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hand me downsI suspect most parents learned, with exasperation, all about growth spurts. And how hard it was to keep their children in clothes and shoes that fit. The solutions in the Kempf house, where mom and dad had 5 boys to tend to, were twofold. Hand me downs. I had more than my share of those. And we had clothes that were bought ‘with room to grow’. Mom would put cuffs on those ‘longer than we needed at the moment’ pants, make us wear an extra thick pair of socks with our oversized shoes, and then, when we ‘grew into them’ – would let the cuffs out and give us normal socks, and we’d be fine. It was a practical way to stretch the clothing dollar in the Kempf house. Buying clothes with “Room to grow” was a way to make sure we got all the use we could of the clothes we wore.

Sometimes the most important truths we learn in life take time to “grow into” as well. It takes time, maturity, repeated failures and the resulting life wisdom to understand fully, or to live fully, the deep truths of life. We know that in our relationships. And in our parenting and pastoring. The tasks we are called to do and the people we are invited to be, take time to grow into.

Paul knew that as he set forth these simple, yet profound words that were a gauntlet of challenge for the people of his time. “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you all are one in Christ.” Many will argue, and correctly, that the church and our society have not yet grown into that set of clothes even now. So it is okay to kill the pre-born, it is okay to put the elderly to death. It is okay to go into an LGTB nightclub in Orlando and start shooting. Corporately and as individuals, we still do not see and stand in that radical equality before God that is ours by grace. We have room to grow.

But even more so, we learn about ‘growing into’ truths in today’s gospel. Peter and the disciples were pretty happy that they had passed the pop quiz. “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” They all got the first one right. Simon Peter got the second one correct for them all. But, like a parent with kids in the middle of a growth spurt, Jesus warned them that they had some ‘room to grow’ in WHAT this meant.
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” That is part of what it means to be the messiah. But Jesus does not stop there. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

That is the “growing into” that I need you to be about, Jesus tells his disciples. It is not enough to ascribe to me the title messiah. Anyone can say that. But if you are to be my disciple, then, as I have done and will do, so you must do. That is the growing into the clothes of discipleship Jesus wants us to do. So, what does that look like? We know what cuffed pants and oversized socks look like. But:

Who do I say Jesus is in the usual post Orlando debate about guns and gun violence? Will be another example of people wringing their hands, and feeling sorry, but nothing more happening? Will I lend my voice and vote to likely strategies to prevent even more guns to find their way to the streets?

Who do I say Jesus is in the prejudices I still nurture, the judgments I utter, and the gossip I pass on in the office or at the pool?

Who do I say Jesus is – in the prayers that I say and the time I set aside to spend with the Lord?

Finally, Who do I say Jesus is in the forgiveness I offer my fellow human beings; the charity I extend to those in need, and the compassionate concern I show to those whose life has taken an unexpected turn for the worse?

I never liked that phrase “Room to grow” when I was shopping for clothes with mom. But in my life of faith, it is the only reality that matters. You see, there is ALWAYS room to grow in the life we live as Christians. There is always room to grow in our understanding of the practical consequences of saying Jesus is the messiah.

And you, who do you say Jesus is?

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fox and dogSo, if you had to choose a word/phrase, what would it be? When I shared this gospel question with my brother Joe, (the nice priest in the Kempf family), he too quickly suggested the word “Interminable.”
I decided at that point not to ask the rest of my siblings…

(Full disclosure, I chose two words.) The first word I chose is the obvious word. GRATEFUL. I am so grateful for having been able to live over half of my priesthood among you. I am so grateful to have been shaped and formed by you; to have been invited to be a part of your lives; to be able to share in family celebrations and weddings and funerals and all the stages in between. I am so grateful for your generous welcome. I am grateful for your forgiveness when I was less than I could be and what you needed me to be for you. And I am so grateful for the faith which I see in your hearts and lives. What a gift you are! What a gift you are!

