Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday Of Advent Homily - 2013

Isaiah 7: 10-14
Romans1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-24

How would you or I respond to an encounter with God?  In today’s first Scripture Reading and the Gospel, we see two different reactions to an encounter with the Divine.  In the reading from the Book of Isaiah, we see the Lord, through His prophet Isaiah, offering to make any sign to prove to Ahaz, that the God of his ancestors, the God of Abraham, Moses, and David; was still with His people, still had the power to defend them from their enemies.  Now, Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern part of the former Kingdom of Israel established by King David.  Years after the deaths of David and Solomon, the Kingdom split into two smaller kingdoms, the southern one called Judah, held the city of Jerusalem.  The northern kingdom retained the name of Israel.  Now the northern kingdom would eventually be conquered by the Assyrians, and wiped off the map.  King Ahaz did not want that to happen to his kingdom, so he began paying tribute money to the Assyrians, and allowing the worship of the Assyrian gods.  At the same time, he was preparing Jerusalem to withstand a siege, and negotiating secret alliances with the other regional powers.  The prophet Isaiah tells Ahaz that all that is needed is to remain faithful to God, and his people will be safe.  And to prove it, God will give Ahaz a sign of His power.  Now Ahaz , a pragmatist, some today could call him a secularist, would rather depend on his own efforts; but to humor Isaiah, he hides behind false humility: “I will not tempt the Lord!”  God sees through this act, and through Isaiah, gives Ahaz a sign, whether he wants it or not.  Biblical scholars believe that the child of the prophecy is Ahaz’s own son, Hezekiah, whose mother had just become old enough for child bearing.  For his lack of faith, Ahaz is counted as one of the wicked kings of Israel, and it is said, he was not buried with his ancestors, David and Solomon.

Now in today’s Gospel, we hear about Joseph, and how he faced the situation with his betrothed, Mary.  The evangelist Matthew, describes Joseph as a “righteous man,” someone who is faithful to God, who has followed the Mosaic Law.  And according to that law, Joseph was within his rights to expose Mary’s “unfaithfulness,” and break the engagement; though it could expose Mary to shame, and possible punishment, even death.  Yet, Joseph was not just a righteous man; he was a holy man, a compassionate man.  He was going to protect Mary from public exposure, and quietly divorce her.  It is then that the angel of God speaks to him.  Joseph learns that child will be a son, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, that he is the Son of God.  Joseph is being called by God, to accept this child, care for, and protect this child, who will be the salvation of all humanity.  Now Joseph could have waken up from this dream, and his reaction could have been, “I really have to be careful of bad goat cheese,” or “This calling is too much for me, I cannot accept this.”  But he does accept the calling, because he trusts in the love of God, he believes in the prophecy of Isaiah, he believes that God will be with him, as he accepts this new responsibility.

So what about us, what would be our reaction to an encounter with God?  And let us not fool ourselves, each one of us continuously has an encounter with God, we just might be too busy, too anxious, too stressed, or too self-centered to hear him speaking to us.  And he is speaking to us, through his Word.  He is present to us through the Eucharist; he feed us and strengthens us through the Body and Blood of Christ, in communion.  He is in each of our hearts, through the Holy Spirit; calling us as he called St. Paul; “to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.  Through the Holy Spirit “we have received the grace of apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, “ Emmanuel “God is with us;” Jesus: “Yahweh is salvation;” Christ “the anointed,” “the Messiah.”

In the days remaining before Christmas, let us all try for just a few minutes to be still; Yes, I know, easier said than done!  But we really need to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord, to see the signs of His Presence among us, and within us; and to accept the call to be holy and receive the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bishop Deeley Of Boston Goes Down East!

The local news outlets and the Catholic blogosphere were abuzz with the news that Robert Deeley, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, had been appointed Bishop of Portland, Maine, by Pope Francis.  I had not realized, until I read the press releases, that they had been without a bishop for a long time.  Currently, he is serving as the Vicar General of the Boston Archdiocese.  The Archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, has reported on the story.

This appointment raises the question again about how much “juice,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, has in Rome.  As a member of the newly formed Council of Cardinals, (also known as the “G8,”) one can speculate that he was a force behind the establishment of a papal advisory commission, dealing with the child abuse crisis within the global Church.  The Diocese of Portland is a part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Boston, with Cardinal O’Malley as the metropolitan bishop.  From so many angles, the Cardinal must have some influence in the selection of Bishop Deeley for Portland.

I read somewhere that the Cardinal could have even more influence in Rome, if he wanted to play the church political game.  However, there are indications that Cardinal Sean has no interest in engaging in Vatican power plays; it goes against his Franciscan nature.  It will be interesting to see that holds true as his involvement in the pontificate of Pope Francis continues.

Monday, December 16, 2013

First Jams And Jellies, Now Ale?

