Saturday, July 4, 2015

7/5/2015 – 14th Sunday of ordinary time – Mark 6:1-6, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

     When we hear our Gospel readings each Sunday during our liturgies, we often hear the story of people of great faith.  Last Sunday, we heard about a synagogue official who had faith that Jesus could cure his daughter who was at the point of death and about a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 long years who had faith that Jesus could cure her with just his touch.  Yet, today, we hear Jesus bemoaning the lack of faith of the people in his native town, of those who questioned his authority and did not believe what was right before their eyes. 
      Faith has been one of the obvious themes in our Sunday readings these past few weeks.   Faith has been explicitly mentioned in these readings again and again.  As we think about the reality of faith in our own lives, we might think about how tough it is to reconcile our faith and the values of our faith with a lot of changes going on in our world today, changes some people dream for, and the same changes that others see as the world turning its back on religion and on people of faith.  Our state flag, our healthcare system, the Greek debt crisis and our world’s financial system, racism, the killings in the church in Charleston, what constitutes a marriage, and even Pope Francis’ warnings about our environment  – these have been the red hot issues that have been on the news and in the newspaper.  They’ve provoked anger, passion, and many disagreements.  I think we have all witnessed those on both sides of the conversation on these issues lash out judgmentally and without sensitivity, especially in postings on Facebook and on other social media sites. 
      Our Catholic Church has bravely spoken out on many of these topics in order to set a tone as how they fit into our life of faith.  It is not easy addressing these topics as a priest, let me tell you, but last week and this week, when they are on the minds of just about everyone, young and old alike, I would be negligent if I did not address them as a priest.  We can look at what our Church leaders are saying.  Addressing the killings in the church in Charleston, South Carolina, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia had this to say: “All life matters, and when life is taken in such a violent way, all people of good will are devastated. ... May love be our mission and give us the strength to drive out hate, today and always.” The mass killings we have seen in recent years in this church in Charleston, in the movie theater in Colorado, in the marathon in Boston, and in the elementary school in Connecticut point to the way some lash out against innocent victims in displays of anger and rage.  Responding to these situations is not easy, but we cannot ignore this reality.  The message of reconciliation and healing and a sense of solidarity in community that comes from our Church can help heal and challenge our society with the reality that we face today.
      One thing that I am proud of here at St James is our diversity.  We try very hard to welcome everyone here no matter who they are – the visitor as well as the long-time parishioner, the children and the youth as well as our Happy Hearts members, the recent immigrant or someone whose family has been here at St James for generations.  As Jesus reached out to those who needed healing in their lives, as he reached out to those on the margins or to those who were different than he was, Jesus asks us to do the same.  Are we always as warm and welcoming as we should be?  Do we seem to be impatient and in a hurry rather than being compassionate and welcoming.  Yes, we the priest and the staff at St James are human beings, and sometimes we do not live up to the standards and values we want to embody.  I as the pastor want to apologize to anyone who has had their feelings hurt or who have not felt our warm embrace.  And I ask your forgiveness and pardon, and I ask that you reach out to us and help us welcome you back if this is the case.
      Let me make a few observations that we could keep in mind as our society continues to grapple with a lot of these big issues that are redefining us and that are having such an influence on the way our daily lives are lived out. First of all, as Pope Francis announced in his recent encyclical, on the issue of the environment, he appealed for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet, to have a conversation that includes many different sides, where we are all able to express our opinions and concerns.  We as a Church should have the opportunity to express our point of view, to read the signs of the times and to dialogue with the Modern World, to quote the Second Vatican Council.  To do this, we Catholics need to keep abreast of what our Church teaches and to have the courage to express our opinions.  Fortunately, there are a lot of writings coming out of the Vatican and from our US Bishops than can help us understand our position of faith.