The not so obvious choice, though, that bubbled up in me is HAUNTED. Living here for 16 years, I can tell you with certainty that St. Ann parish is haunted.
Some of the ghosts who haunt this place have names.
• Ann Lucas Hunt, Fr. Peter DeSmet, Fr. Adrian Van Hulst – the ‘trinity’ of believers who set the course for this parish 160 years ago.
• Msgr. Fred Sprenke – who hated soccer, but whose tournament continues some 55 years later…
• And then there are the more recent graduates into that cadre of spirits: Mike Britt, Pat Boul, Betty and now Don Muckermann, Mary Ann and now Gerry Quinlisk, Norm Jacob, Joan Russell, Emma Jane Philipp, David O’Keeffe – and so many of our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest – and yet who’s spirits still fill this church with their love.

Some of the “spirits” are still living. And they haunt us by their faithful, but often unseen ministry among us. The members of the Vincent de Paul Society; the Scout leaders and heavenly dusters and grass cutters and cemetery workers and flower keepers and choir members and table setter uppers and prayer pals and daily mass attendees and children’s liturgy of the word leaders and dedicated faculty and staff at our school and preschool and rectory, and ACA workers and finance council members and the 5 and 11 am choirs and the floor-moppers and bartenders and … (you get the idea) We are so wonderfully haunted by their love and service.

As I take my leave of this place – I hope my ‘spirit’ will be around to haunt you as well – so that you will know the God:
• of high fives and “head bonkings” (as one of the kids called it)
• of laughter and lightheartedness, of singing and praying
• of surprises and calls to serve God – not on our terms, but on his,
• and who is so incredibly faithful to us.
That is what allowed St. Paul to be so often on the road, so often leaving to proclaim the good news in new places. Because he knew Jesus’ presence in concrete ways, he could say with great confidence: I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me. And I can say: I live by Faith in the son of God who has loved me so well through you!

And finally, I hope you are haunted, as I have been, by this one last little story…

It was a sleepy Saturday morning in the vale. There was a man sitting on his front porch whittling. His dog was lounging lazily at his feet. Suddenly, he became completely alert as he caught first the scent, and then the sight of a fox way down at the end of the meadow. With a nod from his master, like a shot, he’s off. Baying and barking. Following the scent of the fox, now long disappeared from view. One by one, other dogs began to join in the noise and the baying and barking. They ran through forests and trees and streams and puddles. Ran on and on as a pack until their paws were sore and their tongues were hanging out from exhaustion. And one by one the other dogs dropped out. Finally, it was just the first dog, still on the trail, still barking. A neighbor stopped by. Wasn’t that your dog at the head of the pack. “Yup.” How come he is the only one left? “I reckon it is because he is the only one who saw the fox…”
“…he is the only one who saw the fox…”

I trust you know that I have never been anything but a barking dog. But I hope that you would come to believe in what I have seen –a Savior’s unconditional love. I hope you have come to know a bit of our Lord’s love for you through me. Don’t stop on that journey just because this barking dog is hunting in other fields. Make sure that you too, become people who have seen the fox…

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heart and handI grew up with several ‘family stories’ that defined my world view. On dad’s side of the family it was simply the witness of grandpa in his love for grandma. Grandma had a slow acting cancer, and was bedridden for the final 13 years of her life. And grandpa was always there. I asked (impudently) one day, after she was gone and grandpa had moved in with us: “Grandpa, wasn’t it hard to take care of grandma in the nursing home all those years?” He looked like I had slapped him. “No, it wasn’t hard. You see, I loved her. And that made everything easy.” (Though it was not his intention, boy did I feel like a schmuck for even asking.)

On mom’s side of the family, it was the day a worker from the Chrystler plant just a block away from were grandma and grampa and mom lived that saved their home. The rent was due. And they had nothing. And were going to be evicted. And mom was crying on the front yard. And a man she had never met was walking home from work at the plant and saw my mom crying her eyes and asked what was wrong. Through her tears, mom let him know. “Go get your dad.” And though I never heard exactly HOW it happened, because of the kindness of that stranger, they were able to keep their home.

Two stories of two people who let their heart move them and then followed where that led. Luke tells us today, “When the Lord saw her (the mother), he was moved with pity for her.” Jesus sees a woman who has already buried her husband and now she is burying her only son. In the patriarchal society of her day that meant she was losing not only the child who loved her, but the one who provided for her needs and was her source of security and comfort.