Just discovered this little news nugget while surfing the blogosphere.  Deacon Greg Kandra of the blog "The Deacon's Bench," posted the news that St. Joseph's Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer, MA, is going into the beer business. Deacon Greg has a link to the Fox News website, which has details of the beer venture. The report states that the monastery has received the necessary permits from the town and are brewing their first batches now.  This will be the first Trappist ale brewed outside of Europe, and in America

If the quality is anything close to their jams and jellies, they have a winner here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Feast Day Of St. Francis Xavier And An Epiphany About My Name

The family tale about my birth has it that my father, who was a recent graduate from the Jesuit Boston College, had a lot of respect for the Society of Jesus.  So he thought about naming his first born son after the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius De Loyola.  Fortunately, my mother stood firm against that idea, I was named Jonathan Francis Jones.  Now, for a good part of my life, I always assumed that my baptismal name came from St. Francis of Assisi.  Then, when it was learned that the new Pope took the name, Francis, from the Poor Man of Assisi; and not his fellow Jesuit, St Francis Xavier; I had an epiphany.   In what I assumed was a marital compromise, my baptismal name came from Francis Xavier, one of the original Jesuits.

There are similarities between the two saints.  Both men felt called to be evangelizers, to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  For Francis of Assisi, it was preaching in the streets and marketplaces of Italy.  For Francis Xavier, it was to go out to the foreign shores of Asia.

Pope Francis has addressed a letter to the whole Church, calling all of its members, clergy and laity, to become modern evangelizers.  Maybe we should use this Advent, as a time of preparation, so that, on Christmas morning, we, like the angels, will be proclaiming the glad tidings to the entire world.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

First Sunday of Advent Reflection 2013

The Church calendar once again has come full circle.  We are at the beginning of the season of Advent.  The somber liturgical colors, the Gloria no longer recited at Sunday Mass, the focus on penitential practices, these all stand in stark contrast to the "Christmas" season now being promoted in the stores, and on the media.  We are bombarded by Xmas songs and sounds; colors and large ornaments; in the marketplace.  All aimed to encourage us to buy, buy, buy! 

For me, Advent is a time of preparation, and of anticipation.  Preparation, in that Advent gives us the opportunity to take another look at our personal lives, to take stock.  and in taking stock, discern what is impeding our relationship with God, and work at making changes.  Anticipation, in that as the people of Israel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, at the end of time.  However, it is not just anticipating the Second Coming, it is anticipating and encounter with Christ, here and now.  This season of Advent challenges us to be open to encountering Christ, not just in the Eucharist, in Scripture, or in prayer; but in every moment of every day. 

So I challenge all of us, to make this the best Advent ever; so that when Christmas morning dawns, it will be a fresh, and holy experience for all of us.

For a more deeper reflection of Advent, I encourage you look at at this posting by Father Dan Horan, OFM.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day - 2013; A Suggestion For a New Patron Saint For Veteran's

Today, Monday, November 11, 2013, is the day we remember the service given by thousands of U.S. military service men and women; those who are still with us, and those who have passed on.

Many of today's veterans who have served in our country's recent conflicts, suffer wounds that are invisible to many of us.  Some suffer from depression, and post traumatic stress disorder.  In an October, 2019 post, I wanted to recommend a saint, who could be a spiritual companion for veterans.  That post is below:

Yesterday, October 4th, was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Now St. Francis has been designated as the patron saint of Italy, Catholic Action, animals, and the environment. A patron saint is considered a special intercessor before God for an either group of people with a specific profession, illness and who work for special causes. I would like to make the suggestion that St. Francis be considered the patron saint of veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Now I say this because Francis was not always the little holy friar, constantly in prayer, communing with the birds and the animals. In his younger days, he was an active, wealthy, young buck; the leader of the Assisi party scene, who longed to be a part of the nobility. Now for a commoner to move into those circles, he had to be knighted. To be knighted, he had to perform some great military service for a local lord. In medieval Italy, it was not hard to find some little war, somewhere. As it turned out, Francis’ home town of Assisi was going to war with their neighbors, the city of Perugia. So Francis had his father spring for armor and weapons, and he joined the other Assisian men of arms as they marched on Perugia. The two armies met at a bridge and a battle ensued. Now in those days, soldiers fought each other with spears, swords, axes and daggers. It was close, in your face, combat. One survived by chopping off an opponents' limbs or gutting him. Blood and gore would have been everywhere. Long story short, the Perugians whipped the men of Assisi butts. Those who survived were either scattered or captured. The captured commoners were sent to hard labor for Perugia, the nobles were cast into dungeons, to await their families ransoming them. Because Francis was so well decked out, he was considered to be a noble and was incarcerated with the others.

