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

Thoughts of a parish priest…


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SAINT JOHN PAUL II & SAINT JOHN XXIII

Never before have 2 popes been canonized on the same day! In fact, only 80 of the 265 Successors of St. Peter have even been canonized.

On April 27th 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis will declare that these two extraordinary leaders are in heaven and worthy of our veneration and that we may confidently pray for their intercession!

Many are probably more familiar with Pope John Paul II than they are with “il Papa Buono” (the good pope), Pope John XXIII who was only pope for about 4 years in contrast to John Paul II’s 27 ½ years, and yet made a huge impact upon the Church.

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After the long papacy of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) the mentality of the cardinals was to elect a “transitional pope” (someone to guide the church for a few years, but not someone who would make any huge impact). That is probably why many of them were shocked when only after 9 months as pope he announced that he was calling an Ecumenical Council, The Second Vatican Council.

The Council was his effort to help the Church more efficiently bring the ancient beliefs and traditions of the Catholic Church to the modern world. Pope John XXIII understood so well that the CONTENT of the faith doesn’t’ change, but the METHODS and language do change with each culture and generation.

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His opening address to the Council is worth reading: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?RecNum=3233

But more than his contribution to the Church with the calling of the Council, he was most loved for his pastoral sensitivity, his kindness and his down-to-earth way of speaking to everyday Catholics. He understood the mercy of God and how much it is needed in the world today! We are blessed to have him numbered among the saints!

Pope John Paul II’s legacy speaks for itself! There is nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said (and said much more eloquently!). I simply offer a reflection upon how he touched my life and inspired (and continues to inspire me).

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I was standing in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican on April 2, 2005 when he was called home to Father. At that moment, the only pope I had ever known had left us. Even though he had been sick for so long and his death was no surprise, there was no less difficulty saying good-bye to someone that I had loved and admired.

But I do remember the seemingly odd response to the announcement that he had passed away. After the silence that seemed to last for hours, there was an eruption of applause from those gathered in the Piazza. Later I realized that it was a true expression faith. Those gathered recognized that this spiritual father didn’t simply die, but that he had passed from this life to the next. And while that brings with it sorrow, we need to remember that there is no other way to get to heaven but through the threshold of death. This faithful servant had finished the race!

I had the extraordinary privilege of personally meeting him just a few months before his death. It remains one of the most powerful moments of my life, knowing all along that I was kissing the hand and staring into the eyes of a man who would eventually be declared a saint!

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So many remember only his last years when he had grown weak, struggling to walk and speak. Many forget how the young, first non-Italian pope in over 500 years brought youth and energy to the Church. He traveled the world more than any of his predecessors. He wrote more than any of them, he met more people than any of them too!

I worry that as time moves on, people will forget about his tremendous papacy and all that he did to bring the work begun by Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council to completion! I think the canonization of these two men on the same day, and on Divine Mercy Sunday, invites us to recall what God has done in their extraordinary lives, but also what he wants to do in our ordinary lives, of how His mercy continues to invites us into greater communion with Him!

 

Pope Saint John XXIII, Pray for us

Pope Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!

 

 


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Good Friday Homily…

(I typically don’t write a homily down, but at the request of some parishioners, this is my homily from last night)

Good Friday is about the Death of our Lord!

Good Friday is about the great expression of Love of our Lord, who showed that love by suffering and dying on the cross

Good Friday is also about the betrayal of our Lord

 

When we think our Lord being betrayed, Judas is the one who obviously comes to mind. The one who handed our Lord over to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.

 

But as we just heard, Judas isn’t the only one who betrays our Lord. He was also betrayed by Peter, who denied him 3 times. Why don’t we call him a traitor?

 

And what about the CROWDS who last weeks were praising him and waving palm branches as he entered Jerusalem who are now screaming out, “Crucify Him.” Aren’t they traitors too?

 

What about us? Don’t we betray our Lord every time we sin? Couldn’t we also be called traitors, the ones who betray our Lord?

 

But I think the issue at hand isn’t only the sin/betrayal/denial – but also the understanding that one has of our Lord.

–       Did they/we Really believe in him? Did they/ we really trust him?

–       How did/ we understand our own sinfulness?

