Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 24, 2019
The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Merciful and gracious is the Lord,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.”
Imagine you are sitting in a concert hall. People are filling the seats for the symphony. On stage, musicians are tuning their instruments and checking their music. The conductor enters, goes to his place, and everyone is silent. At his signal, the music begins. All the instruments are heard: strings, brass, percussion, tympani, all blending into symphony of sound. So beautiful!
Suddenly, one musician strikes a sour note. That sour note travels from the stage, right through the concert hall, out into the night, at the speed of sound, almost 761.2 mph. It can’t be withdrawn. A sour note will always remain a sour note…
…unless, and until, a composer takes that note, and makes it the beginning of a new symphony….
That, my friends, is the story of God’s creation and redemption. Genesis says that God looked at everything He had made, and “it was good.” Human beings were created in the image and the likeness of God, and that had to be very good.
But something happened. Whatever it was, “no good” soured God’s creation. We know the story. My Bible has 1500 pages and the first murder is reported on page 4. A brother killed a brother. So it began, and so it continues. Those 1500 pages tell the story of man’s all-too-frequent rebellions against God. Oh, there are many good stories there, too. But the one consistent theme is that God is always calling people back to Himself. Then He sent His Beloved Son, the sign, symbol, and source of God’s mercy. The Son came to pick us up. To fix what was broken. A sour note became a new symphony. A love song, if ever there was one!
I’ve read today’s Gospel, re-read it, and re-re-read it. Can Jesus be serious? I think He is. He says we have to forgive, and keep forgiving one another. That is not easy and we may need help.
Today’s headlines scream how EVERYONE is doing bad things. Evil from places and people we’d least expect. Our newspapers, talk shows, internet, are filled with stories of people who’ve been hurt, abused, tortured, or victimized. Now victims are falsely claiming injuries, as a new sin has entered our national vocabulary: “fictitious victimization.”
Sin is not funny. Some sins are also crimes. So many people, including children, have been hurt or abused. In our own Church, this very weekend, Pope Francis is meeting with bishops trying to find ways to heal the wounded, to assure this never happens again, and, “those who did the crime must do the time.” Please pray for our wounded Church.
And yet, Jesus insists on forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive” is the only verb (action word) that appears twice. Jesus suffered and died to forgive our sins. He knows the cost. He knows it hurts!
How do we forgive those who have hurt us? This is much more complex than I can discuss here, but perhaps in the weeks ahead, we can reflect on some of these things. Lent is coming…..
A priest told his parishioners who are quite upset with the whole priest sex-abuse scandal to look at Jesus hanging on the Cross. He’s a mess. The Crown of Thorns, blood, bruising, and swelling all over this naked body. But when He appeared to His disciples on Easter Sunday, all those bruises were gone, except for the five wounds. Even in His apparitions, Jesus always bears the five wounds, because that’s who He is: the wounded Healer. In spite of His wounds, He can still work miracles. And yes, the Church is also wounded. But because it is His Church, and the continuation of His mission, the wounded Church can still fulfill its mission. That is my hope and my prayer.
Please pray for forgiveness with me. PEACE
Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 17, 2019
The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Blessed are you…
Woe to you….”
“Nick and Lois” are not their real names, but other than that they allow the story to be told. Both are well-known in their parish and attend daily Mass. And so on Valentine’s Day morning Nick called out a General Intercession: “For my wonderful wife, Lois, and I, who celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary today, Let us pray to the Lord.” While everyone was responding, “Lord, hear our prayer,” Nick felt a jab in his ribs, and after a moment’s hesitation, he called out, “Excuse me, on our 38th wedding anniversary, Let us pray to the Lord.” After a chuckle from all their friends, another worshipper added, “And for Nick, Let us pray to the Lord….”
Blessed are those who celebrate anniversaries, but Woe to those who forget which one it is….
That’s a sneaky way into today’s Gospel teaching. There are two versions of the “Beatitudes.” Matthew (Ch. 5) recalls them as “Blessed are those….” Luke presents Blessings and Woes…. Scripture scholars doubt whether Jesus announced all of them in one teaching. Matthew and Luke may have created a compendium of Jesus’ teachings. However preached, they are the teachings of Jesus. Also, Luke may have been consoling a community of poor, hungry, and weeping people, who were persecuted by people who were rich, well-fed, and abusing the poor. Further, the rich may have considered their prosperity a sign of God’s favor, while the poor and sick were poor and sick because God was displeased with them.