Now the dungeons were dark, damp, with little water or food. It is reported that Francis tried to keep his companions’ spirits up by singing songs made famous by French troubadours. But eventually, even he was worn down by the long captivity. Finally, his family was able to pay his ransom, and he was released. Francis was bedridden for a long time with illness when he got back to Assisi. When he recovered, he was able to go out once again amongst the hills and valleys of Umbrian countryside. But nature’s beauty no longer touched him. Parties no longer brought joy to his heart. Feeling empty, he began turning to God for help. He would spend more time in prayer, seeking out caves for solitude. As he opened himself more to the Father’s presence, he began to experience God’s love for him, and the peace that comes with it. It was the beginning of his conversion.

In his book, “My Life with the Saints,” Father James Martin, SJ, writes: “My novice director told me that he thought of the saints as older brothers and sisters to whom one could look for advice and counsel.” I would like to think that veterans can see in Francis, somebody they can identify with, and someone they can turn to for help and encouragement.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Souls Day - 2013; A Personal Reflection

On the Catholic Church's calender, this day is called "Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed."  Another common name for it is, "All Souls Day."  It is a special day during which Christians offer prayers for departed loved ones, and those who have died without anyone to remember them.  We pray that all the souls of the faithful departed are enjoying the peace and joy of Heaven.  Today, I remember in prayer, my father, Bill, my mother, Marna, and my uncle, Bill Winrow.  We lost Mom and Uncle Bill this past year, Dad we lost in 2011.  Earlier today, I went to my parents grave site; brushed the dried pine needles and leaves from their plaque.  I left some fresh flowers and offered prayers.  For a little while, as I stood there, the area was quiet, very still.  When I got back into the car to leave, for a minute or so, I did not want to turn the ignition key.  No matter how much time has passed, the feelings of sorrow, of loss, are just underneath the surface; ready to pop back into our consciousness. 

This, however, I believe with all my heart and soul, that though separated by death, we are all still one in the Body of Christ. And as I offer prayers for their sakes, I know deep down, that they are offering prayers for my sake, and the sake of all my relatives.  And I have the hope that there will be a day, when all of of us will be reunited, and we will find ourselves enfolded in our Father's arms.

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the no torment shall touch them.  They seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead, and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction.  But they are in peace."  (Book of Wisdom, Chap. 3)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Feast of All Saints 2013

Today, on the Church’s calendar, was the Feast of All Saints.  It is a day in which the Church acknowledges, and celebrates the thousands of Christians who are saints.  These are individuals who have strived to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom the love of God shines out most brightly.  They may be unknown to us, but they are known to God.  The Church publicly identifies some persons as saints, holding them up to the rest of us as a source of inspiration.  This day reminds us that there are saints in our midst.  We should seek them out, learn from them, and be inspired by them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

29th Sunday In Ordinary Time Homily 2013

Exodus 17: 8-13
2 Timothy 3: 14--4:2
Luke 18: 1-8

Every once and a while, the Scripture readings the Church chooses for a particular Sunday may seem a little odd to some of us.  The first reading sounds like a scene from the movie series “Lord of the Rings.” Or the cable show, “Game of Thrones.”  The Gospel reading has a parable that could have come from an episode of “Judge Judy!”  Yet, if we look closer, we will see the deeper meaning that is in both readings.  In the first reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, we see recorded the first battle the Hebrew people fought in, since their escape from Egypt.  They are facing a people hardened by the desert and combat.  Moses is not even committing all of his forces, but is having Joshua go out only with a group of “certain men.” The only reason the Hebrews are able to succeed; is because of Moses’ constant intercession, constant prayer to Yahweh, to the Lord.   Moses at times weakens in his prayer, and the community suffers.  The community in turn, helps Moses, supports Moses in his prayer, through the persons of Aaron and Hur.  And the community is victorious. 

In today’s Gospel, to illustrate the need to “pray always without becoming weary,” Jesus tells a parable of a widow pressing a judge, known for his dishonesty, to give her a “just decision.”  Scripture scholars speculate that her adversary must be a wealthy person; and since she is poor, her only leverage is to harass the judge constantly, until he gives her the decision she wants.  Now we could interpret this reading as showing that if we constantly keep asking God to give us something, we will get it.  However, I would take the position that what we would call intercessory prayer is more than constantly saying to the Father: “Gimmee, Gimmee, Gimmee!”   Intercessory prayer is us acknowledging how dependent we are on the Father; it is us acknowledging that all good things we receive, including the talents we have, the people who love us; all good things have their source in God.