Witnessing the grief and sorrow before him, and perhaps seeing a glimpse of the future that might await his own mother, Jesus acts on the impulse of his heart. He does something to change the situation.

Seeing Jesus being led by his heart serves as a good example for us. In our lives we often come across situations that tug at our hearts. We receive solicitations in the mail describing the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing war or containing pictures of malnourished children in Haiti and the Sudan. We hear an appeal at Mass from a dedicated woman assisting unwed, pregnant mothers so they might choose life. We hear news reports of Christians being executed for their faith. We notice an elderly neighbor struggling to care for the outside of her home.

Our hearts move us to do something, but that impulse is often negated by our heads. We start to think, what difference would my donation really make? Shouldn’t people suffer the consequences of their decisions? Aren’t there social and charitable institutions, and governmental agencies to deal with these issues? If I help, won’t I just be asked again and again? If our heads take over, our hearts lose, and we do nothing.

If Jesus had let that happen, the widow would have gone away from her son’s grave – devastated, alone, and destitute. And, in the bigger scheme of salvation, if Jesus had not let his heart rule, we would still be lost in sin and not saved by his cross and resurrection.

Perhaps, like me, you are graced with stories in your own family about following your heart. Perhaps the only stories you see are those of Jesus in the gospel. This week, pay attention to that muscle in the center of all you are. And when your heart moves within you – pay attention. Perhaps it will be a stranger who approaches you. A beggar on the streets. A news story. Whatever it might be, let your heart move YOU, and ACT….

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Are you easily satisfied?

Published on 29. May, 2016 by in Sunday Homilies

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table“They all ate, and were satisfied.” A group of human beings satisfied—now that is a rare and wondrous thing to behold, then as now. Satisfied does not mean stuffed. Nor does it mean hungry. Satisfied means my desires, expectations and needs are taken care of.
Satisfied contains two main concepts.
1) I AM CONTENT with what I have.
2) The belief that what I have is enough to do what I need to do.

Our Lord was faced that day on the hillside with a multitude of people and a small band of disciples who all shared a common misperception about the universe. They operated from an assumption that there was not enough to go around, that their lives were defined by scarcity rather than abundance. And so that very fear kept them all bound to a life of scrambling and scratching out an existence in a world that favored only the most aggressive, where only the early bird got the worm, where the rich could get richer and the poor would get poorer only because there was not enough provision for all of them in the first place. Only the fittest could survive in such a competitive world. Does that world sound familiar to you?

Jesus lived from a different sense of reality – that of abundance and blessing. God has provided enough for every legitimate need in creation. Jesus knew that the only thing that is needed for everyone and everything to prosper and thrive is to share that abundance rather than hoard it.
• There is enough food produced to end world hunger right now? Poverty and hunger are not problems of overpopulation, but poor distribution. There is enough to go around, enough to satisfy any sized multitude.
Jesus invited his disciples to be content with what they had, trusting the Father that it would be enough.

There is a little story a friend sent that has helped me to be content in the upcoming transfer.

I was regretting the past and fearing the future
Suddenly my Lord was speaking: “MY NAME IS I AM”

He paused:

“When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WAS.

When you live in the future with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WILL BE.

When you live in this moment it is not hard. I am here.
MY NAME IS I AM.”

Maybe that is the simplest way to learn to be content with what we have – to trust that God’s name is “I am.”

Second, the little boy was young enough to trust what Jesus could do with his meager gift. And it became enough. If we want to be satisfied, then WE are invited to trust God to take what looks meager and make it enough. We are invited to learn the open palm of the small boy who offered his small lunch to Christ rather than hoard it for himself.
And look what God does with that attitude: At the end of meal, there was not only enough, there was enough left over for each stunned disciple to labor under the weight of a basket full of left-overs. If we could only learn to trust God more, to see the world as full of abundance rather than almost empty, we might begin to open our palms more, share our small portion more. And maybe, just maybe, after sharing the laughter and generosity of plenty with others around us, we might find that we have finally found within us that treasure that had eluded our grasp for so long. We would finally feel satisfied and content.
And that brings us to the table of the Lord, where once again a meager amount of bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. It never looks like much food, but the feast at this table will be enough for us all. For Jesus Christ is not only the host of this meal, he IS the meal itself. Come to the Lord’s table, you who long to be satisfied. There is enough. There is enough to satisfy ALL that we need…

