July 2017

“AN ENEMY HATH DONE THIS”

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 16th Sunday, July 23, 2017

      Evil in the world is the greatest of mysteries.  “If there really is a God, why do these things happen?”  How many times have you heard that?  I can’t tell you how many people I know who have abandoned God and religion using that as a reason – or an excuse.  I’ve even heard of priests who left their ministry because they felt they had to carry the blame for God’s “inattention” to evil in the world.  (Yes, my friends, priests do feel those burdens….)

     There is a cute story of a man about to undergo an appendectomy.  Never sick a day in his life, now facing surgery, he was scared to death.  His doctor assured him this was a routine procedure and his appendix was not necessary for full body function.  “If the appendix is not necessary, why did God put it in there,” he asked.  The doctor smiled and replied, “God gave you that appendix so that I can send my kids to college!”    H-m-m-m!

It seems there is a reason for everything…!

     This week Jesus continues teaching in parables.  In a parable, the “issues” are familiar to the listener, but the real teaching is in the surprise ending.

     Jesus was speaking to people of the land.  They knew all about seeds and weeds.  In this parable (Matt: 13) the weeds are so overwhelming, that the gardener reported to the landowner that “an enemy must have done this.”  Why should the weeds be allowed to soak up the moisture and the nutrients in the soil, and possibly choke the wheat crop?  Surely it would be wiser to pull up the weeds.  That’s what the gardeners expected the owner to have them do.  It’s logical.  It’s practical.

     Here is the surprise ending:  the landowner tells the gardener to leave it alone; let the weeds grow along with the wheat.  At harvest time there will be a separation of the wheat and the weeds.  What is judged “good” will be saved and what is judged “bad” will be burned.  Obviously, Jesus is talking about something more than flour and flowers!

     This is a lesson about evil in the world.  More specifically, about evil people:  sinners.  Yes, God could choose to annihilate the sinner at the moment of the sin.  He could!  It might be logical.  It might be practical. 

But God is above logical and practical.  God desires the salvation of each person who has been created in His image and likeness.  A prime example is the conversation of the dying Jesus with the so called “good thief.”  Hey, when a person is dying, you don’t talk business with him.  Keep him comfortable and let him die in peace, right?  But not here! Another surprise ending:  the thief “disturbs” this dying Savior to assure his own salvation.  And Jesus, typically, takes a time-out from His suffering and death to assure the thief that “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke: 23).  For me, this is the most amazing healing story in the Gospel.  God could have weeded out that thief long ago.  But God knew he was salvageable.  It would just take time.  And so it was.  God allowed him to live until his very own harvest-time - and a weed became wheat! 

     And that’s what this parable is about:  God’s mercy! God gives each of us time and opportunity to wise up, turn right, and go straight!

Thank God that I’m not God.  I could never be so patient.  But I thank God that God is God, because like that thief, I need time, too.  How many times the Lord could have weeded me out of His garden!  But He is patient.  He is merciful.  And He has time!

So, think about that when you wonder why some people – who are really stinky weeds – still foul the garden.  God is giving them one more chance. “A SAVIOR HATH DONE THIS.”  You can do it, too!     

My friends:  our new novices are adjusting to life at the novitiate, and I will be visiting my family.  So please excuse us if there are no blogs for the next two weeks.
But we will be back!  Pray for us as we pray for you!  God bless.   PEACE !

“MY YOKE IS EASY, AND MY BURDEN LIGHT”

Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 9, 2017

These words from Matthew’s Gospel (ch 11) end today’s Gospel reading.  In these past weeks, Jesus’ words have been anything but easy and light.  He calls us to prefer Him to our families; to fear no one; to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us rather than shoot at them.  That’s a tough sell.  People come to church expecting the Lord to comfort the afflicted rather than to afflict the comfortable. 

 

Today it’s good news.  “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

 

We need to hear that from God.  And we do.  We do.  When I was a young priest I thought it my job to go into our parishes and make saints of the people.  I learned quickly that our parishes are filled with saints.  Many people carry heavy burdens and in their own quiet way are closer to God than I could ever imagine.  These folks are bereaved, seriously ill, caretakers to the generation above and below them. They are busy, worried, and tired, too.  But they come to the Lord with fervent faith, attach their yokes to His and the task seems lighter.  Those are the people you ask when you need help.  That miracle happens every day.  And it is a miracle!