And prayer is more than just always asking God for something.  Prayer is the way we maintain our personal relationship with God.  And God wants that personal relationship with each one of us.  Among the most moving Scripture passages for me, is in a later chapter of Exodus, Chapter 33, in which God calls Moses, “his intimate friend.”  How awesome is that?  But what relationship can be maintained if the communication is only one way; or when we speak to one another, shall we say, once a week?  How many of us have seen or have experienced a family at table, each person working their own smartphone?  And, sadly, they maybe texting other people!  Saint Paul has written that we must pray always, but I think he not just speaking about vocal prayers; but that we keep ourselves always open to that encounter with God, that can occur at any time.  When we gather here each Sunday; when we focus on what is happening here, when we experience the Presence of the Lord in our midst, and in our hearts; it is an experience we should carry with us when we leave here.  Let us be persistent in prayer, whether, as St. Paul wrote, “it is convenient or inconvenient.”  Let us greet the morning with a prayer of praise, and the end of the day with a prayer of thanksgiving.  Let us take a moment to read and reflect on Scripture.  Or just take a moment to sit, be silent, and be in God’s Presence. 

A Benedictine monk once said “Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will never find time to pray.”  Let us strive to be persistent in prayer, persistent in living the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that when He does come, He will find faith on earth.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pope Francis Meets With Members Of The United Bible Societies

According Vatican News (News.VA), yesterday, October 9, 2013, Pope Francis met with members of the United Bible Societies.  It is an international umbrella organization, with representatives from 146 bible societies.  They were meeting with representatives of the Catholic Biblical Federation, reviewing both organizations activities, which are aimed at promoting bible study throughout the world.

The first modern Bible Society was found in England, with the goal of providing affordable Bibles to anyone who wished to obtain one.  Bible societies were founded in other countries, and many begin expand their mission to provide international translations of the Bible; and increase biblical literacy.  The American Bible Society was established in 1816.  Locally, we have the Massachusetts Bible Society, incorporated in 1810, and is the third oldest Bible society in the United States.  While the members were predominantly Protestant, currently more Catholics are either joining these societies or supporting their work.  This came about after Vatican II, as Catholics have begun to rediscover the importance of Scripture in their daily lives.

“Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.”  (Article 4, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cardinal Sean, A Person Of Influence

Last week saw the first concrete move by Pope Francis to begin the reform of the Vatican, which was the first meeting of the advisory council of selected cardinals.  The council, dubbed by the media as the “G-8,” was formed to give the Pope advise and a sense of what issues the cardinals and bishops out in the world felt should be addressed. 

Among the cardinals appointed to this body, is Boston’s own Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM CAP, Archbishop of Boston.  In his own quiet, subtle way, he is, and has been a person of influence in the American church, and now in the global Church.  John Allen, Jr., of the National Catholic Reporter, has written an interesting column about Cardinal Sean, which was posted on the Vatican Insider.

It was reported that Cardinal Sean was definitely in the running at the last Papal Conclave.   And Mr. Allen seems to hint that he is still a viable candidate if a future Conclave needs to held in the next six or so years.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi

"I have done what mine to do: may Christ teach you what you are to do."
    (Second Life of St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas of Celano)

The above words were spoken by Saint Francis to his brother friars, as he was on his death bed.  He was encouraging his brothers not to just imitate him, but to learn from him, and the example of his life.  It was a life of being totally open to Jesus Christ, following in the footsteps of Christ, being inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From that inspiration, they will learn what is the will of God for themselves, how they are to proclaim the Good News, in words and deeds.

The same is true for us.  During this feast day, it is not enough just to visit a Franciscan shrine, or to read a biography of St. Francis.  We must learn from St. Francis, and become open to the power of the Holy Spirit, and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Homily For 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
1Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-32

Here is a story of how I got in trouble by reading a story in my Catholic elementary school.  As part of our reading lessons, we were reading a story about frontier settler children being friends with Native American children.  One of the things they did together was to cook potatoes in an open fire.  To me, that sounded neat.  So during a summer day, I convinced some of my siblings and their friends to join me in making a fire, and cooking some potatoes.  Unfortunately, I made this fire under a birch tree, to hide this activity from my parents; a tree with low hanging branches.  Needless to say, we did hear the loud bellow of my father’s voice.  My siblings froze in place; me, I took off for the fields, like I was shot out of a cannon.  I was on a neighborhood street, when I came to realize that I had to face the music.  My father pointed out the errors of my ways, and sent me to my bed with no TV for the rest of the day; which for me was hard time.  But the experience was not as bad as I was afraid it would be.

It is a sad fact of life that all of us continually experience temptation; all of us have a weakness, or flaw in our character; which makes us susceptible to sin.  Even St. Paul, in one of his letters, complained about a weakness he had, that continually plagued him.  We are all prone to selfishness, anger, laziness, and greed.  And we at times may commit sins.  Most of us commit, what the Church calls venial sins, which are minor, but still wounds our relationship with the Father.  Sadly, there are some who commit grave sins, mortal sin, which totally destroys the relationship with God.

