Fr. Alex’s Corner, September 30, 2018
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Anyone who has led a pilgrimage or a group excursion will sympathize with Moses in today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Numbers. Moses has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They have crossed the Red Sea. There are thousands of people on foot, animals, too, and all are beginning to suspect that this may be a long hike. The Promised Land is a long way off. The people are antsy. They miss the cucumbers, veggies, and maybe the TOFU they enjoyed in Egypt. There are (traditionally) twelve families together, and you know what that means. Everyone comes to Moses for advice, to lodge complaints, and who knows how many kids came to ask, “Mister Moses, are we there yet?”
A forty-year bus trip - without a bus – is just too much even for the Holy Moses! He asks God to die. Even his father-in-law suggests he needs help. And so God promises to bestow some of Moses’ “spirit” upon seventy elders, and they begin to prophecy.
Fast forward a few millennia. Jesus is choosing His Twelve, and sending His Holy Spirit upon them to form the Church, which is Jesus’ continued presence leading us to our very own Promised Land. We see the beginning of that in our Gospel reading. Now some of Jesus’ disciples are envious that people who are not of their clique are doing good things. Shouldn’t Jesus stop them?
Jesus’ response implies that every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has good in him/her. The closer we are to Jesus, the better we get. But we should gratefully acknowledge the good in EVERYONE. How less divisive we would be if only we could understand that.
Prophecy is God’s word and power. It can come from and through anyone God chooses. Boy, did I learn that one Sunday morning some years ago….
The Sunday Gospel that day told about the man born blind. Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered, “Lord, I want to see.” And Jesus cured him.
Now there was a lady who came to church every Sunday. Let’s say her name was “Josie,” and she was born blind. I got this brilliant idea to “interview” her as part of my homily. We discussed the plan and she was most receptive. I could not wait. This would be award-winning!
After proclaiming the Gospel, I ambled over to Josie, microphone in hand. The parishioners knew her and they quickly figured what was going on. After a few words on the Gospel, I asked Josie “if Jesus were to walk down this aisle right now, and ask what He could do for you, would you ask him to give you your eyesight?” Josie grabbed the mike. This was her big moment and she knew it! After a dramatic pause, Josie proclaimed for all the world to hear, “NO, I DON’T THINK SO.” After explaining that she knows what to do and where to go, she added, “If I could see, I’d have to learn everything over again.” I was stunned to silence and the parishioners roared….and applauded!
After Mass I was apologetic until a few folks came up and said, “She told you the truth. If she could see, she’d have to learn everything over again. It’s the same with us. If we see and hear the Word of God, WE HAVE TO SEE THINGS AND DO THINGS IN GOD’S WAY. And that might be very different from what we are doing now.” So, they told me!
That day Josie, blind from birth, preached a homily wiser and more practical than I could ever give. Was I envious? You bet! But I was impressed.
Like St. Francis told the Friars: “Preach always. If necessary use words.” May we all use the Spirit of the Lord, given to us in Baptism, to preach to the world by good example, and when necessary, with words. And let us watch and listen, for God speaks to us in the most unexpected times and people.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, September 23, 2018
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Behold, God is my helper
the Lord sustains my life.”
(Psalm 54 – today’s Responsorial)
Do you recognize a shift in our Sunday and weekday Readings? Scolding of the people by the prophets, and criticism of the religious authorities and priests by Jesus have ended. Now, the prophets speak of a new and faithful Israel, while Jesus tries to teach His apostles real religion - for them, and for the Church in every age.
I say Jesus “tries,” because these guys have thick heads. Jesus talks about serving and they talk about ruling. Who will be the Head Honcho? They still expect a triumphant Messiah with crown, cavalry, and crests, and wonder who will sit next to throne and power. Some things never change.
Anyone remember the old rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar”? Sometimes reverent, sometimes ribald, with a few digs thrown in. In one scene the Apostles were singing Frat-boy style:
“Always wanted to be an apostle
knew that I could make it if I tried.
And when we are old we write some Gospels,
and they’ll talk about us even when we’ve died.”
It may have been inspired by today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is predicting His death and rising, and they are talking “how great we are.”
In his very first address to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis complained of clergy who used the Church for personal ambitions and “rising in the ranks.” Earlier, when Pope John XXIII was asked “how many people worked in the Vatican,” he responded, “about half of them.” OUCH!
The Church is an organization which needs structure. Jesus did hand the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter and declared him the leader. But we see time and time again, when the focus is on the organization rather than people, there is trouble.
Jesus is our Savior. He came to cleanse us from our sins and sustain us in a life of grace. The Church can be authentic only if and when it does the same. It’s always about PEOPLE!
One year ago today (Sept. 23), Fr. Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma, was beatified. Coming from a hard-working farm family, he failed his first year of theology because he couldn’t learn Latin. His bishop saw promise in him and sent him to another seminary and he was ordained in 1963. In 1968 he became a missionary in Guatemala and immediately identified with his parishioners’ simple farming lifestyle. This priest who could not learn Latin became so fluent in Spanish that he translated the Mass texts into the local Indian dialect. He shared his farming skills with the locals and helped repair tractors and farm equipment. Most of all, he celebrated the Sacraments with the people and taught them of a good and loving God. He built a farmers’ co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, used for catechesis.
