Bulletin Articles-2017

 

Each week I try to fill a space in my parish’s bulletin with thoughts of some worth. Now and then I offer clippings from the Holy Father, or other significant writers. Here is a collection of these short articles.

Bulletin Articles from:
2016 – 2015 – 2014 – 2013 – 2012 – 2011– 2010 – 2009

 

 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Unplanned

Once more last week, I found myself overwhelmed by the generosity of so many in marking the 36th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  Some may have noticed that I am not always comfortable with this little ritual of the card and the basket.  This discomfort is in no way an expression of any lack of appreciation.  Mostly, I just do not want to appear to be asking for anything. I am sufficiently well compensated for my ministry. That said, I recognize that this is a convenient way for people to show their appreciation, should they choose to do so. Regardless, I am grateful for your generosity.

Anniversaries, and the congratulations that often accompany them, also leave me with mixed feelings.  Primarily, I am usually just amazed that it’s been so long, and that I’ve made it this far!  Birthdays strike me the same way.  I find myself looking around with a feeling of astonishment, asking, “How did I get here?” It feels like something that happened when I wasn’t looking, so to speak.

I know that I played a part in achieving/surviving 36 years in the priesthood.  Without a doubt, there have been many challenges along the way, and I’m certain there are more to come.  But this is true of any relationship—a priest’s relationship with this people and his Church, a couple’s relationship with each other, parents’ relationships with their children, etc.  But more than anything else, anniversaries for me are an opportunity to pause and search the past for the ever present finger of God.

Anniversaries for me are always moments of deep gratitude, knowing full well that arriving at this or that milestone in life is certainly God’s gift.  I look back and see the countless ways in which God’s grace has been active and effective.  That is apparent in the people and situations that are encountered along the way.  There is so much of the last 36 years that I did not plan — thank God!  Much that has been great and life-affirming, challenging and life-changing has not been of my doing.  I know that.  I have lived long enough to be convinced that God’s way is much better than my way, and that following His path, rather than my own, leads to much greener pastures — when I let Him lead me.

I suppose that might unsettle some people, who feel a need to be in control of life’s trajectory.  For me, the recognition of God’s guiding hand in life is much more of a reason for hope, than an occasion for concern. In countless ways, my life has not turned out to be the life I would have planned.  In faith, I freely admit that this is a good thing.  And that God has brought me to this place, in this time, makes me truly grateful.

Feast of the Transfiguration
‘You cared for me’

Last week and this coming week, I am doing a series of seminars around the Diocese on End of Life issues, touching on decisions that often confront individuals and their families as they approach the latter portion of life on this earth.  I’ve given seminars like these a number of times over the years, so much of the material I present remains the same from session to session.

This year, however, especially as I have prepared for this round of presentations, I have found it necessary to focus a bit more attention on one particular topic, that of euthanasia, and it’s partner, physician-assisted suicide.  The fact is that in our own nation, the practice of actively ending the life of the suffering person, either by their own hand or by others, is becoming more acceptable. Less than 25 years ago, physician-assisted suicide was illegal throughout our nation.  This changed in 1994, when the state of Oregon made it legal for a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication, which his patient could then use to end his or her life. Since then, other states have followed suit, including Washington, Colorado, California, Montana, Vermont and the District of Columbia.  Efforts continue across the nation to legalize the practice in other states.  In 2016, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in Canada, and in the first year, over 1300 people ended their lives through this practice.

These practices of actively causing the death of a human being are usually promoted as victories for self-determination, empowering people to take control of their own lives.  Yet when one looks to Europe, one sees evidence that it is more than that.  The Netherlands has been practicing euthanasia for over 30 years, first by simply not prosecuting offending physicians, and then by making it legal.  Victims of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide have gone from being only the terminally ill to also include the chronically ill, the physically ill or disabled, the mentally ill, and now what is called the “termination of the patient without explicit request” — killing those who have not asked to die.  Belgium, to the south, now allows euthanasia for the terminally ill and the mentally ill, and in 2016, made it legal to euthanize children.  Last year in the Netherlands, a physician gave a lethal injection to a 41 year old alcoholic father of two, who could not stop drinking.

No one wants to endure suffering. No one wants to be a burden to their loved ones. Yet sometimes, life is just that way.  We Catholics believe that we are stewards, not owners of our lives, and are answerable to God for the way in which we live, and how we die.  Illness and the anxiety of imminent death do often obscure human dignity, but they cannot erase that dignity.  Jesus said, ‘When I was ill, you cared for me’.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Connections

One day this past week at daily Mass, we read these words from Exodus: In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

This is of course the first day on which the Lord God gave the Jews “manna from heaven” as food on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Each morning, day after day, dew fell in the morning, and the people of God received food from God on their journey of faith.  This image, of the dew falling from heaven, sheds light on a line from our second Eucharistic Prayer that we use at Mass.  In that prayer, we pray, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become  for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Normally when we think of the Spirit of God, we might think of a mighty wind, or a dove, or perhaps the tongues of fire from Pentecost.  The Spirit as dewfall seems strange, until we make that connection between the bread from heaven given as manna in the desert, and the bread from heaven given to us at the Eucharist.

Jesus himself, of course, teaches the difference between the two, when he says that those who received the manna in the desert eventually died.  The Eucharist, however, is given to us precisely in order that we might never die. It is the “Bread of Angels”, the “Body of Christ”, broken for us that we might be made whole in Christ.

All of this is one more example of how the Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate regularly here in our own little church flows from the richness of the entirety of salvation history.  The roots of the liturgy go very deep, and its fruit continues to multiply through the ages.

Consider some of the names we use for this source and summit of our life together as Catholics.  The “Lord’s Supper” joins us to the shared meal in that upper room on the night before he died. The “Sacrifice of the Mass” connects us to the Cross and Calvary. The “Breaking of the Bread” joins us to the two disciples at Emmaus whose eyes were opened, and who came to know him precisely in the breaking of the bread. The “Holy Communion” sheds light on our connection not only to those with us at Mass, but also to Catholics around the world with whom we pray ‘in communion’, as well as our connection with the entire “Communion of the Saints”.

In faith, we are not alone.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Instructions

As a follow-up to last week’s little catechesis in the homily on the Cycles of Readings for the Church year, I’d like to share a little from the Church document that tells us how to say Mass.  The red, or wine-colored book that the server brings to the priest, and to the altar during Mass is called the “Roman Missal”.  It contains the various prayers that the priest says from the chair and from the altar.  But at the very beginning of that book is an often overlooked section called the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal”.  Not surprisingly, this document contains instructions—teaching about the parts of the Mass, the various ministries, the things needed to celebrate Mass, etc.  One section speaks about the first of the two main parts of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word:

“The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture with the chants occurring between them.  As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer, they develop and conclude it.  For in the readings, as explained by the homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

“The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided.  In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and response through prayer may be prepared. . . .

“The reading of the Gospel constitutes the high point of the Liturgy of the Word.  The Liturgy itself teaches the great reverence that is to be shown to this reading by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor, by the fact of which minister is appointed to proclaim it and by the blessing or prayer with which he prepares himself; and also by the fact that through their acclamations the faithful acknowledge and confess that Christ is present and is speaking to them and stand as they listen to the reading.”