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simbaFr. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, The Spirituality for the Second Half of Life, writes: “We all seen to suffer from a tragic case of mistaken identity. Life is a matter of becoming fully and consciously who we already are, but it is a self that we largely do not know. It is as though we are all suffering from a giant case of amnesia.”

If you are a devotee of ‘the Lion King’ –you will know the scene where the now nearly grown Simba has just had a fight with his girlfriend over whether he should return to the Pride Lands of his birth. Confused and hurt, he finds some solitude along the edge of a lake. Looking at his reflection, he now sees himself as a full grown Lion, which surprises him a bit. As he continues to gaze into the reflection of the stars in the lake, they reform, into the image of his father, Mufasa. Then comes the simple admonition from the spirit of his father: “Remember who you are.” “Remember who you are.”

I wonder if that admonition is also a great way to enter into the heart of the feast we celebrate today – that of the Holy Trinity? So many of the great stories of our western and eastern traditions, then and now, all hinge around the fact of a prince or princess, a noble or a daughter or a son of god, not knowing who they are. They have to grow up to fathom their own identity. And the plot of these hero/heroine stories revolves around the quest to uncover what is already there all the time.

Fr. Rohr says uncovering that deepest identity in God is precisely THE JOURNEY of the second half of life – to remember who we are, the divine nature that is our deepest and truest self. The Rite of Baptism tries to root us in that identity with these words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Learning who we are deepest down is the goal of the Christian life. But too often, we stumble through life, unaware of or intentionally denying who we are. A hurt, a loss, an experience of shame, a time when we questioned the presence of God – all of that can be the cause of our spiritual amnesia.

In the Lion King, it is the lies that Scar told Simba about his ‘causing’ the death of his father, that results in his spiritual amnesia, his burying his truest identity, his deepest down knowing of who he is. Like many of us, he has chosen to believe the lie instead of living into the truth of his birthright. “Remember who you are,” comes the command. And remember he does. That remembering, that tapping into the deepest truth about who he is sets his feet on a journey back to his homeland, back to the task that was his to perform, his to do. And you know the rest of the story. Confronting his own demons and his evil uncle, he restores the balance and completes the circle of life.

So, how might you and I “remember” who we are? Is there a cure for the spiritual amnesia that keeps our hearts small and our journeys timid?

1) Simplest way – change the desktop background on your computer to an image from the Lion King – and let be a visual reminder of the grace and gift God put into your heart.

2) Mean the sign of the cross that we do so automatically: In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This food I am blessing, this activity I am beginning, this moment I am present to, this worship I am entering into, let me do it in accord with who I am.

3) Make a post-it note with that phrase: “Remember who you are” and put it where you will see it. Remember that I am made in the divine image –Father, Son and Spirit. And all that the Father does to create life is mine to do. All that the Son does to redeem life, is mine to do. All that the Spirit does to sanctify life, is mine to do.

4) Finally, pray with this one amazing line that St. Paul tells us in our reading from Romans: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” More than any words or definitions we could use to describe the Trinity, our experience of God is just that – an experience of love itself being poured into our hearts. Pray with that line until you believe it.

Do you have spiritual amnesia? Then, hear again, who you are and remember. We are those in whom the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit resides.

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ListenFr. Anthony DeMello, S.J. wrote a series of reflections on various stories and poems from eastern mysticism.  One of them went like this:

I used to be stone deaf. I would
see people stand up and go through
all kinds of gyrations. They called
it dancing. It looked absurd to me

– until one day I heard the music!

I don’t know if you and I will ever understand the decisions and choices of saints until we hear what they hear so plainly – the music of the Holy Spirit. They seem crazy. They seem almost incomprehensible – until you hear what they hear –until you hear the music of the Spirit.  So let me tell three quick stories about how people hear the Spirit.