Today, I’d like to share with you more good news about six young men about to attach their yoke to the yoke of Jesus Christ, to walk with Him, by taking their first vows as Franciscan Friars.  Six novices who began their Novitiate experience last July are about to profess their vows: to live the Gospel ideals (all those things Jesus talks about) in the Franciscan brotherhood, in obedience, in chastity, and without calling anything their own.

My young brothers (the “Sizzlin’ Six”) are Friars Angel Garcia, Pedro Lopez, Calin Vidaurri, Chris Garcia, Jason DeMartini, and Alberto Bravo.  Three Texans, two Californians, and one from NYC.  They arrived last July shortly after we moved the  novitiate program from Indiana to the Central

Coast, CA.  They got into things quickly.  The first goal that Frs. Giles and Maurice, their Directors, expected was to form a community.  Being cooks is a quick - if risky – way to do that.  Their first efforts were simple.  Once they found internet recipes, we enjoyed stews, cacciatores, carbonara, tacos, and some desserts. All on (usually) clean dishes!  On the table were bottles of red stuff that could be used to fuel flamethrowers and rockets!  Hot stuff! 

 

They shopped, cleaned, even picked up after one another.  They drove tractors, fed birds, repaired cement walks, terminated termites, washed and ironed.  When I met their parents I said if I had a granddaughter, I’d want her to marry one of them.

 

But the center of their life and training was to live in the presence of God.  They read Gospel passages as seriously as one might follow a GPS.  They had workshops and classes on Franciscan spirituality, the meaning of the vows, and what Consecrated Life has to offer the Church that St. Francis and his followers are called to rebuild in and for every generation.  Of course, every day, the EUCHARIST.

 

They come from parishes with active prayer groups for young people who are also called to service projects.  Their families are usually people of faith and supportive of their vocations.  Each one will tell of a day when some person said, “have YOU ever thought of being a priest, or a Religious?”  They answered, “of course not.  Not me!”  But that stopped them in their tracks.  They began thinking about it.  And suddenly Jesus was not just an epic figure in history, but One who said to them, “Come, follow.”  They did!  And here they are!

 

This week twelve new novices (“the Dirty Dozen”?) will arrive and the miracle begins again.  It’s wonderful to watch God work. 

 

Pray for these young men.  And pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  God bless you.

 

 

 

PEACE

“A SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW….”

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 15th Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ok, first of all, we are not talking about needle and thread here.   Jesus is talking about sowing SEED, and as His listeners knew, not only was that hard work, but it could be frustrating.

Today we buy seedlings, planted and growing, for transplant into our garden.  The seedlings come in such fertile soil that they could thrive on a garbage dump.  The plants in my room are proof of that.  My Mom had a “green thumb,” whereas I’m “all thumbs” at gardening.  But the African Violets in my room bloom even when thirsty!

 

Jesus and His listeners lived in desert country.  Not much water.  The “Holy Land” was formed by volcanic eruptions eons ago which settled as dust and rocks.  Not stones, rocks.  They didn’t have machinery to move them, so they had to plant around them.  That explains Jesus’ lesson on “some of the seed fell on the path,” and was either eaten by birds, blown away, or withered.  They had to chance it.  Sow in all directions, and hope that enough seeds take root, that rain comes, and that bunnies don’t get your veggies before you do.

When Jesus was telling this parable, the people just nodded, “Yes, Rabbi, si, si, that’s the way it is.”

 

Jesus used that image to convey a deeper reality.  God’s word is like seed, generously sown in our hearts.  Some hearts are ready, others are not, to welcome God’s word and nurture it to full life.  We nurture by fervent prayer and virtuous actions.

 

A lady was sad and depressed over many things: discord in her family, anger in the land, people in need because of others’ greed, wars and violence all around.  What to do!   She took a walk and entered a small shop she never saw before.  The man at the counter looked so much like Jesus that she asked him if he was.  He said, “Yes, I am Jesus.”  “Do you work here,” she asked.  “No, I own the place.”  “And what do you sell?”   “I don’t sell.  Everything here is

a gift.  Look around and see if there is anything you like.”  She went from shelf to shelf and found titles like:  World Peace; Family Harmony; Reconciliation and Respect; Food for the Hungry; Homes for the Homeless.  The lady was so impressed, she wrote down all these, and more, and presented her shopping list to the Jesus-guy.  He looked at the list, smiled, and said, “these things I want, too.”   He reached into drawers and pulled out packets with those titles.  As he handed her the packets, she asked, “what are these?”  Jesus said, “They are seeds.  You take them home, plant them, nourish them, and they will bloom into the wonderful things you want.   The lady looked at him, and said, “I don’t want seeds.  I want the full-grown things.”  

