Thursday, May 21, 2015

5/22/2015 – Friday of the 7th week of Easter – John 21:15-19

      Jesus tells Peter that if he loves him, he will feed his sheep.  We use the word love in so many different ways in our modern world.  It is interesting that two different Greeks words are used for love in this Gospel passage. Agape is a love that seeks the highest good of others, not coming only out of emotions, but rather out of the person's mind, intellect, and being.  Agape is a caring love that is intimately involved in the needs of the other person, a love that does not depend upon being reciprocated or being earned.  Peter responds to Jesus with philia, a brotherly love that is born out of a close friendship. Peter is replying to our Lord that his loves him through the bond of a special friendship.  Jesus calls us to a bond of love beyond the special closeness of friendship.  As Jesus asks Peter to grow in his love, perhaps we should also grow in this love: in the way we love God and love others.  St John Chrysostom, an important Early Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople, said that nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ so as to care for and love his neighbor. Like Peter, may help the Lord feed his sheep.

5/21/2015 – Thursday of the 7th week of Easter - Acts 22:30; 23:6-11

      We are going through an era where the world seems to be going toward the secular and away from the religious, but we forget that this has happened in other time periods throughout history as well.  The saint of the day illustrates this.  Eugene de Mazenod was a child and a youth during the French Revolution. Europe had been experiencing the Age of Enlightenment, in which human reason, philosophy, analysis, and individual were emphasized over the Church and the traditional seats of power and authority in society.  Even though many in France turned away from the Church during those years, de Mazenod chose to enter the seminary.  He eventually became the Bishop of Marseille, a larger trading port and a place where there was a lot of poverty on many levels.  He eventually founded the Oblates of Mary of Immaculate.  Pope Pius XI called the OMI the missionary specialists of difficult missions. In fact, two of the most influential priests in recent years have been members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - Father Ron Rolheiser and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, embodying the missionary spirit of the order that de Mazenod founded. 
       We hear of conflict and the difficult circumstances Paul faced today in his ministry, of how he was beaten and brought before the Sanhedrin, of how that body got into a fight amongst itself between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Facing challenges and persecutions in nothing new in the lives of Christians, is it?  That is why it is so relevant to look at the daily readings and the lives of the saints that we have throughout our liturgical calendar.  We never know how these readings are going to speak to us as we look at them in the context of the reality of our own world and our own lives.  St Paul used a creative and cunning way to get out of a difficult situation.  He could have been put to death, but was able to escape with his life intact.  As we enter the last days of the Easter season, may we ask the Lord to continue to speak to us and guide us. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

5/18/2015 - Catholic Funeral Homily – Billy Hoing - Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 23, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Matthew 5:1-12a