      Another thing we need to keep in mind is that importance of respect.  In his response to the marriage decision of the Supreme Court, Archbishop Cupich of Chicago wrote about the importance of treating our brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian with dignity and respect, with compassion and sensitivity.  Archbishop Cupich emphasizes that this dignity and respect is to be real, not just rhetorical, that it reflect our Church’s commitment to accompany all people, no matter where they are on their journey.   When some feel like they are disrespected, we are called to reopen the avenues of conversation and dialogue. 
      And that brings us to the importance of being witnesses of the Gospel message in our words and our actions.  Yes, marriage is definitely being redefined in our country and throughout the world, but even though this change is a big one that goes beyond our Catholic definition of marriage, we can recognize that there have been many changes to the secular world’s view of marriage throughout the past couple of decades.  Those couples in our Church who live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Catholic sense of marriage are truly witnesses of faith to our world and they have a lot to teach us.   When I interview the couple that is wanting to be married, I ask them if they give themselves to each other in holy matrimony unconditionally, if they understand marriage to be a lifelong union, and if they intend to be faithful to the spouse.  That is how we in the Catholic Church understand marriage – but it is often viewed very differently in the secular world.  Just as Christ loves the Church as his spouse, we can more fully understand that relationship through the witness of those husbands and wives living out the sacramentality of holy matrimony.  We in the Catholic Church will not waiver in the sacramental and covenantal characteristics of holy matrimony, no matter what our government decides marriage is in a secular sense.  However, today there is a great opportunity for us to evangelize and minister to the world in the ways we live out our faith.  I think of how in the 1960s those who were seen as counter cultural were the hippies and the flower children being so different from the norm of society.  These days, those being counter-cultural are the priests in their Roman collars, the nuns in their habits, the devout Catholics practicing their faith with zeal and conviction in the midst of a world that is turning its back on a lot of those values.   Look at how Pope Francis has been a witness to our world in his blunt, direct, honest words and in the justice and dignity he declares for all.  We can be witnesses in our own way in whatever vocation we are called to by God.
      The people of Jesus’ native town did not understand what was unfolding before their eyes.  In response, they did not have the courage to continue down the road of faith.  We are called to be courageous right now, to not only continue on our journey of faith, but to be witnesses to the world.  In the Fortnight for Freedom that concludes this weekend, we have been proclaiming the importance of having the religious freedom to live out our faith and to be able to bear witness to the message of the Gospel.  We have celebrated many different saints who have courageously proclaimed the Gospel, even to the point of persecution and martyrdom.  Blessed Junipero Serra, whose feast day was celebrated on July 1, was a Franciscan priest in the 18th century who spearheaded the founding of the Catholic missions in the state of California. Even though he will be canonized in Washington DC by Pope Francis in September, there are some in the California state legislature who want to replace his statue in our nations Capitol with someone else.  It shows how some want to eliminate any voice or influence our faith has in modern society. However, we can learn from the motto that Father Serra used in his work in the missions: “Always look forward and never turn back.”  We are to have hope and faith in the future, knowing that whatever reality we need to face in our lives of faith, God will be there at our side.  He will be there as we proclaim Christ’s Gospel to the world.  While there will be those who try to silence our voices and our witness, we are called to continue along that journey of faith. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Response to Charleston killings and to all that is going on here in our land

