"Zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69:9)

Thoughts of a parish priest…


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St. Joseph – Man of Virtue

 

This year, the Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) falls on the third Sunday of Lent, so therefore transferred to Monday. In observance of his feast day, I offer the these thoughts –

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Someone recently asked me about why we hear so little about St. Joseph nowadays, especially about seeking his intercession. I couldn’t agree more! It seems that the only time we hear anything about praying to St. Joseph anymore is when one is trying to sell their house by burying a statue of him in their yard.

There is so much that St. Joseph teaches us about how we are to respond to the will of God in our own lives. Joseph is the virtuous man that was chosen to be most chaste spouse of Mary and the earthly father of God’s only Son.

In the Biblical passage about the conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary we hear that Joseph, upon finding that Mary was pregnant, decided to leave her quietly, that is, until the Angel of God comes to him and a dream and reveals God’s plan to him. Joseph abandoned the thought of leaving Mary to do what was right – trusting to God’s divine plan.

Pope Benedict explained that St. Joseph is “certain of doing the right thing.” In following the directives of God, said the Pope said, “Joseph joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants, like the angels, prophets, martyrs and apostles.”

I think that St. Joseph could be portrayed as one of those “behind the scenes” sort of guys. He is one of those biblical figures that doesn’t get much praise or acknowledgement, but one who is essential and irreplaceable in God’s plan. His entire role in the Gospel is to protect and watch over God’s only Son and his mother, Mary.

A recent article I read pointed out three things that we can learn from St. Joseph. The first is the “Treasure of Silence.” How many words of St. Joseph, the man closest to Jesus, are there recorded in the bible? Not a single one! But it is in his silence that God speaks to us. We hear in the psalms, “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We are all busy and know how much noise there is in our lives. St. Joseph teaches us to be quiet and listen to God in the silence of our hearts.

The second point is that “actions speak louder than words. When God wanted to communicate something to St. Joseph, he spoke to him in his dreams. Most of us would say that there is only so much credibility that one can place on dreams, but for St. Joseph, he was certain that it was God’s will. Sacred Scripture tells us that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). God wasn’t just asking him to be a better person, to pray more or to do random acts of kindness, but was asking for total trust. St. Joseph doesn’t question or ponder how to respond, he just does it. Here we see St. Joseph embracing what Jesus would teach many years later “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven (Matt 7:21).

The final thing that St. Joseph teaches us is how to embrace “grace under pressure.” If we think about the stressful situations that St. Joseph finds himself – his betrothed wife is found to be pregnant and he knows that he is not the father; as his wife is about to give birth they are called to travel a long distance to Bethlehem; early in Jesus’ life, they are told to flee to Egypt; and let’s not forget that he and Mary lost God’s only Son for three whole days when he was only twelve years old. In all of these situations, we see that Joseph, a simple carpenter, relied on God’s grace to handle difficulty and challenges with firm trust and faith in God.

Let us look to St. Joseph as a model of how we are to be faithful to Christ and how we are to live out that faith, trusting in God’s will for our lives and always being open to his grace.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained that “In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. The life of Saint Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of his plan to gather together all mankind into one family” (March 18, 2009).

In 1889, Pope Leo XIII explained that “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing watch over the holy family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” We look to St. Joseph, a simple and ordinary man, and from his saintly example we learn how to virtuously respond in faith to the many challenges that we face in our everyday lives.

 


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“Loving our enemies and praying for those who hurt us” (Homily, 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

This past weekend my homily was about loving our enemies and praying for those who hurt us, taking my direction from this Sunday’s Gospel. Apparently, the topic is one that affects quite a few people, as I got more feed back from this homily than I have from any other one in particular.

I typically don’t write my homilies out, but try to preach from memory. So, I did my best to try and rewrite what I preached about this past Sunday.

In today’s first reading, we hear from the book of Leviticus in which our Lord instructs Moses to relay a message to people of Israel. That message is this: “Be holy as the Lord your God is holy!”

One might can imagine that the Jewish people asked themselves what this meant, as perhaps we all ask ourselves the question, what does it mean to be holy?

When thinking of a holy person, perhaps we imagine someone who is very pious or devout, someone who attends Church everyday, prays their rosary everyday, is always watching the religious channel on television or lighting candles in front of statues of saints.

But holiness is more than just piety and devotion. Sure, it stems from our love for God and our devotion and piety, but it also spills over into our relationship with others. For example, if someone were very pious and devout, but didn’t treat people with kindness or generosity, if they were selfish or mean-spirited, we wouldn’t think them to be holy. Or if a person were kind and generous, but didn’t have a relationship with God at all, we wouldn’t think of them as an example of holiness. Holiness is both our love for God and also how that love for Him gets lived out in our relationships with others.

