Saturday, October 22, 2016

10/23/2016 - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C - Luke 18:9-14

      When I was working as as a lay missionary in Ecuador, prior to coming to Mississippi, I hosted a group of high school students from Cincinnati, Ohio for a two week long mission experience.  In this jungle province of Ecuador, there were more than 100 missionaries doing all kinds of work - not just ministry in parishes, but running schools, health clinics, orphanages, and community outreach projects.  I had arranged for a canoe to bring the youth and their leaders to a village where I did a lot of work as a missionary.  The canoe ride was about 4 hours away from the mission site where I lived.  As the canoe was speeding down the huge river - a river that was about as wide as the Mississippi River, with the immense rain forest jungle all around us - one of the high school students in the canoe turned to me and said: “I feel like we’ve been transported to one of the pages in National Geographic Magazine.”  And I think that is how a lot of us see this mission field - as this exotic location thousands of miles away from us in the United States. However, in recent years, our Church has been trying to educate the faithful with the reality that whole world is a mission field, that all of us are missionary in spirit as disciples of Christ.  
     We have been celebrating Respect Life Month during the month of October.  In addition, this month, we have been celebrating the month of the rosary.  Today, we also celebrate a special Sunday during the month of October - World Mission Sunday.  This marks the 90th year in which our Catholic Church celebrates World Mission Sunday, as it was first declared by Pope Pius XI & the Pontifical Society for the Propagation for the Faith in 1926.  How the mission world has changed since that year.  Back then, many of the priests in our diocese in Mississippi, which at the time was the named the Diocese of Natchez, came from Ireland.  Now, with no more priests coming from Ireland, we have priests in our Diocese from the Congo, India, Vietnam, Mexico, and Indonesia, places that used to be thought of as the mission field.  We are working hard to cultivate home-grown priests from the parishes within Mississippi to provide the priests we need.  Since we are still celebrating the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose this as the theme for World Mission Sunday this year: Missionary Church - Witness of Mercy. 
     Humility is the common theme in our readings today.  And humility plays an important role in how we pray to God, in how we live out our life of discipleship, in how we bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world as missionaries of his Good News.  We hear of a Pharisee who is praying to God in today’s parable.  In actuality, what the self-righteous Pharisee said is not really a prayer to God.  Instead of thanking God, the Pharisee brags about himself. In fact, he really says this prayer to himself.  The Pharisee looks down at others, labeling them “sinners”.  The Pharisee actually does a lot of good things in his life, but he is very arrogant and proud.  God calls us to humility and compassion toward our brothers and sisters, very different from the attitude this Pharisee embraces. 
     The prayer of the tax collector is very different from the prayer of the Pharisee.  The tax collector stands at the back of the Temple, rather than assuming a position of power and honor up in front.  The tax collector is so humble that he will not even lift up his eyes to God.  He confesses his sins and asks for forgiveness, praying out of the deep recesses of his heart.  The tax collector has done many bad things in his life, but he possesses the virtue of humility, which leads him to repent and to ask forgiveness from God, the merciful Father.  The Pharisee prays as someone who feels that he does not need God’s forgiveness, but the tax collector prays as someone who knows that he needs forgiveness, and he receives that forgiveness from God.   How do we approach prayer? Out of our pride and power and self-righteousness?  Or out of our humility and obedience?  According to the 19th century existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “Prayer does not change God, but (prayer) changes him who prays.”  And according to scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown from University of Notre Dame, “If no change occurs as a result of prayer, then one has not really prayed.” Out of our humility and repentance, like that which was shown by the tax collector in today’s Gospel, we can be open to change and transformation in our prayer life.  The tax collector surrenders himself to God’s grace in his humility and openness.  The Pharisee thinks he had all the answers; God’s grace has no room in his life.  The spirit of today’s Gospel, of humility, repentance, and faith, can be found in the prayers in the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.  For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”
     We here in the Diocese of Jackson are a missionary diocese - we reflect the missionary nature of our universal Church, our desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus throughout the world, and to share our Catholic faith with others.  Last Thursday, we had our deanery meeting in Northeast Mississippi.  There are six deaneries in our diocese.  Our deanery - Deanery 5 - stretches from Corinth and Ripley in the north, over to Oxford and Bruce, and all the way down to Starkville and Columbus to the south of us - quite a large area.   Our deanery is very rural and is comprised of mostly small parishes. It has the most developed Hispanic ministry in the diocese. Our deanery has the most lay leaders in charge of parishes as well.  We try our best to work together, to help each other out.  It is not always easy. It is sometimes frustrating and exhausting.  But our collaboration in the missionary spirit of our Church is what we are called to as brothers and sisters in Christ.  At that deanery meeting on Thursday, one of the lay ministers remarked how appreciative she is of the way we all try to help each other in the neighboring parishes in Northeast Mississippi, of how we collaborate in ministry, trying to give each other understanding and support.  As we celebrate the universal call we have to be missionary, we acknowledge how that call begins on the parish level.  We want all of you to be a part of our mission here at St James.  As we reach out to our fellow parishioners, our children, and our youth, as we reach out to the community and beyond, all of us can be a part of this missionary mandate.  That is one of goals here at St James - to fulfill this call to be a missionaries in the world. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

