more important than reflectively talking to God about their unemployment, their drug addiction, their marriage, or any issue that is part of their life’s joy or struggle?

Tell them that one hour a week (at most) is not too much time to hear “God’s word” in scripture–and more importantly–God’s word in the thoughts that come to them during this time-set-aside. The simple fact is that people tend NOT to listen for God’s word during the week when they’re at work, at the bar, playing video games, or doing whatever they do. At mass, by contrast, people are exposed to life-realities (like the people and events and issues we pray for at offertory time) that blow past them without their paying attention. At mass, people are exposed to the witness of singers, musicians, readers, and helpers of various sorts–who might be sources of inspiration for them. Or maybe the occasional homily will remind them of something profound within themselves that is crying to be born, or come alive, or simply change.

The story of the Magi is the story of us coming to mass–and going to the manger (a feeding trough) which is the altar–and there discovering God’s presence. The Magi’s story is OUR story. It plot has us searching, and finding God in dark and dank stables that are sometimes our own lives. WE are the Magi looking for the God who created us and who calls us from the manger to tell people about the new life and new beginning that we have found spoken to us in the birth of Jesus.

Last year I told you of the Sioux (Lakota) Indian story of people starving and of 2 hunters sent to find food for the village. Instead, they found a woman carrying what appeared to be her child. When she unwrapped the bundle, it was the sacred pipe–which she said should be used in prayer. Each time the pipe would be used, God would hear their prayer. Such is the origin story of the sacred pipe. Interestingly, when the story is told, no further mention is made of people starving. The pipe came, and all was well. BECAUSE THE STORY IS ADDRESSING THE PEOPLE’S DEEPEST HUNGER!

Family and friends might offer some justification for not coming to church (often casting themselves in the role of a principled person making a good judgment call). But see what takes the place of church–watching a football or basketball game? golfing? jogging? mowing the lawn? The list is endless. I wonder how many will not return once the vaccine permits freedom of movement.

Unfortunately, the story of the Magi also reminds us that we are Herod–envious of others and willing to do anything to preserve what we have in the service of self-interest. This sort of reality, too, is what mass presents to us. It confronts us with the reality that we’re NOT the saintly/great person we imagine ourselves to be. Scripture this weekend is a reminder that we do our best NOT to return to the role of Herod we too often play. King Herod asked the Magi to be complicit in his self-centered scheming, and they refused to go along with his plan. Just as the serpent proposed a plan to Eve, so Herod did the same with the wise men. Their stories are our stories. Mass helps you NOT be complicit, or part of, behaviors that bring death to ourselves or others.

Better said by Henry VanDyke than I, The Other Wise Man is a story I quote each Epiphany Sunday. Heard enough times, people might eventually come to recognize that the story’s lead character, Artaban, is each of us. In summary form–here’s The Other Wise Man.

3 wise men tell Artaban that they’ll meet him at the oasis on a certain day to continue following the star. He’s delayed and misses them. He can’t cross the desert with only a horse, so he is forced to sell one of his treasures, a sapphire, in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He thinks to himself that at least he still has the ruby and pearl to give the great king they hoped to find.

Arriving in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt, he saves the life of a baby who Herod’s soldiers were going to kill–at the price of another of his treasures, a ruby.

Years later, still searching for the Christ-child, Artaban saw a girl being sold into slavery. He took the pearl from his pocket. It seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living luster. He laid it in the hand of the slave. “This is your ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I have kept for the King.” In Jerusalem as Jesus was taken to Calvary, an earthquake causes a building to fall, and Artaban is mortally wounded.

As he lay dying, the slave girl heard him say: “Not so, my Lord! When did I see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty, and give you drink? When did I see you a foreigner and take you in? Or naked, and clothed you? When did I see you sick or in prison, and come to you? 33 years have I looked for you; but I have never seen your face, nor ministered to you, my King.'”

The slave girl heard a faint voice near Artaban say: “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you have done it to me.”

A calm wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain peak. A long breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.

The story of the Magi, and Artaban’s story, asks each of us: “What are you doing with your life’s gold, frankincense, myrrh, sapphire, ruby, and pearl?”

Pastor’s Pen                    December 27, 2020

There are 4 stages we go through in our relationship to Christmas.  The 1st is: You BELIEVE in Santa Claus.  The 2nd is: You DON’T believe in Santa Claus.  The 3rd is: You ARE Santa Claus.  And the 4th is: You LOOK like Santa Claus.  🙂    

The Advent and Christmas season is rich with images associated with the birth of Jesus—aspects of which are disputed on different levels.

For example, the origin of Christmas itself is a matter of debate.  Some think that scripture points to a December birth while others suggest its roots are within the Roman religion of 313 (when Christianity was legalized by Constantine).

Mithraism was a religion out of Persia (Iran) that celebrated the “God of Light”—Mithras.  His feast was on the winter solstice (when daylight begins to overcome the darkness), and its members (who said they were “born again”) celebrated the Saturnalian rites at this time of year (with gift-giving, party-going, lighted houses, and greenery decorations).  Some think that Christianity simply capitalized on what people did with their “pagan” (which means “non-Christian”) religion—and built their Christian theology around the earlier form.

Or perhaps the Magi were the origin of gift-giving (young people today don’t know the word “magi”  but they MAY know who the “wise men” were).  Scripture says they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus—so maybe Christmas gift-giving is rooted in that element of the story.  As for the word “Christmas,” it means “Christ’s mass” and was first used in the year 354.

Although we think of there being 3 “magi,” scripture does not tell us how many there were or who they were.  During the Middle Ages, the names of Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper were given to these “astronomers” and popular piety said that one was from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe (3 continents of the world represented at the birth).  Maybe the magi are responsible for us having a tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.  What would the magi give today–financial support for Christ’s Mission Appeal?  The parish?  Their time to help people in need?  Are you being a modern-day magi?

You might say Jesus was from Bethlehem (as reported by Matthew and Luke), but Mark and John say he was from Nazareth (a town 90 miles from Bethlehem).  Maybe Bethlehem was cited because it is known as the “city of David”—Israel’s great king (implying Jesus is the new, great king and descendant of David’s line).  We are familiar with images of Mary riding on a donkey, but scholars say the couple would not have had one (but I still inserted a poem about the donkey in the bulletin).

 Origen, an early Church commentator, said Jesus was born in a cave, and Constantine built a church at the cave in 338—visited today by tourists.  Is this where the “virgin birth” took place?  Why did Matthew and Luke mention the virgin birth, and John, Mark, and St. Paul NOT mention it?  One would think that it is such a miraculous event that each writer would cite it.

Luke has shepherds but Matthew doesn’t.  Might they be symbolic of low-class folk Jesus would later attract? Or of his being a “good shepherd” of the people or sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world?  Maybe scripture writers didn’t mention some topics because “others have written about those things.”  

Today’s reading is called the “Annunciation” (the “announcement” of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus).  Instead of being an actual historical event, some scholars say that it is a literary device common to scripture.  In the Old Testament and here in the New, it announces the importance of the person identified—in this case, Jesus.  Scholars say this is not a historical account but rather an explanation that reality has been turned upside down with this child’s impending birth.

Because we’re supposed to internalize scripture and make it our own, the Annunciation is also speaking of OUR birth—and that OUR coming into the world was intended to be an awesome event that brought special grace to all of creation.  Is that what you’ve made of your life?  Put another way, the Old Testament told of the coming Messiah (Jesus).  In a way, you are a “mini-messiah” for others with the mark of baptism.

This past Thursday’s mass had as a gospel reading the genealogy of Jesus which, when read to American congregations, puts people to sleep with unpronounceable names and repetition of one person “begetting” another.  This is not the experience of listeners in other parts of the world.  Were we like cultures elsewhere (non-1st-world cultures), or were we in touch with our tribal background, we would be like them and listen respectfully to the account of the genealogy of Jesus. 

At one time, ALL peoples saw their ancestors as the foundation of society (the closest we come is referring to Washington as the father of our country and referring to our nation’s “forefathers”).  An African student of mine said that here in America, all one does when first introduced to another is say something like “Hey, how’s it going?”  Back home, he said an introduction would take him a half-hour to narrate (as he recounted his lineage).

Genealogies, traditionally, gave one their personal identity.  It gave their family name an upstanding reputation and a list of “heroes” worthy of reverence.  In this sense, the gospel’s genealogy account SHOULD present questions that each of us takes to heart—namely, am I living up to names in this legacy?  Will MY name one day be spoken as a proud part of this lineage?  What am I doing with my biblical DNA?  Is it alive and well in me–such that people know what I stand for?  

The cynic in me might negatively say “This generation of parishioners didn’t raise the funds for Christ’s Mission Appeal.  How can they claim to be heirs of a biblical identity?”  Instead of having that perspective, the realist in me says “Our parishioners are the ones who did their best.  That’s all that God asks of us–to do our best.”  When I look at our people in the pews, I think their names belong to that gospel genealogy.