It is the latter that is often times more difficult. Let’s look at today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemies, BUT I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Now, if I asked for a show of hands and I asked how many people here have enemies, I suspect that not many hands would go up, after all, we are good Christian people and would like to think that we don’t have “enemies.”

But if I asked the question in a different way, I asked for a show of hands from people who have been hurt by someone, who has been offended or betrayed, who have had their families torn apart by something that someone has said or done, I suspect that their might be a few hands to go up.

Sadly, it is often times the people that we are closest with that can do the most damage to us – parents, siblings, in-laws and friends. Often it is those that we love the most who can become our “enemies” – those that we need to love and pray for because they have hurt us.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And we as priests are not immune from it.

I remember when I was in seminary, I had to deal with a situation in which someone had done something that made me very angry, in which I had felt betrayed.

What bothered me most is that I was preparing to be a priest, a minister of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and there was so much anger in my heart.

My spiritual director at the time was very patient with me. He allowed me, each week, to vent my anger, to express my hurt and frustration, but then came a point where he had to help me move forward – he had to challenge me to forgive, to let it go.

I remember protesting, again, justifying my anger, saying, “you don’t understand what it is like.” Then he told me a story that changed it all. He did understand what it was like to be hurt, and to harbor pain and anger and resentment in his heart as he prepared for the priesthood.

He told me about his childhood, about how his father was an abusive drunk, about how his mother would take him and his siblings onto the bus each night and ride it all night long so that they wouldn’t be beaten by their drunk father. He told me about the anger that raged in his heart for so many years and then, with tears rolling down his cheeks, he told me about when his father died. He was in seminary, a few years before ordination. He told me that when he went to the funeral, and knelt down to pray before his father’s body, and of how that anger exploded.

He told me that as he knelt there looking at his father in the casket, he got very angry remembering all of the pain and the hurt, and reached in pulling the rosary beads out of his dead father’s hands… saying, “you don’t deserve these”

This dramatic example helps us to see what happens when we allow that anger to linger in our hearts, it has the potential to erupt.

This priest had to deal with this anger and resentment and hurt later on in his life. He went to the cemetery one day to bury those rosary beads at his father’s grave.

My brothers and sisters, we all need to “bury the rosary beads,” so to speak. We need to let go of the anger, of the hurt, of the resentment.

Forgiveness doesn’t change what happened. Forgiveness doesn’t change our hurt. Forgiveness doesn’t make everything better. BUT forgiveness gives God the opportunity to heal us and our brokenness.

If we don’t forgive, we can not be healed, and in fact, we become enslaved to that anger and bitterness which separates us from God and one another.

How many families have been divided or torn apart by people holding grudges? How many children grow up not knowing their grandparents, aunts or uncles because of the lack of forgiveness?

Forgiving others is the first step in allowing Christ to heal that pain, to heal that hurt, to reconcile family and friends.

St. John Vianney asked this question: “which of these two suffers more, the one who promptly forgives others with a good heart out of love for God, or the one who nourishes feelings of hatred toward his neighbor?

Again, this is one of the most difficult parts of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, but it isn’t just a challenging commandment that our Lord has given us, he also gave us the powerful example. At the end of his life, Jesus was mocked and ridiculed by those whom he had loved and served. As the soldiers were hammering nails into his hands and feet, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

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You see, being holy isn’t just about being pious or devout, it isn’t just being a kind and generous person – it is about radically following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ! May His name be praised, now and forever, Amen!


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St Joseph and the 4th Sunday of Advent

Throughout the past couple of weeks leading up to Christmas we heard quite a bit about the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, but one of the often forgotten figures of Advent is the earthly father of our Lord, St. Joseph.

Someone recently asked me about why we hear so little about St. Joseph nowadays, especially about seeking his intercession. I couldn’t agree more! It seems that the only time we hear anything about praying to St. Joseph anymore is when one is trying to sell their house by burying a statue of him in their yard.

There is so much that St. Joseph teaches us about how we are to respond to the will of God in our own lives. Joseph is the virtuous man that was chosen to be most chaste spouse of Mary and the earthly father of God’s only Son.

In the Biblical passage about the conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary we hear that Joseph, upon finding that Mary was pregnant, decided to leave her quietly, that is, until the Angel of God comes to him and a dream and reveals God’s plan to him. Joseph abandoned the thought of leaving Mary to do what was right – trusting to God’s divine plan.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained that St. Joseph is “certain of doing the right thing.” In following the directives of God, said the Pope, “Joseph joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants, like the angels, prophets, martyrs and apostles.”

I think that St. Joseph could be portrayed as one of those “behind the scenes” sort of guys. He is one of those biblical figures that doesn’t get much praise or acknowledgement, but one who is essential and irreplaceable in God’s plan. His entire role in the Gospel is to protect and watch over God’s only Son and his mother, Mary.

