September's Blogs

“Lord, make me an Instrument of your Peace.”

(from The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi)

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 26th Sunday, October 1, 2017

     I lived in Holyoke in 2011 when within a period of a few months, our area was hit with a hurricane, tornado, and an earthquake. All this in a place that expects neither. Our Bishop prayed that Mt. Tom, the local ski resort, would not erupt. Our city suffered no damage, but other communities did. The town of Monson was hit by all three events, and a friend who lived there asked, “Why does God hate Monson? We are not that bad a people.”

I think of that at today’s First Reading (EZ ch 18) where people grieve that their exile in Babylon is God’s punishment for their sins or those of their ancestors. I wonder how many people displaced or hurt during the recent storms and floods may have felt the same way. People often confide that the problems in their lives might be punishment due to their sins. I tell them what I truly believe, that GOD DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! The prophet Ezekiel makes it quite clear in our Reading that when we act contrary to God’s law, we bring plenty of problems upon ourselves. What makes sin to be sin is the bad stuff it brings into our lives. When we don’t get along, or call each other names and do hurtful things, when we start wars, of course people get hurt. Innocent people die. Lives and property are destroyed. The atmosphere is not peaceful. But that is not God’s fault. When you pull the trigger of a gun, don’t expect a rainbow to appear.

     The prophet says that God forgives, even though the residual effects of our sins may cause problems.

Today’s Gospel (Matt 21) is another story (parable) of a father and two sons. The father tells one son to go to work and the son says, “yes,” but doesn’t go. The other son just says, “no.” (I’m thinking: was I ever so brash with my Dad? I may not always have been obedient, but I was not suicidal!) He said, “no,” but eventually he did obey. Jesus uses him as an example of a repentant sinner. It is just one more call to repentance. That story is very clear, and it’s Jesus’ way of justifying His patience and kindness to {former) sinners.

Are you tired of hearing about God’s mercy? It’s been our message for weeks now. Why do you think God is so emphatic about forgiveness?

     Jesus knows the human heart and soul. He was, after all, involved in our creation. History and our personal experience show that guilt is a heavy burden to bear. Nothing brings peace like being forgiven. Ask any child who knows he’s done bad and Mommy is mad. All he wants is for Mommy to say “it’s ok,” and seal it with a nice warm hug. I always taught our school kids that the Sacrament of Confession is God’s hug! The kids liked that.

It is also burdensome when someone has hurt us and we can’t forgive, and neither can we forget. Nothing brings peace as does the ability to forgive. There is no one of us who hasn’t been hurt by someone. As long as we are angry, we are like a wild animal looking for someone to pounce on. All those profiles of mass killers – it seems they are all angry about something.

     Jesus knows that. That’s why “forgive” is the only verb, or “action” word, that appears twice in the Lord’s Prayer: ”forgive us as we forgive” others.

     I fear that the anger and even hatred so apparent in our country is more deadly to our national life and sanity than any bomb. We need to take stock of ourselves; cool down; dial down the rhetoric; and, YES, forgive and learn to respect one another.

     More about that in the weeks to come, but until then: this Wednesday, October 4, is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. There will be lots of animal blessings in his honor. But let’s check if there is an “animal” in us that needs taming. Only when we are at peace, forgiven and forgiving, can we be Instruments of the Lord’s PEACE to others.

     PEACE

“SEEK THE LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND”

(Isaiah 55:6)

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 25th Sunday, September 24, 2017

     Of all the titles Jesus could have claimed upon His Incarnation, the one He chose was “Teacher.” In those days it was “Rabbi,” for a Rabbi was first and foremost a Teacher of God’s law. All teachers should see in this a great compliment. That includes Moms and Dads, Grandparents, too, and all those who share God’s love and wisdom with others.

     Telling stories is a good teaching strategy. People may forget concepts and ideas, but stories are remembered; good stories are told and retold.