10/21/2016 - Friday of the 29th week in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:54-59

      We hear some common sense advice from Jesus today.  A lot of times, even in our modern era, we tried to read signs in nature to forecast the weather.  I know the Farmer’s Almanac is still popular here in the US.  For our part of the country, it forecasts an upcoming winter that is “penetrating cold and very wet.”  With the dry months we’ve just had, that sounds like a relief.  For the Midwest, it forecasts “numbing cold and snowy” - not so good.   In Jesus’ day in Ancient Israel, they would use patterns to forecast the weather as well.  Wind coming from the Mediterranean ocean to the west was known to bring rain.  Wind coming from the south from the desert would bring hot weather and no moisture.   Jesus asks the people why they are good is reading the signs in the weather but are not very good in reading the signs from God that are before them.   Here God has sent Jesus, the Messiah, with teachings and signs and wonders.  He heals the sick.  He performs miracles to feed the crowds and to calm the storms.  Yet, they fail to recognize that these signs are from God.  They clammer for other signs, not understanding what is already before them.  They look on with curiosity, but are unwilling to make a commitment of faith.  We can see our church and our religion and our faith as drudgery or as an obligation, or we can see it as an opportunity or an invitation from God.  Are we reading the signs and the opportunities that God give us on our own journeys of faith?  

10/20/2016 - Thursday of the 29th week in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:49-53

       We hear Jesus proclaim that he has come to set the earth on fire, how he wishes that it were already blazing!”  Perhaps he is not meaning literally, but rather symbolically.   We must remember that Jesus was a practicing Jew.  To him and to all the Jews of Ancient Israel, the imagery of fire as evoked in the Old Testament symbolized the powerful presence of God.  We recall how Moses saw God in the burning bush and how the pillar of fire led the Israelites through the desert at night on their way to the promised land.  We also recall the tongues of fire that came upon the disciples with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The fire of the Holy Spirit burns in all the hearts of Christ’s disciples.  The Holy Spirit leads us and guides us to transformation, conversion, and renewal.   If Jesus wishes to spread that fire throughout the earth, we as his disciples and the messengers of his Gospel, must be willing to help. 
      Some of our parishioners had told me that they have had friends and acquaintances ask them about the eternal flame in front of our church, about what it symbolized.  To many in our parishes, it is a symbol of God, that God is with us in our parish of St James, named after one of the original apostles, the apostle who brought Christ’s Gospel to others as a missionary after Christ’s death and resurrection.  The symbols of our faith are there for a reason, to remind us of who we are and what God is about.  May we never forget our mission.  

10/19/2016 - Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs of North America - Isaiah 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6

      Instead of a psalm, we hear verses from the prophet Isaiah today, as he declares: God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.  We may assume that the psalmist is having great success and joy in his life, but perhaps he is going through many sufferings, challenges and obstacles in his life, finding confidence and strength in his faith in the midst of all he is going through. 
      Today, we celebrate two great missionaries and their companions:  St Jean de Brébeuf, St Isaac Rogues, and their companions, all missionaries from Europe who died as martyrs in North America in the 17th century. The first permanent French settlement was established in Quebec in present day Canada in 1608.  Not many years later, the Jesuits established a permanent mission in Quebec. Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and other Jesuits were among the priests who traveled throughout Quebec to establish missions among the native people there.  The missions amongst the Huron tribe were the most successful.  Not only did these missionaries have to contend with learning a native language that was not written down, a harsh northern environment, and the natives’ natural distrust of the newly arrived Europeans, they also were confronted by a state of constant warfare amongst the tribes.  Many of these priests were captured and tortured at different times.  Isaac Jogues was captured in 1642 by members of the Mohawk tribe, who tortured him and enslaved him until he was able to escape.  In fact, in this era of Church history, a priest who was bodily deformed was not able to perform his priestly duties.  Because Jogues had many of his fingers removed or mutilated during his torture, he had to receive a special papal dispensation in order to continue to celebrate mass.  Brébeuf is most remembered for the written records he left behind of the Huron language, as well as the Huron Carol that he wrote in the native Huron language, the first recorded Christian hymn that was written and composed in North America.  8 Jesuit priests were killed in Canada between 1642 and 1649 - collectively they are known as the North American martyrs.  Author Brian Moore, whose novel Black Robe is based upon the life of Brébeuf, stated that the faith and conviction of these Jesuit priests is a dynamic, profound Christian faith that speaks to us across the centuries.  We can certainly learn a great deal from the tenacity and courage of these faithful missionaries.  Most of these missionaries knew that they would die for the faith in one form or another, but their belief in the missionary mandate we have as Christians quelled any fear or trepidations that they had.  May the spirit of these brave Jesuit missionary live on in us today.  