And what about these visions of angels speaking to Mary and Joseph?  Have you had any angels speaking to you recently?  Maybe you have—via people or something that was angel-like in your life, or in the same manner as angels appeared to Joseph and Mary.  I say this because when people in traditional cultures report having a vision of spirit-animals or spirit-beings, they’re referring to what they’ve seen in DREAMS—not scary apparitions of ghosts in their bedroom.    

In the beginning, Matthew’s gospel has Jesus referred to as Emmanuel–which means “God with us.”  Like bookends, Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with that declaration (that “God is with us”–with YOU).  The last chapter concludes with Jesus saying to his apostles “I’m leaving now, and leaving everything to you.  And oh, yes, remember that I’m with you until the end of time.”  What a consoling thought!  God is with us—in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, til death and beyond!  You never face anything alone.

Now you might be musing something to the effect of: “My life was no grand event celebrated in a heavenly ‘Annunciation’-announcement—and no angels have ever appeared to me—and my genealogy is found on ancestry.com.”  If you think along these lines, I think you’re mistaken—because “angels” have been in your life since you first smiled at the nurse or parent when you were born.  Nature itself—direct from God–has smiled on you many times since you first arrived.  And you have, in ways not known, been Emmanuel to others in some small or great way.

Scripture tries to communicate that the stories we read are stories about us.  And that the God of all creation actually cares about—and loves you in a Godly way known only to God.  To which you might retort—“Baloney—how can any of what you say be true?”  To which I reply,  in quoting today’s gospel: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Odds and Ends

Now that Christmas is past, wouldn’t you know that I forgot to suggest a really good present to give someone?  I have several copies of my book Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic.  I paid $20 for it—and you can have it for the same price.  Autographed, heaven only knows how much it’ll be worth some day 🙂  Kidding aside, I DO have copies of it.  Plus, it MAY be of interest to friends or relatives who are interested in Amer-Indian life (since Black Elk is so well known globally).

December 25, 2020        Christmas Bulletin

Christmas Poem

Just a little donkey–but on my back, I bore–The one and only Savior–the world was waiting for. Just a little donkey–but I was strong and proud— I gladly carried Mary–through the chaos of the crowd. I brought her to a stable–where she made a tiny bed… A place for Baby Jesus–to lay His little head. I pray the world remembers–that special Christmas night When just a little donkey–brought Heaven’s Precious Light.

Christmas Meditation

Are you willing . . . to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you? To ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world? To put your rights in the background, your duties in the middle distance, and changes you’ll make in the foreground? To see that others are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts (which hunger for acceptance)?

To own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life? To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness? Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing . . . to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children? To remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old? To stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough? To bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts? To try to understand what family members really want, without waiting for them to tell you?

To trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you? To make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do those things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing . . . to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world, stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death–and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

Christmas Prayer I

We give you thanks, Holy One, for the light that has come into the darkness of our world, for the truth illuminated, for the pathway that has opened, for the rejoicing of your people.

We give you thanks for the feet of those who bring good news, friendship, comfort, food, shelter, and medicine for healing.

We give you thanks for the Church of Christ Jesus and for all people of faith whose attention to the way of peace tears down walls that keep us apart.

We give you thanks for every nation where wisdom reigns, where leaders work for the well-being of the poor so that no one is hungry or homeless, and every child is valued and nourished.

We pray for the knowledge and courage to be good stewards of all that you have given us: ourselves–our neighbors, the strangers among us, the oceans and rivers, the air and soil, creatures large and small, that we may continue to be blessed with health and life.

We pray for those whose flesh is harmed by poverty, sickness, and cruelty of any kind, that the Word-made-flesh may so fill your world with the power to heal that all people would be made strong and whole. We commend all these things to you and offer our thanksgiving, trusting that what we have left unsaid, your holy wisdom can unearth; in the name of the One who came among us.

Christmas Prayer II

Not gold, nor myrrh, nor frankincense would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that are for those who have everything (if such there be). I would (if I could) have for you the gift of courage, the strength to face the gauntlets only you can name, and the firmness in your heart to know that you (yes, you!) can be a bearer of the quiet dignity that is a person glorified. I would (if by my intention I could make it happen) have for you the gift of connection, the sense of standing on the hinge of time, touching past and future standing with certainty that you (yes, you!) are the point where it all comes together.

I would (if wishing could make it so) have for you the gift of community, a nucleus of love and challenge, to convince you in your soul that you (yes, you!) are a source of light in a world too long believing in the dark. Not gold, nor myrrh, nor frankincense, would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that you deserve.

Holiday Quotes

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul.”

“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Connecting the Dots of Our Life-as-Citizens with Our Life-as-Catholics

This past week, a priest-friend in Tennessee (who is a regular guy and not given to exaggeration) said “Stelts, there just seems to be an evil spirit over the nation. I’ve heard people say ‘the new vaccine will change our DNA and make us demonic!’ What makes people say these things?”

I went to a doctor’s appointment last week and, unprompted by me, one of the workers was inspired to say: “I can’t stand Pelosi and Biden. They’re going to prevent people from getting a check.” I replied that I thought Democrats wanted relief for the middle class and blue-collar workers while their opposition thought the economy would benefit by stimulus checks going to corporations. The person was as committed to their misunderstanding as I was to the actual facts.

As explained to me, Democrats wanted to give 40 billion dollars to the working class (giving everyone a 600-dollar check) while Republicans wanted to give 960 billion more (than that 40) to corporations (instead of the working class). They also wanted legislation to say that workers couldn’t sue their employer if harmed on the job. Nuances aside, the health-worker had simply heard that Democrats were not being cooperative (when, in reality, the matter was more complicated).

Not judging either political approach, I simply note that they represent different economic philosophies. They are, in general, what has been in the news—which made the healthcare worker irate. I cite this not because I am especially interested in this issue, but for a whole other point I want to call to your attention.

When Advent began, I dreamed of our parish hitting the goal of Christ’s Mission Appeal during this Christmas season. It seemed to me that the number of parishioners on our rolls could easily hit the target by simply choosing the CMA as a most worthwhile charity their family could support. Well, with one week to go before Christmas, we haven’t even hit the half-way mark.

I sure over-estimated our response.  Naïve and Pollyanna me!! Darn. Now I have no clue as to what “the parish” will eventually do in this regard. What more can I say on the subject? Good luck?

Unfortunately, this in-house fund-raising, Catholic parish, diocesan appeal problem—reflects the human condition. I was reminded of this when I came upon an article that wasn’t about religion but which certainly challenges us to see economics through a religious lens. Here’s the gist of the article.

A study from “Americans for Tax Fairness” and “Institute for Policy Studies” reports that since the virus began in March, six hundred and fifty-one American billionaires have seen their collective wealth increase by more than a trillion dollars (some of the better-known names from this group are Elon Musk (Tesla), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Alphabet), and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft). Musk’s worth rose by $118.5 billion (he, Zuckerberg, and Gates joining Bezos as “centi-billionaires,” meaning that each is now worth more than a hundred billion dollars). “Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands.”

The report said that the billionaire class has been the biggest winner from the pandemic, and the working class has been the biggest loser. It argued that these wealthy people could well afford to bear more of the cost of providing additional financial relief to workers, small businesses, and state and local governments. Instead, they find and are given, tax loop-holes by legislators.

Just the gain of billionaires the past 9 months could provide a stimulus check of $3,000 to every one of the roughly 330 million people in America (and the billionaires would not feel a thing if this recent profit was taken from them).

The United Kingdom (England) has been hit as hard as the U.S. and is calling for an emergency tax on wealth. Its Wealth Tax Commission modestly urged the very wealthy to pay a 1% tax for 5 years–an exceptional response to a particular crisis. A one-time hit on wealth shouldn’t affect incentives to work and invest—especially since the wealthy wouldn’t feel a thing–the idea being to ask the country’s wealthiest people to help address an unprecedented economic emergency.

Recall World War 2 photos of bombed Japanese and European cities? The report recalls how those different foreign countries introduced wealth taxes that helped reconstruction. The pandemic isn’t a ruinous military conflict, but the shutdowns it engendered delivered an unprecedented financial shock to workers, small businesses, and state and local governments.

There is Republican opposition to any kind of wealth tax. And it’s not clear what Democrats would endorse, either. But the sight of billionaires getting even richer as tens of millions of Americans face titanic financial struggles is an affront to any notion of decency. In the extraordinary circumstance of a pandemic, it seems reasonable to many ATHEISTS to ask those who have benefitted financially during this crisis to help the country get beyond it. It would seem that people of faith—all the more—would similarly support policies that feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Or would Jesus say “Forget ‘em. It’s everyone for themselves. This crisis and Christ’s Mission Appeal can bark up other trees for assistance.”