Jesus was a master story-teller. His use of parables bordered on genius. A parable is not a factual tale. It starts with things familiar to the hearers. When Jesus talked about sheep and sowing seeds, his audience nodded their heads: yes, they knew all about that. But the gimmick in a parable is a SURPRISE ENDING. That’s where the lesson is.

     Today’s parable (Matt 20) tells of a landowner who goes out seeking laborers for his vineyard. Jesus’ audience would have been familiar with that. Many people got their jobs that way, one day at a time. A key to this story is in the detail that the landowner went out FIVE times that day. How many grapes needed picking?!? The end of the workday was pay time. The SURPRISE ENDING was that every worker got the same pay. Imagine the reaction of those who worked all day when they saw that the late hires got the same pay as they did. “Unfair,” they complained, and of course it would have been if this was a lesson in labor relations and equal pay. But of course it wasn’t!

     You see, in Matthew’s time there was disagreement about who could be saved by Jesus and be part of the faith family. Many Jewish converts did not think that Gentiles could be included because they didn’t belong to God’s Chosen People. They didn’t spend centuries watching and waiting for the Messiah. They were “Johnny-come-lately’s” (“late hires”?) and so they should have to become Jews first – to undergo circumcision and follow Jewish dietary and religious regulations. Then, and maybe then, they might claim Jesus as their Messiah and Lord. This was such a big problem that St. Paul had to argue it publicly with St. Peter and the other disciples in Jerusalem. Some people would not accept that.

So Matthew uses this parable of Jesus to say that God wills the salvation of ALL people. Yes, God worked through the history of the Chosen People and they will always have His special love. But like the landowner who went out FIVE times to bring workers to his vineyard, so God keeps coming into our human history to call people to Himself.

     The pay is not the issue. Neither does our time with the Lord demand payback. Salvation is God’s free gift to us, and, yes, He is free to do as He wishes with His gifts. There might be a lesson here for some of our own citizens’ reluctance to share our blessings with newcomers. (Ya’ think?)

The basic message is God’s mercy. No matter how late we come to the Lord, or how many times we leave and return, God always wants us picking the grapes in His vineyard. The story of the Good Thief is a perfect example. Minutes before both he and Jesus died he asked for salvation – AND HE GOT IT!

That’s what I love about Pope Francis – always sending us priests out looking for every sinner we can find – to bring them into God’s vineyard!

The first words of today’s first reading are: “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” All the while THE LORD IS SEEKING US!

This Saturday in Oklahoma Father Stanley Rother is being beatified. A missionary in Guatemala, he was shot while serving his parishioners during the 1981 revolution. Blessed Stanley is the first American-born priest to be declared a martyr. From the Eternal Banquet Table in Heaven may he intercede for our country and Church!

PEACE

Many are the women of proven worth…,

the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Let her works praise her at the city gates. (Proverbs, Ch 31)

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 24th Sunday, September 17, 2017

     “The Private War of Major Benson,” is an old-time feel-good movie with Charlton Heston (just off his success as Moses in “The Ten Commandments”) playing a retired general sent to shape up a military school run by Catholic nuns. While meeting the current Sister Superior, he is distracted by a portrait of a dour old nun. Noticing his attention to the portrait, the Sister says, “That is our Mother Foundress. She was ‘canonized’.” To which the general replies, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

     The current issue of TIME magazine profiles fifty women “who are changing the world.” I daresay that few people know how a group of women of an earlier time changed the world, including the USA: the Catholic Religious Sisters. At a time when society, the Church included, were male-dominated, Catholic Sisters were founding and running schools, colleges, hospitals, and social networks that changed both the Church and our country. In the 1950’s, the Catholic Sisters, as a group, may have been the best educated women in the world.

A few examples: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), from Italy, founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to work among Italian immigrants. In spite of a fear of water, she crossed the Atlantic 30 times to do her work. She founded 67 institutions in the USA and Latin America: schools, hospitals, orphanages , and religious institutes. She was the first naturalized American to be canonized (1946).