This Liturgy of the Word, with the Liturgy of the Eucharist which follows it, is one of the two main parts that go to make the Mass the single great act of worship that it is, such a precious gift.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Healing and Curing

Once more this summer, during June & July, I’m having the opportunity to work with a group of our seminarians who are two years away from planned ordination to the priesthood.  For the last 4 years, we have had this program where these young men return to the diocese for an opportunity to experience ministry to the sick, the dying & the elderly, during their “vacation”.  My involvement with this program gives me the chance to meet regularly with them to talk about their experiences and their formation for future ministry as priests.  As you can imagine, many topics come up in these discussions!

One topic that came up recently is the proper times to receive the Anointing of the Sick.  Even more than 50 years after the Council when practice was changed, there are still those who call this the “Last Sacrament”, which it is not.  The instructions for administering this sacrament state that it should be offered to “those of the faithful whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age”.  The goal is to strike a balance between two extremes.  The challenge is that there is a judgment required regarding the meaning of “seriously impaired”.  A conscious decision was made to use the word “seriously” rather than “gravely” or “dangerously”.  There is even a footnote in the ritual which states:  “On the one hand, the sacrament may and should be given to anyone whose health is seriously impaired; on the other hand, it may not be given indiscriminately to any person whose health is not seriously impaired.” There is no clear defining line.  It is a judgment.  So, for example, should we anoint everyone who is a patient in the hospital?  Probably not, unless the health of all those patients is “seriously impaired”.  Sometimes the condition is not so serious.  Again, a judgment is necessary.

Another closely related topic is the goals of the sacrament.  The prayers, the anointing, the laying on of hands are all aimed at healing.  Healing is not always the same as curing.  One can experience healing in a variety of ways while still suffering from a given ailment.  Even as one approaches inevitable death, there is often a need for healing, which might be release from fear, from anger, from resentment, from selfishness, etc.  And of course, the sacrament also celebrates forgiveness from sin, a form of healing that touches the very center of one’s soul and goes to the heart of one’s relationship with God.

Much more could be said, but let us conclude on a practical note.  If one is aware that serious surgery is planned, one need not wait until admission to the hospital to request the sacrament.  Approach your priest at Sunday Mass, or call the office before the surgery. This often works out a lot better for all concerned.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
To Rise! To Look! To Hope!

Recently, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, celebrated 25 years as a Bishop.  Obviously, he is not a young man.  And in his homily on that day, he did not shy away from the reality of his advanced years.  Rather, he took from the Scriptures the example of Abraham, who was called, in his old age, to set out for a different land, with a new covenant in hand, and a new promise of heritage and descendants. Abraham was called to “Rise! Look! And Hope!  Pope Francis said:

“However, when Abraham was called he was more or less our age: he was about to retire, to retire to rest . . . He started out at that age. An elderly man, with the weight of old age, that old age that brings pains, sicknesses . . . But you, as if he were a youth, rise, go, go! As if he were a scout: go! Look and hope. And this Word of God is also for us, who are of Abraham’s age . . . more or less – there are some young men here, but the majority of us are of this age; and today the Lord says the same to us: “Rise! Look! Hope!” He tells us that it is not the hour to close our life, not to close our history, not to abridge our history. The Lord tells us that our history is still open: it is open to the end; it is open with a mission. And with these three imperatives He indicates to us the mission: “Rise! Look! Hope!”

“Someone who does not love us says of us that we are the gerontocracy of the Church. It is a mockery. He doesn’t understand what he says. We are not the aged, we are grandfathers, we are grandfathers. And if we do not feel this, we should ask for the grace to feel it — grandfathers whose grandchildren look at them, Grandfathers who must give them a sense of life with our experience. Grandfathers not closed in the melancholy of our history, but open to give this. And for us, this “rise, look, hope,” is called “to dream.” We are grandfathers called to dream and to give our dream to today’s youth: they need it, because they will draw from our dreams the strength to prophesy and to carry their task forward.

“There comes to mind that passage of Luke’s Gospel (2:21-38), Simeon and Anna: two grandparents, but what capacity to dream these two had! And they told this whole dream to Saint Joseph, to Our Lady, to the people . . . And Anna went gossiping here and there and said: “It is He! It is He!” and she told the dream of her life. And this is what the Lord asks of us today: to be grandparents. To have the vitality to give to young people, because young people expect it from us; not to close ourselves but to give our best: they expect from our experience, from our positive dreams to take forward the prophecy and the work.”

To Rise! To Look! To Hope!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Right to Care

In April of 1963, Pope John XXIII issued an encyclical entitled “Pacem in Terris”, or ‘Peace on Earth’, something we all desire.  In laying out the vision behind his letter, Good Pope John had this to say in paragraph 11, right at the very beginning:  “But first We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.” From there he goes on to list quite a number of other fundamental human rights, rights that are essential to human flourishing.  It is clear that he saw respect for these rights as being the foundation for any hope for peace, truth, justice or liberty.

In light of the current political turmoil in Congress and beyond, it should not escape our notice that amongst those most fundamental of rights mentioned here, there is listed ‘medical care’. This is a truth sorely lacking from much of the discussion in our nation.

Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice
and Human Development had this to say about the bill being proposed in the Senate:

Affordability: The BCRA’s restructuring of Medicaid will adversely impact those already in deep health poverty. At a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a “per capita cap” on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable. The BCRA also connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis indicates that an additional 22 million people will be without insurance over time. This loss of coverage will be devastating.  Many people are forced to use their resources to address immediate needs. The revised BCRA draft now includes a “waiting period” penalty for those who do not maintain continuous coverage for a short time in the previous year. This will leave these individuals and families without coverage when they need it most.  . . .

“Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation’s health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good. For the sake of persons living on the margins of our health care system, we call on the Senate to reject changes intended to fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people. “

Something to think about.

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Through the Storm

So, I write this, Tropical Storm Cindy is churning in the Gulf, while bands of rain sweep over Acadiana, as well as to the east and west of us.  It’s not a Cat 5 storm, and hopefully will not do too much damage.  But I can’t help but think of so many of our neighbors who still cringe and sweat when they hear warnings of ‘Flooding”, since they know all too well how quickly that can happen, and how devastating it can be.

When you read this, it will be over (we hope), but in the meantime, we find ourselves in the curious situation of almost wishing disaster on someone else.  I mean, that storm is going somewhere, and we don’t want it here, so we hope (and pray?) that it rolls over some other part of the coast.  “Dear God, please send Cindy to someone else’s house!”  No, that’s not what we mean, but praying about weather puts us in a rather strange situation.

Praying about weather always brings me back as well to the days after the disaster of Katrina.  There were those (unfortunately) who decided that the destruction in New Orleans was God’s judgment upon the sinners who sinned there, almost as if New Orleans were the only city with sinners! My take on that was that if God did target New Orleans, his aim needs work, since he basically missed the French Quarter.

The fact is that you and I live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where there are sometimes hurricanes.  I’m always somewhat amused by the predictions of a “more active” or “less active” hurricane season.  Let’s face it.  We don’t really care how many storms there are, as long as they don’t come to my house!  And sometimes, the storm will come to my house.

All of this does, I think, teach us something about prayer, starting with the fact that the power of prayer is not about me getting what I want.  If we pray at all, we acknowledge that God is the one in charge, not us, and that most prayer is aimed at changing us, not God.  (If God and I are in a relationship, which one in that relationship needs to change???)

