Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The celibate male priesthood revisited

A very interesting article posted from today's Angelus News email. I encourage everyone to read it.
 

The nature of our priesthood being exclusively male and celibate is one of those hot-button issues in the Church with many people, Catholic or not, weighing in with opinions. Putting aside my own personal biases for the moment, this article, as the author states, presents some arguments that are underappreciated, and worth examining. One should never take on an issue without first examining all sides. Only then can one support their case. Far too many issues today are boiled down to ideological soundbites with neither side listening to the other. And as we all should know, especially as Church, context is everything. Even our Holy Father has been preaching this message of context as the avenue toward understanding and compassion.

That being said, the nature of our priesthood continues to be an issue calling for debate. I personally believe that its time for the Church to call for a Council to address both the nature of our priesthood and the governance of our Church.

First I must point out that Fr. Damian Ference makes some very important arguments for maintaining a male celibate priesthood, and his points are well reasoned. In fact, I find it refreshing that he manages to make his points without relying on the "because that's the way it's always been" cliche.

But... and this is me personally talking, not on behalf of the my ministry or the Church... I think our views on this need to evolve. I agree, yes, there is and always should be a place in the Church for a male, celibate priesthood. It is an honorable vocation that should remain, and the charism of their ministry is unique. But does that mean there isn't room for a married male priesthood, or a celibate female priesthood, or a married female priesthood? Or is there no room for the laity in the governance of the Church? I don't think we should abolish the celibate male priesthood, but I do think we should consider what roles might be better served by broadening our options.

Further, we need to look at these issues in the larger context of our world. There clearly are differences between male and female, and those differences should be celebrated, but the world is quickly learning that our "separate but equal" social contract needs to evolve, be it with restrooms, actors, or sports. Breaking down gender barriers doesn't mean eliminating gender. Instead it adds depth to the greater human experience without diminishing the biological nature of mother or father.  But our biological nature needn't be the only thing that defines us in society.  Nor should so-called "gender roles" be forced on people based solely on their biological condition... especially since nearly all those roles are social constructs not driven by biology.

On a related note, we as Church need to recognize the context that the number of priests continues to decline, forcing them to take on much responsibility than the should. We also need to give voice to the disparity of the distribution of our priestly assets, where in certain parts of the world a growing Catholic population isn't being served as well as it should while other parts of the world have a lower ratio of priest to parishioners. Another context that needs to be addressed is the decline in church attendance in some parts of the world because they don't see a place for themselves in the Church or perceive the need for God in their lives because her priestly ministers aren't able to reach out and be noticed in the community.

Now stepping back into my role as a catechist and minister in the Church, we all need to recognize that the Church is not static. It is constantly moving and evolving as the Spirit guides her. Just like our relationship with God is never static. Like all relationships things change and evolve as our world and the world around us continues to change and evolve. These conditions don't change or undermine the nature of God. Nor does this undermine or change the nature of the Church. But where is the Spirit moving us? That's the question. And that's where the debate on these and other issues is needed. Debate is healthy. Debate is necessary. Debate is part of who we are as Church historically and is a lively tradition that sometimes needs to spread outside of the halls of ecclesiastical power and out onto the streets. It worked for St Francis. It can still work for us today as we all try to see where the Spirit needs to guide us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the beauties of Ordinary Time is the opportunity to “play the long game” when it comes understanding Jesus and his teachings.  We literally journey with Jesus and the Apostles during his mission to spread the Word, and because many of our readings pick up where we left off the previous week, we have an opportunity to learn as we go, much like the Apostles themselves.


Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43 (OR Matthew 13:24-30)

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  This book, coming about 50 years before Christ (most likely from the Jewish Community of Alexandria) served, like most of the wisdom books, as a kind of “catechism” for the faithful.  Our passage this week reminds us that God is both mighty and benevolent.  In fact, the text goes to great lengths to say that this might comes from his benevolence.  Not only has God taught us what is good (through The Law), he gives us the opportunity to repent… to change our ways least we be judged by our sins.  The joy at this opportunity for forgiveness is heard in our Psalm as we sing, “Lord, you are good and forgiving.”

This idea of giving us time to repent is also reflected in our Gospel from Matthew.  Picking up where we left off last Sunday (with Jesus teaching us about parables), Jesus tells us the parable of the Weeds Among The Wheat.  In a story that is unique to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues with the themes presented in the parable of the sower and adds another dimension to the story.  Here an enemy has sown weeds among the freshly planted wheat.  When the master’s slaves see the weeds growing among the wheat, they ask if they should pull them out, but the master warns them that by doing so, they could uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, he instructs them to let the weeds grow, and come harvest they can separate the wheat from the weeds, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the weeds.  In the longer version of this week’s gospel, Jesus continues with the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast.  Then again like last week’s gospel, we are reminded why Jesus has chosen to teach using parables, and takes this opportunity to explain the parable of the weeds to his disciples (and us).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straight forward enough… even we can follow… the weeds are children of evil and are sent to be burned, while the wheat is gathered into God’s kingdom.  What Jesus doesn’t explain, however, is why they wait until the harvest to separate the good from the bad… or does he?  The other two parables give us the explanation.  The parable of the mustard seed shows us that the least among us can be the greatest, while the parable of the yeast shows us that the yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise.  In other words, when good flourishes, it can be an example to others.  As reflected in our passage from the Book of Wisdom, God is merciful, and gives us every opportunity for repentance… but only until the harvest. 

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up near where we left off last week (that through the Spirit we are redeemed), this week’s passage, though short, gives us a lot to think about.  According to the text, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, but we don’t know how to pray as we ought?”  Then the text tells us “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones…”  In short, the Spirit knows our needs, even though we may not know them ourselves, and further, the Spirit knows our hearts.

Final thoughts:
One of the beauties of the parables is that it allows us to look at a situation from “outside the box” or from “beyond the fourth wall.”  We’re observers as the story unfolds before us.  From that position of being outside the narrative we can gain insight into the lessons of the narrative.  Jesus was a master storyteller, using his wit and wisdom to teach us the ways of the Father in a way that just about anyone can understand.  But as we see toward the end of this week’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are still confused, asking Jesus to explain the parable.  Why is that?  Whether or not the disciples were actually confused is unimportant.  Here Matthew is using a literary device so that his audience (us) won’t be confused.  The disciples in Matthew’s story (and all the Gospels) are meant to put us in the narrative… to give us a seat next to Jesus as he teaches.  But Matthew also knows that we must also be able to understand the stories so that we can pick them up and spread them to others.  We must spread the Gospel.

Artificial Inteligence: An Existential Risk?

Posted from today's Angelus News email.

Elon Musk Warns Governors: Artificial Intelligence Poses an Existential Risk

Wait... isn't this a page dedicated to the Catholic faith? So why all this talk of Elon Musk and Artificial Intelligence? Because it's relevant to our world!

In Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, we are taught that "we must now consider this same Church inasmuch as she exists in the world, living and acting with it." Our faith does not stand outside and separate from the world we live in, even though we have a tendency to separate our secular lives from our religious lives. Instead we need to recognize that the Church is in and of this world. This isn't anything new. The Church has struggled with what we call "modernity" since the Renaissance (no, this was not just a 20th century issue...).

