Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 25, 2018
Jesus Christ, Crucified,
have mercy on us
This happened long ago, but so did the Crucifixion, and we still tell the story.
We were called to hear confessions at a school for children deemed “intellectually-challenged.” The word “retarded” was in use then. The Franciscan Sisters advised us that these children probably were not guilty of sin, but knowing right from wrong and accepting responsibility for one’s actions were part of what they were teaching the kids. So that’s where we were that one day. One Sister made it clear that we shouldn’t spend too much time with them because the school bus was on its way….
So, I sat in a little room when David walked in. The kids had name tags so that we could call them by name and appear friendly. David was a little guy with a lot of self-confidence. He asked my name and was checking out the room. So I began: “David, is there anything you want to tell God you are sorry for?” “What?” I repeated my question. David thought for a minute and said, “I’m sorry for my Grandma.” “Why are you sorry for your Grandma?” “Because my Grandpa died and now Grandma is always sad and sometimes she cries.” So I suggested that the next time David sees Grandma, he should give her a hug and tell her he’s sorry Grandpa died, and that he loves her. David liked that and described just how he would do it. In detail. So, again, I asked, “David is there anything you want to tell God you are sorry for?” Again, he thinks, wiggles his nose, and: “I’m sorry for the girl next door because she was hit by a car, has a lot of bandages, and she can’t go to school.” So I suggested that the next time he sees her, he should tell her he is sorry that she got hurt and tell her what he learned in school that day. Again, he thought that was a good idea and described – in detail - just how he would do that….
By this time, I’m frantic. I can imagine Sister Mary ‘Get-them-on-the-bus-on-time’ standing outside the door waiting for David (and me!). So once again, “David, is there anything you want to tell God you are sorry for?” (Hey, I’m a priest hearing confessions. I expect to hear sins…!)
Again, the thoughtful look, the wiggling nose, and then, he looks me straight in the eye: “I’m sorry for Jesus!” “David, why are you sorry for Jesus?” He points to the cross on the wall and says, “because He’s hanging on the Cross. And that’s got to hurt.”
Yeah, I was speechless…. And he’s “retarded”?
I’ve heard many inspiring sermons on the Passion of Christ, read some good books, too. But it’s David – that little intellectually-challenged theologian - that I think of every Good Friday and all the days leading to it. He mastered the mystery.
You see, little David saw Grandma suffering, and the girl next door, too. To him, Jesus was just as real. “He’s hanging on the Cross. And that’s got to hurt.”
Think about this as you hear the Passion proclaimed this Palm Sunday…. It was real. Jesus was real. The Cross was real. “And that’s got to hurt.” And ask yourself, “why is He there?”
And then, in today’s paper (3/23/2018), there is the story of 105 Nigerian teens being freed by the Boko Haram terrorists who kidnapped the girls weeks ago. It’s not the first time, and previous victims have told of their torture and sexual abuse. So, 105 girls were getting on the bus to be freed. One girl, named Leah, is a Christian, and was told she had to convert to the terrorists’ faith. She refused. So she is still captive, all alone, because she refused to renounce Jesus. “That’s got to hurt.”
Maybe our kids have something to teach us.
This weekend, think of all the Leah’s (and David’s, too) who suffer for their faith. May all their pains and sufferings lead to Resurrection. As for you and me, let’s make this Holy Week a holy week!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 18, 2018
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
So sorry we did not post our Blog last week. Why? Our local internet was out for a full week. Our service was often disturbed, but this time, our provider installed new hardware. A young techie declared “those OLD THINGS are not dependable.” Well!!! We told him that “some ‘old things’” will be swingin’ and swayin’ and dependable even after his tattoos begin to look like blood clots!
Internet or inter-NOT, Lent continues. In last week’s Blog (published today) I said that in these final weeks of Lent, our Scripture readings change from OUR need to repent to JESUS’ Passion and Death. Next week, Palm Sunday, we read Mark’s version of the Passion. In today’s Gospel, Jesus predicts His passion and how His Cross will be our salvation.
“Because by Your Holy Cross
You have saved the world!”
I’d like to share a story, and this story is true in all the details. I didn’t just read it; I lived it while working in our Clifton, NJ, parish.….