If you’re a billionaire, my sense of our faith is that you should help the country get back on its feet. If you’re a parishioner, my sense of our faith is that you should subsidize Christ’s Mission Appeal by Christmas (or New Year). I’d like to think my sense is widely shared.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

Pastor’s Pen            December 10, 2020

I read an article this week that cited the various “disorders” we suffer while at the same time dealing with the pandemic. The article said that what we ordinarily contend with is intensified during this viral period, i.e., our depression, sleep/eating disorders, chronic illnesses, substance abuse, etc. Also affecting some at this time of year might be a condition whose acronym is “SAD”—which refers to “seasonal affective disorder.” This condition occurs in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year (e.g., our winter solstice period–NOW). The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.

Besides medication and talk therapy, treatment includes light therapy (phototherapy)—which typically involves spending 30 minutes a day—usually after waking—in front of a box that emits bright fluorescent light.  What came to mind was that each of us could place ourselves in SOME category of disorder—reflecting the reality that we humans sure are in need of help.

And that’s how Advent fits into our current scene. It emphasizes, focuses on, or fosters the exact opposite of these conditions which bring us down. As I’ve mentioned during the first 2 weeks of Advent, this is the time of year when God is calling us to look at ourselves and be led to a new birth at Bethlehem. God calls us there not just to celebrate the “Incarnation,” but to awaken us to the new identity we are being called to more fully embody. Yes, we’ve conducted our lives a certain way until now—but Christian identity is always in a state of “conversion”—of God calling us to become more accurately the person we were created to be.

If you’re of a mindset that has you say: “Nice words, Mike, but I know who I am, and I know who I want to be. I know where I am now, and where I’ll be put to rest. I just want to carry on with the blessings that God has given me.”  If your thoughts bear any resemblance to a statement like that—then Advent is for you! God calls each of us to a NEW awareness which you and I don’t fully detect.  So, let’s give God credit for leading us to that new identity.

Immaculate Conception 

The 2ndweek of Advent had a focus on Marian spirituality—the “holy day of obligation” being the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Knowing that not everyone could attend mass that day (as they were “obligated” to do), I thought I’d bring some highlights of the feast day to them at the weekend mass. Did you know that if we were living in 1910, we’d be “obligated” to attend 36 feast days (in addition to Sunday mass)? In that year, the number was reduced to 8.

Perhaps because the gospel reading reports Mary’s conception of Jesus being announced by the angel Gabriel, some have thought “immaculate conception” referred to her pregnancy. Instead, it refers to MARY’S conception. Why address this issue—especially when Mary’s conception is not even mentioned in scripture? The theological issue this topic was intended to address is the premier dogma that “Jesus was like us in all things but sin.” God the Father is sinless, but with Mary being human, it follows that Jesus would be sinful via his mother. After all, the great Church Father, St. Augustine (d. 430), was a real stickler on “original sin”—he being largely responsible for Church tradition emphasizing the effects of “original sin” which we inherit.

Over the centuries, but not often, some theologians raised the topic of Mary’s relationship to original sin—in an effort to reconcile Jesus being like us in all things BUT sin (which he presumably would have inherited through his mom). One theory held that seminal fluid carried original sin to the female—and God the Father did not use seminal fluid. There was an apocryphal text written a couple hundred years after Jesus—which said that “Anne” was the name of Mary’s mother, and that her father’s name was Joachim. No historical evidence for these people existing as named, the tradition got entrenched and today many think of Mary’s parents as these 2 souls.  Were their names “Anne” and “Joachim?”   Maybe.  Maybe not.

Folklore or fact, it is also reported that St. Brigid of Sweden had a vision of Mary telling her that the sex act of her parents was free of original sin because there was no sexual desire involved with the act. The great St. Thomas Aquinas and others addressed the topic, but it remained on a back burner until 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared it a “dogma” of our faith (i.e., you HAVE TO believe a dogma or else you’re a heretic). Many Church leaders objected to his decision, but it became a dogma of our faith (i.e., Mary was conceived without sin). A medieval thinker might be of help to us. He said that if God wanted to do something, God did it—and leave it at that!

More important to the practice of our faith is the gospel story of Gabriel’s visit. Since the gospel is not a history book, but is intended for OUR enlightenment and inspiration (and not God’s), what can we take from the angel’s announcement?

If an angel appeared to you from out of nowhere, would your reaction be as relatively casual as Mary’s—and would you just say something like “Hey! What’s up?” (and then converse in normal fashion)? Or would you be shocked at the sudden apparition? No shock is reported, but instead Mary calmly hears the announcement of her impending motherhood and replies to Gabriel with gratitude to God.  As with other visions in the bible, some scholars think the appearance of Gabriel came through a “dream” to Mary.

Since “angelos” is the Koine Greek for “messenger of God,” we needn’t think of winged creatures appearing to us in a vision.  Rather, “messengers” can be persons like our spouse, our child, nature’s beauty, or even my dear boxer who died a couple of weeks ago. “Mikey” revealed to me lots about God—and so was a special angel in my life. And so it is with Mary and each of us. Angels come into our life and tell us we are “filled with grace” and that we should not be afraid because “the Lord is with” us. Each of us is Mary in this scripture story. Each of us is being invited to give birth to faith, hope, and love—the essence of Jesus.  

Our Lady of Guadalupe 

The 2ndweek of Advent had another important Marian feast—Our Lady of Guadalupe—a special devotion that arose in what is today Mexico City. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Historically, its origin story took place just after Spain conquered the Aztecs (1519) and was trying to control the Native population.

5 apparitions are said to have taken place in 1531 to a young Indian named Juan Diego. A sacred lady referred to herself as the mother of “a very true God”—and told Juan to go to the Archbishop and have a church built on the ground where they stood. She instructed Juan to pick flowers (which she bundled in his cloak) and take them to Bishop-elect Zumarraga. When the cleric opened it, a painting of the lady miraculously appeared—and she has been identified ever since as Mary. Her likeness was replicated on banners during the 19th century Mexican war of independence from Spain, and today a large Mexican flag is draped near the Basilica painting.

It is not surprising that she was later declared “Queen of Mexico.” Then she was titled “Patroness of the Americas,” and by John Paul II in 1999 “Empress of Latin America,” and “Protectress of Unborn Children.” An inscription greets visitors to the Basilica which reads “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” These are words that Juan reported her saying to him.

St. Juan Diego

This 2ndweek of Advent also included the feast of “Saint” Juan Diego—whose life was investigated by the Church in 1666—118 years after his death. Authorities thought this wise to do because the Guadalupe devotion had spread, and because the Franciscans and Dominicans were arguing about the story’s reliability. Moreover, the writings of Zumarraga made no mention of Juan Diego (whose name didn’t surface until the mid-17thcentury).  That Zumarraga not refer to Don Juan seemed peculiar (given the spectacular circumstances of the heavenly vision). One would think that the Archbishop would say SOMETHING about the Juan Diego revelation.  Another peculiar angle on the account is that the site of Guadalupe was the site of where an Aztec goddess (Tonanzin) was honored. Questions arose concerning a possible Aztec grounding of the devotion—not in Mary, but in Tonanzin.

In 1883, Zumarraga’s biographer confided to the Bishop that his research suggested that Juan Diego did not exist. Nonetheless, in 1987, John Paul II declared him “venerable,” and then “beatified” him in 1990. In 1996, the Abbot of the Guadalupe Basilica was interviewed for a magazine and said that Juan Diego was a “symbol” and “not a real person.” Upon hearing what the Abbot said, Church authorities fired him—and in 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego a saint. In the 1990s, a Jesuit produced research that asserted the existence of Juan, but the Guadalupe story associated with him is still debated by scholars.

The Guadalupe story is near and dear to me because it resembles in some ways the story I told as a homily for last Christmas. I reported the Sioux Indians (Lakota) having a sacred lady within their tradition who brought the “sacred pipe”—an instrument of prayer that assures the people that God hears them when the pipe is used. Buffalo Cow Woman brought what appeared to be her child (the “sacred calf pipe”) and, ever since, the Lakota could pray and know that God listened to them. As time passed, many Lakota thought that it was Mary who visited the people and that the pipe forecast the coming of Christ to the nation.

For me, the 2ndweek of Advent also saw the anniversary of my ordination. Like you during Advent, I’m looking at my life and asking what new birth God is leading me to experience. What came to mind in recalling my first mass was the homily I gave. It prompted a smile because its theme echoes the point of this Advent season.  I told people that my task was to forever encourage others to discover their own call to priesthood—to service of God’s people. 

These many years after that first mass, my Advent homily remains the same as it was back then.  We begin week 3 of the journey to Bethlehem—hoping to discern, figure out, learn—whatever the word—what conversion God is calling us to experience.  As stated, to be Christian means to have an ongoing conversion experience, moving us from one level of insight (or ignorance) to a new vantage point.  God has faith in us!  During Advent, God helps us see beyond the disorders we cope with during the pandemic.  At this point of the Advent journey, we glimpse—in the distance–a stable of hope on the horizon.