There has been so much in going on in our communities.  There is so much going on in our country.  There is so much going on in the world.  In the last few weeks, i have had to deal with so much going on in my parish.  We have seen things like the killings in Charleston.  And with that happening, I look to my own hometown of Chicago, where last I last there were at least 35 murders in the city of Chicago in the month of June, and perhaps more than that with some more occurring in the last days before the month ended.  Greece is defaulting on it loans, with could cause a financial crisis throughout Europe and in world markets.  In the last few weeks, the Confederate flag, our health care system, and marriage are all being looked at and debated.  And I try to focus on some idea that makes sense in the 7 to 10 minutes I have to give a homily to my congregation here in Tupelo.  Here is the response to the Charleston killings from one of our national Catholic leaders, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.  And having myself been a member and a priest at traditionally African American parishes here in Mississippi, my heart goes out to that community and to our entire country.  

A deeply saddened Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia offered the deepest sympathies of the Catholic faithful in his archdiocese to the victims’ families and the members of Emanuel Church. In a statement, he said, “All life matters, and when life is taken in such a violent way, all people of good will are devastated. ... May love be our mission and give us the strength to drive out hate, today and always.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

7/2/2015 – Thursday of 13th week in Ordinary Time – Genesis 22:1B-19

    Today, we hear the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  As I mentioned in a daily homily last week, some of the readings from the Old Testament in particular are not easy to understand.  We have to wrestle with the meanings and understandings we are to talk away from these stories.  We might ask: How would a God of love and mercy do something like this?  How could Abraham have such total and complete trust in God.  And think of Isaac looking up at his Father.  What could have been going through his mind?
     God is full of love and mercy.  That is one of the truths of God that is at the foundation of what we believe as Christians.  Yet God also sacrificed his son to be our redeemer and savior.  I think of some of the rough experiences I have had in life, how at the end of my missionary term in Ecuador, I was amazed that I survived it and was still in one piece!  Those experiences have given me the compassion and tenacity I have needed to follow my vocation as a priest, that’s for sure.  Jesus, in his passion and journey to the cross, has united his sufferings to the suffering we go through in life.  He can walk with us and show us love, mercy, and compassion for what we are going through.  The cross is not an event that stands in isolation in our faith.  With the cross, there is also resurrection, there is also eternal life.  One cannot exist without the others. Perhaps the story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the story of God the Father and his beloved son.
      As I thought about the story of Abraham and Isaac, the suscipe of St Ignatius of Loyola came to mind:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Your love and your grace – that is enough for me. 
       As we think of sacrifice today and the sacrifice that was asked of Abraham, may we ask ourselves what sacrifices we are willing to make for our faith, especially in light of Fortnight for Freedom we are commemorating in our Church. 

7/3/2015 – St Thomas, Apostle – John 20:24-29

    We are all probably very familiar with today’s Gospel about Jesus appearing to Thomas and the other disciples, of Thomas wanting to believe, but also needing to have concrete proof in order that he could believe.  How does Jesus respond to Thomas’ demand for concrete proof? Did he castigate or criticize Thomas for doubting? Did he tell him to have blind faith?  Did he demand that Thomas believe on the basis of the evidence he had already seen? 
      No, Jesus gave Thomas what he asked for.  He gave Thomas showed him the nail marks in his hands.  He let him touch his hand and his side.  Jesus did this so that Thomas not be unbelieving, so that he could believe.   Thomas gets a bad rap in the way we remember him, in labeling him “Doubting Thomas.”  Couldn’t he also be remembered as “Believing Thomas,” as one who ultimately did believe and who followed down the road of faith?
      A few years ago, a friend sent me an email written by a co-worker.  It said this: “I just don't understand...the more I search, the less I find. I don't understand how people can believe in whatever they believe in and be confident that what they believe in is the truth. The more research I've done, the more I look, the more I realize that nobody can know with 100% certainty that what they believe is true.” What this young man says is what a lot of people in our modern society embrace today.  With all the modern technology we have, with the hope and trust we place in science and in the material world, we have to see and we have to have proof.  Not just some proof – but 100% proof.  How can we be 100% sure of anything?  I don’t think that is ever possible.   When all is said and done, we cannot forget what Jesus says after he shows Thomas his hand and his side: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

       As we celebrate St Thomas the Apostle today, may we celebrate our belief in the risen Christ. During this Fortnight for Freedom, we have been praying for the freedom to practice our faith here in the United States, an important right that we often take for granted.  May we pray that we grow in our faith and in our belief, even when we do not have 100% proof.  And may we honor and cherish the freedom we have to believe.  