At the end of our Newman Center legacy dinner, (where our graduating Seniors make a commitment to pay back to the center $1,000 over the course of the next 4-5 years) we invite our graduates to tell a story about what the Newman Center has meant to them.  Every year, I am blown away by what I hear.  One said: “I grew up catholic.  I was very involved in my parish and at the Newman center my freshman and sophomore years. Then I joined a sorority, and began to drift away.  There just was not time for both in my life.  Then Rachelle left, and the place was not quite the same without her.  So I let go of my faith.  And was okay for a year.  But then I realized that something was missing. [tears are now flowing from her eyes] So I called Rachelle. She said “Talk to Erin.” (our new Campus Minister then)  So I did.  And bit by bit, Erin helped me to see what I was missing.  So I came back.  SOOO glad I came back.  Because I know life here that I don’t know anyplace else.”  She is someone who heard the music of the spirit – who let that emptiness lead her step by step back ‘home’ to the church..

Saturday morning, 109 lay ministers were commissioned by the Archbishop to serve the Archdiocese in their parishes.  Many said yes to the three year preparation process out of friendship with their pastor (Gary Uthoff, is one of them)  But something happened along the way.  To a man or woman, they fell in love with God all over again.  And because of that, they will give the next three years of their lives back in service to the church – “as messengers of the gospel.”  110 more people heard the music of the spirit and learned how to dance.

And even though you may not trust it now, I too, heard that music of the spirit in the move that is upon me.  When Msgr. Shamleffer asked me at the luncheon back in February, if I was interested in a move, my initial reaction was: No way!  I love it here.  Why on earth would I even think of moving?  “Precisely!” came the voice in my prayer.  There is no reason on EARTH why I would.  But something started happening in my prayer -this little tickle, in the back of my heart, started going off.  It is the same one that I sense when the ‘homily idea’ suddenly clicks into place.  “Ahh, here is what I need you to speak about today.”

And there it was, but only when we talked about St. Justin.  Not when we talked about a few other options. I tried to ignore it.  I tried to pretend it was not there.  I would wake up at 4 O’clock in the morning, and there it was.  “Really, Spirit? You want me to go there?  Don’t you know what that means?  It means I have to let go of the place where I have spent half of my priesthood.”  “No,” came the reply.  “It is not about what you are holding on to.  It is all about what I am calling you to.”  And it did not go away. For two months, it did not go away.  And even when I had already said yes to St. Justin, and then Archbishop called me a day later and offered me the choice to go to a DIFFERENT, west county parish – it did not go away!  So, though I have no idea what is in store for me there, I hear that music of the spirit.  And I choose to dance with that music, because I know that the Spirit has life for me.

I used to be stone deaf. I would
see people stand up and go through
all kinds of gyrations. They called
it dancing. It looked absurd to me

– until one day I heard the music!

Anthony DeMello concludes his little reflection this way:  “I fail to understand why saints – and lovers – behave the way they do.  So I am waiting for my heart to come alive.” I’ll add: “So I am waiting to hear the music of the Spirit.”

If you wonder why priests can say yes to uprooting their lives, why saints and holy men and women throughout the ages have been able to choose and do heroic things – then pray that most ancient prayer of the church with me:  Come, Holy Spirit.  Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

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now whatHave you ever spent so much time focused on getting to the goal that once you achieved it, you had no idea what came next?  The new career mother, who has looked forward to the birth of their first child, now returns home with baby in tow, has all the friends and relatives there for a little celebration of those first wonderful days.  The first Monday morning rolls.  The hubby heads off to work, the door closes, and suddenly it hits her:  “I’m not going back to work, not for a long time.”  Then, that most human question hits her dead in the face:  “NOW WHAT?”

            The graduating senior walks across the stage, picks up their diploma, smiles this huge smile of relief, pauses at the end for the picture next to the U.S. flag, walks back to their chair in the auditorium, and sits down.  Once they take a breath or two, the dawning realization hits them like a sledgehammer:  “Now what?”  I don’t have to wake up tomorrow early for classes.  I don’t have to get my books for the next cycle of classes, etc.  Now what?