So how does our Faith form us and inform us in relation to this new frontier of AI? Well, that's the question, isn't it? Great minds like those of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have given us warnings about how AI could mean the end of human civilization as we know it. Just because these people aren't religious doesn't mean we shouldn't listen. We Catholics, from our greatest theologians to you and me must consider how AI may affect our lives. We the people, the product of our creator, are now stepping out and becoming creators ourselves. What is our responsibility as parents to this new technology? How has our relationship with God taught us in this regard? All questions we should ponder...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As Catholics we’re taught that we should read the Bible, but how many of us actually do?  The Bible, after all, is not what you would call an “easy read.”  The Bible, the collection of the Sacred Scriptures actually form an integral part of our faith tradition.  This importance was noted in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Word of God:  Dei Verbum.  Here we are taught that both the Scriptures and our Apostolic Tradition flow “from the same divine wellspring,” and that both are needed for Church teaching.  Our readings this week remind us of the importance of the Scriptures…


Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

Our first reading is from the master story teller of the Hebrew scriptures… Isaiah.  In a short poetic stanza from the time near the end of the Exile (from Deutero-Isaiah), the passage paints a picture of the rain and snow giving nourishment to the earth, which then produces nourishment for us.  It then equates that nourishment to God’s Word.  Just as the rain brings life, so does the Word of God, through his prophets and thus through the Scriptures (our Bible).  It depicts a God who’s very words can nourish our souls like the rain can nourish a parched earth.  This idea is echoed in our Psalm, but takes it one step further by equating us as the seeds.  Land in good soil with plenty of water, and we are a bountiful harvest.

Our Gospel from Matthew picks up this theme with the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus is facing a large crowed on the shore, gets into a boat and explains how seeds that fall on rich soil can produce in great abundance.  This is actually the first parable in the Gospel of Matthew, and the disciples appear a little confused, so they ask Jesus, “why do you speak to them in Parables?”  Jesus then explains why he is teaching this way (whit a reference to fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah), and then goes on to explain the meaning of the parable.  Jesus, schooled by the master story tellers of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a master storyteller himself, using simple, relatable stories to explain sometimes difficult theological concepts.  Not only is this an important moment for the disciples, but we too, by putting ourselves into the story, gain an understanding of what Jesus is teaching.

Our second reading comes from our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up a few passages from where we left off last week (living in the Spirit and not the flesh), Paul is acknowledging that there is suffering in our current state… not just because of Roman oppression, but also the suffering we face as part of our regular earthly existence.  But Paul teaches us that whatever suffering we may face now, that we can look forward to that much more glory as children of God.

Final thoughts:
Scripture is an integral part of our lives as Christians.  One of the best analogies I’ve heard for the Bible is that it is, “the story of our relationship with God.”  The story of God creating and getting to know us, and of us getting to know Him.  How is it that we can know so much about our family history?  Especially that history from the time before we were born?  It comes from the stories of our older family members.  My parents giving me their stories and the stories of their parents.  Those stories, through my connections with these people, become my stories, adding depth and context to who I am… my own story.  The same is true for scripture.. the Word of God… the water nourishing the earth… the seed falling on fertile soil.  We are a “people of the book.” meant not only to learn from these stories, but to make them our own and pass them on.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week’s readings focused on what kind of people God wants us to be, reminded us of the blessings he bestows on those of us who extend kindness and hospitality to everyone (regardless of their affiliation).  This week our readings focus on the kind of kingdom God envisions for his people.  Not one of military might or laborious worship, but something much different from what we’ve come to expect…


Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Zechariah.  It is helpful to remember that Zechariah’s prophecy comes from the early post-exile era, around 520 BCE, around the same time as Ezekiel and Ezra, and is attributed to two different authors (1st Zechariah forming Chapters 1-8, 2nd Zechariah forming chapters 9-14).  Our passage for this Sunday comes from 2nd Zechariah with a vision of a restored Jerusalem with a new king.  But Zechariah’s vision of a kingdom is far different than what the people expect.  What they expect is a king who is powerful, with attendants and an army  representative of his high stature.  Instead we see someone who is humble, riding an ass and banishing all weapons of war.  While this might sound familiar to our Christian ears, this is startling to Zechariah’s listeners.  They’ve just come a period of Exile and are rebuilding their lives back in Jerusalem.  Their desire is to never again be subject to another greater military power.  Yet Zechariah tells us that our strength as a people doesn’t come from weapons, but from putting those weapons aside.  While Jesus wouldn’t be coming for another 500 years, Zechariah’s vision for a restored Jerusalem is typical of the post-exilic era, during a time where the Jewish people see a future for themselves.  The joy Zechariah feels is the same joy we find in Christ… a joy and praise echoed in our Psalm when we sing “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

Jesus picks up this Psalm refrain in our Gospel from Matthew.  Here Jesus is stepping in as the new mediator between God and his people.  In the  past this was a job left to Moses, and later to the priests and religious leaders.  But over time Jesus sees that these leaders have lead them astray, and those leaders have grown deaf to what the Lord want’s of his people.  In fact, these religious leaders have made a relationship with God a burden on the people, requiring specific sacrifices and practices that are restricting their access to God.  Instead Jesus tells us, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  In other words, what you thought God wanted is not at all what he wants.  Not great power or wisdom, but great humility and generosity of heart instead.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul explains the differences between the body and the spirit… a common theme in Paul’s teaching derived from popular Hellenistic teaching.  Paul teaches us that we are not flesh, we are in the spirit… but only if we allow the spirit of God to dwell in us.  Instead of engaging in those activities that satisfy the flesh, Paul is teaching us that we should engage in those activities that satisfy the Spirit of Christ in order to attain salvation.  This is a particularly important teaching to his Roman/ Gentile audience, takes aim at their common hedonistic traditions in favor of a higher, spiritual purposes.

Final thoughts:

“Why do I have to go to church?”  It’s a common cry not only from children, but from many adults who claim to be faithful Christians.  Going to church is considered a burden.  Even we Catholics consider attendance at Mass to be an “obligation” rather than a gift.  Why is that?  To quote Moses, “we are a stiff necked people.”  We want what we want, even though it might not be good for us, and we spend plenty of effort justifying our positions instead of justifying ourselves before God.  In many ways we are a lot like those “little ones” Jesus talks about in the Gospel… not the little ones full of joy and wonder, but more like the errant toddler who, as any parent will attest, is willful, narcissistic, and ignorant of the many dangers around them.  As adults we grow to realize that we have certain responsibilities, as workers, as parents, as people living in a community.  These adult responsibilities also extend to our spiritual needs. 

Religious practice is on the decline world wide.  Perhaps it’s because many people don’t feel the need for God, or at least a formalized way of recognizing his presence and grace and giving thanks for this.  Yet so many people today say they feel a longing or a “whole” in their lives.  Yet studies done by the Pew Research Center have shown that those who attend religious services regularly not only are happier than those who don’t, but they also live longer.  This tells me that we need God as much as God needs us.  And our readings tell us how to do this… praise God, be humble, and focus on our spiritual selves.

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

God takes care of his own.  What does that mean?  Put another way, those who love God and show love to others will not be denied their eternal reward.  Our readings this week show us not only what God expects of us as followers, but what rewards could come our way by showing our love to him and one another…


2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

Our first reading comes from the 2nd Book of Kings.  The prophet Elisha (student of the great prophet Elijah) has been traveling, so when he enters the town of Shunem, a woman of influence urges him to dine with her.  This eventually became a regular thing, so the woman askes her husband to arrange a small room for him in which he can stay when he comes to town.  Elisha is so moved by this gesture that he feels he must do something for the woman.  Seeing that she had no children, he promises that this time next year she will have a baby son.  Now on the surface this seems like a grand gift for such a small gesture, but what we need to remember is that this is a time of great turmoil in Israel, and Elisha is not exactly welcome in the court of Israel.  The town of Shunem is some 60 miles north of Jerusalem, well enough away from trouble, but not so far as to realize that the entire region has been struggling with war and drought.  The woman’s offer to accommodate him is significant and shows a certain love that the prophet feels needs to be rewarded in kind.  That love is also expressed in our Psalm when we sing, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Our Gospel from Matthew takes this idea of reward even further.  Picking up shortly where we left off last week, Jesus is teaching  the Apostles about what it takes to follow him and gain eternal life.  On the surface, what Jesus says seems rather harsh… that we must love him more than our own parents, our own children.  But we need to realize that Jesus is trying to redirect our attention to those things that are more important… not that family isn’t important, but that our love of God and our kindness and love to others much be our primary calling… for it is from this love that all other love flow, ensuring our eternal reward.

