Friday, April 24, 2015

4/26/2015 – 4th Sunday of Easter – John 10:11-18

      The Church gives us images and symbols that speak to us on our journey of faith.  Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there have been shepherds who have been called to serve the people of Israel.  Moses was working as a shepherd, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, when the Angel of the Lord visited him and called him to the special task of bringing the people out of bondage in Egypt.  Many generations after Moses, God sent the prophet Samuel to the household of Jesse where he would find the youth whom God had chosen to be king.  After meeting all the older brothers, it was revealed to Samuel that the chosen king was a youth named David who was serving as a shepherd in the fields, caring for his father’s flock of sheep.  And at almost every Catholic funeral, one of the readings we hear is the 23rd Psalm – the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.  These images of shepherd inform our minds and our imaginations, they foreshadow the coming of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who is there to lead us and guide us. 
      Indeed, in the Gospel of John today, Jesus asserts that he is the good shepherd who will lay down his life for his sheep, who will gather them together and protect them.  I think that Jesus as our Good Shepherd takes on a different tone today than maybe it did just a decade ago. We hear stories of martyrs throughout history, of Christians being condemned for their faith or having their voices silenced, but I think we hear in the United States always took our Christian faith for granted, especially in the light of the religious freedom that seemed to be the backbone of our society.  Then we started to see our country starting to become more secularized.  We started seeing our openly criticized and condemned.  We are realizing that we can no longer take the freedom to practice our faith for granted. We hear stories about Christians being martyred for their faith in countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  How does Jesus the Good Shepherd speak to us in this new reality that we are facing?
        Just as the image of the Good Shepherd tells a story in the midst of the reality we face as modern Christians, the stole I am wearing tells a story as well. Back in 1973, the democratically elected government in the country of Chile was overthrown by a military coup under General Augusto Pinochet. People were arrested and tortured and even murdered by the governmental authorities, and those who saw these things happening were afraid to speak out.  A group of women approach the Vicariate of Solidarity, a special office of the Catholic Church that was set up to help the people in these difficult times.  The ladies developed a new art form called the arpillera, which took small pieces of fabric and that told the story of what was going on in their country.  They shipped these arpilleras throughout the world in order to tell their story and to alert others what was going on.  Everyone has a story, and from these bright colored panels depicting different events in Jesus’ life on my stole, you would never know the history behind it.  These ladies never gave up hope.  They never gave up faith.  They saw Jesus leading them and guiding them as their Good Shepherd, leading them to reach out to others and to speak out against the injustices they saw.
      Today, as we hear these stories of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Church has been celebrating this day of prayer for more than 50 years. As we think about vocations today in the context of Jesus as the Good Shepherd leading us and guiding us, as the one who laid down his life for us, the flock he shepherds, we think of the need we have for shepherds and leaders in our faith. This weekend, I am celebrating three baptisms of infants and young children who are receiving the sacrament of initiation of our faith.  We celebrated the First Holy Communion of 34 children who are receiving Jesus in that special way for the time in their lives.  And this morning, in our 10:30 mass, we are celebrating the awarding of the Eagle Scout honor to Tripp Toole, a youth was is a parishioner here at St James and a member of our parish’s Boy Scout troop.  These are all moments in our lives where Christ is present to us in a special way.  And they are all moments that point to the vocation that Christ calls us to as well. Without Jesus as our Good Shepherd, without a relationship with him, we will never hear his voice calling out to us. There are probably some members in our parish whom God is calling to become priests or deacons or consecrated members of a religious community. There may be some whom God is calling to be lay leaders and lay ministers.  Whatever our vocation in life, we need to hear where Jesus is calling us in the context of that vocation.
      How is Jesus our Good Shepherd?  And what different does that make in our lives?  Those are good questions for us to ponder on Good Shepherd Sunday.  

4/25/2015 – Primera Comunión – 1 Reyes 19,4-8, 1 corintios 11,23-26, Marcos 14, 12-16, 22-26

