Monday, May 23, 2016

5/27/2016 – Friday of the 8th week in Ordinary Time – 1 Peter 4:7-13

       As we continue to hear from the first letter of Peter today, we hear about what it means to live out our Christian faith in a hostile world and we hear advice to those who face persecution.  When we hear of the martyrs in the early Church or other those Catholics who were persecuted by the Nazis in WWII or of those in Africa or the Middle East who are being persecuted for their faith, it seemed so far away.  But, I can tell you, I have face hostility as a Catholic priest here in the Bible Belt of Mississippi.  And I think when some of us see the direction the government and society is going, with an emphasis on the secular and a diminishing of the religious, we can be frightened as to where all of this might go.  There is a famous quote from the late Cardinal Francis George regarding persecution in a secular society that has made the rounds of the blogs on the internet for some time.  Cardinal George made this comment while speaking to a group of priests.  It was recorded on someone’s smart phone, and the rest is history.  Cardinal George said this:  "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."  And, yet, there is always a message of hope in our faith.  Mary is one of figures in our faith that always gives me courage and hope.  I think of the Sorrowful Mother who stood by her son on the cross, accompanying him and praying for him.  I think of Mary as Our Lady of the Pillar, who appear to St James in an apparition to give him hope and encouragement when his missionary work in Spain seemed to be a failure.  Here is a prayer to Mary, the Light of Hope, taken from St Pope John Paul II’s consecrating of the entire world to Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, 1982. 

Immaculate Heart of Mary,
help us to conquer the menace of evil,
which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today,
and show immeasurable effects already weigh down upon our modern world….
Accept, O Mother of Christ, this cry laden with the sufferings of whole societies.
Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer all sin:
individual sin and the “sin of the world,”
sin in all its manifestations. 
Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world
the infinite saving power of the Redemption:
the power of merciful love.


5/26/2016 – Thursday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time – 1 Peter 2:2-5, 9-12

      The author of the first letter of Peter declares to us today:  Once you were no people – now you are God’s people.  Once you lived with no mercy – now you live in the light of God’s mercy.  He states that as aliens and sojourners in this world, we are to separate ourselves from earthly desires. Do we feel like aliens in this world – that is a strong word to use, isn’t it?  Or are see super-attached to the things of this world, so much so that they separate us from God and our journey of faith?
      One of the saints we celebrate today is a woman named Mariana de Jesus, a woman who lived in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, in the first half of the 17th century.  As a youth, she felt the call to become a nun, but entry in the convent was turned down for her.   Instead, she became a virtual hermit and recluse in the home of his sister and brother-in-law.  She led a very austere, contemplative, mystical life, devoting herself to pray and self-deprivations.  She had a gift of curing the sick and reading the hearts of those who came to her.  She became a third-order Franciscan, living that lifestyle. In 1645, the city of Ecuador suffering a terrible earthquake in which over 1,400 of its inhabitants were killed, as well the eruption of the nearby volcano and an epidemic of terrible disease. Mariana felt that she needed to offer up her life in reparation for the sins of her beloved city.   She asked the Lord to accept her offering in defense of her country and her compatriots, that she “might be chastised for everything in the city which deserved chastisement.”  She was struck with a mortal illness that day, dying within 2 months.  At her death, the earthquakes and the volcano quieted down and the plagues died out.  Pope Pius XII canonized Mariana de Jesus in 1950.  I remember during the first month that I was in Ecuador as a missionary, back in May 1996, I went to a mass on her feast day, in which there were a large number of nuns from various religious orders all in their traditional habits.  She is the patron saint of Ecuador, very beloved as the first person from that country to be canonized as a saint. 

5/24/2016 – Wednesday of the 8th week in Ordinary Time - Feast day of the Venerable Bede – 1 Peter 1:18-25

      Today’s reading from the first letter of Peter discusses the redemption that we have in our Lord, Jesus Christ and how the Word of God is an imperishable seed that has been planted in our hearts to bring us new birth in Christ.  Yes, it is indeed the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives that brings about conversion and renewal in us, but the Word of God that lives and abides in us is also an essential presence, presenting us the message of Christ’s Good New, the message of repentance and salvation. As we talk about the Word of God and the redemption we have in Christ today, we celebrate a very honored saint from the Middle Ages: the Venerable Bede.  Bede was born in England in the latter part of the 7th century; he is the only native born person from Great Britain who has been named Doctor of the Church.  Although Bede spent his entire adult life in a monastery in England, he is ascribed the title Venerable and earned great respect and honor due to his reputation for knowledge and wisdom.  I remember reading his most acclaimed work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in my Western Civilization course in college.  For his well-known scholarship in the field of history, Bede is known as the Father of English History.  I really like this quote from Bede, which echoes how are new birth in Christ is to affect our lives, as we heard in the first reading:  “I was no longer the center of my life and therefore I could see God in everything.”  As Bede says, let us see God in all things.  Let us make him the center of our lives, the alpha and omega of our being.  The example of Bede’s life shows that no matter where we are planted, we can bloom or serve.  Bede only left the monastery once in his time as a monk, which was to teach in a Catholic school in York for a couple of months.  Yet, Bede’s influence and example of faith encouraged many believers in his own day and even now, more than 12 centuries after his death in 735.  It is recorded that Bede died while reciting these words of his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now, and forever. Amen.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