     We welcome all of you here to St James Catholic Church, the home parish of Billy Hoing, for his funeral liturgy, for the mass of the resurrection. Our scripture readings today were chosen by his family; they reflect Billy in so many ways. Billy was very devoted to his family: very devoted to his Church community.  Billy was a great example of faith for his parish for his family.
      Our first reading from the book of Wisdom tells us: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, & no torment shall touch them.”  Wisdom tells us: although many in world believe that all life ends when our earthly existence comes to end, we know from our faith that souls of those who’ve passed from this life will be in peace with God and will have eternal life with him, that those who trust in God will be a part of him forever. We place our trust in this belief – we are comforted with that belief that Billy is now with the Lord in eternal life.
      “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” We hear these words from St P today; they so apply to Billy as well. Billy had a very rough battle with cancer.  Through it all he kept the faith and fought the good fight. We Christians are called to unite our sufferings with the sufferings that Jesus endured.  Billy did this in such a courageous, dignified, and gracious way. 
       In the Gospel today, we hear Jesus proclaim the Beatitudes. He looks out at the reality that faces us in our humanity, he looks out at this reality, giving that reality a promise of hope. Jesus addressed all those he saw before him: the poor, those who mourn and weep, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. With great affection, Jesus tells them that the kingdom of God is theirs.  Jesus gives them hope.  He gives us hope today as well. The Beatitudes were chosen for Billy today because Billy truly lived out the values contained in them.  The Beatitudes describe people who put their total faith in God – and that describes Billy. It describes the gentle, compassionate, and loving way in which he lived out his faith.   He was very devoted to the Knights of Columbus: to their Tootsie roll drive to earn funds for the McDougal center, to praying before the Blessed Sacrament in the early morning hours each Sunday.  I remember Billy with the other Knights in the color guard for Bishop Kopacz when he celebrated the feast of St James with us last summer.
      Amy remembers her dad modeling his faith for her and her brother Matthew in so many ways, especially in his relationship with Marilyn.  They truly lived out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in their lives, in the mutual love and respect  they had for each other.  Billy’s family remembers him as a very devoted husband, brother, father, and grandfather.  His family was his very heart. His daughter Amy’s first members of her dad are of him holding her & comforting her while she had an earache as a little girl – staying up with her at night watching Godzilla and King Kong, trying to get her mind off the pain she was experiencing.  Moments of love, nurturing and tenderness are remembered – of learning to fish & hunt, in sharing a bologna sandwiches together on a picnic, of laughter and joking around together. 
         The 23rd psalm is a favorite Bible passage of many as Christians are drawn to the comforting words of psalmist.  The image of Jesus as our good shepherd who leads us and guides us in life, in bringing us to a pool of refreshing waters at end of life is such very comforting image. We entrust Billy now to Jesus our Good Shepherd to lead us to the refreshing waters of eternal life.  In the vigil service we had last night for Billy, we prayed the rosary, asking for the prayers & intercessions of the Blessed Mother to accompany him as she enters eternal life with our Lord. In addition, one of the prayers in the vigil service last night mentioned that for those who believe in God’s love, death is not an end, and it does not destroy the bonds of love that we forge in our lives.   The love and affection that Billy had for his family, friends, and loved ones, the ties and bonds of that love and affection that will always remain.  As we pray for Billy today, we know that his spirit and his prayers remain with his loved ones and with his family.  