 

Lent is the time the Church gives us to focus on these very questions? During Lent, we make an effort to pray more, to fast, to give to the poor, to give things up, to abstain from meat on Friday, but to what end? Why do we do all these things?

 

These external practices are meant to aid the transformation of our hearts/minds, to cleanse us of our sins / to purify our faith in Jesus Christ. Hopefully, we are closer to him now than we were 40 days ago.

 

Of all the Lenten devotions, my favorite is the praying of the Stations of the Cross. We move around the Church pray before each of the 14 stations, marking our Lord’s journey to the Calvary where He died for our Sins.

 

Recently, while praying the stations, I was cut to the heart at the 8th Station where Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. St. Alphonsus Liguiori who wrote a beautiful edition of the Stations wrote this for the 8th Station:

 

“My Jesus, laden with sorrows, I weep for the sins which I have committed against you, because of the punishment I deserve for them and still more because of the displeasure they have caused you, who have love me with an infinite love. It is your love, more than fear of hell, which makes me weep for my sins.”

 

I thought to myself, do I really hate my sins? Do I really weep over my sins? I know that I’m afraid of going to hell because of them, but do I hate my sins and weep over them because they truly offend our Lord? I think we all need to ask ourselves this question as we come forward to venerate the cross.

 

And here is where we can learn so much from the lives of Judas and St. Peter.

 

Judas:

–       Whom Dante Aligeri Places in the lowest circle of hell (along with Brutus and Cassius – Julius Ceasar (betraying a friend)

–       I think he gets a bad rap… I think it is easy to look at what he did and condemn him for it.

–       But we need to ask WHY? Why did Judas betray Jesus

o  Really for the money… maybe

o  Did he really not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, maybe

o  There’s a thought that said that because he was a zealot, one who wanted the Messiah to be a great military leader and king, was trying to force Jesus into accepting his rightful role, maybe?

o  Ultimately, we don’t what motivated Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver

  • We don’t know what motivates us to sin…

o  But we do know that Judas recognized, albeit too late, the gravity of his sin

o  I say he gets a bad rap because I think the betrayal of Peter was worse

 

Peter:

–       The fisherman, the close friend of Jesus, the prince of the Apostles, our First Pope

–       Did he not betray Jesus as well, and not only betray him, but he did 3 TIMES!!!

–       Remember what happened after Jesus was arrested,

o  I Don’t know him, I’m not one of his Friends, I’ve never seen him before…

–       I think Peter’s sin in worse because Peter was in fact a closer friend. Peter was part of that inner circle along with James and John

–       Peter knew better, he had already made the confession of faith – You are the Christ…

–       So what was Peter’s motivation? – Was he just afraid for his life? Was he concerned about the persecution that he would endure… but didn’t he just pledge his fidelity to Christ saying that he would follow him to the end…

 

So what’s the difference between Peter and Judas? Why is Peter a canonized saint and Judas not (that’s not to say that he is in hell; we simply just don’t know).

 

The difference is their FAITH! 

–       Recall one of Peter’s first encounters with our Lord – “Depart from me for I am a sinful Man.”

–       Peter recognized not only his sinfulness, but also the infinite mercy of God

–       Peter recognized that God’s mercy is greater than our sins

–       Peter had true sorrow and hatred for his sins!

–       Judas, on the other hand, maybe he hated his sin too, maybe he recognized the gravity of his offence against Jesus,

–       But Judas didn’t have true faith, he didn’t trust Jesus or his message of mercy and forgiveness.

–       I think we can say that with a certain level of certitude because of how differently they responded to their sins

–       Peter went away and wept bitterly, Judas, in an act of despair took his own life, as to say, what I have done is unforgiveable.

 

Think for a moment of the joy that our Lord experienced when Peter repented of his sins (we see that in the encounter after the resurrection, do you love me 3x)… what great joy!

 

But also think of the pain that our Lord experienced when Judas took his own life, rejecting hope and embracing despair!

 

Which one of us here has never betrayed Jesus Christ? Which one of us has never denied Him? Every time we sin, we reject him, we deny, we betray him.