Our Second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul gives us the deeper meaning of Baptism by reminding us that when we are baptized, we are following Christ through death, resurrection, and redemption.  We die to our old selves, and are reborn free from sin.  To some the act of Baptism my seem symbolic, especially to the Roman community to which he is teaching, so Paul wants them to know that it is much more… that through our baptism we follow Jesus from death to new life.

Final thoughts:
What does God want of us?  It’s a fairly common question, particularly when we are faced with troubled times.  Our readings for this week remind us.  God wants us to love him and love one another.  Above all else.  Above our parents.  Above our on children.  Above all our worldly possessions and position.  What we forget, however, is that if we put God first, if we put love of others first, everything else falls into place.  There is nothing new here in our readings this week… God has been trying to teach us this from the beginning.  Thankfully, however, we have Jesus as our advocate, to forgive us when we falter, and to constantly remind us least we stray.  It is so easy to get distracted, which is why reminders like what we have this week are so important.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but for those who remember their Latin, you might better recognize it as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ).  The Feast was originally established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Torete, of the Diocese of Liège, Belgium, but not without the 40 year effort of St. Julia of Liège, a Norbertine sister who had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, who spend most of her life petitioning for this special feast day.


Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

When Jesus established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, his use of bread and wine was deliberate and purposeful.  They were the most ordinary of foods, yet represented what was necessary to sustain us.  In Jewish ritual, bread and wine have always been an important part of the Passover meal, and have long been associated with their covenant with God.  Our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, reminds us how God sustained his people during the Exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, during which time God provided them with manna and water.  In our reading this week Moses urges the people to remember not only how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but how he sustained them in their journey.  The praise we have for the Lord for this is echoed in our Psalm when we sing, “Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.”

Our second reading is a very short passage from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  In one of Paul’s more poetic moments, he reminds us that it is through the Eucharist, through the bread that is Christ’s body, through wine that is Christ’s blood, that makes us one body.  In this very economic passage we are not only reminded of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but it is that Eucharist that forms us into the Body of Christ.  This is why the Church believes in the importance of the faithful taking the Eucharist regularly and often, to help build and maintain that bond to the Body of Christ, both spiritually and physically.

Our Gospel for this feast day comes from John where Jesus is preaching to the crowd about what we read in our first reading with Moses… How God provided them with “bread from heaven.”  Jesus uses this opportunity to extend this idea to himself, explaining how his flesh and his blood are the true food and drink that provides eternal life.  To us Catholics this is no surprise, but to those in the crowd, including the Apostles, they find great difficulty with this teaching, as we continue to read the verses beyond this passage.  In fact, after two millennia and volumes of writings from theologians, we still have difficulty with this teaching… that Jesus is real and present in the Eucharist… that we are in fact eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  It requires a leap of faith.  Jesus himself told us this, and it is our faith in him as Lord that allows us to accept this great Mystery of the Church.  It is also through this same Eucharist, the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, that binds us together as Church and makes us the people of God.

Final thoughts:
Many older Catholics will commonly refer to today’s Solemnity as Corpus Christi:  The Body of Christ.  This is one of those Church feast days that’s hard for us to wrap our tongues around.  The words Corpus Christi are both simple and poetic… much more so than the mouthful we say now, “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”  So why change it?

Because this is more than just a new translation from Latin to English.  It also helps us give greater dignity and importance to the celebration.  Notice first the addition of “Most Holy.”  Like with last week’s solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it puts this celebration above most other solemnities and feasts.  The words, “Most Holy” make us take notice, reminding us of the importance of the celebration. 

The other important change in the name is that we are no longer recognizing just the “Body” of Christ, but both the “Body” and the “Blood” of Christ.  The full form of the Eucharistic meal.  This is meant to remind us that the fullest celebration of the Eucharist comes through partaking of both the host and the chalice… a privilege that the laity lost for hundreds of years, and only since the liturgical reforms of the late 20th century has been regained.  So the truest celebration of this feast must reflect the true presence of Christ in both the bread and the wine, regardless of whether we receive the chalice during communion.

But regardless of whether you receive only the host during communion, or both the host and the chalice, we are reminded that these elements have been transformed – Transfigured under the hands of the priest – into something much more precious than bread and wine.  Through the Eucharist we take in our Lord in a very physical and personal way so that we can be strengthened by his presence to go and love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Justice for all?

A thought provoking article was posted today in our daily Angelus News email...
Supreme Court rules in favor of religious hospitals in pension dispute

I urge you to read and consider this question:
Is this really a win?

Religious freedom under the law is one thing, but when it flouts the moral responsibility of the institutional Church to care for it's workers, I really think we, the greater Church, need to stand up for justice.

This is a very important and highly charged issue, but one the larger Church is, unfortunately, not well aware.  Anyone who has worked for the institutional Church (or has someone close to them who does) know this issue well and must deal with this daily.

Poor wages, poor working conditions, poor benefits, and pathetic retirement plans are the norm. This is particularly poignant given that this Sunday we're being encouraged to give to the annual collection for the priests retirement fund. Why do we need this fund? Because back in the day priests (and many religious) were encouraged to opt-out of Social Security (see this article from America magazine):


The Coming Crisis: How will priests fund their retirement?


I don't work for the institutional Church, but I know plenty who have (and still do). Our schools had it the hardest... it's taken 40 years but our school's teachers are finally getting some pay equity.  But there are so many more working in church institutions that are still struggling. For all we teach and preach about social justice, we're so busy looking outside that we're missing what's going on in our own back yard.  Or worse, refuse to see it for what it is.

In the end it's all up to us. We need to see the problem for what it is, speak out, and above all, give more! I'm tired of hearing people complain that, "we don't have....." fill in the blank (a bigger choir, a youth program, a soup kitchen). People constantly say that these other (large Protestant) churches do this, why aren't we? Simple. Their congregations give more. They can afford to pay a living wage. They're willing to pay a living wage. Catholics on average give only 1% of their income to the Church. Second last only to Unitarians. Imagine what we could do if we gave only 2%? That would double a parish's income. Imagine what could be done!

So you see... we're all sinners in this game. It's time to speak up and pay up... so we can have social justice for all Church workers, including our clergy and hard working religious.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

With Pentecost behind us, the Easter Season has come to a close, but as is typical for the Church, she’s not yet ready to leave the party behind, so for these next two weeks we continue the celebration by looking at the Church’s most sacred mysteries:  The doctrine of the Trinity with this Sunday’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday), and next week with doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist with the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also remembered as Corpus Christi).


Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

Our first reading for Sunday comes from Exodus, where God, after having set his wrath upon Israel for the Golden Calf incident, has agreed (with Moses’ urging) to take back his people.  As you may recall, Moses went up the mountain for 40 days and came back with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  Upon his return, however, he found the camp in disarray having created a new god (the golden calf) to worship.  Moses threw down and broke the tables, and vengeance was enacted on those who turned away from the Lord.  With today’s reading Moses has returned to the mountain with a new set of tablets in the hopes of reconciliation.  It is interesting to put this reading, one that shows us a benevolent God, in context to the previous two chapters where Israelites are slaughtered for their transgressions, leaving Moses now having to reason with God to lead them on.  Both God and the Israelites have grown from this experience.

Our Responsorial is not from the book of Psalms for this Sunday, but instead from the book of Daniel where we sing of God’s greatness.  Though not from the Book of Psalms, it is a fitting response for our celebration, and echoes the desire of the people to follow the Lord.  It is also interesting to note that one keys to recognizing that this reading is not from the Book of Psalms is the mention of the Temple, which of course wasn’t built until after David’s reign.

Our second reading comes from the closing of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.  Here he gives us his version of the now famous “can’t we all just get along” speech.  It is appropriate here not only because it speaks to how we should treat each other, but closes with what has become the signature closing for the Church’s activities with the phrase, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  That familiar Trinitarian blessing that binds us together as one Church.

