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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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love meWhat is your most feared 4 word question? Some might answer:

  • What day is today? (Means you forgot an anniversary or birthday)
  • How old are you? (If somewhere with a beverage you shouldn’t have at your age)
  • Where have you been? or it’s variation:
  • What have you done? (They know good and well, but now you know the stuff is about to hit the fan.) But none of those trump THE four word question:

Do you love me?

Those four words are guaranteed to send chills down the spine of every man, woman, young adult, teen or adolescent who has to give an answer. We know it is a loaded question before we ask it or answer it. If the person who is asking, doubts our answer, then nothing we can say or do really can prove it, can it? If we are asking, and we doubt their answer, they cannot prove it. There is a powerlessness in both the asking and the answering of that question.

But we know how powerless we are before those words in a different way, too. Deepest down, those are the words we want to hear – that one answer that makes all the difference in our world. I love you. But we know that words are cheap – that words can spill from lips without the backing of the heart. SO, we want to hear the other say the only YES that really matters. YES – I love you, not just with my heart, but with my life. When we ask that question, when we answer that question, we want to hear that yes in both words and in deeds.

I suspect that Jesus knows that about us as humans. And that he knew that particularly about Simon Peter. Because it is only after Peter told Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” – that Jesus asks him to feed his sheep. “It is not enough, Simon, for you to say the words. You must DO the loving. You must do the actions that speak the love in your heart.” And though it might have seemed harsh for Jesus to ask three times, especially in front of the rest of the disciples, it gave Simon the chance to reverse his three betrayals. And it gave Jesus the chance to impress upon his disciples AND US, that it is never enough to just say the words.

“Do you love me?” That is the feared question that our Lord asks not just of Simon Peter, but of all of us this Easter season. Then, be about the feeding and tending and loving of my sheep. Be about the actions that back up the words of your heart.

So, let me suggest one, very concrete way of doing that. Read the Pope’s new encyclical – The Joy of Love. It is a reflection on the recent synod of the family. It is meant to situate our human love of the family within the great framework of the Love of God. It acknowledges that families are not perfect – that they struggle and fail and succeed in various and sundry ways. But together, as a family, they are called to do the work of that foundational love that then strengthens them to be able to tend to all of the sheep of God’s flock. (click HERE to download the pdf)

Do you love me? Hear that question, not as a moment to strike fear into your heart, but as an opportunity to show, in both word and deed, that you do indeed love your Lord…

(at 11 am mass only) A final question to our first communion children. What did Jesus do for the disciples while they were out fishing all night long? What did he have ready for them when they were done? BREAKFAST! Yup, breakfast. Maybe not your favorite kind – fish and toast, but it was breakfast nonetheless. Because Jesus knew they would be hungry, he became a short order cook – and made sure they were fed. And then he told Peter to do the same – to make sure the sheep were fed. And 2000 years later, that same Jesus has breakfast ready for us, doesn’t he? Again, maybe not your usual breakfast – wine and bread – but food nonetheless. Why? Because he knows that we are hungry – he knows that we need to take in the food that will nourish us and strengthen us. And like that morning on the lake, Jesus is asking us the same thing he asked Peter – do you love me? So when you receive the Lord and get back to your pew, I ask you to make the same response as Peter – to say: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you…

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mercyFor the first time in 14 years, the UMSL spring break coincided with the ST. Ann break. So I was on a mini vacation Tues through Thurs. and a little out of the news circle. However, I do get an email called the “3 O’Clock Stir”, highlighting 6 stories which will appear in tomorrow’s Post Dispatch.

One of the stories this week was about a 14 year old whom has been doing a blog since he was ten on politics. In response to Mr. Trump’s tweeted question about the reporter who got too close for comfort: “What did she have in her hand? It could have been a knife, or something dangerous.” He responded with two words: “A Pen.” He was LAMBASTED on social media. “Nerd. Geek. Moron.” And those are just the printable words he was bombarded with. I, like many of you I hope, am just shaking my head in quasi disbelief. Can we go any lower? How did we get here? How did we get to a place where people’s comments and engagement in the world all become a source of attack and defense and not a source of a civil and reasoned discourse?

I think about that because I tried to put myself into the shoes of the disciples for the week we recount in the gospel today. Thomas misses the first appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. He is, at best, skeptical. The other disciples are enthusiastically committed to their experience of Jesus having been raised. You can almost hear the conversations: Don’t you trust us? Why would we lie to you about THIS? Did he grumble each morning – “I will never believe it until I see it! And, I just want the same proof you got – I want to see his hands and side.” Can you imagine how that scenario would play out on today’s social media/twitterverse?