Lord—each of us is Mary—asking you to be a midwife helping each of us give birth to compassion for others, understanding them as best we can, forgiving them, and moving on to discover Juan Diego’s image of Mary and Jesus tattooed on our hearts.  Inspire us to be a sacred pipe—communicating to others Your acceptance and our belonging to you (that we hope to one day experience fully with you in heaven).    

invasion.  It was all a scam—a “tweet” that went “viral” and spread the deception.  Violence can result from dis-information and we all suffer for our ignorance—which is why I pass to you a website that I’ve found helpful to consult.  It is: Snopes.com   It does a decent job of tracking down the truth and falsehood of whatever is being bandied about on social media.

Charitable giving is alive and well—but for what purpose?  Reports now in the news are that a political action committee (PAC) is behind all the lawsuits contesting the election.  Moreover, solicitations are sent from the different Trump family members asking for people to donate to the Georgia senatorial election in January.  People THINK they are donating to this effort when the fine print says that 25% will go to the Georgia election and that 75% will go to Mr. Trump’s post-election interests (for whatever he wants to do with the over 500 million dollars already collected in just these few weeks).

Stay with me on this.  I’m not debating one’s political affiliations.  You’re free to support whoever you want to support.  I’m on the topic of “charitable giving” and continue making my point with the following example.

I watched a football game at which the announcer reported that the grandmother of Buffalo’s quarterback died that week–and citizens of Buffalo raised over $70k dollars in her memory.   I sighed—because earlier in the day I mentioned at mass that Christ’s Mission Appeal is the most far-reaching charity of any that approach you at this time.  The Appeal goes beyond the diocese–helping people globally (it funded me on the Indian missions and in Appalachia).

Buffalo’s quarterback is yearly paid $5.3 million dollars—but then is given $70k dollars in a week from blue-collar folks in Buffalo?  Huh?  Their behavior is the same as the politically-inclined-PAC donors mentioned above.  These large amounts that have been collected from ordinary people like you and I show that we HAVE funds to give.  It’s just a question of what will we charitably support?  THAT is the point I’m trying to make.

SURELY, we can contribute to a more worthwhile and inclusive charity than a wealthy quarterback’s family or a wealthy TV personality/politician.  In terms of Gospel value, Christ’s “mission appeal” should trigger an even more generous and personal response than those 2 “charities.”  As I stated 4 weeks ago, we could easily knock off our 80k goal—if we chose to do so.   

Let’s see.  Into whose hand should I donate funds—a wealthy quarterback’s? a politician’s? or the hand of God?  If this logic doesn’t speak to you, then at Christmas time==just think of CMA before going out to spend 1 or 2 hundred bucks on Nike gym shoes or a similar amount for an athlete’s name-jersey.  For just a moment, think of all the people you’ll be helping through the CMA.  Maybe a germ of generosity will stir within your consciousness—and you can put your loose change/checks/cash in the collection box as you leave mass.

2) Christmas week masses will only be the ones on Christmas Eve day and Christmas day.

3) The January 1st  holy day mass will be at noon, at Sacred Heart.  No masses during that week Tues, Wed, Thurs.

Pastor’s Pen           December 6, 2020

I previously said that Advent is the Church’s yearly ritualizing of us making a journey to Bethlehem. We are being called to discover a new birth/identity. We’re not just celebrating God’s becoming incarnate (taking on flesh as a human)—but we’re called to discover more profoundly and more intimately the role God calls us to fulfill—with OUR incarnation.

Each of us has lived SOME identity—but it’s not the totality that God calls us to become. Thus—we have the yearly Advent ritual reminding us that we still have a new discovery to make (our new birth).

Try not to think of this as a speculative thing—the priest piously saying we’re on a journey to self-discovery. Rather, try and come to terms with this Advent season asking you and me if we want to be part of God’s design. Do we want to be on the Bethlehem side of life-issues, or do we want to continue eating apples of self-interest offered to us by the serpent.

A bishop recently commented that many of us have chosen “willful ignorance” instead of seriously evaluating the felonies that confront us on the nightly news. Too many of us say “I can’t be bothered” with unpleasant world or national events or issues when, truth be told, the gospel calls us to “being bothered”—and being Christ-like in addressing these things that we see unfold.

Each year at this time, I’m reminded of how this journey toward Bethlehem is serious business. In my heart of hearts, maybe I don’t really want to make it.

With my birthday toward the end of November, a grateful smile comes to mind and heart, but anniversaries that follow challenge my sense of comfort. 40 years ago this week, 3 Sisters and a laywoman were murdered in El Salvador. The U.S. government was criticized for its role in that country’s civil war—and was quick to respond to the criticism. The Reagan administration said that we were fighting “communists,” and that if we didn’t stop them in El Salvador—these monstrous communists would be attacking Hemlock and Merrill (that is, a scare tactic broadcast to all Americans making us think our lives were at stake).

U.N. ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, declared her “unequivocal” belief that the Salvadoran army was NOT responsible for the killings, adding that “the nuns were not just nuns. They were political activists. We ought to be a little more clear about this than we actually are.” Alexander Haig was the Secretary of State at the time, and he testified that “there might have been an exchange of gunfire between the sisters and whoever killed them.” He did not suggest why the women were raped before they were shot, execution-style.

Because the Church has people in all countries of the world, and plenty of Church-people in El Salvador, we knew at the time that Kirkpatrick and Haig and the administration as a whole, were lying to the world—and to the American people in what they were saying on the ABC, NBC, CBS nightly newscasts.

What saddened Jesuits is that Haig’s brother, Frank, is a Jesuit priest. The Reagan administration fired Ambassador Robert White because he would not lie as they instructed him to do—White testifying many times that the so-called “political activist” nuns were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. Declassified documents and what became known as the “truth commission” later revealed that the administration knew of the widespread campaign of terror and torture perpetrated by the government whose weapons were paid for by American tax dollars.

Keep in mind that the Maryknoll Sisters and laywoman Jean Donovan were “just folks–” hometown “girls” as you might find in Hemlock or Merrill coming to mass at the parish. This needs saying because their fame today might make them seem larger than life. Their reality was that they could be your sister, or daughter, or neighborhood friend.

In 1984, four national guardsmen were convicted of murdering the women and sentenced to 30 years in prison (three were released in ’98). The rapist-murderers were acting on orders from higher officers who, with American officials, tried to cover up the plan. The officer responsible for the executions was General Vides Casanova. He eventually married a wealthy coffee-baroness who was also the El Salvador ambassador to the Vatican (yes, truth IS stranger than fiction). Living on the Palm Coast district of southern Florida until 2015, he was deported back to El Salvador. His torture victims successfully sued him for 54 million-dollars.

I spoke to you last year about the killing of 6 Jesuits in 1989—one of whom was a good friend. Both the Reagan and Bush administrations certified that El Salvador was progressing well in respecting human rights—but this, as occurred with the women, was another lie being sold to the American public. When the killing of the priests hit the airwaves internationally, there was an uproar over the atrocities in El Salvador that American foreign policy sponsored. Again, the administration was quick to raise suspicions about the victim-Jesuits—suggesting they were gun-runners assisting rebels, and even suggesting that the rebel “communists” had killed them for some deal gone bad.

Americans were told that in order to keep America the great nation that it was—we had to stop communists from coming across our southern border and attacking the Merrills and Hemlocks of the country. And Americans again bought these lies hook, line, and sinker. Later “truth commissions” discovered that the CIA was aware of the plans to kill the Jesuits, and knew who did the killings (the army who was trained by U.S. advisers).

In reality, the Jesuits were university teachers who were trying their best to solve the problems of a country that had very wealthy people controlling and owning most of the country’s resources (which is the case here in the U.S., too—especially since the “middle class” has been getting smaller and smaller due to fiscal policies started in the 1980s). The Jesuit role could be summed up by Bishop Camara of Brazil who said: “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask WHY they have no food, they call me a Communist.” Just last year were the murderers of the Jesuits sentenced to life in prison.

The “in” word today is no longer “communist,” but “socialist.” Listen to how often the word is thrown around—as if it had a meaning we all agreed upon. Many Americans hear the word “socialist” and right away identify “the enemy.” Name-calling wins the day (because somewhere in their background, many Americans blended communism and socialism as the same thing—and both were “bad”). Polls show that to win voter support, one must say “I’m a capitalist” and make no mention of “socialist” ideas.

Pressed to define “socialism,” most angry Americans would be unable to do so. They’ll often give some angry statement about welfare being given to poor people who didn’t “earn” the handout. Blacks are often stereotyped as the welfare recipients—and so racial antagonism is also stoked in this name-calling (keep in mind that there are more “whites” on welfare than blacks). This shows how thoroughly we’ve been brainwashed.