 

Think of the moments in our lives when we basically say the same thing that Peter did, that we do the same thing Judas did. Think of the times when we deny Christ for our own reputation, our own agenda, for our social status. When we are quiet about out faith so as to not offend anyone by our beliefs.

 

(I just heard the other day about something going on in the public school system here in Mansfield. Apparently they are making a change to next years calendar, calling Good Friday Day, Low Attendance Day – We should all be appalled at this!) The same is happening to the Holy Days of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

 

The Example of Peter, Judas and the crowds should urge us to really think about our sinfulness, and our fidelity to Christ.

 

Do we hate our sins? Do we recognize that our sins offend our Lord, do we fear hell more that we fear hurting Him? Do we want to hold on to our sins like Judas, and allow them to define us, or do we want to follow the example of Peter, and allow the mercy and forgiveness of God to transform our lives.

 

At each Mass, we give the Father simple bread and wine, he takes it, transforms it and gives it back to us as the body and blood of his only son… Well, when we go into that room and humbly confess our sins with true sorrow, he transforms our lives just like he did that of St. Peter…

 

The same Peter who said, depart from me for I am a sinner is the same Peter that said You are the Christ… the same Peter who denied Christ 3x is the same Peter who was asked by Christ 3x “Do you love me”

 

Peter chose to allow the grace of Christ to transform his life… Judas did not! What will you choose?

Being there and here at the same time…

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Look familiar? How many times have we, at different stages in our lives, gone to Mass and just gone through the motions and not really entered into the mystery of our faith.

I love the line in this short clip when the young man says to his brother, “it is like I am there, like I am there and here at the same time.”

This video helps us to see what Christ wants us to experience at every Mass! To come to the realization of His love for each of us, on a real and personal level, to experience Him in a radically new way!

As we enter into Holy Week, let us pray for the grace to encounter our Lord in this way, that through our prayer and devotion we our eyes might be open in such a way that we might be in our parish churches, but at the same time, be there with our Lord.

Let us pray to enter Jerusalem with him on Palm Sunday, praising God for what He has done in the life of His Son.

Let us be present at the Last Supper where Christ washes the feet of His disciples and gives us the Eucharist for the first time on Holy Thursday.

Let us stand at the foot of Cross with Mary and John on Good Friday, looking upon our Lord, who was crucified for our sins.

Let us mourn and hold vigil with the disciples on Holy Saturday as we await the light of Christ that over comes the darkness of sin and death.

Let us celebrate with great joy on Easter Sunday morning as we experience the Resurrection of Christ from the Death.

When we are angry with God…

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Those who know me well know that “The West Wing” is one of my favorite TV series of all time. In this short clip, the president (Martin Sheen) has just finished the funeral of his longtime personal secretary who was killed in a car accident. This, along with some other stressful events leads him into this rant against God.

I certainly don’t endorse the language, but I think there is something very beautiful about this scene. I think it captures a man of faith who in his pain expresses clearly what is on his heart. If prayer is conversation with God, then I think this expresses it well. Prayer isn’t always the recitation of memorized prayers, it is also speaking directly from the heart, when things are going great in our lives and also when we are in the midst of bitter darkness!

We have all had moments in our lives (or know of others who have) where we (or they) have experienced such tremendous pain, loss or grief that we (they) feel similar to the way that Martin Sheen does in this scene. Its not wrong that he yells at God, it would be wrong if he walked away from him forever.

Recently, Pope Francis gave a homily in which he was talking about Moses’ face to face conversation with God in which he explained that, Moses’ prayer was a real struggle with God. A struggle on the part of the leader of a people to save his people.

The Pope went on to express how when Moses prayed, he did so freely, courageously and with insistence, stating that prayer ought to be a “negotiation with God” to which we bring our “arguments.

“Prayer changes our heart. It makes us understand better how our God is. But, for this it is important to speak with the Lord, not with empty words – Jesus says ‘As the pagans do. No, speak with reality,” the Pope insisted, encouraging those present to say in prayer “’But, look, Lord, I have this problem, in my family, with my son, with this or that…What can be done? But look, you can’t leave me like this!’”

“This is prayer!”

Drawing attention to how the scripture passaged describes Moses as speaking to God “face to face, like a friend,” the pope observed “This is how prayer should be: free, insistent, with debate, and should also scold the Lord a little: “But, you promised me this, and you haven’t done it.”