In today’s Gospel, we read the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son, whom we could describe as being selfish, greedy and self centered.  He wants his part of his father’s estate now, he wants to leave the farm and go to the big city, and have himself a good old time.  He did not care about his father’s feelings; he just wanted to get the money and then hit the road.   How many of us, on some level can identify with him.  Of course we see what happened to him, he is soon broke, he is destitute; but instead of going home with his tail between his legs, he tries to tough it out, tries to find work.  Perhaps his reason is that he cannot face his father, afraid of facing his father’s scorn.  How many of us have been afraid of going to confession, afraid of the reaction of the confessor when he hears of what we have done.  I think we American Catholics are also affected by the fire and brimstone preachers we may hear and see on the radio and television.  Perhaps we are afraid of facing God the Father; sometimes we wonder, “are we forgiven?” 

Then we hear St. Paul say: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  We hear Jesus Christ, the Word of God, tell us: “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  We see in the end of the parable of the prodigal son, the father welcoming his wayward son with love and joy. 

And that is one of the reasons why the Sacrament of Reconciliation, of Penance is so important.  Besides having the wound of sin healed, we experience in absolution the love, the joy, the forgiveness of God the Father.  The experience is real.

In downtown Boston, there is St. Anthony Shrine, which is manned by the Franciscan Friars.  In one of the Shrine’s chapels is a row of confessionals.  On the wall where the confessionals are, is a print of Rembrandt’s painting, showing the encounter of the prodigal son with his father.  The son is on his knees, being embraced by his father.  God the Father is waiting for us to come to him, and his arms are wide open, ready to embrace us.  Let us go to him.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gifts From The Father

“Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”  (Art. 18, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)

During one of those beautiful summer days we had recently, I was walking through the Boston Common.  In an open space, I was looking around and looked at the green tress of the Common with the skyline of downtown Boston in background.  Looking at this scene, the above article of the Rule came to mind.  We all know that Francis had a special love for all living creatures; it is one of those characteristics that make him so attractive to so many people.  We forget sometimes though, that he felt a kinship will all creation.  He showed respect for fire, water, the earth, because these things were all created by God. 

We all need to remember that everything we have in this life comes to us gifts from a loving God.  And so we need to treat these things with respect and care.  I remember reading that in the monasteries, when a monk is given tools to perform his work for the monastery, he was to treat those tools with care and was accountable to the community if anything happened to the tools.  And so it should be with us, treating the items we use in our daily lives, the places we live and work in with care. We should do this because of our love for the Creator.

Friday, August 30, 2013

New Biography on Saint Francis of Assisi

For a Jesuit periodical, America magazine seems to frequently call peoples attention to the latest books on St. Francis of Assisi.  The latest book is biography written by Andre Vauchez, a French scholar.  The work was translated by Father Michael Cusato, OFM, a noted Franciscan historian.  America magazine posted a review of the book on their website, as well as a podcast interview with Father Cusato on the book.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homily For The 20th Sunday In Ordinary Time - 2013

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12: 1-4
Luke 12: 49-53

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It is a little jarring to hear these words coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ.  Where is the gentle Shepherd? The one who welcomed little children? The one who talked about turning the other cheek?  Where did this rabble rouser come from?  But should we be surprised by this?  After all, early in the Gospel of Luke, we see John the Baptist, speaking of the coming Messiah, declaring; “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

I think that we sometimes forget that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Christ the King, Christ the ultimate Priest, is also Christ the Prophet.  He is coming from a long line of Jewish prophets.  And these prophets did not just predict the future; their main role was to speak the word of God, the word of Yahweh.  They spent most of their lives calling the people of Israel back into a loving relationship with God.  Among these prophets was Jeremiah.  He lived during a time when the empire King David and Solomon built up had been shattered, the northern tribes of Israel had been dispersed and exiled.  Only the southern kingdom of Judah was left.  The king of Judah, to insure his kingdom’s survival entered into an alliance with a powerful and ancient Egypt.  Now the price of this alliance was to allow the worship of the Egyptian gods in Judah, which also allowed the resurgence of the worship of the ancient Canaanite gods.  The king of Judah was no longer turning to Yahweh for help and protection.  Along comes Jeremiah, telling the people that salvation lies not in earthly alliances, but in remaining faithful to the covenant with God. He is trying to shake the people up, to bring them back to God.  Reading the signs of the times, he predicted that this alliance would ultimately lead to the destruction of the nation.  The king and his advisers do not want this kind of talk getting around, so they initially try to silence Jeremiah …permanently.  God inspired a court official to convince the king to save Jeremiah; but we see that being a prophet, especially one with an uncomfortable message, has its consequences.  But Jeremiah was committed to reigniting the fire in the hearts of his people, the love for God, to call them to conversion.