And in our stories from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s gospel we see the disciples facing the exact same: “Now what?” question.  Jesus had been raised from the dead.  And he hung out with them for a period of time.  And they were becoming kind of used to his risen presence, when suddenly, it seems, he is taken from their midst.  You get the sense in the Acts of the Apostles that they didn’t quite see that one coming.  They were still asking questions about when Jesus would restore the political kingdom.  Instead, Jesus speaks to them about being clothed with power from on high, and the promised gift of the Spirit.  And then he was gone.  He was gone.  They stand there with mouths open, gaping at the heavens.  Now what?

So God, with his usual patience, sends two heavenly visitors.  “Men of Jerusalem, why are you standing around looking up to the heavens?”  Don’t you understand, it’s “Now what” time.  It’s time to begin the NEXT stage of discipleship.  Empowered by the spirit, YOU are to be the witnesses, you are to be the ones to continue the building of the kingdom.  Clothed with power from on high, the mission is yours now to accept and undertake.  You’ve got the only tool you’ll ever need – the gift of the Spirit. “Now what?”  Now it is time to get busy living and loving for the kingdom.

Now what?  I think we all know both sides of that experience in various ways and different times – the “deep gulp” side of that moment as well as the ‘being sent to the next stage of the mission’.  So here is the truth about the Feast of the Ascension this year at St. Ann parish.   It is “Now what time” in a very real way for you and me.

For me, the “Now What?” means that the long expected call came from the Archbishop’s office a few weeks ago.  On my ordination day, I placed my hands and life into the hands of my Archbishop and promised to serve the church wherever and however the church needed me to serve it.  That promise has not changed over the years.  So, beginning July 1st, I will become the pastor of St. Justin the Martyr parish in Sunset Hills.  And a young priest named Nick Winker, class of 2010, and current associate pastor at St. Joseph’s in Imperial will become the pastor here at St. Ann.

And like the disciples’ reaction to the ascension of Jesus, that news can leave us a little dumbstruck, or empty, or shocked or sad, or a combination of all of those emotions.  And that is okay.  But what I know in faith is this: the apostles would never have grown into the full measure of their mission and maturity if Jesus had stayed with them.  They would never have learned to trust the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit if they could just ask Jesus directly.  So, too, it is good for this parish that a new pastor comes – one who can take you places where I could not.  And who can foster and encourage and strengthen you to be ‘clothed with power from on high” with skills that I don’t have.  That doesn’t negate what we have done together, and how God has been working in and among us all.  Nor does it say that God is suddenly going to leave this parish that he has shepherded these past 160 years.  But it does say that a new chapter will open in the great history of this great parish.

Now what?      I have no idea what is in store for me or for you.  I could tell you that St. Justin’s is about twice the size of St. Ann.  They have a school of about 250 students.  That it is about 8 minutes from where mom lives.  I could tell you that your new pastor is one of 5 kids, he grew up in St. Jude parish, went to Holy Trinity Grade school, has a degree in engineering from Rolla and is, in his own words ‘ecumenical’ because he went to SLUH & his brother went to CBC.   But none of that really answers the question.  Thank goodness! How exciting for us all!  How exciting it is to see what God will unfold and explode into his church, here at St. Ann and at St. Justin.

Now what?         Now…..what!

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surrenderIt is not ordinary, garden variety peace that Jesus promises us.  “Not as the world gives, do I give it to you.”  Hmm.  What are you talking about, Jesus?  That shalom is more than health and well being and absence of strife.  Rather, it is about the stuff of the Spirit – of being sent and of being true to who and what God calls us to.

Sometimes it is easier to recognize it when we see it lived than to think about it in our heads and ponder it in our hearts.  So, who do you know who lives the “Peace” that Jesus gives?