“Open the heart to this prayer,” Francis said.

Perhaps this may seem a bit odd to some, but I think the importance of speaking to our Lord in this sort of “face to face” way, speaking truly from the heart, will certainly bring us closer to Him, and quite possibly, bring some real healing to those in pain.


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Busy Weekends… finding time for God

Oftentimes when hearing the confessions of little kids who are nervous or not very focused I offer some assistance by asking some basic questions. I will always ask them if they are saying their prayers everyday, if they are obeying their mom and dad, if they are getting along with their brothers and sisters. It is occurring more often that when I ask the question about attending Holy Mass every Sunday, I hear responses like, “we would, but we are busy on Sunday” or “We can’t, because I have basketball/soccer.” I worry that  there is a mindset that is developing that Mass is a nice thing to do, if there is nothing else going on in our lives. 

Our attendance and participation at Sunday Mass is something that is central and essential for all Catholics. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” explains that “the Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice; for this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation” which includes every Sunday of the year (“Catechism,” 2181).


It is no huge revelation, however, that in recent years the number of people keeping the Lord’s Day holy is in a steady decline. Many people may fondly remember the days when Sunday was a day for God and family, when stores were not open, when there were no youth sporting events interfering with morning Mass as a family. It is clear that for many in our culture and in our Church Sunday has become just another day of the week. 


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In response to this ever-increasing predicament, our late Holy Father, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, on the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It is clear that the pope was keenly aware that the crisis of Sunday observance reflects the crisis of faith within the Catholic Church and of Christianity in general. The “strikingly low” attendance to the Sunday liturgy reflects in the pope’s view the fact that “motivation of faith is weak” and “seems to be diminishing” (Dies Domini, 5).

John Paul II reminded us of the ever-present sacredness of Sunday by tracing through sacred Scripture the significance and the relevance of Sunday worship. From the natural creation of the world at the beginning of time to the re-creation of the supernatural order at the moment of the resurrection, the Lord’s Day is meant to be observed and kept holy. The natural question to ask is why have we lost a sense reverence for the Lord’s command to keep this day sacred, as we find in the third Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Where did we go wrong? When did we lose the sense of fulfilling our Christian obligation? Why is Sunday no longer important?

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We can spend a lot of time trying to answer those particular questions and trying to find the moment or series of events that led us to this point. What is most important, however, is that we reclaim the sanctity and importance of Sunday as a day of rest and a day of worship. Pope John Paul II explained that “even if in the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive, the Church has not ceased to confirm this obligation of conscience, which rises from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass” (Dies Domini, 47). 


After describing many challenging situations around the world, Pope John Paul II also highlighted the fact that there are “many who wish to live in accord with the demands of their faith that are being faced with surroundings that are sometimes indifferent and unresponsive to the Gospel message.” He goes on to say, “If believers are not to be overwhelmed, they must be able to count on the support of the Christian community. This is why they must be convinced that it is crucially important for the life of faith that they should come together with others on Sundays to celebrate the Passover of the Lord in the sacrament of the New Covenant” (Dies Domini, 48). 


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It is simply so sad when so many Christians have forgotten about or neglected the importance of Sunday worship. This is the most basic part of our Christian identity and yet it has become one of the easiest things to dismiss. But we cannot just shake our heads and agree that this is disappointing. Our Lord calls each of us to “put into the deep” by inviting others back to a regular practice of the faith, especially in the communal observance of Sunday Mass. 


“Today more than ever, the Church is unwilling to settle for minimalism and mediocrity at the level of faith. She wants to help Christians to do what is most correct and pleasing to the Lord” (Dies Domini, 52). Many have gone astray, especially in their worthy reception of the sacraments and their lack of attendance and participation at Sunday Mass. Some even think that it is no big deal consciously to skip Mass on Sundays or on holy days, even when the Church is clear that those who “deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (“Catechism,” 2181). We cannot stand by and allow others to persist in their sin. The Lord calls each of us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Lord calls each of us to witness to our friends and members of our families the importance of Sunday and this is fundamentally exemplified by our keeping the Lord’s Day holy and sacred.