From a Catholic perspective, what’s interesting is that the pope has spoken AGAINST the damage done to the world’s people by a free-wheeling CAPITALIST economic system. And in the new testament, if any economic system is known—it’s the “socialism” of the early Christians!!! In one encyclical, the pope warned against us having a “structurally perverse” economic system where the rich exploit the poor, turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” The pope says that this vision of “might is right has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the . . . most powerful: the winner takes all.” He wrote. “Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.” What approach does your vision reflect? Maybe you don’t want to continue toward Bethlehem.

The Georgia senate race sees one candidate name-calling her opponent a “socialist” (as usual, no details as to what it would mean). Making this charge was a predictable ploy guaranteed to win support (of unthinking Georgians). Her opponent gave a good reply to the woman’s ridiculous question and reminded listeners that she was a senator bought and paid for by Wall Street—her focus being the corporate wealthy and not ordinary people. With her husband being CEO of the NY Stock Exchange, she has been accused (and cleared) of insider trading which brought her millions of dollars. I guess she was just lucky with timely investments.

Capitalism is based on what’s known as the “free market” where everyone, supposedly, has an opportunity to make a good living by supplying some goods or services that are in “demand.” The problem with this, of course, is those powerful corporations “own” the market—and you have next to no chance of competing with anyone. Which leads to the point of this digression.

The raped/murdered women and Jesuits were called “communists/socialists” by the Reagan/Bush administrations. This name-calling brought about their deaths. Should YOU confront someone throwing around the terms “capitalism” and “socialism,” stop the rant by simply noting that America is not fully capitalist. It is also—be prepared for a shock—partly SOCIALIST. Our economy is a hybrid.

Although Americans applaud when a politician says capitalism is what they espouse, all Americans receive the benefits of our country also being socialist. Focusing on welfare support to people in need is NOT a significant budget line. See who is donating to politicians who, in turn, choose the economy’s winners and losers. And who do the politicians choose? They give corporations enormous tax breaks and save banks from the managerial errors they made when creating the crash of 2002. This is called “corporate welfare”—money given to the powerful via what’s known as—tada–socialism.

American socialism takes place during this pandemic. While poor folk struggle to survive, corporations have made lots of money—because the government has pumped your tax dollars into those corporations. What other socialist expenditures do we have in America? How about social security, Medicare, mass transit systems, the bailing out of airlines, maintaining fire and police departments, dairies paid to produce or not produce milk, farmers paid to grow some crops and not grow others. The list goes on and on. Why? Because America is neither fully capitalist nor fully socialist. We’re a hybrid. So don’t brand anyone “communist” or “socialist.” The terms are meaningless for most Americans.

Analyses of the Civil War south have asked how wealthy plantation owners could get poor “white” people to fight to “preserve the Southern way of life” (wealthy plantation owners) from Northern invaders? Historians/sociologists concluded that poor white people weren’t a whole lot better off than the slaves who worked the plantations. They joined the southern war effort so that they, the poor white class, wouldn’t fall even lower than the slave class just below them.

The wealthy want the not-wealthy to blame one another for economic problems. And call one another names like “socialist” or “welfare queen”—and so be distracted from the REAL welfare queens (the corporations who buy the votes of politicians who, in turn, make them winners in the “free market” that controls the lives of the poor).

Written 2000 years ago, the gospel addresses how people exploit one another. This past week a revelation occurred that reminded me of our government’s lies of the 1980s. Namely, for the past couple of years, we’ve heard people debate the Mexican border policy that saw us separate children from their parents. We have 500 to 700 children still in custody with no idea where their families might be. At least, that’s what we were told.

It turns out that the government DOES have phone numbers and addresses for these children and, as of this writing, a judge has demanded to know why this information has been withheld. As stated a few weeks ago, Christ is our king. We pledge allegiance to the Gospel and our God. Beware of non-gospel people.

This first week of Advent saw the feast of Francis Xavier—whose life is a good example of God writing straight in crooked lines. Born of royalty, he went to college where he was a high jump athlete and, eventually, a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. Meeting Ignatius Loyola, he was asked “Is this what you think God wants you to do the rest of your life? Did you ever think God might be calling you to something more?”

Long story short is that Ignatius, Xavier, and a few college buddies started the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Asked to send a missionary to Asia, Ignatius asked one man, but this Jesuit fell sick. Ignatius turned to his college friend—the professor of philosophy, Francis Xavier. Ready to go wherever God wanted him to go (as decided by his superior), Xavier went to Japan, China, and India where he became, for the rest of his life, a dedicated missionary to those lands—where he died alone. Today he is the patron saint of missionaries.

As he lay dying, he reviewed his life and smiled at how God had written straight in the crooked lines of his experience. God took him to Bethlehem—giving him new eyes to see, new ears to hear—who God was calling him to be. Like each of us, Xavier was not fully aware of how God wanted him to use his gifts—but his Advent prayer was to ask that God lead him to new birth.

As you know, I’ve written biographies of the famous Lakota-Sioux holy-man, Black Elk.  Born in the 1800s buffalo-hunting culture of the Sioux, he grew up among a people who were dominant on the plains.  Battles took place between his people and the cavalry–his people winning at Little Bighorn, but eventually losing and confined to reservations.  He saw the massacre of men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in 1890, and could have become a despondent, brooding victim for his remaining years.

Instead, he saw that God wrote straight in the crooked lines of his experience, and he pledged allegiance to the “Wanikiye” (“savior Jesus”).  Baptized on December 6, 1904, he led the rest of his life as a faithful Catholic catechist–trying his best to lead others to Bethlehem.

I heard Bruce Springsteen interviewed, and think his story—his journey to Bethlehem—illustrates what each of us is called to realize. The interviewer said: “It must be incredible for you to draw 50,000 people to Yankee Stadium for a concert, and there see them hang on every lyric of your songs. It must be some powerful experience to see how much you’ve inspired people for over 4 decades now. What’s it like?”

Springsteen reflectively said that yes, it IS pretty moving for him to see this adulation—the rapt attention of so many. He continued the reflection saying—“I’d like to find a Bruce Springsteen, too, and I’d be at that concert, too—because I’d like nothing more than for someone to inspire me—and lead me out of what has been my lifelong, chronic depression.”

Knowing his son was a student at Boston College, I smiled and thought that he probably heard somewhere along the way, a Jesuit (or someone) speak of our common journey to Bethlehem—where we are called to bring the gold, frankincense, and myrrh—the gift—of our life. And share it along the way with others—en route to the new birth God calls us to discover. On this journey, we sometimes take a wrong turn or carry our depression or sense of shortcomings—needful of finding God’s word of new life.

May this 2nd week of Advent—continue to show us our need for new life, and the need others have for us to be a life-giving traveling companion with them, as they, too, seek rebirth.

Pastor’s Pen                   November 29, 2020

If I were Mark, and you were my community, I’d be doing my best to convey some consolation to you because you’ve been a persecuted community.  Nero martyred many of our number, and we are wondering if ever the Lord is going to return as promised.  In short, Mark tells us to be prepared for the Lord’s return.  We don’t know when his second coming will take place or when the eternal Kingdom will be established—but we can at least live our lives as he instructed–and be prepared.

During my absence, I was reminded of tears still shed within our faith community—when I learned of two parishioners going back to God.  It was disappointing that I was neutralized and unable to do anything for their families or anyone at this time.   

Then last week, a boxer pup I acquired 10 years ago died—tears of a different kind when we lose these special friends.  Being an anthropologist who forever reads or writes about burials from antiquity, I thought of all the human losses (and losses of pets) that have taken place down through the millennia—all of whose losses brought tears to people.

What came to mind was that our tears—past and present—for human or animal loved ones—are symbols of gratitude to a God who has blest us so powerfully with the lives we mourn. 

No sooner am I caught up with this reflection of how God has blest us with those who’ve owned our hearts—than I think of how we are bombarded at this time of year with thoughts of Black Friday, small business Saturday, and cyber Monday.  The gospel of Wall Street intrudes upon my reflection on God’s gift of loved ones and lures me into contemplating what I should buy—things advertised to bring me happiness, and produce within me the wonderful smiles that actors project into the commercials.

Before continuing, please know that I am not going to lecture against your acquiring another bracelet or gem to add to your already large collection of bracelets and gems.  Like you, I, too, am prey to the allure of accumulating the glitz and glamor of more “stuff” (which will one day be at a garage sale or given to Goodwill).  On this point, do what you think you need to do—get more stuff, donate to CMA or some other worthwhile charity, or simply be yourself and reverently observe the sacredness of the season as best as you can.

During my convalescence, I saw a television ad that showed a beautiful, heavenly model (an angel?) slowly taking a piece of chocolate and dreamily consuming it, kiss-like—lost in the greatest pleasure life offers (so the commercial would have us buyers-of-chocolate believe).