It was a few days after Ash Wednesday and I was doing some work in the sacristy and church when I noticed a young man sitting in the pews near the confessional. For the sake of the story, let’s say his name was Craig (it wasn’t). He was in his early 20’s, neatly dressed, carrying a book bag, so I (rightly) assumed he was a student. I let him sit quietly for a bit but then went and welcomed him and asked if I could do anything for him. He said, “no,” but we began one of many long chats….. Craig told me that he worked part-time in an X-rated adult bookstore in Manhattan. He needed cash for school costs. He was just a stock boy, and he made it very clear that he did nothing more. Okay! But something was bothering him. I was afraid to ask….
He said how a few days ago he noticed several people coming into the store marked with a Cross of Ashes. It was on Ash Wednesday. It didn’t bother him at first, but the more he saw, the more he began to feel anxiety. “There is something wrong here,” he thought to himself.
His family was Catholic, “but it was not a big thing for us.” But he knew enough about Ash Wednesday to be disturbed at seeing that Cross of ashes in his work place. I told him how at Baptism a Cross was traced on his forehead with Sacred Chrism and he was claimed for Jesus Christ. He liked that….
As the weeks went on, Craig occasionally visited our church, even attended Lenten weekday Masses. He also visited other local Catholic churches. He quit his job at the bookstore. I don’t know where he confessed, but he began to receive the Eucharist. He wore a simple, small wooden Cross on a colored cord around his neck. Nothing flashy, but it was there. At a clergy meeting, one priest asked if anyone else saw “that kid with the backpack and Cross” – and it turned out that most of us did. No one really knew him, but we all saw him.
I don’t know whatever happened to Craig after I left Clifton. But every year on Ash Wednesday and the days which follow I think of Craig and the power of the Cross. How God so loved the world that He sent His Son. The Son loves us so much that, in a Cross of ashes, He went into an adult bookstore to get Craig – to save his soul. The POWER of the Cross!
So don’t ever think that God has forgotten you. He got on that Cross only so that He could see us better – even from afar. When He sees us, wherever we
may be, He watches over us. Even when we are in trouble, He is there to save us from anything that might harm us – just like He saved Craig….
Jesus worked many miracles. But His greatest miracle is the conversion of a soul. The cured blind and the lame eventually died, so their cures were helpful, but very temporary. When Jesus saves a soul, that’s forever. That’s a real miracle!
“We adore you Lord Jesus Christ, and we bless You,
because by Your Holy Cross
You have saved the world!”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 11, 2018
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
A little Franciscan family business, if I may. Every four years we Friars elect a Minister Provincial (our very own “Game of Thrones”). Election is by secret mail ballot and all friars in final vows are eligible to vote and to be voted upon. Most elections are over: Fr. James McCurry was re-elected for the Our Lady of Angels Province (east coast); Fr. Michael Zielke, St. Bonaventure Province (Chicago); Fr. Wayne Hellman, Our Lady of Consolation Province (Indiana and Midwest). The St. Joseph Cupertino Province (California) was unable elect by mail ballot so the election goes to the Provincial Chapter which meets in April. Each province has missions, thereby extending our American presence – and concerns - to England and Ireland, Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Honduras, and Vietnam.
Now we are preparing for our quadrennial provincial chapters. Provincial assistants will be elected and we will seriously discuss how well we are living our Franciscan lifestyle and how to better serve the people in our ministries. A friar vows to live in community, and if we are not doing that, changes must and will be made. We vow to observe “the Rule and Life of the Friars Minor” which is “to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without any thing of our own, and in chastity.” Community life is our charism and that’s why a friar cannot live alone. Four friars are usually assigned to a “friary.” Our ministries must allow us to live what we vowed. Decreasing numbers require that we examine our presence in various places, and that leads to hard choices. The Chapter also appoints local superiors (guardians), and this is when personnel changes can be made, all subject to open discussion and the vote of the entire chapter.
So, please, REMEMBER THE FRIARS IN YOUR PRAYERS! My province underwent a merger four years ago, and adjustment takes time, patience – and God’s grace. Some of YOU know that!
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
On this 4th Lenten Sunday the priest wears rose-colored vestments, and we get closer to Easter. It’s ROSE, because in the Mediterranean countries which originated this custom, springtime ROSES are in bloom, churches are decorated with roses, and a rose is given to Easter baptismal candidates.
How many times have you seen “John 3:16” cited. One football player even had it “blacked” under his eyes. It is a beautiful and consoling thought.