     St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), born to a wealthy NY family, was married, had five children, and then a young widow who began teaching to raise her children when her family disinherited her for becoming a Catholic. That led to founding schools for young girls, and establishing the Sisters of Charity, who opened the network of Catholic parochial schools throughout the USA, and were later recognized for nursing wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War. First native-born American to be canonized (1975).

St. Marianne Cope (1838-1918) came to the US from Germany at age one. Family settled in Utica, NY. She became a Franciscan Sister, a teacher and school administrator, and co-founded two hospitals. At St. Joseph Hospital (still) in Syracuse, NY, she invited students from the Geneva Medical School to help treat the patients. Patients could refuse to be treated by students, the very first “patient rights” contract in the USA. She and six Sisters then accepted an invitation from the King of Molokai to work with lepers in Hawaii with St. “Father” Damien the Leper. The Sisters established hospitals, orphan programs, and home-hospice care for the lepers in Molokai. She was canonized in 2012.

     St. Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), the Philadelphia heiress and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and the Colored established networks of schools and social outreach for Native Americans and African Americans in southern USA. She also founded Xavier University in New Orleans. When she died at age 61, 500 Sisters were teaching in 63 schools and 50 missions. Canonized in 2000.

     St. Rose Philippine Duquesne who worked among the American Indians; Sister Thea Bowman, a teacher and evangelizer among the US African Americans; Mother Angelica; and that 4½ foot firecracker in the white and blue sari, St. Mother Teresa! She wasn’t an American Citizen but she belonged to the world. Few could quote her wise sayings, but everyone knew what she did. And then there are the Sisters who worked their miracles in our own home dioceses….

I’d like to challenge some history-buff Religious Sister to write up a profile of fifty American Catholic Religious Sisters. They changed the world and did it a full century before the women profiled in TIME. I’ll read that book to my grandchildren – er, excuse me - to our young novices.

PEACE

“If two of you agree about anything for which you pray, it shall be granted by my heavenly Father.”

(Jesus of Nazareth, Matt: 18:19)

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 23rd Sunday, September 10, 2017

     I read in the Readers’ Digest about an 89 year old lady who learned that her husband was dating another woman. She was so furious she pulled him to the balcony and pushed him off. He fell to his death and she was, of course, arrested. When the judge asked why she did this, she replied, “when I learned that, at 92, he was with another woman, I figured that he would be able to fly.”(I cited the Readers’ Digest source of this story lest you surmise this happened in my family or former parish!)

     I thought of that story because in today’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear that people do bad things, and someone has to set them straight.

We know and preach the infinite mercy of God. Pope Francis reminds priests to be “as merciful as (God) the Father” in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He always preaches (as this week in Columbia) the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Pope tells children that “I’m sorry,” along with “Please” and “Thank you” are the three most important words in family life.

So, yes, God is merciful, and we must reflect that.

     But reality confirms that when people do bad things, there are consequences. We can be forgiving when someone commits a crime, but crime causes hurt to innocent persons.

We try so hard to teach our children the evils of bullying and calling others bad names. My Dad always said that “sticks and stone will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Well, we are learning today that bad names DO hurt people. Making fun of a person can be devastating in ways that we know – and in ways that we don’t know.

     In today’s first Reading (Ezekiel 33), God warns us to correct evil doers. God says that if you warn the wicked person, and he does not change, the wicked person will be punished. But if you do not correct him, you will be punished, too. In other words, people need direction and correction.

In the Gospel (Matt 18) Jesus suggests that you correct the sinner. If that doesn’t work, take another person with you and try to correct him. If he still refuses, you may have to avoid his company, lest you too be tainted by his crimes and sins.

We know what Jesus is talking about. Parents must teach their children to behave, to act like human beings, not like animals. If not, our schools become animal farms and the children may end up in serious trouble.

     So often, parents ask me to pray for children who have gone astray. And there are children who find the behavior of parents less than admirable.

The pattern Jesus gives is often used in the “intervention” of addicted persons. I’ve been involved in a few of these situations, and it has been scary. Sometimes it worked. Honestly, talking to people one-on-one, with kindness, can help them see the evil of their ways. One thing we must NEVER do, and that is to affirm people in their misbehavior. If we do, we share the blame for the grief and hurt that follows.