By CONTRAST, I thought of the Church’s Advent season reminding us of another hunger—which calls us to seek a manger—a feeding trough—where there is a food that can’t be bought on Amazon at some discount price.  Secular society calls us to self-indulgence while this sacred season calls us to metaphorically travel to Bethlehem.  The advent season calls us to find new life.  And we’re told that all we need do is seek—and that we’ll find it.

The cynic in us might muse “Yah yah–seek and you will find.  I’ve heard that one before.  Tell me something I don’t know.”

Okay.  Maybe these recent experiences in my life might inspire you to look at your own experience—and so draw closer to the outskirts of Bethlehem this first Sunday of advent.

Christian spirituality tells us that “God writes straight in crooked lines.”  I thought of this aphorism when thinking of my pup.  All dog owners will right away know what I describe—which is that our dog tells us what Advent is all about.  In short, we can find the new life God calls us to live–where we least expect to find it. 

When one lets their dog outside in the morning, they see their little friend behave as if they’re in a whole new world—as if they’d never been in that yard before (but which, in reality, they’ve been in 365 days a year).  We see our pup investigate a tree as if seeing that tree for the first time (when we, all-knowing humans that we think we are, wonder why the heck all this sniffing and inspecting is taking place).  Awake you humans–our pup’s sense of smell makes the backyard a whole new world that he’s trying to make sense of—because it IS A WHOLE NEW WORLD (that we don’t see or sense).

Since last being in that yard, the person and their pup have no clue what has passed over the grass or floated down from the sky—to modify the terrain substantially.  THAT is what our dog is discovering—their sense of smell so much more powerful than ours.  Meanwhile, we tell our canine friend to take care of business.  There’s nothing to see.  There’s nothing to discover.  We’re human.  You’re a dog, and we know more than you.  Really?  We know what the terrain of life is all about.  We know what the landscape of our past and present experience has produced. Oh, really?

Our pup is telling us, colloquially: “You don’t know NUTHIN!  There are all sorts of things to learn about the yard this morning.  All you see are the same crooked lines of a back yard, but there’s more to this yard than what you see.  You think you know everything—but you don’t.”

And so it is with Advent. We are in this period leading to Christmas—called to look at our lives—and discern where we need new life, new birth, new eyes, new heart.  Where we need to be reborn—and fed at the manger of our everyday lives.

We might say that we know our back yard.  It’s terrain we’ve traveled many times.  We know our spouse, our kids, our friends, neighbors, and what life’s all about.  Advent, however, is reminding us that we might not know as much as we think we do.  And what we might perceive as roots for our lives—are instead ruts that we need to move beyond.  God is writing straight but we are not detecting the sense of our live’s crooked lines.  Our mode might be one of just resignation “to the way things are.”  [Not God’s message]

Advent tells us that—like our pup—we need to look at our world more closely—peer past the material distractions and encounter God speaking to us—seeing how God writes straight in the crooked lines of our lives.

I was reminded of a homey example of this same reality when a parishioner brought me a plate of turkey on Thanksgiving.  It came on a paper plate, and I was reminded of a family Thanksgiving when I was about 9 years old.  Mom set on the table in paper, Thanksgiving-motif plates our dinner—bacon, and eggs.  No sooner did she do this than she started crying—my family consoling her that this was a great dinner.

The ”crooked lines” of that experience were that my dad had lost his business and we were reduced to poverty (which made for embarrassment, tears, and going without).  Previously, the family was “well off” and we used to have a wonderful banquet on Thanksgiving.  And God’s grace swept over us as we all agreed that bacon and eggs were great to have.  We at least had something—and we had one another.  I consider this experience to be one of the great graces of my life.  We had so much to be thankful for.

This past week, a few parishioners sent me a recently posted Diocesan article about my work with Black Elk (the famous holy-man).  As I’ve mentioned in the past, the man is globally known and admired—and two of my books placed him on the road to canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church (Episcopalians already call him one).  While this is all well and good, I confess to having had zero interest in learning about the man’s practice of Catholicism.  I instead sought to learn about his fighting the U.S. cavalry, his mystical experiences as a medicine man, his taking of scalps, and hunting buffalo.  This Catholic piety-thing was not on my radar of interest.

But as you know, God writes straight in crooked lines.  In the course of doing fieldwork in search of what I wanted to learn, God apparently used me/inspired me/led me (whatever phrase might apply to how God is active in our lives)—to uncover the man’s role as a Lakota Catholic (a role that was heretofore unknown and which now is a great contribution to Lakota historical studies).  Without wanting to be, I became God’s accomplice—struggling through the crooked lines of seeking other material but getting information or data that took me to a new world.

Today’s gospel passage simply tells us to be alert—to be on guard—on the watch for how God will come to us.  Advent calls us forward to Bethlehem—to hear God’s word afresh, to find not God’s birth at Bethlehem but our re-birth in 2020 as a more insightful, more grounded disciple. 

Advent RITUALLY reminds us that we are en route to Bethlehem.  So over these weeks, talk to God and ask that you might spot the signposts which lead you there.  Ask that you might not be stopped by distractions along the way—and that if you’re floundering in some life-area, tell God to drag you back to the road that leads to the manger—where you’ll be fed.

For each of us is Mary—naïve, embarrassed by our lowly condition. Each of us is Joseph, perhaps buoyed by our love for a girl from the village, devout in our faith—but then, things fall apart.  The girl is pregnant by who?  Where is God?  Dreams of angels call us to live our faith—but some experiences make living by faith really hard to do.

Like them, we move on—past the small weddings and well wishes of life, and we move on and look for a place to live.  Often enough, we feel as if we only see signs which say no vacancy (which can also mean we feel as if others exclude us or don’t welcome us).

Where is Advent taking Mary and Joseph—and us?   Faith propels us as we try and remember the promise of Bethlehem—and that new birth results from this life-journey of stops, starts, wrong turns, and getting back on course.  We’re comforted in belonging to a faith-community of wise men and women who likewise head toward the city of David—like us, called to read what God has written in the crooked lines of their life-experience.

November 22, 2020

Pastor’s Pen

This weekend is the feast of Christ the King. The title of the feast day seems old-fashioned since the word “king” does not resonate with our experience. It’s a word we associate with European history—and with countries fighting under the banner of different royal families. The word “King” smacks of bygone times and irrelevant images of dukes, duchesses, princes, and princesses.

It was Pope Pius XI who instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. During this period (and before), the Vatican had been a secular power controlling a fair amount of land in Italy. A complicated history saw the Pope reach a settlement with Italy in 1929 that made the Vatican the smallest sovereign state in the world—in both area (129 acres) and population (825).

That said, and regardless of how irrelevant the word “king” is to our everyday life, the feast definitely has an important meaning for each of us—especially in these troubled political times. Back in 1925, the pope and his advisors thought we should reflect on the kingship of Christ as an antidote to the secularism and nationalism that were on the rise (remember Mussolini and Hitler, both “fascists,” came to power at this time).

Recall “fascism” refers to an authoritarian leader who emphasizes a national identity (“real” white Americans) over all others and who challenges freedom of the press and assembly. Fascistic leaders overthrow elections claiming corruption on the part of all opponents—thus setting up a dictatorship. A contemporary politician put it this way: “Don’t believe what you see or hear, but believe what I tell you.” THAT is pure fascism—American vintage 2020.

N.B., During the election, you heard reference to “Antifa”—which was made out to be an evil organization that was going to overthrow football, gun rights, Christianity, apple pie, and motherhood. What was the reality of “Antifa?” First of all, it stands for “anti-fascist.” People who associate with the word “Antifa” are people who believe in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. I would think that everyone in our parish has “Antifa” attitudes and thoughts. After all, Antifa is simply anyone who believes in the election process, that all people are created equal, and that our country is a democracy and not a fascist state.

Antifa is NOT an organization! However, its fascistic opponents made “Antifa” out to be a non-White, national gang of armed thugs heading to overthrow Hemlock and Merrill and all other small towns USA. This is utter silliness— but “conspiracy theorists” have made this image of Antifa popular among the misinformed.

To illustrate how tragic our times are, the recently elected senator in Alabama (former football coach Tommy Tuberville) proudly stated that his father fought against socialists in WW2. No, Mr. Tuberville—the U.S. and Russia were allies in WW2—Russia being a socialist country ally. We were fighting Italy and Germany— FASCIST countries. To quote our founding fathers, “these are the times that try men’s souls”—when an elected senator doesn’t know what his dad fought against in WW2 and doesn’t know basic American history.

Mr. Tuberville defeated an intelligent opponent whose service of people was unimpeachable. And Mr. Tuberville in 2014, founded the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, which said it would help American veterans. In 2020, the Associated Press reported that tax records showed the foundation spent only about one-third of the money it raised on charitable giving. Does that sound like someone you want to see in the Senate? Someone who runs a fraud-charity and who doesn’t know what his country stands for?