5/23/2016 – Tuesday of the 8th week in Ordinary Time – 1 Peter 1:10-18

       Usually, our first readings come from the Old Testament.  Last week, however, we heard from a book in the New Testament in the first readings: the Letter of James.  Today, we hear the beginning of the first letter of Peter, another New Testament book. In the Early Church, this letter was ascribed to the Apostle Peter, but most modern scholars do not think that this is the case.  This letter, written originally in Greek, probably dates from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century, many years after the Apostle Peter died.  It was written to a group of Christian communities in Asia Minor in present-day Turkey.  Perhaps it was written by one of Peter’s associates after his death in the tradition of Peter, or perhaps it was written by a learned Christian leader in the early Christian community who was outside of the circle of Peter and his associates. No matter what it’s origin, the first letter of Peter contains a lot of sound moral teachings and catechetical instruction, in addition to a plea for the followers of the way of Jesus to remain faithful in spite of persecutions and sufferings.  Our passage of scripture today ends with the exhortation – “Be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written:  “Be holy because I am holy.”  What does it mean to be holy?  I saw this quote from Protestant Minister Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California:  “God does not want you to become a God; he wants you to become godly – taking on his values, attitudes, and character.”   When I was on the Camino in Spain, I spent the night in the parish where the Founder of Opus Dei, St. Jose Maria Escriva, went to mass as a youth, the Church of Santiago the Apostle in the city of Logroño, in the small province of La Rioja in northeastern Spain.  Father Escriva says that “great holiness consists of carrying out the ‘little duties’ of each moment.”  Mother Teresa and Therese of Lisieux carry that message in their spirituality as well, that holiness does not consist of aspiring to greatness, but rather in how we live in the ordinary moments of life, how we reflect God and the values of our faith in those moments.  That is easier said than done, right?  Our impatience, our pride, our whims, our temptations, the material values of our world, and our anger can all get the best of us and can get us off the path to holiness.  We need to find the method that works for us to get us back on the road to holiness, which can vary from person to person and can vary depending upon where we are on at the moment in our journey of faith.  Lord, please lead us to be more holy and incorporate the values of our faith in our lives.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