Jesus’ coming has changed the world, the old ways of humanity, the old ways of relating which each other, of relating to God the Father, were to be wiped away, and a new heaven and a new earth was to come into being.  His message was not popular with many people, especially those who had a lot invested in the old ways of doing things, in the old structures of power.  They put Jesus to death, hoping to silence the message, but the Father raised Him from the dead, and his message blazed out throughout the world, carried by his followers.  The Gospel of Christ was, and still is controversial, because it threatens the way many see the world and their comfortable relationship with it.  We have seen the negative reactions that many people expressed about Pope Francis’ comments about capitalism, the world economy, and the needs of the poor.  And, yes, when the Gospel is authentically lived; it has the potential to cause divisions among family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Anyone who is so comfortable with the way society is, the way the world is, the way their lives are, they do not want to change.  Even though the society, the world is so full of injustice, pain and suffering; even though their lives may be empty and at times full of pain; they feel threatened by the Gospel, the call for conversion.  So they try to make the Gospel irrelevant, they try to keep the Word of God in a box. 

And we need to ask ourselves, where are we in all of this?  Has the fire gone out of our faith communities, has it been extinguished in our hearts?  A scholar of the Christian religion, Martin Marty, has called Europe and North America the “Ice Belt,” because he sees the fire of Christianity dying out.  Are we willing stand by and just let this happen.  Our Church, our Holy Father, our Archbishop says no, and they are challenging themselves and us to rekindle that fire which first disciples experienced with Christ, and let it burn anew in our hearts. Let us recommit ourselves to, with the help of the Father’s grace, the inspiration of the Word of God, and the light of the Holy Spirit; to live, really live the Good News.  Let us, as St. Paul wrote, “Persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  Let us set the world ablaze!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11th - Feast of St. Clare Of Assisi

“Trusting in the Father, Christ chose for himself and his mother a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly.  Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.  Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.

Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.”  (Art. 11, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)

If August 11, 2013, had not fallen on a Sunday, we would have been celebrating  the memory of Saint Clare of Assisi, co-founder with Saint Francis of the Second Order, then known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, and today known as the Poor Clares.  We sometimes think of her and her sisters as the contemplative branch of the Franciscan family, but I would like to share a reflection on another aspect of Clare’s life and spirituality.

When the Poor Ladies were established at San Damiano, Clare requested a special privilege from the Pope and the Bishop of Assisi, the privilege of poverty.  Her monastery would depend only on the income from the work of their hands, or from alms given to them.  At a time when the established monasteries had huge incomes from the rents on lands gifted to them, and the dowries of the women who entered the monasteries, this was unheard of.  The Popes of Clare’s time continually refused this request, believing that the Poor Ladies needed income and sustenance that only lands and endowments could provide.  Now Clare was not an ascetic masochist, nor did she see poverty as an end.  She saw evangelical poverty as a means to an end.  As she and her sisters gazed on the San Damiano cross, they saw Christ, though He was the Son of God, willing to empty Himself for all humanity.  And Clare realized that to follow Christ meant emptying oneself of all possessions, of the need to possess and control, and be dependent on the love of God.  Thus, she held out against the Pope, until finally he relented and gave Clare and her sisters the privilege of poverty.  She received the written permission shortly before her death.

We are also called to empty ourselves so that we can be open and receptive to the love of God.  We, too, are called to empty ourselves and share the gifts of that love with everyone.  Let us ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us be inspired by the lives of Francis and Clare.  Let us have the courage to open our arms and share all that we have for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Homily For 16th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

Genesis 18: 1-10a
Colossians1: 24-28
Luke 10: 38-42

"The Lord said to her in reply, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.'"  (Luke 10: 41-42)

How many of us who have had family gatherings, or dinner parties, can identify with Martha?  It is an old cliche, but I think is still valid; “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  We see in today’s Gospel the story of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.  They hear that Jesus of Nazareth is coming to visit their village.  Now, we can speculate that Jesus’ reputation as a preacher, a healer, a miracle worker; has preceded him.  And maybe Martha wants the honor, the rise in social standing that would come by having Him as a guest in their house.  In some ways, Martha reminds me of Hyacinth, the main character in the BBC/WGBH show “Keeping Up Appearances;” who is middle class, but wants to appear as upper class.  And she will do anything to maintain that appearance, often with comic results.  So we see Martha rushing about, preparing food, making sure the guest’s glasses are not empty, that their feet have been washed and they are comfortably seated.  And amid all this work, all this running around; there is Mary, just sitting there, listening to Jesus talk.  We can understand how upset Martha must have been.  So she complains to Jesus; and what does He say: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her!” That must have taken the wind out of Martha’s sails! 

Now before Vatican II; many monastic communities, and religious orders of hermits, have all used that Gospel passage to prove the superiority of the contemplative lifestyle over the active religious lifestyle.  Since the Second Vatican Council, we now know that there are many ways to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what is this “better part,” that Jesus is talking about?  I think we can get a clue from the first reading.  We see Abraham, seeing visitors coming into his camp.  He immediately recognizes that there is something special about these individuals. He senses the presence of the Lord.   He immediately offers them hospitality, washes their feet, prepares food and serves them himself.  He is aware that he is in God’s presence, and he receives a promise from God, that He will begin the fulfillment of His original promise to make of Abraham a great nation.