     In the Gospel, Jesus gives us another option. He says that when two or three people gather to pray, “there I am in the midst of them.” God is there. So, PRAYER is a solution prescribed by Jesus Himself. He is a Healer, a Forgiver, a Teacher, and He can even restore life to the dead.

Don’t be afraid to correct someone who needs correction. God wants that and He will be with you. But never fail to pray for the conversion and the healing of those in need. Yes, our God is merciful. But His call is always to conversion.

Don’t push anyone off a balcony, but pull him/her closer to our merciful God and to goodness in life.

PEACE

“LIFT HIGH THE CROSS”

Fr. Alex’s Corner, 22nd Sunday, September 3, 2017

     My very first pastor assignment was at St. John Kanty Parish in Clifton, NJ. On my first day there, while on a tour of the places I had not seen on my “yes, I’ll come here” visit, we discovered a flood in the church boiler room. Hey, we can do floods, right? But something about this made me keep an eye on things. Exactly two weeks later, another flood showed that we had a major oil spill under the church. Over the years, unbeknown to anyone, more than a thousand gallons of heating oil seeped out of the underground tank and we had to clean it up. We never studied that in pastor-school. On the Sunday after we “discovered oil,” I had to inform the parishioners. I was terrified. I reported what we knew, and told them we were in for a rough ride. While I stood outside the church that Sunday, two elderly ladies came to me and said: “Father Alex, you are not going to carry this cross alone. We will help. Just keep us informed.”

     “You are not going to carry this cross alone. We will help.” And they did! They did! It took five years and lot$$$$ of money. (That’s another story!) But we did it. And the comfort of those ladies’ words was almost sacramental.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His friends that He must go to Jerusalem where He will suffer and be killed. Peter was so upset that he argued the foolishness of this. Jesus got so upset that He called Peter “Satan,” and condemned his attitude. (Had Peter known the details of what was about to happen, I suspect he would have tied Jesus up and drugged Him.) Humanly speaking, that was a nasty plan. In God’s design, that’s what Jesus came to do. Our ways are not God’s ways, and this is “Exhibit A.”

     Many people are carrying heavy crosses these days. Our hearts go out to the people in Houston and all over the Gulf Coast as they begin to pick up the pieces. Because of our problems, the media didn’t say much about similar things happening in the Sierra Leone and Nepal. Thousands of people dying in flood waters. And then there are the “usual” problems. Yes, people are carrying heavy crosses. Jesus makes it clear that His disciples and friends will have plenty of crosses to carry. My hope and prayer is that, like I experienced so many years ago, there will always be someone to say “you are not going to carry this cross alone. We will help.”

     I believe that the desire to help is part of the Christian DNA. Not just Christian, but most of my readers are, so…. The Sacred Scriptures tell us that even Jesus couldn’t do it alone. His Mom and some friends were there to give Him moral support. The lady Veronica wiped His face, and gave Him a moment of comfort. Simon helped carry the cross. Even then, Jesus kept falling, but He kept rising.

     This is a holiday weekend, and we should be thinking of barbecues, swimming pools, and nice, cool drinks. And we need to do that.

But my dear friends, on this weekend when so many people are carrying crosses not of their own making, please offer fervent prayers for all victims. If you can do ANYTHING to alleviate the sufferings of the flood victims, do it. And if not, seek out someone – anyone - who needs help. Help them, and whisper to Jesus, “I’m doing this for THOSE WHOM I CAN’T HELP. Lord, you deliver the goods.”

      Grab a hold of the cross being carried by some poor soul, and LIFT HIGH THE CROSS. Remember what Jesus said: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, YOU DO IT FOR ME.

     Put everything in God’s hands, and you will find God’s hand in everything!

Let us pray for our children as they return to school. May God help our teachers develop good human beings, and may JESUS THE TEACHER be the invisible presence in every classroom.

PEACE

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