5/22/2016 – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – John 16:12-15

      Think about some experience you had that was rather complex and multi-faceted. It may be you a trip or adventure you took, or the years you spent in high school or college, or a long time at a job.  I think about one of my missionary experiences, either in Ecuador or in Canada or in South Texas working with the children of migrant farm workers.  Those experiences were both full of joys and heartache, full of challenges and struggles, full of growth and setbacks.  It is really difficult for me to describe one those experiences in all its complexities and nuances.  I about think this on the weekend that we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity.  A lot of Catholic priests start out a homily on the Trinity by stating that the Trinity is a mystery of our faith and that it is impossible to completely comprehend the Trinity in all its complexity.  How do we even begin to talk about the Trinity?  In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church very boldly states:   “The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (number 234).
      Imagine being an early follower of Christ.  Some people in Ancient Israel thought Jesus was a great teacher, or a great proclaimer of God’s Kingdom, and perhaps he is even the Messiah.  But Jesus as the incarnation of the eternal God?  Or as the Second person of a Trinity of God?  What does that mean?  This would all seem illogical or beside the point.  Indeed, the word Trinity does not appear in Sacred Scripture, but there does appear the mention that there are three distinct entities – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that are equally divine, yet comprising one God.  We hear Jesus invoking the Father in the Gospel today as he talks about sending the Holy Spirit to us to help lead us to the truth after he is gone.  The term Trinity was coined in the Early Church and this theological concept of the Trinity was fleshed out and developed. 
      The Trinity does matter to us today. We indeed participate in the life of the Trinity as disciples of Christ.  Gregory of Nyssa, an Early Church Father from the 4th century who wrote a great deal about the Trinity, stated that “Holy Baptism imparts to us the grace of eternal life because of our faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
        So, what are some things that we can take away from our celebration of the Holy Trinity today?  First of all, the Trinity does matter, because Christianity is more than following God’s laws and commandments and attending church.  As disciples of Christ, we are in a relationship with God, so who God is really matters.  Our Creator, who is a Trinity of divine persons, invites us into an intimate relationship with him.  Second, as remember that God is the most perfect expression of love, it make sense that God is not solitary but rather an eternal community of three persons who pour out themselves in love for one another. We are called to emulate the love of the Trinity.   The spiritual and corporal works of mercy that have been hanging up on banner during our Year of Mercy highlight some of the ways we can live out the love of the Holy Trinity in our daily lives.
        Third, there is both unity and diversity in the Trinity, something we must remember when we live in the unity and diversity of our community of faith.  The Trinity is indivisible, it cannot be divided, yet at the same time it is composed of three different persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This unity in diversity of the Trinity invites all of us with our own gifts and own personalities to participate in its divine life.  The Holy Trinity gives us true and lasting life to those whose lives are touched by God.
         Finally, we can say that a lot of our Christian concepts of morality flow directly from the Trinity.  Before Christianity, the philosophies of Greece and Rome, as well as other religions of the ancient world, did not have the concept of the uniqueness and dignity of each individual person, for in the doctrine of the Trinity, we see three unique persons who possess the same exact divine nature, but who are irreplaceable in the uniqueness of their personhood.  It is then ironic but not surprising that as so many in the West abandon their belief in the Triune God, we undermine the foundations of personal dignity and many of the freedoms that we held so dear for generations.  Yes, the Trinity does indeed matter today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

5/20/2016 – Friday of the 7th week in Ordinary Time – James 5:9-12

     Our reading from James today comes near the end of the letter in the form of encouraging words and advice that James has for the faithful.  I mentioned earlier in the week how a lot of the advice James gives can be easily translated to our modern world. James talks about patience and tolerance today, advising that we should not judge and grumble against our brothers and sisters.  That is one of the most common things I hear in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that we lack patience in our modern world and that we very easily get angry at others. When we look at the road rage and accounts of violence in the news, we see how prevalent this anger is in our modern world.  It is easy to criticize someone, isn’t it, especially when we are looking in from the sidelines and aren’t putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.  One of the points of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy is that beyond the works themselves that help others, these acts are to convert our own hearts and transform our own lives.  James holds up the prophets as good examples for us to follow. That I why I see it very beneficial in our journey of faith to learn about the saints in our faith, put those official saints who have been canonized by the Church as well as the “unofficial” saints, as their journeys of faith and their virtues can be such great examples for us as well.  Lord, give us the patience and perseverance to do your will.  Lord, help us to try to understand our brothers and sisters instead of just criticizing and complaining. 

5/19/2016 – Thursday of the 7th week in Ordinary Time – James 5:1-6

     Today, in a continuation from the letter of James, we hear James criticize the rich. But, if we delve deeply into the message of today’s reading, we see how according to James, the real sin of the rich is not just that they store wealth for themselves, but that they have become wealthy at the expense of others who were deprived of their most basic needs. Specifically, James mentions the wages that the rich withhold from the workers who harvest the fields of the rich.  Just this week, I was reading an article about an electric car company based in California called Tesla.  The company’s owner, a man named Elon Musk who is originally from South Africa, is worth over $12 billion and is considered one the one hundred richest men in the United States.  His company has gotten a lot of subsidies from the US taxpayers in order to produce these very expensive electric cars, most of which are produced by the elite and the wealthy.  Yet, the company is accused of having built a new paint factory for their cars in northern California using subcontractors and paying foreign workers from Eastern Europe to build the factory wages of less than $5 an hour and with little benefits or overtime pay.  Some of the models of cars that Tesla makes cost more than $100,000.  Since Pope Francis became pope, he has spoke a lot about the rights of workers and the inequality of wages in the world.  He also speaks frequently on how we priests should live a simple life and how we should not be attached to riches or the material things of the world.  In fact, his harsh words have not only influenced me to reflect upon this in my own lifestyle as a priest, it has really affected my morale as a priest in a very negative way.  I thought about the missionary priests I knew in Ecuador who literally go without eating meals because they have no resources with which to buy food, about priests in our own diocese who pay a lot of their own expenses out their own pockets rather than asking to be reimbursed by their parish.  Are we too attached to the material things of this world?  Do we oppress others in order to get ahead ourselves?  Or are the values we live by rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?