Both Abraham and Mary, I believe, knew, sensed that they were in the presence of the Lord, because they were open to that encounter.  Martha, however, was not, because she had so many things on her mind.  In some ways, we are more like Martha, rather than Mary.  How open are we to the presence of Christ in our daily lives, or are we too busy; have we giving in to our anxieties, cares and worries. 

But Jesus Christ is with us.  We are all part of His Body.  He is ready to heal us, to strengthen us, to guide us, to inspire us.  We will soon witness the changing of bread and wine into His Body and Blood. And we will receive Him through Holy Communion.  When we leave here, let us not forget that Jesus is still with us.  And as we do our housework, go to market, work at our offices, and play our video games; keep our hearts open and let Christ speak to us.  And if we take the time to listen, we will have chosen the better part and it will not be taken from us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Feast of St. Bonaventure - 2013

“As Jesus was the true worshiper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.”  ( Art. 8, Secular Franciscan Rule)

On July 15th, we celebrated the feast of Saint Bonaventure.  Born during the time of Saint Francis, he attended the University of Paris, became both a Franciscan friar and professor while at that university.  He would become the 7th Minister General of the Order, and because of the work he did bringing the Order together, he has been called the second founder of the First Order.  He would end his life as a bishop, working for the reunion of the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity. 

Above all, though, Bonaventure is known as a mystic, who wrote, besides treatises on philosophy and theology, works on the mystical life of the Christians, which still inspire many people to this day.  Despite the demands of the many offices he held, Bonaventure still found time for prayer, time to be still in God’s presence and experience, as Francis did, the power and joy of the Father’s love.  He was able to share these experiences with us, especially in his treatise, “The Soul’s Journey into God.”

We are all called to a life of prayer, it is to provide a foundation for our lives, and the “soul” of the work we do in the world.  It is through prayer, Scripture and the Eucharist that we can have that encounter with our loving God, that we too can have that mystical experience; that Francis called the first step for a life of conversion.  That experience may be like hearing a soft breeze, as the prophet Elijah did; or it may like an angel hitting us in the back of heads with a baseball bat, as Fr. Andrew Greeley related in one of his novels.  The important thing is that we keep ourselves open for that experience, through prayer, through being still and resting in the Lord.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Plant Some Flowers In Honor Of St. Francis

“Following the example of Francis , patron of ecologists, they should actively put forward initiatives that care for creation and should work with others in efforts that both put to a stop to polluting and degrading nature and also establish circumstances of living and environment which would not be a threat to the human person.”  (Art 18.4, Secular Franciscan Order General Constitutions – 2000)

My wife and I live in a third floor apartment with a small balcony.  When the weather grows warmer, she takes me to the local garden nursery and we stock up on flowering plants and herbs.  She turns our balcony into a small beautiful garden.  Sometimes I sit out there in the light of dawn to pray the morning office or just to enjoy the beauty of the flowers, the trees that surround our complex, and the smell of the herbs.  It is in those moments that I perceive, like Francis, the love of the Creator for His creation.

The biographies and legends about Francis of Assisi, all speak of his feeling of kinship with all creatures, all plants, with the very elements that make up our planet. There are many stories of the lengths he went to, to save lambs, doves, even earthworms.  There was something about him that drew birds, animals, and fish to him.  He recognized that if God is the Creator of all things, then we all have a relationship with all things, that all created things must be respected, cherished, and loved. 

Today, we live in a world that is consuming itself into a hollow shell. Ageless forests are being cut down to supply not just building materials, but also wood pulp for disposable paper products.  The land that is cleared is then planted not for local sustenance, but for exportable food stuffs.  In both developed and developing countries, the ground, the air and water is being polluted, to maintain our consumer lifestyles.

The situation may look hopeless, overwhelming, but we Franciscans can help call the world back from the brink.  By lessening our own consumption, use every opportunity to recycle, and support those movements that promote better treatment of the earth.  And finally, maybe plant some herbs and flowers in memory of Francis.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homily For 11th Sunday In Ordinary Time - 2013

2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13
Galatians 2: 16, 19-21
Luke 7: 36-8:3

We are now in liturgical season called Ordinary Time, and I think we can see a different tone in today’s Scripture readings.  During the Easter Season, and on Pentecost Sunday, we see that the readings where full of hope, love, and peace.  In today’s readings, we see that three letter word that makes all of us uncomfortable: …sin.  My feeling is that the Church, after all the celebrations of Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi; when we all may be on a spiritual high; is giving us a reality check.  Yes, we are Easter people; we do believe and follow our Risen Lord.  But we are still human; we can still be tempted by sin. 