5/17/2015 – The Ascension – Acts 1:1-11, Mark 16:15-20

     We are quickly coming to the end of our Easter season, so it’s a good time to think about what we’ve learned from our Scripture readings these last 7 Sundays.  On Easter morning, when Mary of Magdala came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning to find it empty, his disciples started realizing that something new and radical and unexpected was taking place.  As the resurrected Jesus started appearing to them, in places like the locked room where the apostles were huddled in fear, or to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they started receiving a lot of answers to their questions and doubts. But a lot of things still didn’t make sense. The resurrection was a new reality with Jesus appearing and disappearing in the disciples' presence, walking through walls and showing up in locked rooms. Today, we hear the beginning verses from the Acts of the Apostles describing Jesus’ ascension into heaven, of the cloud taking him out of their sight as the disciples watch from the earth below, shocked at what they see.
       We all try to make sense of our faith and of our world, which seems to get more difficult all the time.  We try to make sense of who Jesus is and what place he has in our lives.  As the disciples stood there watching Jesus ascending in the sky, two men in white appeared, asking:  “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”  They were being called to action, to live out their faith, to be Christ’s presence here on earth.  But I wonder if the Ascension we are celebrating today just commemorates an historical event that happened about 2,000 years ago, or, if it is supposed to have a real affect on our lives today.  St Augustine answered that question in words he wrote in the early 5th century about the Ascension: "Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him…. If you’ve risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. Just as (Jesus) remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled."
       We live in a changing world and a changing Church, and that can be scary. A couple of days ago, an article on the CNN news website address a new study released by the Pew Research Center, stating that those who identify themselves as Christian in our country are dropping at an alarming rate.  Only 70% in the survey identified themselves as Christian, down from 78% the last time the survey was taken 7 years ago. And the Millennials, those born in the 1990s, show the biggest drop.  Obviously, we can’t look at this survey and ignore the reality around us.
        It brought to my mind this cross I recently came across in a box of my things, a  cross that a priest gave me when I was serving as a lay missionary in Canada. It is more than 100 years old, having been passed down from priest to priest. It was originally worn by an Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest on a cincture tied around his cassock.  This priest had worked with the Dene people in northern Canada in Manitoba more than 100 years ago.  He traveled by dogsled to get to the different mission sites in the middle of winter.  I treasure this cross and think of the other priests who had it before me, and how we are all knit together to our faith, to the Holy Catholic Church.  And I think about it, here I am, having grown up in Chicago and southern California, and I’ve served as a missionary in Canada, Ecuador, and Mississippi.  My faith led me to all those places, the same faith that is there for us in the changing world. Led by the Holy Spirit and by our Pope and our Bishops, our faith reacts to the changing world around us.
         I have mentioned to you this book called Rebuilt that a lot of people in the Church have been reading in recent years.  On the top of this book is a quote by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the very beloved Archbishop of New York and one of the most outspoken, honest leaders in our American Catholic Church.  Archbishop Dolan said, “If you love your parish, read this book.” And that is what got me to reading this book and thinking about our parish here at St James. I love our parish and I want to have a vision to give you as your pastor.  I’ve mentioned to all of you that when I get up in the morning I give thanks – I give thanks for the Lord allowing me to serve him and his people as a priest this day, and I give thanks for the people of our parish.  Think of the beautiful new doors we recently put up in our parish.  When a visitor comes through those doors and enters our parish's worship space, I want him to feel a warm welcome from us, and I want him to truly feel that he has been touched by God during our celebration of the mass. Our parish of St James has a lot of wonderful traditions and history, and to be true that history, I want us to be in tune to where the Holy Spirit is calling us to be disciples in the here and now, to renew and re-energize our parish community.  There are so many people who love our parish and want our parish to be the best it can be.  The famous evangelizer Matthew Kelly says that each parish should be the best version of itself.  And that is my dream: for St James to be a place where we love God, where we love our neighbor, where we live as disciples, where we make disciples.  It is as simple as that.  One of the things our parish council will be working on is a mission statement.  And we want our mission statement to be simple enough so that every man, woman, and child will be able to say it from memory.  I encourage you to read this book this summer.  From this book, we will get ideas and focus.  It will help flesh out s vision for our parish.  We will be called to make changes to be sure, but all of those changes will come through prayerful discernment and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is amazing the change we have in our church just by those new doors that I've mentioned.  That decision to get those new doors was driven by a dream that several parishioners had.  I’m amazed at how those door can have such a great affect on our church environment.  My heartfelt dream is to have other changes like that in our parish. 
         Below the title of the book Rebuilt is its subtitle: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter.  We want to awaken and energize and invigorate every single person sitting here in the pews.  We want to reach out to the lost: to the fallen away Catholics, to our members who have stopped coming to mass on a weekly basis, to the ones searching for a church home, to the ones intrigued by Pope Francis and our Catholic faith, to the ones looking for something in their lives even though they can't name what they are searching for.  We want to make Church matter.  We want to make our parish be all it can be.  All of you are invited to be a part of this. All of you. This is just the beginning.  There will be more information to come. We will keep you informed of all progress we are making.  I invite all of you to start be reading this book and by feeling hope and encouragement today. 

        In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us to go out to the world and proclaim the Gospel to all – to every living creature.  That is our mission.  And with a focus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that is what we are going to do.

5/17/2015 – La Ascensión del Señor – Hechos de los Apóstoles 1:1-11, Marcos 16:15-20