We finish with a passage from John’s Gospel that is perhaps the most quoted by non-Catholic Christians.  As Catholics our general unfamiliarity with Scripture usually has us failing to recognize the famous John 3:16 we read today.  This passage reminds us of the relationship between God and Jesus, and how through Jesus we are able to be reconciled with the Father.  It comes at the end of a discussion Jesus is having with the Pharisee Nicodemus, where Jesus is explaining how one is reborn through the Spirit.  Though traditionally ascribed as a quote from Jesus, there does seem to be some peculiarities that could lead one to believe this is a narrative revelation from John.  The passage works as a theological conclusion to Jesus’ teaching on Baptism and rebirth, but it seems a little out of place as it jumps to the third person past tense.  Jesus has been having a rather intimate conversation with Nicodemus, and even though his referring to the “Son of Man” in the third person (as is typical in John’s Gospel), this passage takes a leap into what can be read as a historical perspective (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son:”).  Even for the divinely enlightened Jesus we see in John, a lack of quotation marks can alter one’s perceptions of the text.  This should remind us that as Catholics we should not be intimidated by Scripture (or our own lack of knowledge of it), nor should we stop ourselves from asking questions or accepting too readily “traditional” interpretations.  Our understanding of Scripture continues to evolve as our relationship to God continues to evolve.  A God, present as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit, who created us and continues to sustain us.

Final thoughts:
We may be at the beginning of a long stretch of Ordinary Time, but it is most fitting to celebrate these solemnities at this time of year because the theologies they represent are what we as a Church have come to realize through the Easter Season, and gives us the spiritual food we need to sustain us through the remainder of the Liturgical Year.  Both solemnities, though firmly grounded in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church Fathers, they also require us to make that all too necessary leap of faith… to suspend our human senses and reason to reach for something beyond our physical understanding.  We believe in a Trinitarian God, we believe bread and wine can be transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ.  It’s also important to note that neither of these beliefs came to us overnight.  Rather our understanding of these doctrines evolved as our understanding of and our relationship with God evolved.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pentecost Sunday

The Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are considered to be the highest holy days of the Western Church.  For many in the Eastern Churches, however, Pentecost is considered the highest ranking feast, even above Pascha (the Eastern celebration of Easter).  But be it the first or second most important holiday on the Christian calendar, no one can argue it’s significance.  This is the day the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, the birthday of the Church.


Acts 2-1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Our Sunday readings open fittingly with the Pentecost story from Acts of the Apostles.  It is after the Ascension and we are back with the Apostles in the upper room.  Most of us are familiar with the story… The Holy Spirit come upon the like “tongues of fire” giving them the power to go down into the streets and preach the Gospel so that this international multitude can hear them speaking in their own tongues.  While this later part of the story is the part we tend to focus on, the very beginning of the story also has great meaning… a meaning that our modern ears tend to miss…

The fist line begins “When the time for the Pentecost was fulfilled,”  It sound so simple and obvious that we miss the author’s deeper intent.  In fact, this passage refers to the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, or what Hellenistic Jews referred to as Pentecost (which in Greek for “fiftieth day” since the Passover).  Also referred to as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah… the Law.  It also coincides with Israelite harvest season marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, or the Day of First Fruits celebrated at the Temple.  So while our Jewish ancestors celebrate Pentecost as the giving of the Law, Christians celebrate receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn gave them the courage to spread the Gospel… the new Law.  Coincidence?  Not at all.  This is one of those moments where our author sees an opportunity to draw a connection between the old tradition and the new, and bring with it a sense of renewal that is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul reminds us that our ability to say “Jesus is Lord” comes from the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, a fitting statement for Pentecost, but as Paul continues he presents us with one of the most important teachings of his ministry, that WE are the Body of Christ… though we have many parts, we are made one through the Spirit.

Our Gospel for this Holy Day comes from John, taking us back to the upper room where Jesus for the second time appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection (the first being that time when Thomas wasn’t present).  It is a simple, yet moving moment as Jesus “breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.:”  This is the “Pentecost moment” in John’s Gospel.  As we know, none of the Gospels go into a lot of detail with regard to Pentecost, but we need to remind ourselves that, as is typical with scripture, that it’s not always the details that are important, but the moment.

While the Gospels do not all discuss Pentecost in the same way, the importance of the moment is that the Holy Spirit came!  Jesus promised them the Spirit, and it came.  The Spirit that we celebrate in the Rite of Confirmation.  The Spirit that sustains us in our commitment to Christ.  The Spirit that binds us together as Church with Our Father and His Son.  This isn’t just a moment for the Apostles, but for the entire Church, as we witness the continuing coming of the Spirit to each of us, in its own way, in every generation.

Final thoughts:

Many people going through the RCIA or Adult Faith Formation, especially in the beginning, feel very uncomfortable because they feel they don’t yet know enough about the Catholic faith or what is proper during Mass.  They often feel a little out of place, thinking that the rest of the congregation is watching for them to make a mistake about standing or sitting or kneeling.  While this is a perfectly normal and common feeling, I am always reminding these “Catholics in training” that this is nothing to worry about, and that in fact there are many active Catholics who could stand to learn a thing or two about the practice of their faith.  Understanding the importance of this Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost is one of them.

We’re never too old to learn something new… even someone like myself who was raised in the Church and served in a variety of Liturgical and catechetical ministries.  One of the new things I learned this week was about the Vigil for Pentecost.  Now for all the years I’ve been teaching and writing about the fact that the readings we have for the Vigil of Pentecost (Saturday evening Mass) are different from those used during the Sunday celebration.  In and of itself, this isn’t all that unusual.  Many holy days have different “vigil” readings.  But until this week I had no idea how different.  There is, in fact a celebration that is referred to as the “Extended Vigil” for Pentecost... a Liturgy similar to the Easter Vigil as we immerse ourselves in the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit… from Genesis, to Exodus, to the prophets Ezekiel and Joel, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, all teaching us about the Holy Spirit.  Who knew?

It only seems right that we would have such a Liturgy, one that both reflects and respects the Easter Vigil by bringing the Easter story, and the Easter Season to its conclusion.  Truth be told, however, we can all give ourselves a little leeway on knowing about this “Extended Vigil” for Pentecost because it’s not widely celebrated, and therefore not widely known… at least not in Southern California.  But it would be interesting to find out which parishes or communities do celebrate this extended version of the Pentecost Vigil.  So if you know of anywhere, please let me know.  In the meantime, know this… The coming of the Holy Spirit is what makes us the Church, binding us into the Body of Christ.  It is a moment for praise and thanksgiving!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

This Thursday is traditionally celebrated as the Ascension of the Lord, marking 40 days since the Resurrection of the Lord with his Ascension to Heaven.  Tradition then tells us that 10 days after this the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles which we celebrate at Pentecost Sunday next week.  In the United States, however, and in other parts of the world, the bishops councils have moved this celebration of the Ascension to this coming Sunday, traditionally the 7th Sunday of Easter.  Why was this Solemnity moved to Sunday?  Because the reason for the celebration far outweighs the timing of the celebration.  The Ascension of the Lord is a pivotal moment for the Apostles.  Jesus, resurrected, is now leaving them, but he instructs them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.


Acts 1-1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

Our first reading comes from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, where the opening act is the Ascension of Jesus.  This is a far more dramatic (and detailed) version than where Luke leaves us at the end his Gospel (Chapter 24), but like many great sequels, the opening moments recap the story thus far (as a reminder of where we left off) in order to set the stage for the narrative moving forward.  It is interesting to note that the event of the Ascension is noted only briefly at the end of Luke and Mark, while Matthew and John don’t even mention it.  It is also interesting to note that the traditional 40 days Jesus spent on Earth after the resurrection only occurs in Acts; that Biblical 40 days meaning “when the time was fulfilled”.  This is a momentous occasion, the joy of which is echoed by our Psalm as we sing, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

For our second reading we leave behind our study of 1st Peter to hear from the opening verses of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians.  Since this is just the opening of the letter, we haven’t gotten yet to the meat of his message to the Church in Ephesus, but he does give us a good visual of the risen and ascended Jesus, which supports our theme of the Ascension.  It is also a message of hope, a theme that we've been exploring all through the Easter season.