The first weeks of Lent focused on us and our penitential practices. We were called to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” It’s a sacred time. A pious woman told me that “if I have to die, I hope it’s during Lent or on All Souls Day.” When I asked why, she said that at those times the whole Church is at prayer so “it must be easier to get to Heaven.” (She died on All Souls Day!) So, our CONVERSION was the focus for the four weeks of Lent.
Now the Church, in its Liturgy, shifts our focus to Jesus Christ and what HE did for us. Jesus is nothing less than God’s love for us. Take some quiet time just LOOKING at the Cross. We will spend time thinking about that, and, yes, I may have some stories to share.
I like this season because it has a clear focus on our prayers and actions. There are so many sick people asking for our prayers. In your mind and your prayers, connect all those who suffer to the sufferings of Jesus. No matter how Jesus suffered, always remember that His suffering ended in a glorious Resurrection. Ours will, too. Yes, it will!
Pray for the conversion of all who wish to do violence and for all the victims of violence.
PRAY FOR PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, March 4, 2018
The Third Sunday of Lent
“My House shall be a house of prayer….”
The other day while shopping, I saw a full aisle of chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs, marshmallow chicks, all kinds of fuzzy animals to celebrate Easter. Suppose I got a baseball bat (from the other aisle) and chopped to bits all those “chocolate chickies” while crying out, “JESUS is the reason for the season!” (Don’t worry! I luv chocolate & marshmallow makes me a mellow fellow. I’m just saying “suppose…”) I think I would soon be in bracelets, chauffeured to the Arroyo Police station, have a mug-shot and a new name: “NUT JOB.”
Well, that’s exactly the reaction Jesus got when He “cleaned out” the Temple. It was Passover time. The outer area was filled with sellers, money changers, and all kinds of people doing all kinds of things which were NOT part of Temple worship. The Temple was a sacred place for Jewish people. It was where they came to worship God, to offer sacrifices to atone for their sins, and to remember how God chose them, how He saved them and loved them. They had many rituals to do that. But what the people had to go through before they got into the presence of God was a distraction that Jesus simply would not tolerate. “My House is a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves.” Of course the Temple authorities are furious. “Who do YOU think you are,” and they rightfully ask by what authority He was doing this. Jesus knew exactly Who He was, and we know all about His “authority.”
John’s Gospel places this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The other evangelists place it during Jesus final week (they are more accurate). John, at the very beginning of his writing, proclaims clearly WHO and WHAT Jesus is.
To be remembered: when John quotes Jesus, there are always underlying messages in the stories. Here, Jesus predicts the Temple WILL be destroyed (the Romans did it in 70 A.D.) The underlying message was that people will encounter God, not in a physical building, but in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh. By the time John wrote his gospel, the Temple was indeed destroyed and John’s listeners believed that Jesus was God and in Him they could meet their God. As Jesus predicted, His own Body-Temple was destroyed, by death, but it was “raised up” in three days. It was in Jesus that God would now be found. After Pentecost, Jesus would send His Holy Spirit of God to live in, speak and work through His Apostles, the disciples, and to us. You and me! That’s right: you and me!
That is why this particular Gospel is proclaimed and preached on this Lenten Sunday, when candidates for Baptism, Confirmation, and entrance into the Church are receiving final instructions before their Sacramental initiations on Holy Saturday.
The story is not about Jesus Spring Cleaning the old Temple. It is a proclamation that it is in Him that we see and hear God. What’s more (hard to believe, but true), each of us who are baptized are LIVING TEMPLES of the Holy Spirit. God lives in us, who carry Him into a world that desperately needs Him!
How do we do this? First of all, by living out the pattern God the Father has given to His people, the Ten Commandments. Then, we listen to Jesus, God’s beloved Son, who teaches us to love God and our neighbor. Also, we listen to the Holy Spirit of God within us, through fervent and faithful prayer. If “my House is a house of prayer,” how much more are we, Temples of the Holy Spirit, “places” of prayer as well.
Does that mean we no longer “go to church?” No, it doesn’t mean that. God chose and formed us as a family, a people of God. Just as the Holy Trinity works together, so must we. We are a faith family. That’s where we get and share our inspirations.
So YOU are a House of Prayer. Don’t make it a den of thieves. Clean it up. Jesus is coming. PEACE.