Consider the Scriptures.  It is not a saga of people who escaped the storm.  It is rather countless stories of people who went through the storm, by God’s grace.  The culmination of that, of course, is the story of the cross — Jesus himself didn’t escape that storm — he came through it, alive and victorious. And that is the challenge of facing any storm, whether from the weather or from any of life’s events.  Where is God in this?  How can this event draw me closer to God?  What needs to be changed in me, as the rain falls, and the wind blows?

Body and Blood of Christ
Fidelity

This is a quote from Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s book, “Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist”:

“In one of his sermons on the Eucharist, Ronald Knox made this observation:  Throughout two thousand years of history, Christians, both whole churches and individual believers, have consistently been able to ignore many of Jesus’ key commandments and invitations.  We have either been too weak to follow his counsels or we have rationalized them away in some way.

“And so to a large extent, we have exempted ourselves from the demands to love our enemies; to turn the other cheek when attacked; to forgive seventy times seven; to leave our gift at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation with our brother before we worship; to place justice on the same level as worship; to see mercy as more important than dogma; to not commit adultery, not steal, not call someone a fool, not tell lies, not give in to jealousy. We have, in virtually every one of these areas, individually and collectively, a history of infidelity and rationalization.

“But we have, for the most part, been faithful and consistent throughout all the years to one of Jesus’ commands, to celebrate the Eucharist, to meet together in every circumstance and share his word and break bread and drink wine in his memory. . . .

“God is truly beyond us, beyond language, beyond imagination, and even beyond feeling. We can know God, but can never understand God. And so we must be more humble, both in our theology and in our ecclesiology. Mostly we don’t know what we are doing. The Eucharist, because it is the one ritual given us by Jesus himself, is one of our places of confidence.”

I find in these words a powerful call to a humility that is absolutely essential to celebrating Eucharist. Gathered for Eucharist, we long for a change that we of ourselves cannot make happen:  bread and wine into Body and Blood.  We are undeniably dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit, for whose intervention we pray, to change these simple gifts.  In the proclamation of the Word and in the sharing of the Body and Blood, we encounter the Real Presence of Jesus.

This humility teaches us that it is not only the bread and wine that need to be changed.  If we are to have any hope of following Jesus’ commands, we too must be transformed, or ‘transubstantiated’. Because we balk at such change, we must come to Eucharist again and again and again.  To that task, we can be faithful.

Trinity Sunday
Diversity and Unity

Last Sunday, I published the Holy Father’s Pentecost homily on our parish website. There was one paragraph that I found especially insightful. Pope Francis first describes the results of Pentecost: “This is how the word of God describes the working of the Spirit: first he rests on each and then brings all of them together in fellowship.” He then goes on to describe two obstacles to this Spirit-led community to which we are called:

“For this to happen, we need to avoid two recurrent temptations. The first temptation seeks diversity without unity. This happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others, or always in the right, when we become so-called “guardians of the truth”. When this happens, we choose the part over the whole, belonging to this or that group before belonging to the Church. We become avid supporters for one side, rather than brothers and sisters in the one Spirit. We become Christians of the “right” or the “left”, before being on the side of Jesus, unbending guardians of the past or the avant-garde of the future before being humble and grateful children of the Church. The result is diversity without unity. The opposite temptation is that of seeking unity without diversity. Here, unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together and in the same way, always thinking alike. Unity ends up being homogeneity and no longer freedom. But, as Saint Paul says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).”

One doesn’t have to look very far, in our society, and in the broader world, to find examples of the “rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas”. We have become so polarized, one against the other, precisely because we define ourselves by the ways in which we are different from our brothers and sisters. Since “those others” have nothing of value to say to us, we stop listening, stop communicating, and we abandon any concern for the truth. Instead, we are only attentive to news and information, fake or otherwise, which supports us in our self-righteous distortions of the truth. In this environment, compromise is viewed as weakness, and community is impossible. (In politics, we call this ‘gridlock’.) On the other hand, when ‘unity without diversity’ is the goal, we have all kinds of coercion, event to the point of violence, often against the innocent. (This we call ‘terrorism’.)

We continue to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “which brings all of them together in fellowship”

Feast of Pentecost
In the Same Way

Each year, as we approach the end of the Easter season and the Solemnity of Pentecost, the public prayer of the Church turns to prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit and reflections on this third Person of the Holy Trinity.  Earlier this week, I ran across this reflection from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (4th century):

“In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of this action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.”

God is God.  God remains God.  And the Holy Spirit we celebrate this weekend, “whose nature is always the same” is the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Apostles whom Jesus chose.  Yet Cyril in his reflection recognizes the strikingly appropriate way in which the Spirit works in our lives.  This same spirit, in apportioning grace to each, affects different people in different ways. So Cyril speaks of a variety of gifts given through the Spirit, but not the same for everyone.  What he makes clear is that the diversity of the Church, the Body of believers, is itself a fruit of that same Holy Spirit.

In this way, the Holy Spirit comes to us as a God who treasures and respects the uniqueness of each of us.  Not everyone is called to everything. We each have our own tasks in life, our own journey to walk, our own challenges to overcome.  While we learn from others, are inspired by others, and are challenged by others, we are not called to be those others.  Rather, each of us is called to be the unique person whom God made us to be.  This task of growing and becoming and bearing fruit is made possible by that Holy Spirit who “apportions grace to each man [and woman] as he wills.”

So, what gift is the Holy Spirit pouring forth into your heart this Pentecost?

Feast of the Ascension
For the Vulnerable

“The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates. The Catholic Bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good. “

These are the concluding words of a letter send recently by six U.S. Bishops to both houses of Congress.  (The entire letter is available on our parish website, stpat.org.) The letter expresses grave concerns about the priorities being set forth in proposing spending and tax cuts, especially insofar as proposed spending cuts impact ‘poor and vulnerable people’, while providing tax cuts to the rich.  Also from the letter:

“Our Conference has long supported the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits that would harm all citizens, especially those who are poor. This goal can only be achieved through a comprehensive approach that requires shared sacrifice, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing fairly the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs. A just framework for sound fiscal policy cannot rely almost exclusively on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.

“Sharp increases in defense and immigration enforcement spending, coupled with simultaneous and severe reductions to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly to many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling.  Such deep cuts would pose a threat to the security of our nation and world, and would harm people facing dire circumstances. When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker. Our nation should elevate diplomacy and international development as primary tools for promoting peace, regional stability and human rights, not adopt deep cuts to these budgets. . . .

“The reconciliation process should not be used to achieve savings through cutting health care, nutrition, income security, or other anti-poverty programs. The bishops have devoted their efforts to addressing the morally problematic features of health care reform while insuring that all people have access to health care coverage.”

The “moral measure of the federal budget” is not about economic theories or about partisan agendas.  It is about real people being able to eat and drink, to live and to thrive.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Remembering – Part 2

This last Sunday, we celebrated the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  The Easter lilies are a distant memory, and the Paschal Candle is slowly burning down, shorter than it was when we blessed and lit it for the first time on that Easter night.  The holy water blessed on that night still stands in our midst, but we probably don’t notice it as much, just because it’s been there a while. We have two more Sundays (one of which will be celebrated as the Ascension of the Lord) before we conclude the season with the Feast of Pentecost.  It is only a little longer than the season of Lent, yet Easter season always feels very long to me—as if we’ll never get to Pentecost.  And the excitement of Easter seems almost a distant memory.