His name was Colin Fowler.  It met him during one of those summers doing volunteer work in Northern Ireland.  He was 18 at the time. He was a member of an Irish folk singing group.  And he hated the ‘troubles’ as they called them in Northern Ireland.  And not only did he hate the troubles and the divisions between Catholic and Protestants –between those out of power and those with power, be he decided to do something about it.  He would use his music as a forum to speak out.  And challenge people to change.  And be more forgiving.   And more loving.  “I take a lot of guff from my friends for my stand against the violence, the troubles.  But if everyone just sits on his duff and does nothing – nothing will ever change.” Here is a young man who knew the gift of Jesus in the gospel.  My peace is my gift to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you…

Maybe it was the simple dress she always wore. – one of the four outfits that she owned.  But I never looked forward to seeing Karen – either in social functions or at Liturgy.   And it had nothing to do with her.  Or rather, everything to do with her.  You see, Karen worked at a shelter for the homeless.  And she lived at that shelter for the homeless.  She put her life’s energies and the gift of herself on the line for God’s poor.  And every time I saw her, I felt challenged.  I felt like I was not doing enough in comparison.  She never said it, never did anything to trigger that in me – but it is what happened in me in her presence.  She knew the peace that comes from putting your life, your ambitions, and your very livelihood at the service of God.  Spirit led, she knew peace, “not as the world gives…”  And somehow, I knew I had to follow…

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  When we are open to being led by the Spirit, open to putting our will firmly and solidly into the hands of God, then WE know a peace, not as the world gives.  That is what allowed Jesus to say these words, knowing that his betrayal and passion and death were only HOURS away. Peace I give you – not the absence of suffering or struggle or loneliness or pain – but the peace that comes only from abandonment completely to God.  That is what Jesus wanted his disciples to know.

On the day of my ordination, I had a card printed with a prayer by Brother Charles de Foucauld on the back.  If you want to know peace, not as the world gives – then pray this prayer daily…

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

Amen.  Amen.

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New-Heaven-and-New-EarthIn a former parish where I was stationed, as I would drive into the car port, I would see stored in the rafters two barely use basketball hoops and backboards.  And each time I saw them, I was saddened.  You see, the hoops had been put up on the playground of the school.  And then taken down within a week and a half, because people were frightened about WHO was using the hoops.  They wanted them up for their school children, but discovered that a lot of the neighborhood teens and older folks of various ethnic varieties were using them.  And they were afraid.  They were afraid for their kids.  So as quickly as they went up, they came down. And I would think each time I parked: How do we get to the place where John got – how do we learn to see a new heavens and a new earth?

I was at a wedding reception Friday night – relatives of the gal who cuts my hair – and I was sitting with the Father-in-law.  “How do you like Pope Francis?”  I have known him long enough to recognize ‘that tone’ in his voice, so I responded by flipping the question back to him – “What do you think of him?  “He’s making a mess of the church – Is everything going to be up for grabs?  That’s where we’re headed.”  “I, John, saw a new heavens and a new earth.”  In his fear for what might be lost, he didn’t…

Living in a time of instant global awareness of all the tragedies and terrorism of our time, it is sometimes hard to believe that God is with us.  It is hard to ‘see’ that there could be a new heaven and a new earth coming to be.  How do you learn to see a new heavens and a new earth?  That is where the work of our faith comes into the fore.  We have to believe it before we can see it.  We have to believe before we see.

Growing up, my mother dragged my brothers and me to the cafeteria at Our Lady of Providence for several weekends, beginning at Thanksgiving.  There we helped carry bags of clothes and toys and items to be given to the poor from our car and from the cars of people dropping stuff off.  Sometimes we helped in the sorting through of the items.  (and sometimes we just played)  But I remember thinking I wish I could have the toy that I was putting into a box for some unknown family.  “Mom, could I have this?”  “No”, was her answer each time I would ask.  “The poor need it more than you do.”  I don’t know if I was ever convinced by mom’s rationale that that was a true statement.  But I was convinced by her love of people that she had never met, that this was worth the doing.  Mom believed that God had a special love for the poor.  Because of that belief, she saw the need of people who were struggling more than we were, and so she began the work of wiping tears away from the eyes of children at Christmas time with her clothing and toy drive.  Because she believed, she saw that a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ needed to come to be, and she worked to create it.