Here is the important thing, though, and what perhaps I most needed to learn from this gospel THIS year. Thomas stayed CONNECTED to the community, and the community stayed connected to Thomas. Somehow, there was room there for his doubt, room there for his questionings. He did not need to leave the community. The believing disciples did not cast him out or marginalize him, or call him a ‘cafeteria apostle’ because of his struggle to believe. Rather, together they walked and prayed and reflected. Together they found a way to be of support and love to him. And because of that, he could be there among them when Jesus comes a week later.

It is my deepest hope for both our St. Ann community and the Newman Center community – that we know there is room for questions and struggles and doubt. I pray that we know there are ways for us to disagree and hold differing opinions, and yet still be bonded together as members of a family of faith. And that is the civility that I pray for our political discourse in the months leading up to the November elections.

In 2000, Pope John Paul called this Sunday in the Church’s year Divine Mercy Sunday. Based on the vision of Blessed Faustina of Poland, it strives to awaken us to the need for mercy in the church and the world. There is a chaplet that is prayed about this, a call to make use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and an invitation to let the divine mercy become ever more a part of our lives and our world. It hopes to awaken in us the remembrance that Jesus’ first words to the Apostles were of peace and not condemnation. How destructive that could have been if Jesus had played the ‘blame game’ or the ‘shame game’. Instead he builds a community around peace and reconciliation. And he states a truth. When you forgive people, they are set free. When you hold them bound, they are trapped.

So, today, and in all the days leading to the November elections, let mercy be the key word in your heart. When you are tempted to join the social media frenzy about anything – whether politics or life in general, say only the good things that people need to hear. Make it a challenge to re-write the front page stories from the vantage point of mercy. How would a merciful God tell this story?

“A Pen.” Who would have thought two words would unleash such a firestorm of craziness? The good news, there is an antidote – ONE word that can unleash a firestorm of goodness. Mercy.

Let us all be instruments of your mercy, Lord…

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Happy Easter!

Published on 27. Mar, 2016 by in Sunday Homilies

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freedomMy classmate, Fr. Kevin, loves movies as much as I love golf. At the Chrism mass on Thursday, he told me I HAVE to see a movie called ROOM. It was one of the films nominated for Best Picture this year. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS FILM. (and for those who do not like spoilers, I invite you to leave the church now)

The film begins on Jack’s fifth birthday. He wakes up and says “Good Morning” to all the objects in the room, a chair, a table, a closet, a toilet, a bathtub, a TV. He wakes his mother and they begin to make Jack’s birthday cake. Immediately, you sense that something is not right. And it isn’t. Jack’s mother is a kidnapped young woman. She has been held in sound proofed shed for the last seven years against her will. And Jack is five years old. When you do the math, you figure out what is going on. The mother has tried to create a loving environment in the cramped shed. She tells him stories; the Biblical story of Samson is one of his favorites. She shields him when her kidnapper enters their space, telling him to stay in the closet until he is gone. She has created a world, a world of love within the small space.

But Jack’s fifth birthday is a turning point. His mother begins to explain to him that the world is bigger than what he sees in the room, or what he watches on their TV. At first, Jack is angry. He accuses his mother of lying. Why would they stay in the room if there was a bigger world? Why would she deny him that? There is no other world, it’s not true! But at long last, she convinces him that he needs to do something, something that will change their lives.

At first, she tells her captor that Jack is sick and needs to go to the hospital. He doesn’t buy it. Plan B. She tells Jack what her real name is and what to tell others. She teaches Jack how to stay stiff and still in the carpet. Then she teaches him how to roll out of the carpet that is in the shed. Roll, Jack, roll. She then rolls him in the carpet and tells her kidnapper that Jack died in the night.

The man puts Jack, rolled up in the old carpet in the back of his pickup truck, and he drives away, presumably to bury his body, the evidence of his crime. As the truck drives along the streets of the town, Jack begins to roll. It is a titanic struggle. As you are watching the film, you begin to rock back in forth trying to help Jack escape. Finally, after what feels like forever, Jack rolls out of the carpet, and for the first time in his young life, sees the wide open sky. Jack freezes. It is almost too much to process. Everything he knew, everything he believed, everything he thought was real, explodes. The world is not a single room, his mother didn’t lie. Like a butterfly bursting out of his cocoon, Jack finds a life he never knew before – beckoning.

To make a long story short (and further ruin the movie for you), Jack does jump out of the truck and run, he does find help and save his mother. But that is only halfway through the film, so there is still some story I haven’t ruined, yet.