I found several definitions of sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Sin ”is a failure in genuine love of God and neighbor causes by perverse attachment to certain goods.” (1849)  “Sin is an offense against God…sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.” (1850)

And we are all capable of committing sin; whether we are regular folks or among the bright, rich, and powerful.  We see that illustrated in today’s readings.  The first reading tells the story of King David.  David, who was one of the key figures in the history of ancient Israel.  God selected him to take over the throne of Israel from King Saul; had Solomon anoint him as King.  The hand of God was over David, protecting him, making him a powerful leader.  And after all that God had for him one would think David would acknowledge that, and obey God’s commandment.  Instead he wanted more, he wanted Bathsheba.  And he was willing to kill for her.  God, through the prophet Nathan, brings David to account for himself, to acknowledge his sin. 

In the Gospel, we read of a Pharisee, by the name of Simon, who invited Jesus to dinner.  Now the Pharisees prided themselves on keeping the Law of Moses, even to the smallest passage of the Law.  Yet, we read that he failed to extend hospitality to Jesus, which was required by Jewish custom of the times.  And he looked at the sinful woman, who came in to wash and anoint Jesus’ feet, and did not feel compassion for her, but disgust.  Jesus, very cleverly calls Simon to account for his sins.  

Yet, today’s Scriptures are not primarily about sin; but it is revealing to us the great compassion of God.  He is always ready to forgive us, no matter how great or small is the offense we may have committed.  But we, like King David, and the sinful woman, need to humbly come before the Father, and acknowledge that we have faltered in following his Son, and that we need his forgiveness and his healing.  It is for this reason that Jesus Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance, the sacrament of Reconciliation.  Through the words of absolution pronounced by the priest, we experience what that woman experienced, the forgiveness of the Father.  And also, like that woman, we will experience the peace of Christ.

Yet, how many of us are willing to come to the sacrament of reconciliation; how many of us are denying ourselves this experience of the Father’s love.  Perhaps we need, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reflect on the current state of our lives, examine our relationship with the Father, our families, and neighbors.  And know that whatever we realize about ourselves, our failures and sins, Jesus is there with us, ready to forgive us, ready to say, “Go in peace.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Homily Delivered At My Mother's Funeral

My mother, Margaret "Marna" Jones passed away on June 8, 2013.  I assisted at her Funeral Mass, and preached the following homily:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” 

This past week, I have been reading a book by Paul Elie, titled: “The Life You Save May be Your Own, An American Pilgrimage.”   In it he tells the life stories of four American Catholics; social activist, Dorothy Day, Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, and authors Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy.  He describes each of their lives as being on pilgrimage.  Now according to Wikipedia,  the term, “pilgrimage,” has been defined as a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.  Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.  If we take a look into the Bible, do we see many stories of persons on pilgrimage, seeking  an understanding of this relationship they have with God.  Abraham leaves his home to go to a strange country, because he hears this divine voice telling him to do so.  Moses leads the people of Israel through the deserts and wastelands, on a very difficult pilgrimage, so they may discover what it means to be God’s special people.  And can we say that Jesus himself was leading his Apostles on pilgrimage; going throughout Galilee and Judea, they watched Him heal the sick; reconcile sinners, and perform wondrous miracles.  It was a pilgrimage that would end in Jerusalem, where the Apostles would witness the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I would put to you that at the moment of our baptism, when we rose from the baptismal waters to new life in Christ; each of us began our own pilgrimage of faith; following Jesus who is the way.  Mom began her own pilgrimage of faith in such a way; she strove to love God and love her neighbor.  She, a born Catholic, fell in love with Bill, a convert to the faith; and together they continued their pilgrimage of faith.  They raised a family which they loved; they took care of my siblings and me; loved us, tried to share with us the experience of faith they both had.  With the renewal of the Church that came from the Second Vatican Council; Mom and Dad saw their pilgrimage taking a deeper, a more spiritual turn.  Mom would discover deeper prayer, sharing these experiences with fellow pilgrims of this parish.    Sadly, a couple of years ago, she found herself traveling on this pilgrimage alone, because Dad had passed away.  And the journey was becoming more difficult, the road getting rough, darker, obstacles getting in the way.  Sometimes the pilgrimage took such a toll on her, that we know she sometimes gave into despair.  But she was never alone on this journey.  Jesus was with her always, walking beside her and holding her up. He is the truth and the life; that came to her through Scripture, and through the Eucharist, renewed her soul and gave her strength.  And through each of us, her children, through the grace the Holy Spirit shared with each one of us, he let Mom know, that she was loved. 

And now I must share with you this belief that I hold deep within core of my being; that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, death is not the end of the pilgrimage for her, as it will not be the end of any of our pilgrimages; only now it will be a journey of joy, peace and hope.  We pray that at the end of her pilgrimage, she will find that place Christ has prepared, where she will be surrounded by the ones she loved.  And we pray she will be in the hand of God; the she will be forever in His embrace.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”  

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.