 

That’s our problem, my friends.  We pray for good things, and to a God who can give them.   St. Teresa of Avila tells us that we should never fear asking God for great things, because He is all-powerful.

 

But those gifts don’t come wrapped and ready like Birthday presents.  God sows these good seeds for us to nourish and nurture.  Good things will happen.  So, you want family reconciliation?  Don’t expect God to drop you down at Dennys’ next to your estranged in-law and expect tension-melt over your turkey-melt.  God will give you a phone number or e-mail address.  Take a chance.  Make the call.  Nurture the seed.  --- Is it watermelon you want?  Yes, you have to take the chance with the seed even in California’s no-rain garden.  Water it.  Nurture it.  Who knows?  It may grow.

 

God is the sower.  He sows good seed in us.  How does YOUR soil look?  Is it ready?  Only you can tell.         

 

Good Gardening to you, my friend!  

 

 

 PEACE!

This week, my fellow-friar and collaborator leaves to continue his studies.  Friar Albert Bravo encouraged me to start this “blog,” helped me meet deadlines, and so very creatively posted it on the novitiate website.  I will miss Albert – in more ways than one.  Thank you, my brother, and may the good seed God has planted in your heart produce abundant fruit.   Vaya con Dios, my bro!

I have a 4th of July story, but  DON’T DO THIS AT HOME!  An old cowboy told his grandson that if he wanted to be strong and live a long life, he should sprinkle a spoonful of gunpowder on his oatmeal every morning.  The lad remembered and every day a spoonful of gunpowder-covered his cereal.   Sure enough!  He grew up strong and healthy.  When he died at the age of 94 he left 8 children, 24 grandchildren, and 68 great-grandchildren and a 15-foot hole in the wall of the crematorium!   HAPPY 4th OF JULY! 

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Fr. Alex’s Corner, July 2, 2017

In the Gospel on this 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Jesus teaches His disciples the meaning and the cost of discipleship.  It’s not a walk in the park.  If our faith means anything we must take it seriously.   It doesn’t remain in our heads.  It has to be lived!

In that spirit, with Tuesday being INDEPENDENCE DAY, the birthday of our country, I would like to share with you the “Collect” (Opening Prayer) of the Catholic Mass written for this national holiday. You might use this prayer any day and every day, asking God to bless America and its citizens.

“Father of all nations and ages,

we recall the day when our country

claimed its place among the family of nations.

For what has been achieved we give you thanks,

for the work that still remains we ask your help,

and as you have called us from many peoples

to be one nation,

grant that, under your providence,

our country may share your blessings

with all the peoples of the earth.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.” 

No one can deny that God has blessed our country.  It is filled with majestic scenery and beautiful places.  It is as fertile and flowing with “milk and honey” as any promised land ever was.  We must thank God for that every single day.  Take nothing for granted.

Even more than the physical beauty and fertility of our soil and life-giving water, God has blessed us with generations of good people who have learned to live in peace and respect for one another. 

I don’t remember my Grandparents saying much of their coming to America from Poland (then included in the territory of Austria and Russia), but I do recall

that early in the morning of every civil and religious holiday, my Grandpa (our “Dziadzia”) went to the attic to unfurl two big flags and hang them out the window for everyone to see.  First the American and then the Polish flag.  In the evening he reversed the order.  Many times I went with him, but he wouldn’t allow me too close for fear I’d fall out the window.  What I do remember is how he handled, unfurled, and rolled up those flags.  No priest held the Blessed Sacrament with more respect than our “Dziadzia” handled those flags.

RESPECT!  Now there is a word that needs some attention these days.  I sense a lack of respect in our midst today that undercuts our proclamations and belief that “all men (women, too) are created equal” and deserving of respect.  Our political and ideological divisions make it sound like “my way is the only way.”  Anyone with a different opinion is not just an adversary, but an enemy.  This can be  symptomatic of a malignant individualism that cripples every effort to form life-giving community, be it a marriage, a family, an organization, a parish, and, oh, yes, in our country, too.

I hope I am wrong.  Pray with me that I am.  But if we cannot work together, the American dream can turn into a nightmare.  To quote the Independence Day Mass prayer, we thank the Lord for what we have achieved,  and “for the work that still remains” we ask God’s help. 

Let us fervently pray:  GOD BLESS AMERICA!

PRAY FOR PEACE

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