Kevin remarked: “I have never seen a better symbol of the resurrection in my life.” What we celebrate this Easter is the fact that Jesus opens up a new world, a new life for all of us. Jesus helps us to see that our cramped little existence is not the whole story of our lives, there is a big bright wide sky to see. Our celebration of Easter reminds us that when sin has kidnapped our souls, has forced us into a restricted room, a confined space; when we think that what we have around us is all there is and all there could ever be – we are to trust there is more, live into the promise there is more, and find the fullness of the resurrected life. By breaking free from the tomb, Jesus demonstrates that life is more than just a limited existence. That is what we rejoice in today.

And when we truly believe this, it changes everything,[at Easter Vigil: It washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride] especially how we treat one another. There is another scene in the movie. Jack’s hair had never been cut. The kidnapper obvious did not trust Jack’s mother with anything sharp. When they return to the real world, Jack’s mother has a difficult adjustment. She feels guilty for being kidnapped. She feels guilty for not trying to escape earlier. She even feels a bit guilty about Jack’s very existence. She attempts suicide, and is taken to the hospital. While she is gone, Jack tells his newly discovered grandmother that he wants to get his hair cut. When she asks why, he reminds her of the story of Samson from the Bible. “I want to give her some of my strong,” he says.

We live in a world of victims and victimizers. We live in a world where people are forced to live or choose to live restricted, small, closed lives. Easter calls us to know we have been made for more and we are called to share that more, to give the world some of our strong. Happy Easter!

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faithApparently, we have a budding theologian among our children’s liturgy of the word group. He was smart enough to ask the question “Why do we call it Good Friday? We don’t call it Good Easter, or Good Sunday. So why do we call it Good Friday? There is nothing good about it.” Smart kid! On the most important level, he gets it. There is not much that is good about death. There is not much, on the surface level, that seems good about this day. But I love that he asked that question. I hope that he keeps asking that question, and questions like it for the rest of his life. For I believe that Good Friday is all about asking good questions….

He is not the first to ask questions about this day. The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives an answer to one of those good questions to ask in our second reading: Why did Jesus have to die? He tells us simply: Now we have a God who completely understands our struggle. Who completely gets the difficulties, the hardships, the wrenching losses and the physical pains of what it means to be human. In this, he reveals a God who is not aloof from our experience of life, but understands it completely. Thus, he concludes, we can confidently approach God to receive his mercy.

Perhaps a second “good question to ask on Good Friday” is: What do we know about God because of the Death of Jesus?

Fr. David Baronowski writes: The death of Jesus was absolute proof of God’s personal love and care for each of us. For the God who took on flesh and came among his people loves us in an individual and personal way. We are not simply one among billions. Each of us is the one for whom Christ died. As Saint Augustine told us, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

There is a story that my brother Joe tells in his First Communion video – it is about a soldier in battle time. The shelling was heavy and the soldier’s friend forward of the battle lines was caught in one of the first blasts. He saw his friend take the hit and he began immediately to climb out of the fox hole to get him. His sergeant pulled him back. “Where are you going son?” “I’m going to save my friend.” “You can’t go out there. Your friend is done for, and if you go out there, you will get killed or shot up as well. It is not worth it. Leave him, son.” “Sir, I’ve got to go, and you can’t stop me.” With that, he leaps out of the hole, and runs across the field to where his friend was laying. After a moment, he begins to hoist him on his shoulders and starts to carry him back. Another shell blows up, close by, and they both fall. After a bit, somehow, he gets back up and staggers his way back to the fox hole, and collapsed there, with the body of his friend. The sergeant is angry: “See, I told you it was not worth it. You friend is dead, and you are all shot up. What a stupid waste that was! It was not worth it.” “Begging your pardon sir, but it was worth it. You see, when I got there, my friend was still alive. He looked at me and said: ‘I knew you would come. I knew you would come.’ So you see, it was worth it.”

Isn’t THAT precisely why this Friday is Good? It reveals the promise of God to all of us who lie wounded and broken on the battlefield of life – that He will come to us. He may not take away our cancer. He may not cure our sickness. The terrorists that plotted Tuesday bombings may be plotting the next attack. But God will come – and we will not be alone.

And then, perhaps, there is this final GREAT question that I hope my young friend learns to ask: How might I live the goodness of this day in my own time and space? How might I be that compassion and mercy and presence of God in a world that saw the bombings in Brussels this week, and the beheadings of ISIS this year, the tragedies of the Syrian Refugees, and the seeming daily killings on the streets of North St. Louis? How might I take the power of the cross and make that a pledge for a different way of living in this world?

In a few moments – we will have a chance to venerate the cross. . Certainly bring all that is wounded and broken to that time – all that needs forgiveness and healing and grace. AND, bring the desire, however small and fledgling it might be, to continue to break open the power of that day in your time and your space.

Why is this day called Good? It is a great question to ask. And an even more important one for us to answer with our lives….

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