A recent article I read pointed out three things that we can learn from St. Joseph. The first is the “Treasure of Silence.” How many words of St. Joseph, the man closest to Jesus, are there recorded in the bible? Not a single one! But it is in his silence that God speaks to us. We hear in the psalms, “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We are all busy and know how much noise there is in our lives. St. Joseph teaches us to be quiet and listen to God in the silence of our hearts.

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The second point is that “actions speak louder than words. When God wanted to communicate something to St. Joseph, he spoke to him in his dreams. Most of us would say that there is only so much credibility that one can place on dreams, but for St. Joseph, he was certain that it was God’s will. Sacred Scripture tells us that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). God wasn’t just asking him to be a better person, to pray more or to do random acts of kindness, but was asking for total trust. St. Joseph doesn’t question or ponder how to respond, he just does it. Here we see St. Joseph embracing what Jesus would teach many years later “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven (Matt 7:21).

The final thing that St. Joseph teaches us is how to embrace “grace under pressure.” If we think about the stressful situations that St. Joseph finds himself – his betrothed wife is found to be pregnant and he knows that he is not the father; as his wife is about to give birth they are called to travel a long distance to Bethlehem; early in Jesus’ life, they are told to flee to Egypt; and let’s not forget that he and Mary lost God’s only Son for three whole days when he was only twelve years old. In all of these situations, we see that Joseph, a simple carpenter, relied on God’s grace to handle difficulty and challenges with firm trust and faith in God.

As we prepare for Christmas, let us look to St. Joseph as a model of how we are to be faithful to Christ and how we are to live out that faith, trusting in God’s will for our lives and always being open to his grace.

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Pope Benedict XVI explained that “In Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. The life of Saint Joseph, lived in obedience to God’s word, is an eloquent sign for all the disciples of Jesus. His example helps us to understand that it is only by complete submission to the will of God that we become effective workers in the service of his plan to gather together all mankind into one family” (March 18, 2009).

In 1889, Pope Leo XIII explained that “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing watch over the holy family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ.” We look to St. Joseph, a simple and ordinary man, and from his saintly example we learn how to virtuously respond in faith to the many challenges that we face in our everyday lives.

Through God’s grace and the intercession of St. Joseph, may we all strive to live holy and virtuous lives!

 


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What child is this?

The celebration of the Holy Mass on Christmas usually begins with the incensing of the Christmas crèche – the sacred image of the birth of Christ. The incensing of the baby Jesus and the Holy Family surrounded by shepherds and animals serves to remind us of the sacredness of what the nativity scene represents, the greatest Christmas gift ever given – God’s gift of himself to the whole world, the birth of Emmanuel – God with us!

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A number of years ago, I had the great privilege of being able to spend two weeks in the Holy Land. Although not on Christmas day itself, our group was able to visit Bethlehem and the very spot where the baby Jesus was born and where God himself was first gazed upon by human eyes.

I vividly remember kneeling there with such amazement, with such a clear awareness that each Christmas after that, as I would knee before and incense a parish nativity scene, I would be brought back to that very spot where this actually happened, knowing that this is not a fairy tale story, that it is not some myth made up to quench our thirst for meaning, but that this actually happened and this was the spot where it happened.

Not being able to be in Bethlehem that Holy Night, our group spent the night in Galilee where Christ so often taught his many disciples. We spent the night in a cave that archeologists say has been there since the time of Christ. We spent the night surrounded by the light of only a few small candles, singing carols, reading the passages in sacred scripture that recalled the Lord’s coming.

On that night, thinking of the great mystery of the Lord’s incarnation and of his dwelling among us, the reality was, that gathered in the Jewish town – Advent came to an end. I mean to say here that not only the advent season that we celebrate each year, but the true advent, the waiting and expectation of the Jewish people for God to send a redeemer, to send the one promised by Moses and the prophets, the descendant of King David.

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The Jewish people were waiting with eager expectation for this single event. For the day when God would fulfill his plan by sending the Messiah that he promised generations earlier.

It is sort of weird thinking that Christmas makes me think of something Jewish, but it does, and quite frankly for a very good reason. The four week period of preparation for Christmas that we Catholics call Advent is meant to remind us of Israel’s long wait for a Savior, it is meant to provide us an opportunity to relive Israel’s journey of faith in which generations awaited the coming of the promised savior, the Christ, the one who would be sent by God to save them from their sins.

The great gift of Christmas is the profound reality that God has come to dwell among us, that he has robed himself not with royal garments, but with our humanity. He came to be one of us. But that great gift, the gift of God himself, was not recognized and in many cases is still not recognized even today. Perhaps a question for us to ask ourselves is this, “do we really understand Christmas? Do we really understand what it means that God himself came into the world as one like us?