The relevance of our political times to Christ the King Sunday

When the Church declared this feast day, it was trying to address a problem it saw emerging in Europe (the rise of evil leadership in the persons of Mussolini and Hitler). THAT is the point this feast day addresses. It is telling you and me that none of our leaders are Christ. There is only one risen Lord, one Messiah—one “King” who we are called to honor and reverence.

This feast day speaks directly to a human phenomenon that regularly occurs throughout history. Namely, there often arises a charismatic leader who, for one reason or another, is able to appeal to crowds. The people, in turn, pledge their undying support of the charismatic leader who, sadly, often leads people to their deaths.

Reference here is not to current politicians at all. If it helps to think of Trump, Pence, Biden, Harris, Obama, Clinton, etc., etc.—fine. But the issue is broader than them. Most of you recall Jim Jones of Guyana fame—and how he convinced his followers that he had the words to eternal life. He persuaded them to “drink the Kool-Aid” and over 900 died. We now have a phrase in English “don’t drink the Kool-Aid”—which refers to stopping yourself from getting hooked by a master con-man (someone who persuades you to act against your own self-interest).

Then there was Marshall Applewhite—who founded Heaven’s Gate. This man convinced regular people like you—that a spaceship was on the other side of the Hale-Bopp comet. In order to get on board the alien spacecraft, people needed to commit suicide—which 39 followers of Applewhite did. They were not extremist, mentally ill people, but were regular souls who had families just like yours. One follower afterward regretted missing the opportunity to go with his crewmates—so ingrained can one’s delusion be.

For some years, “Gabriel of Sedona” leads a group in Sedona, Arizona who regard him as the representative of the “Divine Master of Navidon” (the name of some entity he claims is the creator of the universe). People give their belongings to Gabriel—a one-time musician from Pittsburgh whose charismatic style has won the minds and hearts of these regular, everyday U.S. folk. And when Charles Manson died (I lived about 5 miles from his birth home and knew people who knew him from childhood), he left behind thousands of adoring followers.

The list of charismatic leaders can go on and on (e.g., look at TV preachers rake in cash—how are they able to so manipulate people?). The idea of “Christ the King” is the idea that each of us is Christian— and that we pledge allegiance to one person only—the risen Lord Jesus. You do not pledge allegiance to any country, or organization, or a person who claims special powers. No—you are a Christian who has been baptized into a faith that calls you to love others as Jesus loved us.

This weekend’s gospel is often used as a summary statement of what Christians believe. It never grows old—and should be tattooed on your heart. This week’s gospel cuts through the rhetoric of politicians and charismatic leaders who sell themselves as the Messiah. Anyone who portrays themselves in such terms—should make you flee in the opposite direction.

The king of our lives is very near to us—in diverse ways. Sometimes we recognize him and sometimes we do not. Which is why it is important to keep in mind the following: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’

When you hear someone speak in these terms, you are listening to the voice of God. When someone does NOT speak in these terms, you are not hearing the voice of God.

November 15, 2020

Pastor’s Pen

I’m taking this opportunity to elaborate a topic I’ve previously raised in passing–understanding marriage NOT as it is understood in 1st world countries today but how it has been understood down through the ages–and among most of the earth’s inhabitants still. I do so because the gospel passage about the 5 empty and 5 full lamps is a good entré to the subject.

Recall the main character apart from the girls is the groom coming back late to his house for the big celebration. Where’s his bride? Why is he late? (N.B.: we ask those sorts of questions but listeners of the first century probably assumed the bride was there so it wasn’t necessary to mention her, or anyone else, coming back later; also, it was probably not uncommon for grooms to return late).

In America, people commonly think of marriage as being the meeting of hearts, minds, and bodies. Young people think they can live up to this understanding of the institution: “when two people are under the influence of the most violent, the most insane, the most delusionary, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do us part!”

Cultures try to deal with faulty understandings of the reality of marriage. For example, all of our ancestors accepted a fact of life that could be phrased this way: “marriage is the foundation of society—so elders must be the ones to choose who marries who.” This thinking is at the heart of what you hear referred to as “arranged marriage.”  Stated another way: marriage is too important a decision for young people to make.

Contrary to definitions of marriage that poetically include notions of “love,” the global reality is the opposite.   That is, marriage is an economic and political transaction uniting two groups. That might not match your romantic notion of marriage when you were young and in love—but for most of the world today, that definition still rules the day.

Think of India with 3 times as many people as the U.S.—arranged marriages. Throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia—arranged marriages.

How this played out in the time of Jesus

Betrothal was the initial phase of the marriage process in which prospective spouses (who were first cousins) negotiated expectations (one could be betrothed at a very young age). A formal divorce was required to break the public establishment of the betrothal. Sex with a betrothed woman (“woman” in this context could be 10 years old) was considered adultery.

Israelite marriage saw the bride move to the area of her husband’s family dwellings. The couple did not just up and decide to “set up our own place by the sea.” Nor could the bride pout and plead that they remain close to her family “because I’m so close to my grandmother and aunts.” Nope. That sort of gamesmanship takes place in America, but in all cultures of the world—it doesn’t fly.

Marriages were arranged by parents to join extended families (not individuals). Neither the bride nor groom expected love, companionship, or comfort. In this rigidly gender-divided world, men and women had very little contact. Both realized that their union was arranged for the political or economic advantage of their families.

There is a ritualized removal of a woman from her family after the groom’s father offers gifts and services. The bride’s father makes the final decision. HOWEVER, women of both families negotiate so that neither family is shortchanged (they don’t want a girl who can’t cook very well, or who is lazy).

The patriarch of each family ratifies the contract publicly. When the groom takes the bride into his home, the marriage process is completed. In the gospel story, think of the groom’s late arrival occurring because of last-minute negotiations–or having some Jim Beam with his future in-laws.

In the first century, listeners knew the highpoint of the ceremony occurred when the groom went to the family house of the bride to transfer her to his home. This sort of ritual is common globally—just not here in America!

Who were the sleepy lamp bearers? Neither “bridesmaid” nor “virgin” are helpful translations. They were the groom’s siblings and cousins—all very young (they should have taken a nap during the day—so they were being taught a lesson for not using good judgment and not being prepared.  There would be more feasts to attend, so don’t weep for the five sent home).

We have centuries of Marian devotions and perhaps fantasize Mary as a lovely bride—not realizing that Mary was probably 13 when she and Joseph took their honeymoon in Egypt as they escaped Herod’s wrath.

What was the role of the 10 girls awaiting the groom’s return with his bride?  They were to greet and celebrate at the house until the “consummation” of the marriage (i.e., until the couple have—pick your preference—copulated, had sexual intercourse, “made love”).  Keep in mind that “love” has no role in this physical act under these cultural rules.  A crowning moment of this “love story” (?) is the display of the blood-stained bed sheet demonstrating that the bride possessed physical integrity (an intact hymen) as required by Deuteronomy 22: 13- 21.

Now that you’re familiar with all the cultural “baggage” involved with this parable, what can you take away from the story?

Matthew’s community included recently converted Jews, so the 5 wise ones could refer to those who were ready to receive Jesus as the messiah (and the 5 unwise ones those who stuck to the old ways). After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians awaiting his imminent return added verse 13 to the parable: “So keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Minimally, it is good advice if one is thinking about the return of Jesus or the end of the world. The parable provides both positive and negative models.

November 8, 2020

November 1, 2020

In the early Church, all baptized Christians referred to themselves as the community of the “saints.”  All Saints day was, in a sense, a celebration of their community.  They celebrated their membership who was now with God.  Eventually, centuries later, the community recognized all who died, and so came up with All Souls day (All Saints was reserved just for those who had been officially recognized by the Church).

The gospel reading for these two feast days is appropriate.  It’s Matthew’s account of the beatitudes (Luke’s gospel having another account of the beatitudes).  But what sense are we to make of Luke citing 4 (blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated) and Matthew citing 9?  Did Luke’s tape-recorder lose power when he recorded Jesus speaking?  And why did Luke present the scene as taking place on the plain while Matthew had him speak the beatitudes on a mountain?  Why couldn’t the gospel-writers get the story straight?

Here’s one way of looking at the discrepancy.

Both men are simply describing a cross section of the faith-community.  We ALL, in some way, are “blessed” (which means “honorable” or deserving of respect).

Pope Francis did the same.  He proposed the following:

  1. Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart
  2. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness
  3. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover Him
  4. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home
  5. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others
  6. Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians. 

In seeing the Pope’s list, I thought of a few more–and encourage you to look at your life, and list the “blessed” ones who come to mind.