Because such teachings have political implications in today’s world, I’m skittish in repeating them. Like Jeremiah in today’s first reading, I fear sounding political. (A few weeks ago, a gentleman said to me, “Father, don’t take this the wrong way, but if my eyes were closed when you were speaking, I’d have thought Bernie Sanders was at the pulpit.”)
So I try NOT to think about these things. Then, JESUS BRINGS THEM UP! Do you think He sounds like Bernie Sanders?
Living in California makes the border issue and immigrant-worker situation very real. We see it every day. In our area, just off the Freeway, are many miles of farms. Broccoli fields as far as the eye can see. Early each morning we see the people going to work. Most are “guest workers.” They work long days in the hot sun because broccoli just doesn’t walk into the supermarkets by itself.
The issue is not only immigrant workers. Wherever we live, there are “issues” with food stamps, work requirements, housing, welfare, and all the rest.
How do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, respond to all that? What are we thinking and feeling? Mother Teresa often said, “there is enough food for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” There is truth there, and it’s not political.
So today, if we are poor, are we “Blessed”? If we are rich, “Woe” to us? Of course, it’s not that simple. Most of us are somewhere in the middle and, yes, there are legitimate fears. But can we at least PRAY that Jesus will guide us through this?
“LORD JESUS, You call us to welcome the members of God’s family who come to our land to escape oppression, poverty, persecution, violence, and war, yet we are often filled with fear and doubt. We build barriers in our hearts and minds.
“LORD JESUS, help us: To banish fear from our hearts, that we may embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister. To welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity. To realize that you call all people to learn the ways of peace and justice. To share from our abundance.
“We praise you and give you thanks for the family you have called together from so many people. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
(International Day of Peace Prayer, 9/21/2018)
Lord, make me an instrument of your PEACE.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 10, 2019
The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me.”
Last summer, our Franciscan Provincial Chapter ended with the priesthood ordination of four young friars. At the beginning of the Rite, each candidate is called by name and responds, “I am here.” It’s a ritual roll call. One of the Fab Four, in nervous enthusiasm, blurted out, “I AM READY!” He was a bit embarrassed when everyone reacted with polite laughter. Later that day, many of us “old” priests talked about that, and, of course, we reminisced about our own “I am here” moments.
These past few Sundays we’ve watched Jesus begin His public ministry. He was baptized, worked some awesome miracles, and attracted followers. Today’s Readings are all about God calling people to ministry. Each one confesses his unworthiness. Isaiah said that neither he nor the people deserved attention from God. Paul admits his unworthiness, for he persecuted followers of Jesus. And Peter is told to go fishing. Peter was a professional fisher-person and they were out all night and caught nothing. But Jesus said “do it,” and he did it. Just like the wine at the Cana wedding, when Jesus is there, everything is better. Even fishing! Jesus seizes the moment to tell Peter that he will now be fishing – and catching – people. When fish are caught, they are cut open, cleaned, cooked, and eaten. That is NOT the destiny of the people Peter will be “fishing.” But everyone caught on.
Peter was overwhelmed and he declared his unworthiness. But he chose to follow Jesus. Just as Jesus promised, once his own faith got stronger, he strengthened the faith of others. Peter was called to leadership. Jesus’ followers would not be a bunch of tribes, each doing what they thought best. There would be unity, and Peter was the “rock” chosen by Jesus to guarantee that.
In all the “call” stories, the person called confesses unworthiness, for we are all sinners. But God does not come to avenge. He comes to save and to fix what is broken. So, the first gift is FORGIVENESS, and then comes the call.
In these God’s-call stories, it strikes me that the Lord NEVER promised that his apostles – or their successors – would be without sin. That became very clear on that first Holy Thursday. Jesus had washed their feet, instituted their priesthood, nourished them with His Body and Blood. And how “Holy” was their Thursday? One betrayed Him. Peter denied that he knew Jesus – three times…. All the others ran away when He was in trouble.
(I love that humorous anecdote about the two disciples who met Jesus on Easter Sunday night on their way home to Emmaus. They returned to Jerusalem to tell the apostles that Jesus was indeed alive and sure to visit. One of the apostles timidly asked, “Did He say anything about Thursday?”)