Many of us have never or may never experience a radical form of poverty, but I think what the true message of Christmas reveals to us is our spiritual poverty, our total dependence upon Almighty God. He responds to that total dependence by lavishing upon us the greatest spiritual gift – He sends His only Son to redeem and sanctify us, to show us the way of truth and life, He gives us the gift of Himself to fulfill that total and utter dependence upon Him.

adoratioA question that we are faced with this Christmas then is this: Are we able to appreciate what it is that we have been given? Are we able to understand what the gift of Christmas truly is? It is more than the baby Jesus in the manger, it is more than that sacred image of what we gaze upon in the nativity scene – it is the greatest gift ever given!

The figure of the innocent and humble Christ child symbolizes that God does not send his son to judge, but to offer his forgiveness and love, and to invite us to participate in a relationship with him, to have him be a part of our lives, not only on Christmas and Easter, but every day and for all of eternity.

What is it about this child that is so tremendous and spectacular? Not even his mother, blessed of all mothers as she was, could entirely comprehend what our heavenly Father was going to do in the life of this child. Within just a few decades, this child, now wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, surrounded by shepherds, worshiped by angels and adored by kings will stand at the center of the conflict between good and evil. He will bear all the sins of the world upon his shoulders as he carries the cross to the place where he will be crucified to show us the depths of his love. It is for this reason that he came into the world.

 


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“You’ve got a friend in me”

As we enter into the holy season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the Christmas, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ – the most wonderful time of the year. But we all know the holiday season can often times be a struggle for many people for one reason or another. Perhaps divisions within a family, economic worries, or being alone can make this a rather difficult time of year for some. And so as we finish up thanksgiving and enter into Advent, let us consider ways in which we can reach out those who may find this time of year difficult.

I was thinking about this the other days while watching the movie, “Toy Story 3.” Now one may be tempted to laugh here, but the movie, as was the case with the first two films of the trilogy, provide an interesting insight to the concept of friendship.

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“You’ve got a friend in me” is the theme song from this popular animated trilogy, and it touches upon what the Vatican praised in the children’s film, namely true friendship.

Personally, this is one of my favorite animated films and I could not agree more with the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano which commended the film for providing a profound reflection on “transcendental human themes and lessons on true friendship through the experience of the characters.”

In the movie, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the other toys are confronted with their destiny. Andy, their owner has grown too old to play with his childhood toys and is preparing to go off to college. He must decide whether to donate the toys to a day care center or throw them away.

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When circumstances beyond their control separate the friends, they do all they can, including risking their own lives to stay together and ensure the safety of the others. The movie exhibits the spiritual reality that true friendship is following the example of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down ones life for a friend.

Reporter Gaetano Vallini explains that “Toy Story 3” reveals that “friendship is the true bond of this unlikely yet tight-net group of toys” and allows the moviegoer to reflect on “important themes such as the value of friendship and solidarity, the fear of feeling alone or rejected, the unavoidability of growing up and the strength that comes from feeling like you belong to a family.”

As the movie draws to its end, the toys are all confronted with a disastrous end. Instead of panicking or screaming out in fear, they simply reach out and hold each other’s hand to endure such an end together. This simple gesture provides us the example of what it means to be a true friend.

There are many things that cause people to feel alone or helpless. Many times there is nothing that we can do to “fix the problem” but there is something that we can do to help those that we care about to face their challenges by finding strength in the reality that they are not alone.

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The feeling of being alone, helpless, without hope can be one of the most crippling feelings that one can experience in life. They are often times the result of the loss of a loved one, separation or divorce, or a variety of other human experiences. Many of us struggle to find the right words to say to our friends in pain, as if there were right things that could be said.

In these moments, we don’t need to say anything, but the image from the movie does provide us something we can do. We can reach out and hold the hands of our friends, letting them know by this simple gesture that they don’t have to go through it alone. This simple act of love and friendship is what Christ asks of us when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Old Testament book of Sirach also provides a wonderful reflection upon the concept of friendship. The author writes, “Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. When you gain a friend, first test him, and do not be too ready to trust him. For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him, but he will not be with you in time of distress.”

But, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself” (Sirach 6, 6-17).

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One may be reading this and ask what does friendship have to do with becoming a better Christian or in particular a better Catholic. The concept is certainly not exclusive to the Christian faith, but by becoming a better friend to those who are most in need, we become more like Christ who always sought out those who felt abandoned, alone and without hope. Being a Christian means following the example of Christ!

In just a few days we enter into the season of Advent, Christmas and New Years. This can often be a time where many people feel most alone or depressed. This can be a time of year that is not the most joyful time of year for those who have no one with whom to share it. Perhaps this means that we open our homes and our hearts to those that need a true friend in their life. Perhaps it means that we reach out and hold the hand of those who need us most. Perhaps we know someone who needs to hear the words, “You’ve got a friend in me.”