One reason for this, I think, is that during this time, we are moving from the last days of winter into the first days of spring (or summer, perhaps, in Louisiana!).  During this time as well, our attention begins to get diverted to all the events of May — graduations, end of school, Mother’s Day, etc.  Whatever the case, after more than a month of this season, the Feast of Easter just feels very long ago.  The joy and amazement of the proclamation, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!” has diminished, as has the astonishment at the emptiness of the tomb.

Now you might say, Well, no one can stay that excited forever!  And you’d be right.  Some might also remind us that every Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, and they would be right as well. At the same time, there is a part of me that wants to hold on to that joy and excitement.

As strange as it may sound, one thing that I find helpful is to return to the events of that last week of Lent — especially those three days leading up to the Lord’s resurrection.  I think it’s important to remember the discouragement of that arrest at night, and the conviction that followed.  We need to recall the fear that drove most of the disciples away from the foot of the cross.  We need to wait behind locked doors with the disciples in that upper room, dreading whatever would happen next.  We must not forget the sorrow of Mary Magdalene as she went weeping to the tomb on that first Easter morning, hoping at best to anoint his body.  With the two disciples who left everything to go to Emmaus, we must face up to shattered hopes and dreams.

I know that these memories seem very dark.  But the darkness of those days were essential for the victory that followed, and for the light that is Christ to scatter that darkness.  It is in the darkness that the light shines most brightly.  Recalling that darkness helps us to face any darkness, or despair or sadness in our own lives, and to let that Light of Christ illumine our hearts.  That is how we continue to celebrate Easter.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Remembering

Recently browsing around on the net, I stumbled across a 2012 movie called “Full of Grace”.  This is basically an imaginative account of the last days of the Virgin Mary’s life.  It’s value lies not in providing an historical account, since we have no information about those last days.  Rather, I found it a moving story of what “might have happened”.  One scene that struck me was a lengthy speech that Mary offers a group of the disciples gathered around her, as she lay dying.  Again, we have no reason to believe this actually happened, but I found nothing there that contradicted our faith.  Here is an excerpt from that speech, that I offer for Mother’s Day.   I can well imagine Mary remembering Jesus in this way, and desiring to console and strengthen his followers.

“I have been remembering the first moment I encountered him. I’ve been remembering the first moment I heard the angel’s word. Even after the angel spoke to me, I was deeply disturbed. For how could this be? But in my heart, I had already heard the answer.  Nothing is impossible with God.

“I remember feeling more alive than I ever had before. It was as if every day before that day, I had been living in some sort of a half-life. I can still feel the sun on my face from that day. The smell of the trees, the dirt surrounding me, the sound of the birds still sings in my head.  Everything about the world changed on that day.  I have remembered that day every day.

“The years have continued on.  But have you forgotten my children, have you forgotten the first time you felt his gaze? Do you not keep that moment in your heart?  Do you not treasure it every day? You cannot let the weight of this world outshine the light that you carry within.  For nine months, his heart beat with mine – my own flesh and blood.  Everything of him in me, everything of me in him.  You were not there the night that he was born. The whole world for all eternity was waiting for that moment.  Perhaps you do not believe that he exists in you in the same way.  When you said yes to Christ, you brought him forth into your heart, into the world, your heart beating with his for eternity. . . .

“When I look at all of you, all my children, there is only one face I see – it is the Lords’ face. It is the face of my son, risen, alive and breathing, as if he himself was right in front of me. My children, if you do nothing more in this life, remember the moment he first looked upon you. You saw, rejoiced, for salvation was upon you, darkness was lifted and you saw the great light. Remember that moment. And everything you do will glorify the Lord.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Made Known

Last Sunday, the Gospel was the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Since this is by far my personal favorite of the resurrection stories, I’m not ready to leave it behind yet.  So consider this the homily, part two.  There are only a handful of resurrection stories in the Gospels, and without a doubt there were other times when the disciples encountered the Risen Lord before the Ascension.  Yet these are the stories which those early believers preserved, for themselves as well as for us.  This passage from Luke was therefore that important to them.

There are probably many reasons for this.  I’d like to focus on the last line of the passage:  “how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread”.  Keep in mind that some fifty years or so had passed before the author of Luke’s Gospel wrote down the stories he had collected.  That means that while they were telling and re-telling this story, the communities of disciples had all that time to experience the celebration of the Eucharist.  For decades, they had been gathering, telling these stories, (the Liturgy of the Word) and then doing what Jesus had done with bread and wine:  taking, and blessing and breaking and sharing (the Liturgy of the Eucharist).  It was from those gatherings that they were then sent out into the world to share the Good News.

When I think about those early communities of disciples, I imagine them figuring out who they were, what they were doing, and what it meant for them for Jesus to be the Risen Christ.  While they certainly experienced the presence of Jesus in many ways, the encounter with Jesus in those gatherings would eventually come to be called an encounter with his “Real Presence”.  They would also have told those stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes on the hillsides during his early ministry, and recalled his describing himself as the “Bread of Life”.

In the context of this experience, they told and re-told the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and how those two early believers (they would not be called ‘Christians’ for years) “came to know him in the breaking of the bread”.  How could this story not be a powerful reminder of their own personal experience:  They, too, in their ritual taking and blessing and breaking and sharing, had also come to know him in the Breaking of the Bread.  As a matter of fact, the entire Eucharist, what we call the Mass, was often know precisely as “The Breaking of the Bread”.

If those early believers—the Emmaus disciples, the other communities of disciples, Luke’s readers — could come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread, then so can we.  Real Presence, indeed!

Third Sunday of Easter
Where

Sometimes the wisest person in the room is not the one with the answers, but the one who dares to ask the right question.  I think Pope Francis does this in these words from his Easter homily:

But, where is the Lord?

Yesterday, I telephoned a young man with a grave illness, an educated youth, an engineer and to give him a sign of faith, I said to him: “There are no explanations for what is happening to you. Look at Jesus on the cross, God did this with His Son, and there is no other explanation.” And he answered me: “Yes, but He asked the Son and the Son said yes. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this.” This moves us, no one of us has been asked: “But are you happy with what happens in the world? Are you ready to carry this cross ahead?” And the cross goes on, and faith in Jesus goes down. Today, the Church continues to say: “Stop, Jesus is risen.”

And this isn’t a fantasy; the Resurrection of Christ is not a feast with many flowers. This is beautiful, but it isn’t this, it’s more; it is the mystery of the discarded stone that ends up being the foundation of our existence. It means Christ is risen. In this disposable culture where what isn’t useful goes the way of the used and is thrown away, where what isn’t useful is discarded, that stone – Jesus – is discarded and <yet> is the source of life. And we also, pebbles on the ground, in this land of sorrow, of tragedies, with faith in the Risen Christ have meaning, in the midst of so many calamities.

The meaning of looking at the other, the meaning of saying: “Look, there isn’t a wall; there is a horizon, there is life, there is joy, there is the cross with this ambivalence. Look ahead; don’t ‘close’ yourself. You, pebble, have a meaning in life because you are a pebble next to that stone, that rock that the evil of sin has discarded.” What does the Church say to us today in face of so many tragedies? Simply this. The discarded rock is not really discarded. The pebbles that believe and attach themselves to that rock aren’t discarded, they have meaning and with this sentiment the Church repeats from the depth of her heart: “Christ is risen.”

Let’s think a bit, let each one of us think, of the daily problems, of the sicknesses we have lived through or that one of our relatives has; let’s think of the wars, the human tragedies and, simply, with a humble voice, without flowers, alone, before God, before ourselves we say: “I don’t know how this is so, but I’m sure that Christ is risen and I bet on this.” Brothers and sisters, this is what I wanted to say to you. Return home today, repeating in your heart: “Christ is risen.”