Blessed are you who are lonely but who are still able to smile at others.   Who feel you don’t have many friends, but still reach out to people.   Who are tempted to do things you know are not right, but don’t do them.  Who are depressed, but don’t spread your blues to those around you.   Who feel overwhelmed by various demands, but who still try to be of help where you can. Blessed are those who do–and those who try.  Blessed are the truck drivers, and bus drivers and those who organize carpools.  Blessed are those who are teachers and daycare workers.   Blessed are the frontline dishwashers, cooks, and those who do the grocery shopping.  Blessed are those who look over homework, those who are tutors, and teacher aides.  Blessed are the cleaners and those who sanitize.  Blessed are those who pray for those in need.  Blessed are lectors, ushers, collection counters—and all who try to serve the faith community in different ways.  And yes, blessed are those who take Christ’s Mission Appeal to heart–and make it part of their Christmas giving.

These holy days are a celebration of our faith community—and the beatitudes describe each of you.  You could add “Blessed is (your name).”  Seriously!  Theologically, that’s a fact.

That’s why the 2nd reading is appropriate for this holy-day celebration.  Notice you are being referred to as God’s “beloved.”  And so the faith community celebrates the memory of all those “beloved” of God who have returned to God.

Which is what we’re doing today—with our table of candles and pictures of our “beloved” who we lost this past year.  Family members feel the void these people have left, and we, the faith community, share their loss.

Our tears and sense of loss that family members feel are our testimony to how cherished they were in our lives.  God knows how you feel.

We look at the photos and think “This is my child, my wife, my husband, my sister, my brother, my father, mother, grandmother, friend . . .. “–but no sooner do we think of those we’ve lost, than God tries to remind us “Before you came to be, I was!  Before you knew them, they were mine.  They were, and remain, my beloved.  I take care of my beloved.”

In losing young, middle-age and older people this past year, it’s important to keep in mind that their perspective is different from ours.  They know what eye has not seen nor ear heard.   Their life, like ours, has changed—not ended.  We might wonder about “eternal life” or “heaven,” and wonder if our loved ones are with God.  It’s important to remember that in God’s eyes, our loved one is God’s beloved first.  That might suggest to you what their eternal destiny is—as God understands the human condition (and the human condition of our loved ones who’ve passed away) better than we do.

I received an email this week from a friend in Huron County which described life there.  It reminded me of life here—so I share with you her reflection on her home parish:

“Rural life . . . how painful I find it to watch this community fade away as my dad’s generation slowly dies off . . . one after another . . . and no young people to replace the quaint family farms that are now practically extinct. I don’t think I will ever recover from that sense of loss . . . it cuts me to my core. 

Women who led 4-H youth groups—who knew my name at church and neighbors who brought over coffee cakes at Christmas and Easter because that is what neighbors did back then.   Six people gone from the square mile my dad lives on . . . just in the past few years.   

Sometimes I recapture memories by escaping to my brother’s house where his children are a wonderful and joyful relief.  I always make cookies or some treat of sorts and they all huddle around the KitchenAid Mixer.  I am instructed to tickle them . . . “tickle me” they say . . . and so I do . . . and they laugh and laugh.” 

My friend’s reflections reminded me of us.  Her faith-community and ours—who will receive the torch passed from those we’ve lost?  Who will fill their vacancy?  We have our mission, so I share this poem apropos of the feast day.

I sing a song of the saints of God                                           

Patient and brave and true, 

Who toiled and fought and lived and died 

For the Lord they loved and knew. 

And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 

And one was a shepherdess on the green: 

They were all of them saints of God — and I mean, 

God help me be one, too 

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, 

And his love made them strong.

And they followed the right, for Jesus’s sake, 

The whole of their good lives long. 

And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, 

And one was slain by a fierce wild beast: 

And there’s not any reason — no, not the least– 

Why I shouldn’t be one too. 

They lived not only in ages past, 

There are hundreds of thousands still 

The world is bright with the joyous saints 

Who want to do God’s will. 

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, 

In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, 

For the saints of God are folk just like we, 

So let’s try to be one, too. 

Pastor’s Pen           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

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+sing+a+new+song+schutte&&view=detail&mid=14ACA45C85F7539F718E14ACA45C85F7539F718E&rvsmid=633B1750C50C23EA0862633B1750C50C23EA0862&FORM=VDQVAP

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          

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnGnGBlBc1k

You Are Near

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=neither+silver+nor+gold+youtube+musical+album&docid=607994664531461248&mid=8BB01B48622B76D184588BB01B48622B76D18458&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

With Merry Dancing 

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=with+merry+dancing+youtube+music&docid=608017311799250248&mid=0D2F6A7C3EF92C9174D80D2F6A7C3EF92C9174D8&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

Sing A New Song 

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+sing+a+new+song+schutte&docid=607990253569051352&mid=633B1750C50C23EA0862633B1750C50C23EA0862&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

City of God

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+sing+a+new+song+schutte&&view=detail&mid=F8328CBCECAFCE6EE081F8328CBCECAFCE6EE081&rvsmid=633B1750C50C23EA0862633B1750C50C23EA0862&FORM=VDQVAP

Here I Am, Lord (a favorite of all who appreciate sacred music—3 versions) 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UkTlj2uPl4 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=endq52Jw7ag

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv1arxTx

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

Pastor’s Pen

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.

https://youtu.be/56B8Jd4iXc8

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngvrS-XWGJc

October 11, 2020

Pastor’s Pen

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.  Families must 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

Pastor’s Pen

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. 

https://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2020/05/22/billy-mills-olympic-gold-runner  

A motion picture on the life of Billy Mills is on Youtube at the site below.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CY5PrJI8e0

 

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

LandscapingParishioners 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 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/pew-survey-shows-teens-parents-practice-faith-together-though-teens-are-less-religious

Bruce Springsteen’s Graduation Address at Boston College (Jesuit)  

https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2020/09/11/read-bruce-springsteens-message-boston-college-class-2024-covid-19  

Conscience at the Polls: Climate Change and Environmental Justice

Labor Day Weekend

Pastor’s Pen

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

Pastor’s Pen

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 lbecker@dioceseofsaginaw.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 
Sacristan  John G Marianne
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
Cantor 
Ministry Schedule August 29 & 30 
Ministry  4:00 PM  9:00 AM  11:00 AM 
Sacristan  Lisa W. Marianne
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
Cantor 

August 16, 2020

Pastor’s Pen

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

Pastor’s Pen 

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

Pastor’s Pen

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
lgayton@dioceseofsaginaw.org

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 ppreston@dioceseofsaginaw.org, and she will send you the link for the webinar. If you have other questions or need more information, please contact Mark Graveline at mgraveline@dioceseofsaginaw.org or 989.797.6639 or Peg McEvoy at pmcevoy@dioceseofsaginaw.org or 989.797.6608.

Pastor’s Pen

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

Pastor’s Pen

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

Pastor’s Pen

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.

 

Communion reflection

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.

Pastor’s Pen

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.

Communion reflection

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.

 

Humor

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

https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200623/is-it-safe-to-go-out-to-eat?ecd=wnl_spr_062320&ctr=wnl-spr-062320_nsl-LeadModule_title&mb=%2fbeORUxcieEeVCknlqegTxXFE73IOX1cmflf1GHLU%400%3d

Rural communities and the pandemic

https://theconversation.com/rural-america-is-more-vulnerable-to-covid-19-than-cities-are-and-its-starting-to-show-140532

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.

Pastor’s Pen

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.

https://youtu.be/56B8Jd4iXc8

Articles of Interest

Covid 19 and Rural America

https://theconversation.com/rural-america-is-more-vulnerable-to-covid-19-than-cities-are-and-its-starting-to-show-140532

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar on the Demonstrations

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge

 

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.

Pastor’s Pen

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.

–Leslie Dwight

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.

Guestimate

How many words are there on one page of a typical paperback novel? If you’re curious to know, email me at mfs@wju.edu

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:

https://time.com/5846288/social-distancing-face-masks ovid/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=20200602&xid=newsletter-brief

https://www.livescience.com/face-masks-eye-protection-covid-19-prevention.html?utm_source=Selligent&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=18755&utm_content=20200602Coronavirus_Infographic+&utm_term=3184794&m_i=12faMQZxhwpJ%2BB5GhjXiGxI2%2BHvK0okL1LWpHYJJV1BsRVOWP5aZxlXt_Klqr_CWqcJM2PjPfQktalYDDLz_2vw0XMl8c9

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/doctors-arent-just-fighting-a-pandemic-theyre-also-fighting-an-infodemic?slot_pos=article_1&utm_source=Sailthru%20Email&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=daily&utm_content=2020-06-01&apid=25482655#Where-to-find-the-best-information

Pastor’s Pen

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 

Pentecost Reflection

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.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GKBWCCB5nKN0XGfbi6wDFiZhy3yDxKOS/view?fbclid=IwAR0Q96Aw7XuRH7CU8yZgfJQvSJmiFFqVHyD9QIdL_RAlbmxRTh-JOZc3Ci4

 

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:

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/05/27/dr-anthony-fauci-catholic-churches-masks-communion-covid-coronavirus

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.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10223220879419036&id=1495137356&sfnsn=mo&d=n&vh=i

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.

Lighten up

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.

 

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