Our Gospel then takes us back to our current Cycle A and the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel.  As previously noted, Matthew does not conclude his Gospel with the Ascension, but rather, takes this time to give us one last theological lesson... that “I am with you always until the end of the age.”  While the message is important, for Matthew's followers, the location - the mountain - is also important, giving us one last opportunity to see Jesus as the new  Moses.

Final thoughts:

Humor is not something we normally attribute to the Bible, but it is there is you look.  While a lot of the jokes tend to get lost just through antiquity, there are those that get lost because a certain gravitas has been placed on the “Sacred Scriptures” that wasn’t necessarily there when they were written.  Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to see the absurdity of the moment not only to enjoy the joke, but so we can see the deeper meaning the humor was meant to convey. 

I must confess, I have always found this week’s passage from Acts to be one of the more humorous moments in all the New Testament.  Here we see the Apostles, standing in the middle of nowhere, staring up into the clouds.  Then these two guys come up and ask why they’re standing there looking up in the sky?  This is funny stuff!  But sometimes we need the absurdity of the moment to shake us into action. 

Sometimes we treat our faith life like this moment with the Apostles.  We’re astonished and spiritually moved by the moment (like with the Ascension), but then we find ourselves staring up in at the clouds, as if we’ve been paralyzed by that moment.  But here’s the thing… we aren’t meant to be paralyzed by our faith because ours is a faith of action!  Just like at the end of Mass… filled with Christ and the wonder of the Real Presence of the Eucharist, we’re not meant to drop to our knees in awe and wonder, we’re told to “GO” and bring the Gospel to the world.  Sometimes we need to head these wiser angels and realize that we’re not meant to be standing here, but instead, going back to town to give them the good news!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter

If you want to have some fun, ask a Catholic (or any Christian) about the Holy Spirit.  The answers you get will likely be as varied as the people you ask.  Our faith is based on a “Trinitarian” view of God:  God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  As a Church we do quite well teaching about God the Father, and we do an excellent job teaching about Jesus, but when it comes to the Holy Spirit we tend to treat the subject like a “third wheel” or “odd man out.”  We spend so much time learning about God the Father and God the Son that we end up with little time to spend on the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps our readings for this week can help us to better understand the Spirit…


Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

For this 6th Sunday of Easter we open with a story from Acts of the Apostles where we hear how Philip has had great success in bringing the Gospel to the people of Samaria.  Even amid this great joy, Peter and John were concerned that the Holy Spirit had not yet come to them, so they travel to Samaria and lay hands on them.  Many Christians (and indeed many Catholics) wonder why we celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation separately, but that tradition has its basis in this reading,.  Adding to our members and receiving the Holy Spirit is a source of great joy that is echoed in our Psalm when we sing, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”

Our second reading continues our study of 1st Peter, where we are asked to be ready to explain our reason for hope.  It’s easy for us to forget sometimes that life for these first Christians was very difficult.  Whether Jews or Gentiles, they were outcasts, both religiously and politically.  No longer part of the temples from which they were raised, and no longer in control of the countries in which they were born.  Yet even with this suffering and persecution, these people are hopeful.  Peter reminds them that even in the midst of suffering, there is life in the Spirit.  It’s a message that still rings true for us today, especially in our diverse, metropolitan,  and secular society where we can find it very difficult to defend our faith.

This theme of the Spirit continues in our Gospel from John.  Continuing from where we left off last week with the Last Supper Discourses, Jesus is teaching the Apostles about The Advocate… The Spirit of truth… the Holy Spirit.  This piece of God and this piece of himself that will be with them always.  Last week we heard Jesus teaching the Apostles about how he and God are like one.  But Jesus is also telling them that his time on this earth is about to come to an end, so it begs the question of the Apostles… how do we continue to see God if you are gone?  This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  That essence of God within us, around us, and working through us.  The words of the Nicene Creed reflect this natural progression and understanding:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life
Who proceeds from the Father and Son
Who with the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified
Who has spoken through the Prophets


Final thoughts:
Holy Spirit, in Latin, Spiritus Sanctus, is literally translated as “breath, life force, or soul”.  Sometimes I think our teaching on the Holy Spirit is elusive because the very nature of the Spirit itself is elusive.  The Spirit is our connection to God the Father and God the Son, and is an integral, consubstantial part of the Trinity.  It is one with God, yet as individual as those whom it works through.  To paraphrase a popular quote, “it surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the Church together.”  It is only fitting then that the Spirit be uniquely recognized through the Sacrament of Confirmation… a celebration that is still easily recognizable from our readings for this Sunday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you have too much of a good thing?  When a business wins that lucrative new contract or expands into a new location?  Or taking that same idea a bit closer to home, what happens when two families merge through marriage, or when a family welcomes a new child?  We consider this kind of growth to be a good thing, but as with all things, these successes also come with their own baggage.  Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter have our Apostles facing similar challenges in the face of their growing successes.

Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Our reading from Acts of the Apostles learning the hard way about the challenges that grow out of their continued success when their number of followers continues to grow.  Up to this point the Apostles have been doing their best to address the needs of the community, both spiritual and physical, but the community has grown so large now that they are becoming overwhelmed.  Realizing that they didn’t have the time to step in and negotiate every minor problem or day-to-day issue, the Apostles look for help.  From among the community they find seven men who are “filled with the Spirit and wisdom,” lay hands upon them, and set them to their tasks.  To us modern Christians, we recognize this laying on of hands as the primary symbol of ordination… men filled with the Spirit and wisdom to lead the community, just as a Deacon or Parish Priest would do today.  Further, we see the Apostles pulling away from the “day-to-day” problems so they are no longer neglecting “the word of God to serve at table,” not unlike our bishops today.  The troubles with growth like this are common with any organization, but our Psalm gives us the guidance we need when we face these types of challenges when we sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”


Our second reading continues our study of 1st Peter.  This week, Peter teaches that we, the people of God, are the new Temple.  Temple worship has been a long standing tradition among ancient peoples, including the Israelites.  But Peter is abandoning that idea… that worship does not happen in a place, but that it happens among the people, no matter where they are.  This is a monumental shift in thinking, especially for the ancient Jews, for whom the Temple in Jerusalem was (and is) the place that binds them together.  Peter calls us “living stone” as our bodies become a “spiritual house.”  Just as in the ancient Mosaic tradition, God isn’t limited to a single place, but instead lives among and within his people.  Mind you, Peter also had some additional motivations for this new thinking.  Not only had the Apostles and the other followers of Christ been physically thrown out of the Temple, but by the time this letter was written, the Temple itself was destroyed.  The young Christian Church was a Church of the dispossessed… not unlike those former slaves who fled Egypt.  We are the stones of the new Temple.

Our Gospel, taken from the Last Supper Discourses from John, has the Apostles still focused on “place.”  Jesus has promised that there is a place for them in the Kingdom of Heaven, but their thinking is still very focused on the physical… what they can see and what they can touch.  They still see this “Kingdom” as a physical place, and therefore, are concerned about its limitations.  Jesus, of course, is speaking from a higher place… a spiritual place.  Thomas is concerned about how they are going to get there.  Philip asks Jesus if they could just see the Father so they could assuage their concerns.  It is here that Jesus must step back and remind them that if they have seen him (Jesus) then they have seen the Father, and further tells them that because of this connection, their belief in Jesus can lead them to even greater works.  Jesus is trying to get the Apostles to think “outside the box,” a lesson that still needs some time to sink in.