We hear it all the time that we are ALL called to one kind of ministry or another. God has a plan for each of us. Someone once said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out WHY! We are called by and into a community of believers. At Mass, before the Lord speaks to us, we confess our sins. God forgives, then He calls. We may have a role in the parish community, or a call to teach, to pray for others, or to preach by good example.
St. Francis inspired us to be INSTRUMENTS of God’s peace, love, and forgiveness in a world desperately in need of God’s healing touch. Similarly, St. Bernard called us to be “CHANNELS,” and he said that before we can be a “channel,” we have to be a reservoir of that love, forgiveness, peace, or whatever. So as Jesus calls us to continue His mission, let us admit that we are sinners, accept His forgiveness and grace, and boldly cry out “I AM READY.” He knows what we can do. Maybe we haven’t caught a thing all night. Well, it is a new day. Jesus is here.
HAPPY FISHING! PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 3, 2019
The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“They rose up, drove him out of the town….”
Last Sunday we read how Jesus entered His home-town Synagogue in Nazareth. He read from the Prophecy of Isaiah and boldly identified Himself as “the One who is to come.” The Home-Town Boy! Sounds exciting. And then, they threw Him out!
Years ago, the Stable and its main figures remained in the church until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. That’s 40 days after Christmas, and this Feast tells how Joseph and Mary, faithful to Jewish tradition, brought their first-born to the Temple 40 days after birth to present Him to the Lord. Christmas decorations were down after the New Year, but the crèche remained for 40 days.
When little Gloria came to church and saw Baby Jesus in the stable so long after Christmas, she asked, “why is Jesus still here?” You see, Gloria’s Grandma died a few months before, and Mom told her that Grandma, a good cook, was now in Heaven, cooking for Jesus. It was a way to explain death and Heaven to this little child. So Gloria asks, “why is Jesus still here? Doesn’t He know that Grandma is in Heaven waiting to cook for Him?”
I don’t know Mom’s response, but a parishioner overheard this conversation and said to the Mom, “that is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.” No theologian would concur that Jesus needs Grandma to cook for Him in Heaven, but someone planted a seed in Gloria’s soul. That seed was FAITH. It is a Gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s also a gift that needs to be shared. Upon this story Gloria could build her faith in Jesus Christ and His promise of eternal life for those who love him. That Faith, in and of itself, is a miracle.
The story may sound childish and naïve, but I present it for your reflection as we continue our Gospel journey into Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
Back to last Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus’ miracles were already known. He often praised the FAITH of those who came for healing. What happened in His home town is odd. Because the people knew Him, that is, knew His human origins, they found it hard to believe. “He’s just one of us. Who does He think He is?” Both Matthew (13:58) and Mark (6:5), in reporting the same event, say that Jesus could not (or did not) work any miracles there because of their lack of faith. So, you see, LACK OF FAITH is pretty powerful. It can impede God’s work.
That is a critical lesson. Faith is a gift from God. We get it at Baptism and the Sacraments. But we must nurture our faith by reading, studying, listening to sermons and lectures, and by praying for an increase of faith. There is a story about a man who asked that his son be cured. Jesus told him that “everything is possible to one who has faith.” The man cries, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” The boy was cured. (Mark 9:24). That is a good prayer for us to say: “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”
Years ago, Franciscan Friar Matthew Swizdor, very much into healing ministry, wrote in his book, “Lay Hands on the Sick,” that one reason our prayers may not be answered is because we don’t really pray with faith. Oh, we say the right words, but do we expect it to happen? Really? Blessed Casey Solanus, a Capuchin friar also into healing, said that when you ask the Lord for a favor, believe that it will happen, and IMMEDIATELY, thank God for it, and it will happen.
My friends, we move from cold Winter to life-giving Spring, knowing that IT WILL HAPPEN. Let us pray for the FAITH to see things as God sees them. That includes how we “see” other people, our joys and sorrows, our trials and challenges. Also, how we “see” our sins and the sins of others, and Jesus’ power to forgive and to heal.
We are living in challenging times. We need God’s help and a strong faith. Jesus is here and He is here to help. Don’t drive Him away. Pray with faith: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”