When his name appeared on the death list in the violence of the Guatemalan Civil War, his bishop ordered his return to Oklahoma. He was warned not to return. But he discerned that “the Shepherd does not abandon his flock,” and returned to his people. On July 28, 1981, in his rectory, Fr. Stanley was shot in the head by government forces. He was 46 years old. The people loved their priest and asked that his heart be buried at the mission when his body was returned to the U.S. for burial.
Now THAT is a priest! That’s what Jesus was trying to teach the apostles. Yes, it’s about Church, but the Church is PEOPLE, not buildings or corporations.
Fr. Stanley is my hero. Why wasn’t his story told by our media? I guess there was so much other GOOD news to report this past year….
To save us from our sins and to sustain us in His grace. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why His Church will continue. God is our helper. He will sustain us in our life. Yes, He will!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, September 9, 2018
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the Lord, for upon its welfare depends your own.”
The Bible isn’t always easy-reading, and certainly not a “quick read.” “The Bible for Dummies” is hardly helpful. The Bible reports ancient history and is filled with symbols, “Semitic hyperbole,” and images unfamiliar to today’s reader. So many times I’ve heard a person say, “I’m going to start reading the Holy Bible, cover to cover,” only to be frustrated in that noble endeavor. You need help with that, just as you need help reading Shakespeare or Dante’s “Inferno” – even with good footnotes.
That being said, although the Bible was composed so long ago, and by many different human authors, it remains very relevant to life today. That’s due to its Divine Author, the Holy Spirit.
In our Mass readings these past weeks, as well as in the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary) which priests and Religious pray daily, we have read warnings from the ancient Prophets, who spoke on God’s behalf, to the People of Israel before, during, and after times of exile. The People were evicted from their “Promised Land,” and living among hostile non-believers, thus unable to live their Covenant faith freely. The Prophets scolded the People for their infidelity to God, and they openly blamed the priests, kings, and prophets for misleading the People on their faith journey. They accused those “leaders” of being deaf to the words of the Lord, thus unable to share God’s words with the People. Most prophets ended with an optimistic message. One day God would return the People to their Land and traditions. In the meantime they should pray for the worldly city in which they lived, because “upon its welfare depends your own.” That’s the context of my introductory quote. We read it in our Breviary this past Wednesday.
In today’s Gospel, people bring a deaf man to Jesus for healing. Being deaf, his speech was impaired. That’s obvious. If you can’t hear, you can’t learn to repeat sounds. When Jesus cured the man of his deafness, the man was also able to speak clearly. Double miracle! Or, a miracle with a purpose!
I’ve been thinking of that as I listen to the news these past weeks. It might be funny if not so dangerous. Criticism of our Church (all too often justified!), violence in our cities, and the political cacophony! No need to list examples. Unless YOU are deaf, you’ve heard it all. All this did not develop in a moral vacuum. For much too long, one can say and do almost anything outrageous, and be legally protected doing it. But don’t dare bring God into the picture. That’s a no-no! Good thing our forefathers were not composing the Declaration of Independence today. They would never get away with “and have been endowed by their CREATOR….”
You think maybe some “priests, prophets, and kings” have been deaf and impaired to share the Word of the Lord? The other day, the same page that reported stock market highs told of 1400 school-aged HOMELESS children in D.C. 1400 kids – homeless - in our NATION’S CAPITAL! Lot of good a healthy stock market will do them! How will they obtain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
It’s not just there. My dear Holyoke reports large percentages of homeless school kids. They don’t live on the streets, but with friends or relatives due to “domestic issues.” Might that be “abuse”?
Why am I praying the daily Rosary for peace in the world while my own country is in ethical chaos?
To a People who were “deaf,” God sent His Son, THE WORD made flesh. We need to open our ears to hear – and listen (there is a difference!) - to God’s Word and echo it clearly. Meantime, let’s pray for the land in which we live, “because upon its welfare depends our own.” God bless America. Please, God, bless America, and our world, too.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, September 2, 2018
“For what great nation has gods so close to it
as the Lord our God is to us?”
(Deuteronomy 4: 7-8)
No, no, this is not going to be a paean of praise to “God Bless America.” It’s a holiday weekend, but that’s not on my mind at the moment.
The above quote, from today’s (22nd Sunday) First Reading, are Moses’ last words as the people were led into the Promised Land by Joshua after their 40 year journey in the desert. Moses reminded the people that it was the God of Israel who led them out of slavery in Egypt, and with one miracle after another, led them through the desert, and was now bringing them to the Promised Land. Moses warned how often they worshipped false gods. (That would continue as they intermingled with other nations and local gods.) Moses’ concern was that people basically like religion, and left to their own devices, they create gods to their own liking, develop cults and superstitious practices. I like to refer to this as the “deification of religion.” In other words, we make a god out of religion itself. Religious people create gods, commandments, rituals, and structures to their own liking. This is a temptation among “religious” people.