Final thoughts:

This week our daily Angelus email linked to an interesting article titled, “
More Parish Closings Nationwide – What are we to Learn and Do?”  In this article the author, Msgr Pope, is speculating on why it seems so many parishes are getting closed down.  Regardless of why, however (and there are any number of reasons) Msgr. Pope provides us one serious revelation… “Bishops don’t close parishes, people do.”

I encourage you to read this article and ponder it, because it strikes at the heart of our readings this Sunday, which is that WE are the Church, WE are the new Temple, WE are, as St. Paul taught, the “Body of Christ.”  The physical nature of the Church lies within us.  This is what makes us part of the priesthood of the laity…that the action of the Church can only happen through our action.  We all have our duties as members of the Church.  While ordained ministers (deacons, priests, and bishops) all have their roles defined, this doesn’t mean we get to sit back and let them do all the work.  By our Baptism we are also priests on a certain level, and thus have our own role to play… to be that “living stone.”  Without our active participation the Church cannot live to spread the Gospel.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday

Shepherd imagery and references  are found throughout scripture.  Moses was following a lost sheep when he first encountered God in the burning bush, David was out tending the sheep when Samuel came looking for a new king for Israel.  Even Jesus made references to shepherds and sheep in his teachings and parables because it allowed him to connect with his audience.  This imagery is so rooted in our societal DNA that it still resonates through our modern urban cultural experience.  This coming 4th Sunday of Easter is better as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because we hear the very popular and beloved story of the Good Shepherd from John’s Gospel.


Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
John 10-1-10

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles picks up shortly after where we left off last week.  As we remember, Peter was speaking to the crowd in Jerusalem about Jesus and the events that are still fresh on their minds with his trial and crucifixion.  This week we pick up the narrative with Peter, very much filled with the Spirit, explaining to the crowd what they must to in order to be saved… that is, to repent and be baptized.  Though no direct shepherd imagery is depicted here, the message is clear that salvation comes from following Jesus.  Our Psalm reflects what Peter is preaching as we sing the favorite Psalm 23:  “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

Our second reading, continuing our study of 1 Peter, reminds us that we have “gone astray like sheep” and  need to return to our “Shepherd and guardian.”  Here Peter is reminding us that in our journey of following Christ we may experience suffering along the way, but in those times we also have an example in Christ, who through his own suffering enabled us to be redeemed.  We are reminded that the mission Jesus took on was because we had strayed, so like a shepherd, Jesus came to gather us together.

Our Gospel from John continues on the “lost sheep” theme.  Here we are reminded that all sheep know the voice of their shepherd and will follow him.  In this case, Jesus is the shepherd, and those “sheep” that follow his voice are the ones who will be allowed into paradise.  A shepherd, by the nature of their job, is also the gate keeper to their pens.  Only those sheep who recognize the shepherd’s call will come to the gate, but the shepherd also knows his own sheep, so those whom he doesn’t know will not be let in.  It’s a reciprocal relationship… the sheep know their shepherd, and the shepherd knows their sheep. 

For those familiar with the trade of shepherding, like many of John’s audience, this is a clear image that makes sense.  But John’s message, like so much of John’s gospel, speaks both on the surface and on a much deeper level.  Jesus is clear in explaining that those who are HIS sheep will be let in, but those who are pretenders will not.  It is these pretenders to whom John is serving notice… that Jesus as the gate keeper knows his sheep, and those who are not following him will not be let in.  Jesus continues to say that those who try to force their way in are like thieves and robbers.  This rebuke is directed at the religious establishment who by Jesus’ view, are failing in their mission to be good shepherds.  While verse 11, which we don’t hear today, reinforces the idea of what a good shepherd does, I think the important take away for today is not the role of Jesus is in this scenario, but how well we are playing our role as sheep, which if we take  out verse 11, brings our focus back to what is expected as us as sheep, rather than what is expected of the shepherd.  

Final thoughts:

Any number of scholars and theologians have speculated on how and why Christianity spread as it did throughout the world, and still continues to do so today.  I believe it is due in part to Gospel stories like this.  Agricultural images like that of farmers or shepherds are universal ideas that cross most cultural and geographic barriers around the world.  With Jesus using these images to help us connect with God in a very basic way and allowing us to see his universal nature.  Even as our cultures continue to evolve into more urban and technological forms, these basic agricultural trades still exist and remain a necessary part of our human experience and critical to our survival as a species.  The story of the Good Shepherd resonates deeply with us because it not only connects with us on a cultural level, it connects on a deeply spiritual level.  Being able to see Jesus as a good shepherd helps us to more readily connect with him and follow him.  What’s right and wrong are easily understood, but more importantly, his great mercy is shown in his willingness to come after us when we go astray, and lovingly guide us back to his flock.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Post-Lent review... How did you do?

Lent is now behind us, yet in our excitement for Easter (and for Lent being over), how often to you take a moment to look back at your Lenten journey to do a post-game review?

As a volunteer leader and business school graduate, the concept of doing a formal "review" after an event or activity is a long held important practice... one that, unfortunately, tends to get overlooked even at the highest levels.  Still, it remains a staple of standard practice, and for good reason... It affords those involved, and the entire organization, a chance to review everything after the fact... what went well, what didn't, and lay the groundwork for next time.  The same is true for looking back at our Lenten journey.  So... how did you do?

I have to be honest, I sometimes fail to practice what I preach.  For as important as a post-lenten review might be, I hadn't thought of the idea until now.  I didn't even really think about it until this morning when I read the following article that was tagged in the daily
Angelus email:

http://aleteia.org/2017/04/26/do-you-know-the-date-of-your-baptism-2/

Do I remember the date of my baptism?  No... not at the moment.  I believe it was in January of 1963, but I need to look this up.  But in trying to remember the date of my baptism I was reminded of what I wrote in my posting going back to the 1st Sunday of Advent.  In that post I noted, "that According to the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy promulgated from the Second Vatican Council, “The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery.” "

Also in that post that my mission for this Lent would be to focus on Baptism while going over our readings for this Lent, and to see where it would take us.  After all, I had only just learned of this connection of Baptism to Lent, so I felt this was an important journey.  So, how did I do?  Well, as to the first part... making sure to focus on Baptism while reviewing our readings week after week, I feel was successful.  I was in fact able to find baptismal references in all our Sunday readings this Lent... some more obvious than others, but still present in all of them.  But where did this journey lead me?  I'm not exactly sure.

Our faith journey isn't always a straight line.  It's not always obvious, and to be sure, it is anything but quick.  In fact, I've noticed that our lectionary has embraced the concept of "the slow reveal."  Showing us a little bit at a time so we can digest that before moving on.  This is how it was with the prophets.  This is how it was with the Apostles.  Our understanding of God isn't instantaneous... it develops over time, through the Holy Spirit.  Patience and perseverance are key gifts to embrace as we grow our relationship with the Lord.

So as to my better understanding of Baptism and Lent through the scriptures... my journey is not yet really complete.  Going through our readings for Cycle A, I think I have a better understanding... but each Liturgical Cycle has it's own special message.  I couldn't give a fair analysis until I make it through Cycle B and Cycle C.  Yes, I've been through these readings before, and I could make a quick study of them now, but instead I've decided to embrace the slow reveal and let them come in their due course.

As for my developing an understanding of the importance of our Baptism... of this I am certain... like I learned from Dr. Jerry Galipeau earlier this year, and reminded again through this article posted on the Angelus, I would not be where I am today if not for my baptism, and for that I am eternally grateful!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter

Easter is about revelation!  On Easter Sunday we revealed that the tomb was found empty.  Last week Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles in the upper room, reminding us that “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”  This Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus is revealed through the breaking of the Bread.


Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we have Peter, discovering his voice and standing before all of Jerusalem giving witness about who Jesus was and what happened there.  It’s both a reminder to those present who also witnessed these events, and a much necessary explanation for those who (like us) were not there (especially Luke’s primarily Gentile audience).  The heart of Peter’s message reminds us that this messiah was killed by his own people, but through that act, as prophesied by their greatest king, David, has been raised by God, and sends his Holy Spirit.  Our Psalm follows through on this theme of prophecy and redemption as we sing, “Lord, you will show us the path of life.”

Our second reading continues our study of 1st Peter.  Here we are reminded that we must conduct our lives with reverence, even outside of the Christian community.  We have been humbled by what Christ did for us, and our actions need to reflect that great gift.  All our actions must be representative of how we want to be seen by the Father.

Our Gospel, in a story unique to Luke, is one of most beloved of the resurrection stories… Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another disciple as they were traveling to the town of Emmaus.  These two disciples, like many others who came to follow Jesus, are now lost and bewildered after having been witness to his passion and death.  They thought they had found their deliverer only to have those hopes dashed on a cross.  Jesus joins these men on the road, although they do not recognize him, and they talk about the events they just experienced.  During their journey Jesus reveals to them those prophesies in scripture that foretold of the Messiah.  When they reach Emmaus, the men ask Jesus to join them for a meal, during which Jesus says the blessing and breaks bread with them.  Through that action, at that moment, they see Jesus for who he is.  Once they recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight, and having been astonished at what they experienced, rush back to Jerusalem to recount their experience to the Apostles (who themselves have just experienced a visit with the risen Jesus).

Final thoughts:
In our Gospel Jesus was revealed through the breaking of the bread.  This is what our Mass is all about.  That by gathering together, sharing our story, and breaking the bread, that Jesus is revealed to us.  His body.  His blood.  Given freely for our redemption and salvation.  The thrill that Cleopas and his friend felt which caused them to race back to Jerusalem is the thrill we are meant to feel after every celebration of the Mass.  We have met Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  An ordinary act that reveals the extraordinary.  Yet all too often, as we attend Mass week after week, that extraordinary miracle seems, well, less so.  Some might even say, “ordinary”… even “boring..”  This is why we need the season of Easter… to remind ourselves that this is anything but ordinary… anything but boring.  During Easter the world around us springs with new life, serving as a reminder that this new life is also within us, through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

He is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!  Contrary to popular opinion, the joy of Easter didn’t end this last Sunday, it’s only beginning!  After spending 40 days in reflection of our Baptism through prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, we’ve only just begun the 50 day celebration that is the season of Easter.  During Lent the focus of our readings was remembering our Salvation History… how we became a chosen people by God.  Now, during Easter, our focus shifts from the past to the future…how do we live out the Gospel message.


Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Normally our first comes from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), but during the season of Easter our first reading comes from The Acts of the Apostles.  Why the change?  Because this book tells us the story of how we became Church.  Acts is the sequel to the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”  After St. Luke completed his Gospel, he realized this was not the end of the story, but a beginning… the beginning of the Church.  And like every audience that falls in love with a great book or movie, the early Church wanted more, so Luke gave us the ultimate sequel with the second part of his Gospel, The Acts of the Apostles.  Jesus ascends to Heaven, and now the Apostles, hesitant at first, but then having received the Holy Spirit, boldly go out to spread the Gospel and the story of Jesus.  This week’s passage gives us a glimpse at what life was like for those first 3,000 who were baptized after Pentecost.  We get a picture of a community that has turned away from selfishness to providing for the needs of others.  Our Psalm reflects the joy they must have felt as we sing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.”

Our second reading for this Sunday and for the rest of the Easter Season comes from the 1st Letter of Peter.  While the authorship of Peter’s two letters may be open for debate, the revelation expressed is fitting for our Easter Season study.  In this opening greeting this week, Peter is expressing his joy to the communities over their belief and dedication to Christ.  When Peter says, “Although you have not seen him you love him;” it’s a phrase that touches our own souls at an intimate level.  Peter knew Jesus, and through what he saw and learned came to believe.  I think Peter marveled at the power of the Holy Spirit which inspired others to join with Christ though they, and we, had never met him in the flesh (beyond the Eucharist, of course).

This joy that Peter felt is also echoed in our Gospel from John.  We refer to this as John’s Pentecost story as this is when Jesus sends them the Holy Spirit, but wrapped around this all to brief account is the ever favorite story of Thomas the Apostle.  Thomas was absent from the group when Jesus first appeared in the upper room, so he is skeptical of what they say of that experience.  Thomas wants proof… a need that many of us have when confronted with things we find hard to believe.  Jesus appears again, this time with Thomas in the room, and all his doubts are put to rest, but Jesus also takes this moment to say that “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Some might read this as Jesus casting aspersions onto Thomas, but let us remember, Jesus loved Thomas, as he loved all Twelve of the Apostles (yes, Judas too).  Instead he wanted to make this a “catechetical moment” for future generations.  Knowing what difficulty the Apostles would face in the days, months, and years ahead in spreading the Gospel, Jesus wanted to leave them a message of hope and inspiration.  It is this hope and inspiration that carries us in our faith, and reminding us of our own blessings as we continue through this Easter Season.

Final thoughts:

The second Sunday of Easter is celebrated world-wide as Divine Mercy Sunday.  It originated in the year 2000 in honor of the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska.  Sr. Faustina, from Poland, was a Christian mystic and nun who experienced apparitions of Jesus.  She is known as the “Secretary of Divine Mercy” based on her writings that centered on the mercy of God, to trust in the abundant mercy of Christ, and to show mercy to others.  Her visions and her devotion to Divine Mercy is captured in a painting by artist Eugene Kazimierowski, which was painted under the direction of Sr. Faustina.  A version of this painting hangs in our own church in one of the North side altar shrines.  God’s mercy is what brought Christ to us, so it seems only fitting that we celebrate His divine mercy on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Forget Easter Sunday - Celebrate the Paschal Triduum!

That's right... I said it.  FORGET Easter Sunday.

Growing up Catholic I was always lead to believe that Easter was our most important holiday, and for us Easter meant Easter Sunday.  After all, that’s when the Easter Bunny left us treats.  As I grew into adulthood, however, with an ever growing understanding into the depth and breadth of our faith, I learned that Easter Sunday wasn’t our most important Liturgical celebration.  Instead that distinction falls on the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening… the conclusion of our Paschal Triduum.


Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4, or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10

While the readings for Easter Sunday are important, they are also just a very small piece of the story of our relationship with God.  It's like eating only one hors d'oeuvre at a banquet... it gives you a foretaste of the great food to come, but could hardly be considered nutritious or filling.  Unpacking the readings for this Sunday, like we do every week in our regular Adult Faith Formation sessions, gives me the same problem.  I can't really give you a sense of the importance of these readings without grounding them in the stories that precede them. 

Easter Sunday’s beautiful Gospel from John about how the tomb was found empty means nothing if not for our first reading from Acts of the Apostles, where Peter is explaining to Cornelius (a Roman Centurion) about who this Jesus fellow is.  And even then, the passage we hear doesn’t even mention Cornelius, so we lose even more context.  And still, that’s not enough context to substantiate the wonder that is Easter.  At the very least, you need to allow yourself the opportunity... the retreat... the blessing of all Holy Week has to offer.  The Liturgies of Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, are like a full three course meal.

The first course:  Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord's Supper, with the story of the Passover from Exodus, Paul's story of the institution of the Eucharist, and John's glorious Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his Apostles. 

Our second course:  Good Friday, where the prophet Isaiah tells us both the glory and the tragedy that faces God's servant, where Paul extols to the Romans how Jesus was a high priest who also understood weakness, and John's deeply moving story of Jesus' passion and death. 

Then comes our main course:  The Easter Vigil, where in darkness we re-tell the tale of our becoming a people of God, from Genesis, through Exodus, through the Isaiah and the other prophets, and through St. Paul.  By the time we’re done with our journey with all these readings our Gospel of the Resurrection now has enough context to reveal it's radiance.  Only then is the Glory of Easter truly revealed.  Sticking with our theme of the great banquet, Easter Sunday becomes more of a nice aperitif, a delightful pallet cleanser for the amazing stories yet to come during the entire season of Easter.