Second Sunday of Easter
Where is the Lord?

Sometimes the wisest person in the room is not the one with the answers, but the one who dares to ask the right question.  I think Pope Francis does this in these words from his Easter homily:

But, where is the Lord?

Yesterday, I telephoned a young man with a grave illness, an educated youth, an engineer and to give him a sign of faith, I said to him: “There are no explanations for what is happening to you. Look at Jesus on the cross, God did this with His Son, and there is no other explanation.” And he answered me: “Yes, but He asked the Son and the Son said yes. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this.” This moves us, no one of us has been asked: “But are you happy with what happens in the world? Are you ready to carry this cross ahead?” And the cross goes on, and faith in Jesus goes down. Today, the Church continues to say: “Stop, Jesus is risen.”

And this isn’t a fantasy; the Resurrection of Christ is not a feast with many flowers. This is beautiful, but it isn’t this, it’s more; it is the mystery of the discarded stone that ends up being the foundation of our existence. It means Christ is risen. In this disposable culture where what isn’t useful goes the way of the used and is thrown away, where what isn’t useful is discarded, that stone – Jesus – is discarded and <yet> is the source of life. And we also, pebbles on the ground, in this land of sorrow, of tragedies, with faith in the Risen Christ have meaning, in the midst of so many calamities.

The meaning of looking at the other, the meaning of saying: “Look, there isn’t a wall; there is a horizon, there is life, there is joy, there is the cross with this ambivalence. Look ahead; don’t ‘close’ yourself. You, pebble, have a meaning in life because you are a pebble next to that stone, that rock that the evil of sin has discarded.” What does the Church say to us today in face of so many tragedies? Simply this. The discarded rock is not really discarded. The pebbles that believe and attach themselves to that rock aren’t discarded, they have meaning and with this sentiment the Church repeats from the depth of her heart: “Christ is risen.”

Let’s think a bit, let each one of us think, of the daily problems, of the sicknesses we have lived through or that one of our relatives has; let’s think of the wars, the human tragedies and, simply, with a humble voice, without flowers, alone, before God, before ourselves we say: “I don’t know how this is so, but I’m sure that Christ is risen and I bet on this.” Brothers and sisters, this is what I wanted to say to you. Return home today, repeating in your heart: “Christ is risen.”

 

Easter Sunday
Through Darkness to Light

As we celebrate once more the great Feast of Easter, I find myself harking back to words of  Pope Francis that he shared last year, describing the final days of the Lenten Season, that lead up to the victory of the empty tomb.  Speaking about the celebrations that mark those three holiest days of the year, the Holy Father said:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters:  As we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Triduum in this Holy Year of Mercy, we are invited in a special way to contemplate the revelation of God’s infinite mercy in the events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, Jesus gives himself to us as food and, in the washing of feet, teaches us the need to serve others.  On Good Friday, in the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross, we contemplate that undying divine love which embraces all mankind and summons us in turn to love one another in the power of the Spirit.  Holy Saturday, the day of God’s silence, invites us not only to solidarity with all who are abandoned and alone, but also to trust in that faithful love which turns death into life.  These, then, are days which speak to us powerfully of God’s love and mercy.  In one of her visions, Julian of Norwich hears the Lord say that he rejoices eternally because he was able to suffer for our sake out of love.  Let us prepare then to celebrate the coming days with gratitude for this great mystery of God’s mercy, poured out for us on the cross of our salvation. “

These three days culminate of course on Holy Saturday night, when the Church gathers after dark, and celebrates the Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection.  Having had the opportunity over the years of celebrating these ‘Three Days” (Triduum), I’ve been able to experience the richness of the Church’s liturgy in celebration of these life-saving events.  We go from the intimacy of a shared meal and humble service to a violent confrontation in the garden.  We go from the lies and deception of false testimony to the harsh and incredible reality of love revealed on a cross.  We journey through the darkness of that unjust death to the new fire and new life symbolized by a candle we call “Paschal”, which burns brightly in our midst.  That experience has convinced me that the ceremonies of Easter Sunday morning cannot begin to capture the fullness of Easter Joy, which only flows through the darkness of betrayal and denial, the desolation of suffering and death.  It is precisely in the face of the darkness of Holy Saturday night that the Church cries out, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

So as we gather this weekend, let us never forget the events that led up to the proclamation of Easter Joy.  In that way, when our lives are shrouded in darkness, our faith will convince us of the coming of the light, a light that is Christ, a light that shatters the darkness and restores life.  He is risen, indeed!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Writing Backwards

Maybe you’ve heard this statement before: “The Gospels were written backwards”. The truth of this statement lies not in a description of how the words of the Gospels were put onto the page, but rather in a description of how the preaching of the early Church grew and developed.  In the earliest days of the Church, after they were empowered for evangelization by the Holy Spirit, those early preachers went out with a story of death and rising.  The heart of that early preaching was the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  They did not begin with stories of loaves multiplied and water made into wine, or of paralytics and blind men.  They spoke first of a person who died and of an empty tomb.  They began with stories of appearances in an upper room, even behind locked doors, and to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  It is in this sense that the Gospels were “written backwards”.

It was only later that they began to add to this core story with remembrances of miracles, and with parables and preaching that they remembered.  Different sources of collections of these stories were developed, from which the Gospel writers (40-60 years later) would draw to actually write the Gospels.  The infancy narratives, which told of Jesus’ birth, were probably the last bits of the story to make it into memory and on to paper.

Today, that original story of the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus remains at the very heart of our Gospel proclamation.  As did the early Church, we too preach Christ crucified, and risen from the dead.  It was in those events at the end of his early ministry that Christ most powerfully revealed the salvific love of  Almighty God.  Yes, the rest of the Gospel story is important, as are the Old Testament stories, and the letters of Paul and others.  But all of that would have little meaning for us had Christ not died, and risen from the dead.

One can then see why as we enter into this holiest week of the year — Holy Week — that we proclaim the Passion of the Lord not once but twice in the Church’s public worship. On Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, we complement our celebration of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the humiliation and suffering of the way of the Cross.  On Good Friday, we gather in silence to remember that death of the Innocent One, after which we even venerate the very wood of the cross on which he died.

We celebrate this week what we call the Paschal Mystery:  That the power of God’s love and grace could touch and transform even the death of the Beloved Son, and bring forth new life.  Easter is approaching, but first we must enter into the suffering and death of Christ if we are to know the joy of the Empty Tomb!

5th Sunday of Lent
Barricades Revisited

Back in mid-February during the Mardi Gras parade season, I wrote in this space about the “barricades of Lent” within our hearts, which serve as barriers between us and God, and our neighbors.  As we approached Lent, I wrote the following:

“We construct those barricades out of a variety of materials, some much stronger and more resilient than steel.  Sometimes it’s our attitudes and character defects:  pride, greed, indifference, unforgiveness, or whatever your defect of the day might be.  Other times, it seems our barriers take the form of various obsessions that control our thoughts and actions.  In our consumerist culture, an obsession for “stuff” — more, better, different —might well top the list.  Or it might be an obsession for success or recognition or appreciation in its various forms.  Of course, when it comes to obsessions, there’s always the perennial favorite:  sex — more, better, different.