    Elías estaba en el desierto.  Tenía un viaje muy largo.  Tenía mucho dolor en su corazón.  Estaba cansado y desanimado.  Cuando Elías dormía, el Ángel del Dios lo visitó.  Del Ángel, Elías recibió una galleta para comer y agua para beber.  Con este don de Dios, con esta comida en su cuerpo y su alma, continuaba en su viaje de 40 días a la montaña de Dios.
      Niños, hoy es un día muy especial para ustedes y para sus familias.  Hoy, ustedes reciben el Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo en la Eucaristía por la primera vez.  Yo, como su párroco, y los otros miembros de nuestra comunidad, celebran con ustedes. Tenemos mucho gozo en esta celebración. 
      San Pablo explicó a los corintios que él transmitió a esta comunidad que él recibió de Dios: que el Señor Jesucristo, en la noche en que fue entregado, tomó el pan, dio gracias, lo partió y dijo a sus discípulos: «Esto es mi Cuerpo, que se entrega por ustedes. Hagan esto en memoria mía».  Yo, como sacerdote, proclamo estas palabras de Cristo cada vez que celebramos la Eucaristía alrededor de la mesa de nuestro Señor.  Hoy, en nuestra parroquia, transmitimos esta tradición para que pueden crecer en su fe.  Niños, en su viaje, ustedes van a tener momentos gozosos y momentos tristes, momentos de alegría y momentos de sufrimiento.  Pero, en cada momento de su vida, en cualquier momento, pueden venir a la Iglesia para recibir Cristo en la Eucaristía.  Es un don que Dios nos da.  El Papa Francisco dice que la Eucaristía no es una recompensa para los perfectos.  Es un sacramento de sanación para todos.  Es un sacramento del amor y misericordia de Dios.
       Hoy, yo llevo puesto esta estola especial.  Es del país de Chile – un país en América del Sur donde ellos hablan español.   Esta estola tiene imagines de momentos importantes en la vida de Cristo – su ultima cena con sus discípulos, su encuentro con la mujer samaritana al pozo, su bautismo en el Río Jordán, su visita con Marta y María en su casa, y su llamada a los pescadores para ser sus discípulos.   Nosotros recordamos con mucha ternura los momentos importantes en la vida de Cristo.   Y vamos a recordar los momentos importantes en nuestra vida también.  Hoy es uno de estos momentos.  Celebramos con mucho gozo con ustedes alrededor de la mesa del Señor. ¡Cristo ha resucitado!  ¡Cristo esté con nosotros!

4/25/2015 – 4th Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday - First Holy Communion – John 10:11-18

At our vigil mass at 4:30 on Saturday we will celebrate First Holy Communion with our children.  Below is the homily for that mass. 

      Today, we celebrate a lot of different things.  Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of the Easter season.  We celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in our Church.  Today, we also celebrate a very big day for you, boys and girls.  We celebrate your First Holy Communion with your parents, with your brothers and sisters, with your family and friends.  Your teachers and parents have been preparing you for this day when you receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time in the Eucharist.  I know it is a very exciting time in your life.
       Jesus is our Good Shepherd.   He tells us that he knows he sheep very well.  He calls them and he feeds them and he guides them.  Most, importantly, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep. Several weeks ago, we celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection during Holy Week and the beginning of the Easter season.  Jesus was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order for us to have eternal life. Each time we celebrate mass together, we remember Jesus and we remember what he died for us.  Most importantly, today, on the day you receive your first communion, we celebrate that way Jesus enters our lives through the Eucharist in a very special way.  When you receive the Eucharist for the first time today, I will look you right in the eye and I will proclaim to you: “The Body of Christ.”  And you respond with “Amen.”  You will declared that this is the Body of Christ that you are receiving.  When I proclaim to you “the Body of Christ,” this signifies that not only is Jesus is present in the host that you are receiving, but that you are the Body of Christ as well!  What a wonderful miracle we celebrate today – Jesus entering our lives in the Eucharist and we becoming the Body of Christ.
      The stole I am wearing comes from the country of Chile.   It was handmade by a group of women in the Catholic Church down there.  This stole depicts different events that happened in Jesus’ life, such as the Last Supper he shared with his disciples, his baptism in the River Jordan with John the Bishop, his calling of the fishermen to be his disciples, his visit with Mary and Martha, and his encounter with the woman at the well.  I received this stole before I became a priest when I was studying in the country of Chile one summer, and today, I remember all the different people in my life who had a role in helping me become a priest.  As we celebrate your First Holy Communion today and as we recognize the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we know that some of you here may be called to the priesthood or to be brothers or sisters in a religious congregation.  Some of you may be called to be musicians or catechists or lay leaders in the Church.  Some of you may be called to different vocations that serve our community – teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, or men and women serving in our community. But we need to hear Jesus’ voice to recognize where he is calling us.  We need to cultivate a relationship we Jesus in our lives.  We are all called to hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  And I pray that all of you hear his voice calling you to a specific vocation in life.
       We celebrate with all of you today in a very special way.  I remember when Bishop Kopacz visited us last year for our First Communion mass.  We were right here in our parish hall celebrating First Communion the weekend after the tornado hit Tupelo.  Bishop Kopacz is the shepherd of our Diocese of Jackson.  I know that he sends his best wishes to all of you today boys and girls, and to your families.  The Eucharist that you receive today is to give you strength and nourishment on your journey through life. May you always remember how special this day is for you.  May you always remember the joy you had in your heart when you received Jesus in Eucharist for the first time. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4/25/2015 – Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter – Mark 16:15-20

      Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. Mark the evangelist.  Mark wrote what scholars believe is the oldest of the four Gospels.  His Gospel was probably written sometime around 60 AD and was written primarily for Gentile converts in Rome. 
      In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the commission that Jesus gives to his apostles.  Jesus' last words to his apostles point us to his saving mission and to the mission he gives to them to be witnesses to his saving death and resurrection, a mission to proclaim the Good News of salvation to all the world. 
         While some of us are ordained to specific ministries in the Church, while some are sent as missionaries to bring the Gospel to different parts of the world, all of us as followers of Jesus are given a share in the task of being heralds of the Good News of Jesus.  We are not left alone to that task. We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  The risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.  Through our words and actions, through our faith, the risen Christ is still a very real presence in the world today. 
         Celebrating the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist reminds us of how central the apostolic faith of the early Church is to our tradition and to what we believe.  The Second Vatican Council attempted to modernize and renew our traditions in the context of our culture and the signs of the times of the modern world, but the Council also attempted to get back to roots of our faith as expressed by the evangelists, the early church fathers and mothers, and the apostles.  In the spirit of St. Mark and the commission that Jesus gives to all his followers, may we be filled with the joy of the risen Christ.  May we long to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for the glory of God.

4/24/2015 – Friday of the 3rd week of Easter – John 6:52-59

     The reading we hear in today’s Gospel is part of the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of John.  In the past week, I gave a presentation to the parents of the children who will be receiving first holy communion and led a discussion with the neophytes in the RCIA program about discipleship. Both of those presentations talked about the centrality of the Eucharist in our Catholic faith. And the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel that we hear today does such a great job of giving us a solid foundation in our belief in the Eucharist. In fact, I recommend reading this chapter of John's Gospel to any Christian who wants to understand the Scriptural basis for our belief in the Eucharist. We can only imagine how radical it was for those Jews to hear Jesus tell them that they were to eat his flesh and drink his blood and that this would be true food and true drink for them on their journey. 
     One of the greatest honors I have as a priest is to give a person his first communion.  Looking in the eyes at the moment can say so much, more than words could. How important is the Eucharist to us in our lives of faith?  Is it something we long for?  Or is it just another something we fit into our schedule?  I know what the answer is for those of you here at daily mass.  I know the Eucharist is important to you and you make it a priority in your busy lives. How can we transmit that message to others?

Friday, April 17, 2015

4/23/2015 – Thursday of the 3rd week of Easter – Acts 8:26-40

      Sometimes, our reading from Sacred Scripture can be so compelling and so vivid that it may seem like a movie or theater production enfolding right before our very eyes.  In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, we hear about an Ethiopian Eunuch who receives the call to journey to Jerusalem to worship God, a God that he really doesn’t know about and really doesn’t understand.  The Lord sends Philip to greet this Eunuch, to teach him about this reading from the prophet Isaiah that the Eunuch had been trying to read, to teach him about the Lord of Life. Philip disappears from scene just as quickly as he appeared, just like a super hero in a Hollywood movie.  The Lord sent Philip to another land to spread the word of God to others.  Yet, before he leaves, Philip baptized the Eunuch in a body of water that they came upon.
       We hear about such miraculous stories of faith in Sacred Scripture, of how the Lord touches the hearts of different people, bringing them to him through great odds and difficult circumstances.  There is a lot of mythology associated with the saint we celebrate today – St George.  His name probably brings to our mind the image of this courageous saint slaying a dragon – certainly some of the mythology that has sprung up about him throughout history.  We do know that George was a Roman soldier who rose to the rank of officer and who was born in the latter part of the 3rd century before the Roman Empire officially recognized Christianity. The Roman Emperor Diocletian put George to death for his unwillingness to give up his Christian faith.  George became one of the most venerated Catholic saints, having become the patron of Crusaders and soldiers, and having been depicted often in iconography. 
        All of us face challenges in our journey of faith in one way or another. We can see in the story of the Eunuch how we are called to go out of our way to discover more about our faith, to find out more about what we don’t understand. We can see in the story of St George a calling to stand up for our faith in the midst of great adversity.  May the Lord continue to lead us and guide us along our journey of faith.  May he set our hearts on fire with a love of God and a curiosity and vigor to always want to learn more and to grow in the ways of faith. 

Rest in peace, Cardinal Francis George

With gratitude in my heart, this is my prayer:  Rest in Peace Cardinal Francis George. Cardinal George was a great leader of our American Catholic Church and of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was a great spokesperson for the Gospel of Life and for religious freedom. His voice will be greatly missed. Current Archbishop Cupich of Chicago announced today: "A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord." Go in peace, Cardinal George - our prayers are with you.  You have been a great example of faith for us.  As a fellow native Chicagoan, I thank you for your leadership of one of the great Catholic cities of the world. 

A great quote from Cardinal George, one that has been quoted to me by some of my Protestant minister friends who saw the quote as very profound and prophetic in light of the attacks on religious liberty and on Christians in recent years in our country: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."