7/1/2015 – Blessed Junipero Serra – Wednesday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time - Psalm 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13

     In July of 1769, the Spanish missionaries founded what would become the city of San Diego.  This was the first of the missions founded in the state of California.   Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who was in ill health when he arrived in San Diego, went on to found 8 other missions in a mission system that would grow to 21 different locations.  These missions have played a significant role in the development of the state of California and in the history of missionaries in our Catholic faith.  While many other Spaniards arrived in Americas to search for gold or to claim land or to amass other riches, Father Serra and the other missionaries arrived to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the native people of California.  He was convinced that he was on a mission from God, that this was his mission and destiny. Having grown up as a teenager near Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California, I heard a lot of stories about Father Serra and the California missions. Pope John Paul II beatified Father Serra in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 1988.  Pope Francis will canonize Father Serra in Washington, DC on September 23 during his first visit to the United States as pope.  That will be the first canonization witness in the United States.  Pope Francis said that this was appropriate since a statue of Father Serra stands in our nation’s capital representing the state of California. 

     The Lord hears the cry of the poor.  We hear this proclaimed in the psalm today.  And I cannot think of any other Gospel message that gets to the heart of our Church’s missionaries.  Father Serra’s motto while working in the missions of California was to “always go forward and never turn back."  Father Serra attempted to bring the poor and the downtrodden into the Kingdom of God, to bring them redemption and salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Pope Francis asserts: “In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” As we remember Father Serra and his work in the missions, as we recognize the importance of defending our freedom to practice our faith during the Fortnight for Freedom, let us take personal responsibility in the practice of our faith and being evangelizers in our community.

6/30/2015 – Tuesday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time - The First Martyrs of the Church of Rome – Matthew 8:23-27

      Jesus calls out to his disciples in the midst of a storm on a boat: “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”  Today’s Gospel probably sounds familiar the account of this same story from the perspective of Mark’s Gospel on July 21st in our Sunday mass celebration. In moments of fear, our faith is put to the test.  Today, as we hear this Gospel, we commemorate the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.  In the years immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a large Jewish population grew in Rome. Due to infighting between Jews and Jews who followed the Way of Jesus, the Emperor Claudius expelled all of the Jews from Rome in 50 AD. After Claudius’ death a few years later, the Jews started returning to Rome. After much of the city of Rome burned down under the reign of the Emperor Nero in 64 AD, Nero put much of the blame on the Christians.  Many were put to death.  Peter and Paul were probably among those martyred during these persecutions.  Condemned to death by the Roman senate, Nero himself took his own life a few years later.
      May the example of those First Martyrs of the Church of Rome have us courage on our own journey. Pope Francis proclaimed: “We must not be afraid of being Christian and living as Christians! We must have this courage to go and proclaim the Risen Christ, for he is our peace; he made peace with his love, with his forgiveness, with his blood and with his mercy.” May we grow in our faith and grow in our understanding during this Fortnight for Freedom.  May we proclaim the importance of religious freedom and the right we have to practice our faith. 

6/29/2015 – St Peter and St Paul – A Reflection

     We venerate two great Apostles  - Peter and Paul – on the day of the solemnity in their memory and honor.  This commemoration has its roots in the very foundations of the Church. The faith of Peter and Paul is the solid rock on which the Church is built. These two great apostles are at the origin of the faith that we follow today. Peter and Paul will forever remain the Church’s protectors and guides. The greatness of Rome flows from the witness that they gave. Led by the Spirit, Peter and Paul helped make Rome the capital of Christianity.  Rome was sanctified by their martyrdom and the martyrdom of so many other great witness for the faith.

     The Basilica of St Peter and the Basilica of Paul are two of the four major basilicas in Rome.  They draw countless pilgrims each year.  As we celebrate many great saints and martyrs during the Fortnight for Freedom, Peter and Paul call out to us to continue in their tradition of standing up for our faith in the midst of a secular society and being evangelizers of the Gospel message.