“There’s a key difference, though, between these Lenten barricades and the barricades of Mardi Gras.  While the barricades blocking the street are out there, the barricades around our hearts are within.  The greatest barrier to overcome during Lent is without a doubt the self:  selfishness and self-centeredness, in all its shapes and forms. “

Today, we have had weeks of the Lenten season to chip away at those barricades.  This seems like a good time, as we approach our celebration of Easter, to ask just how we’re doing with that. How have we done?  Has anything changed? Have we slid back into old patterns?  Or are we seeing real changes in our reactions, our choices, our attitudes?

The purpose of these questions is neither to beat ourselves up, or to engage in self-congratulation. Whether we’ve done well or poorly during this Lenten season, these last two weeks of Lent are a good time to re-group, if necessary, or to rededicate ourselves to the journey we’ve traveled. Yes, the majority of the Lenten season is behind us.  But the opportunities for growth and change still lie before us.

There’s a sense in which the time available doesn’t really matter, when we recall who is doing the real work here.  Lent is not and can never be about us changing ourselves, but rather about letting God change us, letting God tear down the “barricades”, if you will. And God always does that in his own time, and in his own way, in a manner of his choosing.

Our job is to show up—to make ourselves available by becoming willing to be changed.  That might mean letting go of our own agendas, and it might open us up to surprises about ourselves, about other people, and even to surprises about God.  The point is, we’re not in charge.  We just have to be willing.

That has been the point of our Lenten practices:  our prayer, our acts of charity, our self-denial.  These are the tools we use to become willing, and to open up our hearts, and let God tear down the barriers we have built.

Easter is coming.  In the days ahead, God can make us ready, if we let him.

4th Sunday of Lent
Good of the Person

Lenten practices invite us to care for the needy.  This seems like a good time to call to mind these words of Pope Francis in his address to Congress in September of 2015:

“The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience. . . .

“Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort. . . .

“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

3rd Sunday of Lent
Path to Freedom

It was several weeks ago that we received notification from our Bishop’s office that Bishop Deshotels had lifted the obligation to abstain from meat on St. Patrick’s Day, which this year falls on a Friday in Lent.  As we approach that day, I feel a sense of opportunity approaching — how often can you eat a steak on a Friday in Lent, without a tinge of guilt?  For us here at St. Patrick, this recognition of our parish’s patron is especially gratifying.

But that got me thinking.  Is there not freedom to be discovered in self-denial itself? Here, I’m not talking about a specific penance recommended by the Church, like abstaining from meat on Friday.  As we all know, that is something of a two-edged sword here in Acadiana, since we have so many scrumptious options that are not meat.  It would be easy for us, like the man in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, to “dine sumptuously” every Friday in Lent without steak or burger in sight.  We should probably remember as well the situation of so many of those in the world who abstain from meat on a regular basis, because they are too poor to afford such “sumptuous fare”.  All of this challenges us to dive a bit more deeply into the real nature of penance.

When it comes to freedom, I’m thinking more of those Lenten penances we choose for ourselves, and that are in a way, unique to us.  By that I mean, what might be a penance for you is not a penance for me.  In this case, we look at our lives, and try to recognize things to which we find ourselves rather attached.  In some cases, this will simply be some good thing that has become a regular part of our lives, or a treat we allow ourselves now and then.  In other cases, our attachments might be the result of what a Lenten Mass prayer calls “disordered affections” — that desire for things which are simply not good for us — physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.

What happens when we give up those things — things we almost can’t imagine living without?  Here we’re talking about things, behaviors, attitudes, etc., that are a real struggle to avoid.  Perhaps they are those guilty pleasures that we turn to without thought, almost as a reflex.  This is the kind of self-denial that will often be most difficult.  This is the kind of self-denial that will be imperfect at best — doing well for a few days or a week, only to find ourselves failing.  This is the kind of self-denial that can lead us to freedom.

As long as I am unable to say no to this or that thing, I am not free.  So during Lent, I return again and again to the source of all Goodness, seeking God’s grace to enable me to say “No”.  Hopefully during this season of grace, I will experience going without, and living without.  I will learn that I can say no, by God’s grace.  That is self-denial, leading us to true freedom.

2nd Sunday of Lent
Our Story

In one of the earliest descriptions we have of the celebration of the Eucharist, St. Justin Martyr writes this to the pagan emperor around the year 155: “On the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.  The memoirs of the apostles and the writing of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.”  It is a description of that part of our Mass which we call the ‘Liturgy of the Word’. Along with the ‘Liturgy of the Eucharist’ that follows, it is one of the two main parts of the entire celebration.

Our spending time together listening to the proclamation of passages from the Bible continues the tradition that has been handed down to us from the beginning.  These readings are not just history for us.  They are our story, the story of the development of the faith and way of life to which we have committed ourselves.

I mention all that because on the Sundays of Lent that lie ahead of us, we will have a special opportunity to dig deeply into this story.  Beginning next weekend, we will hear:  1) the story of the Samaritan woman at the well; 2) the healing of the man born blind; 3) the raising of Lazarus.  These stories will be followed by the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord on Palm/Passion Sunday.  These stories have been told on the Sundays of Lent from the beginning for centuries.  We continue to tell our story — as much as time permits.

And these stories are all long stories.  Part of the challenge of these Sundays that lie ahead will be the willingness to listen to these longer stories, and be willing to hear God speaking to us — even if it takes a little longer than usual.  These stories touch on the core message of this Lenten season, and on core themes of our salvation:  Christ as the source of living water, Christ as the true light of the world, enabling us to see, Christ as the one who is the very source of life itself, even life eternal.  And the path to salvation in Christ necessarily is the journey to the cross, and beyond.

Yes, we’ve heard these stories before.  It would be possible, I guess, to summarize the high points, and we’d all remember the story.  But that would be unfortunate.  Remember this:  When we proclaim this good news, and take time to ponder ‘these beautiful things’, it is Christ himself who is speaking to us.  By attentively hearing these stories again, we offer to Christ the opportunity to speak to our hearts.  It is the same Christ who offers us living water, who opens our eyes to his glory, who gains for us the gift of life everlasting.

They are stories worth telling, again and again, because they are truly our story.

1st Sunday of Lent
Burden — Opportunity

As I write this, the entirety of Lent is stretching out before us.  This season will not end until the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 15th.  That’s a long time.  And so I return to the question I asked in the Ash Wednesday homily:  Do we experience Lent as burden, or as opportunity?

No one needs the burdens pointed out to them, beginning with the “rules”.  Fasting (on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and abstaining from meat (every Friday in Lent) are not easy, wherever one lives.  For us in Acadiana, we face the integrity question of too easily replacing meat on Friday with our favorite seafood, leaving one to wonder exactly what a penance is supposed to be.  Our restaurants accommodate us by rolling out their “Lenten menus”, which are populated with their best dishes! Soon it seems that even not breaking the rules doesn’t guarantee an honest keeping of the spirit of the season.

And then there’s the rule we impose upon ourselves:  our self-chosen penance, whatever that might be.  For many it is a matter of giving up something, whether that something is a favorite food or drink, a particularly annoying behavior or a consistent pattern of thought and perception of others that we know to be wrong.  Others will embrace a more positive discipline, perhaps with regards to prayer or some other spiritual endeavor.  The fact that it is self-imposed doesn’t seem to make it any easier.