So for this Easter, don't come just for one hors d'oeuvre on Easter Sunday.  Instead, come to the Feast that is Holy Week.  Only by knowing the whole story will you see why we believe when we find the tomb is empty.

Final thoughts:
When I think of Mass on Easter Sunday I am reminded of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:11):  “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”  We live in a multi-generational Church, which is, of course, representative of our lives.  Yet so much of our Catholic practice is rooted in an adult context.  When we share our faith with children, we need to take a simpler approach, to allow them to experience Christ where they are.  But as we grow mentally and physically we also need to grow in our relationship with God...  Grow to see the depth and richness of our faith and our traditions.  We need to allow ourselves to grow out of our understanding of Easter as just this one Sunday.  The true richness of Easter lies in the real feast that is in the full three-course celebration of the Triduum, culminating with the Easter Vigil. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

During  our celebration of Palm Sunday there is no other time in the Liturgical Cycle where the readings wreak such havoc on our emotions, where we are taken from a growing state of pure joy to utter despair within the course of just one Mass.   For weeks now we’ve been celebrating Jesus’ triumphs… gaining new followers in Samaria with the woman at the well, curing the man born blind, and last week, raising Lazarus from the dead.  With joy and revelry the people welcome Jesus into Jerusalem cheering and waving palms, but the dark undercurrents that have been following us all along are now coming to fruition…


Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

We begin our Mass outside in front of the church as we relive the moment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the City of Jerusalem.  With our opening reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus has planned for everything as the people cheer in welcome for this great prophet from Galilee.  We, like the citizens of Jerusalem, wave our palms in honor of this new deliverer.

Once inside the church, we hear a familiar reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, reminding us that a prophet’s life can be very difficult.  More often than not, the people do not favor what the prophet has to say, yet for all the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, they are still compelled to deliver the Lord’s messages.  Our Psalm echoes the despair they often feel, be they Isaiah, or Paul, or Mother Theresa, or Jesus himself.  How does this remind us of our Baptism?  It is through our Baptism that we are made prophets ourselves, and as a result, may face similar scorn by all except God.

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He notes carefully that while Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he never sought equality with God.  Rather, as Paul states, “he emptied himself,” to become obedient… to live a life of service to God and others, and from that, become the greatest of us all.  Not only is this meant to remind us how Jesus’ sacrifice is what lead to his greatness, but it’s a guide for all of us to follow.  As Christians we are meant to follow Jesus’ example, to empty ourselves of the mundane and focus on a life of service to others.  Our connection to Baptism rests in the line that “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  The very act of Baptism cries this confession.

This takes us to our Gospel, and Matthew’s view of Jesus’ passion and death.  In a way, this Palm Sunday liturgy is a microcosm of what we experience through the liturgies of Holy Week, as we visit again Jesus’ last days through Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  Though we may have heard the story before, it is interesting to note that each of the four Gospels give us unique perspectives that speak to their different audiences.  As we read through Matthew’s account, remember that he is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience.  As such certain details may or may not be included (for instance, no need to explain details of the Passover).  Also find that Matthew has peppered his story with scriptural references, reminding us that the events unfolding before us have been foretold by the prophets, making us witnesses of prophecy being fulfilled.  And what of our connection  to Baptism?  This is made clear as we remembered by Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 6:3), “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Final Thoughts:
Palm Sunday marks the transition from Lent to the Triduum, where our reflection on Jesus’ life, passion, and death are intensified.  During Mass we usually read the Passion stories together as a group.  This allows us to put ourselves into the action and better connect with the story by playing the people in the crowd.  Yet that crowd which sang “hosanna” at Jesus entering Jerusalem is the same one we hear yelling out “crucify him!” at his most desperate hour.  We’re never comfortable playing the part of the crowd.  Like Peter, we like to say we would never betray our Lord like that.  Yet we are more like Peter than we want to think.  Every time we deny Christ and his teachings, we are like Peter.  Every time we sin, we are like Peter.  Flawed, scared, human.  The point is not to feel guilty, but to recognize our transgressions for what they are and move on.  To recognize that WE are the crowd.  To seek forgiveness, to find reconciliation.  To give meaning to Jesus’ passion and death by move past it into the light of the Resurrection!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent

Last week, the 4th Sunday of Lent, marked the halfway point of the season… Laetare Sunday… one of only two times during the year where the presiding priest wears rose colored vestments instead of the seasonal purple.  This week we begin to sense the end of Lent is near.  In horse racing terms we’re rounding the final turn heading into the stretch.  The last Sunday before Palm Sunday.  For many people, the end of something usually means death, but as our readings teach us, it is actually much more…


Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

We open with a reading from the prophet Ezekiel.  While not often read during the Liturgical cycle, Ezekiel is considered one of the major prophets, and his message is as unique as his calling.  Ezekiel, having been born into the priestly class, received his call to prophecy 10 years into the Babylonian Exile.  This makes him the first Israelite prophet to receive his call outside of Israel, and is often referred to as the “Father of Judaism” because as both a priest and a prophet, his writings had a major influence on the post-exilic practice of the faith.  Today’s passage from Ezekiel comes from his “Vision of the Dry Bones.”  Through this vision we see hope for the restoration of Jerusalem.  To our Christian ears this reading would seem to deal with the doctrine of resurrection, but that is not the focus of the reading.  Rather, it is a literary device used to show the hope of the restoration of Israel… a sentiment echoed by our Psalm as we sing “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”  In keeping with our focus on Baptism, the symbol of “restoration” is clear… it is through Baptism that we are redeemed for the Lord… washed clean of our sin.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In this passage Paul explains that we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and by having the Spirit within us, we become more than flesh.  We are, people of the resurrection… an Easter People.  Again, remembering our Baptism, Paul says “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  Our Baptism is what brings us to Christ, becoming part of the Body of Christ.

Finally in our Gospel, unique to John, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus.  As with our Gospels for the past two weeks, John goes to great lengths to give us the initial setup… by explaining who Lazarus and his family are, how important they are to Jesus, and how fearful the Apostles are at going near the city (noting that this story follows just before the Passover celebration and the Gospel’s final discourses before the Passion).  Again, John is using “the slow reveal” so that he can impress upon us the importance of this moment.  As with everything in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ actions are deliberate… waiting before going to see Lazarus, the responses of both Mary and Martha, Jesus’ not going into the house or the tomb.  All these elements are meant to show Jesus’ power (through God) over death, and that this evidence should be irrefutable.  Just as Jesus shows God’s power to overcome death, our own Baptism is a sign of rebirth, a resurrection to new life in Christ.


Final Thoughts:
Death = Life.  If I had to reduce all of Christian understanding down to one equation, it would have to be this.  Yet to many of us this looks impossible, like  2 + 2 = 5.  It’s counter-intuitive.  But anyone who has studied advanced mathematics and statistics knows that a seemingly simple mathematical expressions can mean different things depending on the variables and the context of the equation.  So too with our Christian understanding.  In fact, the very nature of our Christian ethos is counter-intuitive.  Perhaps the best way to explain this is with the prayer of St. Francis:

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;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


If I had to explain our Christian belief to a child, I would have to say it’s like “opposite day.”  Whatever you think is “right” or “normal” Christians believe the opposite.  When someone hits you, you don’t hit back, you “turn the other cheek.”  When someone wants your tunic, you don’t fight him for it, you give him your cloak as well.  When someone hates you, you must love them.  Even today, in what some proclaim to be our “Christian” nation, what is practiced isn’t necessarily what is preached.  Christ challenges us to do better.  To do more.  As Lent nears its conclusion, we are challenged to look beyond the status quo.  We are reminded of the life giving water, the revealing truth of light, and that God, through Christ, can bring everlasting life.