Respect Life Rosary - The Sorrowful mysteries: the 4th weekend in October 2016 (Oct 22 & 23)

Prayer at the beginning of the rosary –
      Almighty God, giver of all that is good.
We thank you for the precious gift of human life.
For life in the womb, coming from your creative power -
For the life of children, making us glad with their freshness and promise -
For the life of our youth, hoping for a better world -
For the life of those coping with mental illness, diseases, and other challenges and afflictions in life, teaching us humility -
For the life of the elderly, witnessing the ageless values of patience and wisdom.
May you inspire all of us to protect and safeguard all human life as an essential part of our faith as disciples of Christ.
      Like Blessed Mary, may we always say yes to your gift of life. May we defend it and promote it from conception to it's natural end and bring us at last, O Father, to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

1. The First Sorrowful Mystery – The agony in the garden
Jesus comes with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane and prays to be delivered from his Passion, but most of all, to do the Father's will. Let us pray that Christ might hear the prayers of all who suffer from the culture of death, and that he might deliver them from the hands of their persecutors.  We pray especially for those who are persecuted because of their religious beliefs and for those who are trapped in the violent cycle of human trafficking. 

2. The Second Sorrowful Mystery – The scourging at the pillar
Falsely accused before Pilate, Jesus is cruelly tied to a pillar and scourged, then clothed in a cloak of purple and mocked. Let us pray for all victims of crimes and their families, that by the merits of his most holy passion, Christ might deliver them and grant them eternal life.  We also pray for all those in prison, for their families, and for an end to the death penalty.

3. The Third Sorrowful Mystery – The crowing with thorns
Pilate mocks Christ by asking him if he is the King of the Jews. In reality, Jesus is the King of all the world, through whom all things were made. He is the one who will judge the living and the dead at the end of time. Yet he is crowned with suffering out of love for us, in reparation for our sins.  Let us pray that Christ our King help us to see his face in our brothers and sisters. 

4. The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery – The carrying of the cross
Three times Christ falls under the weight of the cross as he carries our sins to Calvary. Let us pray for all who struggle to live out and proclaim the Gospel of Life, that they might pick up their crosses and walk the way of sorrows with the Savior of the world.

5. The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery - The Crucifixion
Innocent and without sin, Jesus opens his arms upon the cross out of love for us. Let us join our sufferings, and the sufferings of the whole world, to his one perfect sacrifice of praise.

Prayer at the end of the rosary –
       Heavenly Father, the beauty and dignity of human life was the crowning of your creation.  You further ennobled that life when your Son became one with us in his incarnation.
        Help us to realize the sacredness of human life and to respect it from the moment of conception until the last moment at death. Give us courage to speak with truth and love and with conviction in defense of life.  Help us to extend the gentle hand of mercy and forgiveness to those who do not reverence your gift of life.

        To all, grant pardon for the times we have failed to be grateful for your precious gift of life or to respect it in others. We ask this in Jesus' Name. Amen.

10/17/2016 - St Ignatius of Antioch - Bishop and Martyr in the first century AD

“It is right, therefore, that we not just be called Christians, but that we actually be Christians.” 

10/18/2016 - St Luke the Evangelist - Tuesday of the 29th week in Ordinary Time - Luke 10:1-9

      St Luke is one of the 4 evangelists whose Gospels are included in the New Testament.  Scripture scholars surmise from his Gospel that Luke was a Gentile Christian who accompanied St Paul during part of his missionary journeys.  Referred to by Paul as the “beloved physician,” he has traditionally been referred to as a medical doctor. 
      In the Year of Mercy, we have been hearing from the Gospel of Luke, which is quite appropriate since Luke gives special attention to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, and the oppressed in his Gospel.  Luke’s Gospel gives us the Magnificat, the hymn of social justice presented by Mary in response to the blessing she receives from her cousin Elizabeth.  Luke’s Gospel also includes the description of the birth of Jesus in the poor manger.  Jesus - the King of Kings - is born amongst the poorest of the poor. 
     In the Gospel reading we hear today, notice how Jesus sends his disciples out as missionaries with very little to weigh them down - no money bag, no knapsack, no sandals.   They are to proclaim the Gospel to each town and village where they enter, accepting the welcome and the hospitality that is accorded them. And where they are not welcomed, they knock off the dust from their shoes and they move along to the next town or village.  May we also have the same courage and tenacity as we travel on our journey and proclaim the Good News. 
      The antiphon for today’s feast of Luke, the Evangelist declares: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings of peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation.” Blessed are those who heard Christ’s Gospel, who pondered in their hearts, who passed down the Gospel to us.  Blessed are those missionaries and proclaimers of the Gospel today who make sacrifices to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  We give thanks to St Luke and the other men and women of the Early Church, who gave witness to the Gospel that we continue to proclaim today.