Here’s the thing:  the vast majority of us will not make it to Easter without slipping up somewhere.  One day after Ash Wednesday I heard from someone that their Lent had not begun well, not to mention those still recovering from Mardi Gras.  Admitting this is important, because it enables us to choose our response in those moments when we find ourselves falling short.

We might just give up.  That would not be good. Instead, we choose not to see Lent as a marathon of good deeds, but rather as a journey of return to the Lord.  That our chosen path sometimes veers away from the goal doesn’t mean we can’t continue the journey.  The very multitude of days that comprise the Lenten season assures us of a multitude of chances to “return to the Lord”, to get back on the path, to recommit to the journey itself. Even if the first two weeks don’t go as planned, you still have days and days to get back on track.  If Palm Sunday is upon you and you’ve had multiple slips, you still have all of Holy Week to make the most of your Lent.

Lent as opportunity is rooted in desire:  desire for God, desire to return to God, desire to draw closer to God.  Nurture that desire, and let it carry you through the season of grace that lies ahead.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pope Francis on Lent

As we approach the beginning of Lent this coming Wednesday, we turn to the Holy Father’s ‘Message for Lent’ for 2017.  Built around a meditation on the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, we offer an excerpt from that message.  (The entire message is available on our parish website, stpat.org.)

“The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).

“We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.

“The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.

“The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).

“The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbor. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.”

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Barricades

It’s almost here.  Last night, I saw my first barricade.  It was lurking quietly at the side of the road, preparing to join its brothers in jumping out into our streets, frustrating our travel and movement.  It happens every year.  I know someone who can’t even leave or return to their home during the parades, so effective are these seemingly harmless creations of steel.  They (the barricades) would say that they exist to keep us safe, but who knows?  Maybe there’s a good conspiracy theory hiding quietly among these silent barriers.

Yes, the barricades are back.  Therefore Lent is almost upon us.  (It’s rather kind of the city to provide us with these visible indicators of the approach of that holy season.)  Of course the multiple pieces of King Cake we’ve already consumed might have served as a hint as well.  And since here in south Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a season, rather than just a day, the festivities will run their course.  On Ash Wednesday, we will begin the season, which at least in theory, is the reason for all the merry-making.

But let’s get back to those barricades.  Maybe in reality, barricades are what Lent is all about as well, but kind of in reverse.  During Mardi Gras, the barricades go up.  During Lent, we aim at taking them down.

Of course, these Lenten barricades are not there to keep us from reaching our favorite restaurant or coffee shop.  These barricades serve by keeping us from getting to God.  Or maybe more to the point, we are talking about the barricades we construct which keep God from getting to us, from coming to dwell in our hearts and in our lives.

We construct those barricades out of a variety of materials, some much stronger and more resilient than steel.  Sometimes it’s our attitudes and character defects:  pride, greed, indifference, unforgiveness, or whatever your defect of the day might be.  Other times, it seems our barriers take the form of various obsessions that control our thoughts and actions.  In our consumerist culture, an obsession for “stuff” — more, better, different —might well top the list.  Or it might be an obsession for success or recognition or appreciation in its various forms.  Of course, when it comes to obsessions, there’s always the perennial favorite:  sex — more, better, different.

There’s a key difference, though, between these Lenten barricades and the barricades of Mardi Gras.  While the barricades blocking the street are out there, the barricades around our hearts are within.  The greatest barrier to overcome during Lent is without a doubt the self:  selfishness and self-centeredness, in all its shapes and forms.

So what are your Lenten barricades that need to come down, so God can come in?

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Very Good

This past week at daily Mass, we’ve been working our way through reading the stories of Creation in the book of Genesis.  Having this opportunity to hear once more this story that begins, “In the beginning” is a special opportunity to reconsider our attitude toward all that surrounds us, and upon which we depend for life itself.  As we move through the days of creation, we told, day after day, that God said it was good.  Before resting on the seventh day, we are told: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”

This should be the foundation for our attitude toward God’s creation.  Many in our faith tradition, perhaps especially St. Francis, have found in creation a point of encounter with God.  They have found in created things something of the One who created them.  And of course our belief that human beings are created in the very image and likeness of God makes woman and man a special opportunity to behold the face of God.  It was Jesus who said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” (Mt. 25)

Therein also lies a challenge.  To man and woman were given dominion over “all the living things that move on the earth”.  As we all know, through the centuries, that dominion has too often become destruction, especially when mankind is driven by pride and profit. In recent years our Popes, including Pope Francis, have spoken clearly about the responsibility to honor and respect God’s creation.  As our technological skills grow and develop, so does our ability to foul our air and water for generations to come.  This, we cannot do.  Dominion must be exercised as stewardship, recalling that creation is a gift entrusted to us. We have a responsibility to pass on to our children an earth that is still capable of supporting human life.

This is not always easy, and is often a challenge.  Here in Louisiana, we have deeply rooted tradition of dependence upon our crops and our wildlife, reveling in the hunting and fishing that fed our ancestors, and continues to be enjoyed today.  We are also dependent on an oil industry that helps put food on our tables and gas in our cars, and also has the capability to spew millions of barrels of oil across the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico.  The middle ground that allows both activities to continue is often hard to find, as people choose sides, and too often stop listening to the other. We want to practice good stewardship of these resources, which does not mean we avoid making use of them.  But as we use them, we must ensure that dominion does not become destruction.

In Genesis 2, when God made Adam, we’re told that he “blew into his nostrils the breath of life”. This is our hope: that the very breath of God, his Spirit, can lead and guide us upon the right path.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Least of My Brethren

Times of transition can be difficult, and we often find ourselves bombarded by many conflicting voices.  Even the truth becomes elusive, as we are confronted with alternatives that aim to obscure that truth.  Seeking to return to the basics, I offer these words from Pope Francis’ first encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel”:

  1. This inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love appears in several scriptural texts which we would do well to meditate upon, in order to appreciate all their consequences. The message is one which we often take for granted, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities. How dangerous and harmful this is, for it makes us lose our amazement, our excitement and our zeal for living the Gospel of fraternity and justice! God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: “As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). The way we treat others has a transcendent dimension: “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:2). It corresponds to the mercy which God has shown us: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you… For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:36-38). What these passages make clear is the absolute priority of “going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters” as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift. 
  2. Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice” .

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I Resolve

So it’s been about a month.  How are we doing with those New Year’s resolutions?  While I haven’t taken a survey, I suspect, based on conversation & experience, that many of those resolutions have fallen by the wayside, scattered in the dust of distraction and discouragement.  But the year is not over, nor is the human journey to wholeness and holiness.  So I offer three questions that may help us to resume the journey of transformation and conversion to which our resolutions called us.

1) Were my resolutions too selfish?  New Year’s resolutions are always about oneself, and about changing our own actions, attitudes and behaviors. But what was my motivation?  Did I resolve to change this or that simply that I might be happier, or healthier, or prettier? True conversion will always happen in the midst of my relationships.  In choosing my resolutions, I might want to ask, “What things about me interfere with being of service to my brothers and sisters?” ‘What attitudes do I cling to which make it difficult for others to love me?”  “What kind of person is God calling me to be, in order that I might bear witness to the love of God among us?” While these questions will call us to change, the endeavor will include concern for the other, rather than just myself.