Moses emphasized that there is only One God. That God called and chose them, He spoke to them, and had a plan for them. Moses warned against “creating” gods of their own.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues that message of Moses as, in most dramatic terms, He condemns the religious leaders who have made so many rules but have forgotten that the object of piety is neither pious behavior nor religious cult, but a relationship with a personal God.
This is a thematic follow-up to what we’ve heard in the past few weeks about Jesus being God’s Holy One, the Bread of Life, sent by God to embrace the people and to allow the people to embrace God.
It’s all about a Love relationship. God loves us and He invites us to love Him back. And we do that by the conversion of our hearts.
Remember last week when Jesus asked The Twelve if they would leave Him, as so many others did? Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.”
Those words have haunted me all week long as we continue to hear the fallout from the priest sex- abuse revelations in our Church and as political polarization eats away at our country. Even the funeral of the heroic John McCain has been a political battle cry. Meanwhile, shootings continue to plague our cities and kill God’s children.
I don’t know where all this is going. But I am not losing faith in Jesus Christ, what He stands for, and what He is calling us to do. When Jesus was killed on a criminal’s Cross, that was a bleak moment for His family and followers. They were stunned, saddened, and scared. But the darkest of nights turned into the brightest of days. Not because of what others did, but because of what He did.
They killed Him, but He wouldn’t stay dead!
Spiritual writers often say that the darkest hour is the one just preceding sunrise. I believe that. And I sympathize with those who may have lost patience with “God’s people.” But I offer these words of encouragement: God’s PEOPLE are still GOD’S people. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to be our Savior, the One who wouldn’t stay dead. I don’t expect Him to stay dead now.
Let’s make this Labor Day HOLIDAY a Labor Day HOLY-DAY by working with the Holy One of God to convert our own hearts and to help make new what was lost through lies and false religion. In his profound statement of faith, St. Peter hinted that he didn’t really know what was coming next. But if it was coming from Jesus, it would be good. And it was. It really was…. I believe it will be the same now. Do not be afraid!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, September 16, 2018
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You,
because by Your Holy Cross
You have redeemed the world.”
(St. Francis of Assisi)
That prayer, so favored by St. Francis of Assisi, is recited by us Friars at the end of our community prayers. I think of it this weekend as the Cross is front and center in our thoughts.
On Friday (Sept. 14), we celebrated the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. In an example of divine irony, the Cross, an instrument of pain and death, becomes the instrument of healing and new life. Jesus said He would be “lifted up” so that we could be “raised up.”
Saturday (Sept. 15), was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. We can understand the pain of a parent whose child dies. Our Blessed Mother saw her Son suffer and die on the Cross. This Feast reminds us that real people around Jesus experienced sadness and mystery in their obedience to God and His will.
Tomorrow (Sept. 17), we Franciscans will observe the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. Two years before he died, Francis had a vision of Jesus Crucified, after which the five wounds of Jesus appeared on his own body. A few friar-companions knew this. When his death was announced to the Friars and the world in 1226, the story of his stigmata was revealed. St. Francis may have been the first person known to bear the five wounds of Jesus Christ on his own body. It was his very own way of “helping” Jesus redeem the world.
In our Sunday Gospel (Mark 8:27-35) Jesus predicts His death. He did this several times and whenever He did, He said that He would “be killed, and rise after three days.” He always connected His death and His rising. The disciples insisted that must NOT happen. What good is a dead Messiah! The Gospel reveals that the disciples often discussed among themselves what “rising up” meant. That’s no surprise. Dead people don’t “rise up.” How many funerals have you attended where you bury someone on a Friday and they come to visit you on Sunday? That just does not happen. Until it did!
Jesus then said something very significant: whoever wishes to follow Him must deny himself, and take up his very own cross. Now THAT is a challenge!
Taking up the cross does not mean being nailed to a wooden beam and dying of asphyxiation Roman-style. It also does not mean that God likes to see us suffer. What it does mean is that God has a plan for every one of us and we are expected to live out that plan. We tend to glamorize the saints, and some of our saint-stories are pious prattle. Obeying God’s commands is NOT easy. Living the Gospel values in today’s world is a challenge. Trying to be a kind and decent person in our polarized world takes guts.
What Jesus is saying is that doing God’s will isn’t the same as doing our will. As one Friar said, it does mean: “Your kingdom come; my kingdom go!” Embracing Jesus as our Savior means embracing mystery. That’s what we should notice when we read the lives of saints: what did they first expect, and what did they eventually do. Our Lady of Sorrows is a good example. The Annunciation was lovely. But that Woman had a hard life. Of course, she didn’t complain. She was sinless. We are not. And that’s the rub.
One more thing. When Jesus promises to raise us up, He is talking Resurrection. But He also means that being one with Him helps us rise above this world’s travails, the really bad stuff.
There is a lot of suffering this very weekend. Winds and rains, wars and hunger, violence and threats of more, and victims of all kinds of abuse and injustice. Jesus was and remains a Healer. He asks us to help others carry this week’s crosses. We may not bear the stigmata like St. Francis did, but in our own little way, carrying our own cross and helping others carry theirs, we can help Jesus to redeem the world.