John didn’t have much at his disposal on that island of Patmos – but a quill and some parchment – and the belief that God was indeed dwelling with his people.  So he set down the vision that still calls each of us who are ever tempted to respond in fear or become complacent in our faith.  God is dwelling with us – so get busy comforting mourners, wiping tears from eyes, ending the same sad story that we read in the daily paper.  There is a new heaven and a new earth coming to be.  But, to see it, you have to believe it.  And to believe it, you have to be convinced that God is NOT done with us, and that the Spirit of God continues to guide and lead us.

“I, John, saw a new heavens and a new earth.”  DO you?  Dare you?  If so, then, like my mom, like John the Evangelist, like the countless generations of believers who have seen because they believe – get busy creating it.

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Old and New

Old and New

I saw a card while I was picking out birthday cards for my family which said on the front cover: You are my favorite “what if.” Though I am not sure why someone would send such a card, I confess, having just celebrated a reunion of the volunteers whom I worked with in Northern Ireland in ’79 – ’81, it did set my imagination down that road for a while – thinking about some of those ‘what if’ people and ‘what if’ moments of my life.

I suspect all of us have those ‘what if’ moments in our lives. Moments when a choice we make closes off one trajectory of ‘what if’s’ and sets our feet firmly on the path that becomes our life. Turning points which set the course for everything that follows. Some of them are chosen. I chose this college; that degree; this person to take to the prom; that company’s job offer. Others happen to us: This cancer. That company’s closing. This accident! Whether by choice or fate, those turning points set the stage for everything that follows.

Today’s first reading tells the story of one of the bigger turning points in the early church. Paul and Barnabas are on the road, doing their usual thing. They arrive in a city, then they meet with the synagogue leaders. Paul shows them his bona fides as a Pharisee and asks permission to speak. They grant it. And then he preaches to them. And rather successfully, so that many people begin to notice, and not just the Jews. The authorities in power feel threatened and start a persecution, throw Paul and Barnabas out of the synagogues and sometimes the cities. In the mean time, a TON of gentiles come to believe in their message. That pattern is repeated again and again.

It gradually becomes apparent that God was not going to be limited to the borders of religious background any more than He was limited by the borders of geography! So eventually Paul and Barnabas had to change their strategy, and follow the path of the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We hear that turning point this morning: We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. We now turn to the gentiles. What a profound moment in the church.

New Testament scholar, Frank Stagg, points out that these stories in Acts show the Church gradually coming to understand and to embrace this truth: The Gospel cannot and will not be hindered by any man-made boundaries or categories—not race, not gender, not national identity, not religious background, not geographical location, not social-economic status. At each defining moment of the narrative in Acts, the Holy Spirit shows up as a persistent and powerful force drawing the church across any and all boundaries that separate or segment humankind. And so at the very last, with the final sentence Luke uses to close his story of the book of Acts, Paul is shown living and preaching in Rome, welcoming ALL who come to see him, preaching the Gospel unhindered by any constraint. It was a huge turning point in the church.

I like to think that our current Pope is one of those great ‘turning points in the church.” Like every Pope, he brings his gifts to the office. I believe his pastoral and scriptural approaches to discipleship are a huge opportunity and blessing for the church. Fr. James Martin, SJ, in an article in America Magazine, summarized the pope’s encyclical of last week – “The Joy of Love” – into a kind of top ten list. Point #10 says simply: All are welcome.

He writes: “The church must help families of every sort, and people in every state of life, know that, even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love. Likewise, pastors must work to make people feel welcome in the church. “Amoris Laetitia” offers the vision of a pastoral and merciful church that encourages people to experience the “joy of love.”

So, to quote Men in Black III, this might be my NEW favorite “What if” moment in the church. My new favorite ‘turning point’ in the history of St. Ann church. What if we, the members of St. Ann parish lived with such a welcoming heart, that anyone who comes through our doors would know they are loved by God? What if we made sure that at every mass, we LOOKED for people whom we didn’t recognize, and made sure to introduce ourselves? What if there was only one sign emblazoned on the front of our St. Ann Church—WELCOME, ANYBODY!

That would be a turning point worth living for…

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