2) Were my resolutions too ambitious? The focus here is not just on how difficult it might be to change this or that about myself.  Too often, we are overly ambitious in our expectations of the journey to conversion.  Once we begin on the path, we demand of ourselves that we never slip, never fall, that we not allow one instance of weakness.  And if we fall, we abandon the journey.  In truth, most human journeys of conversion travel in anything but a straight line.  If at the beginning, we realize that the journey might be difficult, with slips and falls along the way, we may find it easier to persevere. The traveler who arrives is not the one who never wanders from the path but rather the one who continues the journey.

3) Did I ask God for help?  Let us admit it. There is a certain arrogance in thinking that we can achieve any kind of genuine self-transformation by our own efforts alone. If questioned, we will readily admit our need for God’s grace in every aspect of life. We then go on to act as if God’s grace is irrelevant.  If, today, it is my fervent hope that my actions, attitudes and behaviors be different, should I not, today, ask for God’s grace in realizing that hope? So often, we prefer to congratulate ourselves on our achievements, failing to acknowledge how God’s grace made them possible. If sought, God’s grace will open our hearts to others. Grace will enable us to persevere. Grace will fill our hearts with gratitude as we experience the true conversion God brings about in us.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Personhood

Have you ever heard of “selective reduction”?  It is a practice usually associated with in-vitro fertilization, and is one of the reasons the Church condemns the use of these procedures to bring a child into the world in the face of fertility problems.  When performing in-vitro fertilization (IVF), multiple eggs are fertilized, resulting in 2, 3, or more embryos.  Usually multiple embryos are implanted in the womb, to increase the chances of a pregnancy.  (Most IVF attempts fail to achieve pregnancy, and each attempt costs thousands of dollars.) And sometimes multiple embryos do implant, resulting in the woman being pregnant with twins, or even triplets or quads.

Being pregnant with multiples increases the risks, both to mother and the children.  It is therefore not uncommon in these cases to turn to “selective reduction”.  Tests are done to try and determine which of the fetuses are healthiest.  At that point, usually in the early weeks of pregnancy (11-13 weeks), one or more of the children are aborted.  They will try to eliminate the least healthy of the fetuses — if all seem healthy, the choice might come down to whether a boy or girl is preferable.  And all this is being done by people who want to have a child — just not too many.

This is of course perfectly legal, since we have abortion on demand in our country, since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973.  And I’m sure those who choose “selective reduction” anguish over the decision.  But I doubt that once they’re older, the children who do survive are told that they had a brother or sister who was killed in the womb.

I realize this discussion may seem rather gruesome, but it simply describes the situation of a society where some human beings are classed as being simply disposable.  No one can deny that the embryo is a human being.  Science is science, facts are facts, and from conception forward, there is a separate human being developing within the womb. This human being is within the mother’s body, attached to and dependent upon the mother’s body, but is not part of her body as if he/she were an arm or a leg. (Check the DNA — it’s different.)

By denying the status of personhood under the law to these human beings, Roe v. Wade created a class of human beings who can simply be treated as property, instead of being accorded the dignity that is proper to all human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

Many in our society would say that only the woman’s voice matters, and it is her choice.  But who speaks up for the unborn child, who as yet has no voice?

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
His Body, Our Body

This week we learn a new piece of music that I believe will enrich our common prayer.  It has a refrain which makes it easy to use at Communion (you don’t need to carry a book to join in the singing). And in the few short phrases of the refrain, it offers us a summary of what we are about when we gather to celebrate Eucharist.

It is called “The Song of the Body of Christ”.  In that sense, it is truly our song, for that is who we are.  The refrain describes what we do when we gather as that Body: “We come to share our story.  We come to break the bread.  We come to know our rising from the dead.”

It is sometimes said, accurately, that the Mass doesn’t need a “theme”, because every Mass already has one:  the death and rising of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our celebration of Eucharist is sacrifice, because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross: the death and resurrection of Christ.  When we are baptized, we are united to that death and rising, so that his victory over sin and death becomes our victory over sin in our lives, and in the world.  “We come to know our rising from the dead.”

Sandwiched between the Entrance Rites and the Dismissal are the two main parts of this Thanksgiving Sacrifice.  Those parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, together make up one great act of worship.  In the Liturgy of the Word, we listen attentively (with head and heart) as the very Word of God is proclaimed in our midst.  These readings are not just some history lesson, though they speak of past events. The Scriptures are our story. In announcing the story of God’s past action in the midst of his People, we become aware of how God is at work in our lives and in our world today.  “We come to share our story.”

In the second great part of Mass, we do what Jesus did.  We take bread and wine, and we bless and break and share.  In so doing, Christ becomes present in a unique and substantial way, as he gives us his very own Body and Blood.  When we come up in procession to receive Communion, we come not just as individuals but as a People, a Body whom Christ has made his own.  “We come to break the bread.”

When we approach the minister to receive, we hear the words, “The Body of Christ”.  “The Blood of Christ”. We reply simply, “Amen”.  We say Amen to our belief that we receive Christ, his Body and Blood, Real Presence.  We also say “Amen” to who we are:  The Body of Christ.  Communion is the Body of Christ coming up to receive the Body of Christ, which makes us the Body of Christ, becoming what we receive. “We come to share our story.  We come to break the bread.  We come to know our rising from the dead.”

The Epiphany of the Lord
The Poverty of a Stable

We find ourselves already at the conclusion of our Christmas season, with the Feast of the Epiphany this weekend, and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, Jan. 9.  So we hark back to Christmas Eve, and the words of Pope Francis in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica at Christmas Mass:

“It is a night of glory, that glory proclaimed by the angels in Bethlehem and also by us today all over the world.  It is a night of joy, because from this day forth, and for all times, the infinite and eternal God is God with us: he is not far off, we need not search for him in the heavens or in mystical notions; he is close, he has been made man and will never distance himself from our humanity, which he has made his own.  It is a night of light: that light, prophesied by Isaiah (cf. 9:1), which would illumine those who walk in darkness, has appeared and enveloped the shepherds of Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:9) . . .

“With this sign the Gospel reveals a paradox: it speaks of the emperor, the governor, the mighty of those times, but God does not make himself present there; he does not appear in the grand hall of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable; not in pomp and show, but in the simplicity of life; not in power, but in a smallness which surprises.  In order to discover him, we need to go there, where he is: we need to bow down, humble ourselves, make ourselves small.  The Child who is born challenges us: he calls us to leave behind fleeting illusions and go to the essence, to renounce our insatiable claims, to abandon our endless dissatisfaction and sadness for something we will never have.  It will help us to leave these things behind in order to rediscover in the simplicity of the God-child, peace, joy and the meaning of life.  . . .

“Let us allow ourselves also to be challenged and convened tonight by Jesus.  Let us go to him with trust, from that area in us we feel to be marginalized, from our own limitations.  Let us touch the tenderness which saves.  Let us draw close to God who draws close to us, let us pause to look upon the crib, and imagine the birth of Jesus: light, peace, utmost poverty, and rejection.  Let us enter into the real Nativity with the shepherds, taking to Jesus all that we are, our alienation, our unhealed wounds.  Then, in Jesus we will enjoy the flavour of the true spirit of Christmas: the beauty of being loved by God.  With Mary and Joseph we pause before the manger, before Jesus who is born as bread for my life.

“Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us say to him: thank you, thank you because you have done all this for me.”

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Violence Not the Cure

As we begin a New Year, I share with you these words of hope and challenge from Pope Francis, an excerpt from his Message for the 50th World Day of Peace:

While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it.

In any case, we know that this “piecemeal” violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few “warlords”?

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly , the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21). But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt 26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts”.