       Llegamos rápidamente al final de la temporada de Pascua.  Hoy, podemos reflexionar sobre las enseñanzas en las lecturas en los siete domingos de Pascua que tuvimos.  En la mañana de Pascua, cuando María Magdalena fue al sepulcro de Jesús temprano en la mañana y la encontró vacía, sus discípulos comenzaron darse cuenta de algo nuevo y radical en su camino de fe. Cuando el Jesús resucitado comenzó a aparecer a los discípulos, en lugares como la casa cerrada donde los apóstoles estaban escondidos con miedo, o con los dos discípulos en el camino a Emaús, estos discípulos recibieron una gran cantidad de respuestas a sus preguntas.  Pero, todavía, tenían dudas y preguntas. La resurrección fue una nueva realidad para ellos - con Jesús caminando a través de paredes y apareciendo en casas cerradas.  Hoy, escuchamos las palabras del primer capitulo del libro de los Hechos de los Apóstoles, con una descripción de la ascensión de Cristo al cielo.  Los apóstoles estaban en sito abajo en la tierra, mirando a Cristo en las nubes – una supresa por supuesto. 
      Hoy celebramos la Ascensión del Señor.  Pasó 40 días después de su resurrección la mañana de Pascua. Como católicos, una situación muy grande que tenemos es para dar sentido a nuestra fe y a nuestro mundo. Es muy difícil para hacerlo en nuestro mundo moderno. Yo se que para muchos de los adultos aquí, su experiencia en México o en otros países de su niñez era muy diferente de su experiencia de ustedes aquí y la experiencia de sus hijos. Cuando yo nací aquí en los Estados Unidos en 1962, era un país cristiano con valores cristianos.  Pero, hay otra realidad hoy – una realidad muy diferente.  Como los discípulos estaban allí viendo a Jesús ascendente en el cielo, dos hombres vestidos de blanco aparecieron, preguntando: "Hombres de Galilea, ¿por qué te quedan ahí mirando al cielo?" Estaban allí mirando al cielo, pero su llamada era de acción, de vivir su fe, de dar testimonio de la presencia de Cristo aquí en la tierra. No podemos hacer este trabajo mirando el cielo. 
     La Ascensión no solo conmemora un evento histórico en la vida de Cristo – también es un evento que vive en nosotros – que vive en nuestra fe. Para San Agustín, la Ascensión tiene significado para nosotros como creyentes en la fe. San Agustín escribió estas palabras en el siglo quinto sobre la Ascensión: “Hoy nuestro Señor Jesucristo ascendió al cielo.  Necesitamos darnos cuenta que nuestros corazones ascienden con él…. Si hemos resucitados con Cristo, tenemos la llamada de buscar las cosas de arriba, donde Cristo está sentado a la derecha de Dios. Si, buscamos las cosas de arriba, no en las cosas que están en la tierra.  Jesucristo se quedó con nosotros en una manera especial después de su ascensión, así también nosotros ya estamos en el cielo con él, a pesar de que. lo que se nos prometió aún no se ha cumplido”

      Mis queridos hermanos, tenemos mucho trabajo para hacer en nuestra comunidad y en nuestra parroquia.  En muchos sentidos, los sacramentos son para muchos personas momentos de fiesta y no son para ellos encuentros especiales con Dios. Hay niños que reciban su primero comunión, pero muchos de ellos y sus familias no van frecuentemente a la misa.  Había poca gente a la misa de la primera comunión en el mes de abril, pero había mucha gente en las fiestas después de la misa. ¿Y por qué hablo hoy sobre este tema, sobre la responsabilidad que tenemos para vivir nuestra fe, para evangelizar el mundo y para evangelizar nosotros mismos y nuestra familia?  Dice Cristo en nuestro Evangelio hoy en nuestra celebración de su Ascensión: “Vayan por todo el mundo y prediquen el Evangelio a toda creatura.” Pero, escuchen que dice después: “El que crea y se bautice, se salvará; el que se resista a creer, será condenado.” No soy aquí como sacerdote para regañar a los miembros de nuestra parroquia, pero estoy aquí para enseñar la verdad y para presentar las reglas y los valores de nuestra fe y de nuestra Iglesia.  Tenemos un desafío hoy – para vivir nuestra fe con gozo y esperanza – para vivir como discípulos de Cristo en la realidad de su ascensión y su resurrección. Y si no cumplimos con sinceridad este desafío, ¿como podemos llevar el Evangelio de Cristo al mundo?