Monday, June 27, 2016

30 June 2016 – Thursday of 13th week of Ordinary Time - Matthew 9:1-8

       Today, we hear about a group of friends who bring a paralytic to Jesus for healing.  Jesus sees the faith of this group of friends and he forgives the sins of the paralytic.  Notice it is not the faith of the paralytic himself that saves him.  Jesus later tells this man to rise, pick up his mat, and to go.  So many people came to Jesus for healing in his day, and so many come to him for healing in our modern era as well.   We are always looking for a cure for something in our lives.  Sometimes we look in so many different places for healing in our lives, often times in the places where we should not be looking for help.   Jesus brings healing to many people in Ancient Israel, healing that is often done because of their great faith, such as Jairus and the lady who was suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years.
        We want healing in our lives.  We want mercy in our lives as well.   It can be easy to ask for mercy for ourselves.  It might be harder to understand why others should receive mercy. Instead, we may want justice as we understand justice, justice from our perspective.  Yet Pope Francis has this to say: “Justice on its own is not enough. With mercy and forgiveness, God goes beyond justice, he subsumes it and exceeds it in a higher event in which we experience love, which is at the root of true justice.”  When we are hurt or wronged, it is natural to seek justice.  God shows us a better way that leads to love.   God had mercy on the paralytic and his friends.  Perhaps if it was just purely justice, there might have been a very different Gospel passage.  Let us pray this week that we can help move our world beyond justice to mercy and forgiveness. May the mercy of God and the wisdom of Pope Francis guide us and lead us.

1 July 2016 - Father Junipero Serra - Friday of the 13th week of Ordinary Time - Matthew 9:9-13

  When Jesus called out to Matthew, the tax collector, “Follow me,” I am sure it was a surprise not only to Matthew, but those who knew him.  How could a tax collector, seen as a member of a dishonorable profession, be called to be one of Jesus’ close associates.
      Sometimes, those who receive God’s call defy human logic.  On September 23, 2015, when Pope Francis was in the United States on a pastoral visit, he canonized Father Junipero Serra at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.  Pope Francis said that it was fitting to canonize Father Serra in Washington, since it is in that same city that Father Serra’s statue stands in the national statuary hall of the US Capitol, where he represents the state of California. Father Serra was an academic scholar, a professor in his native Spain, when he was chosen to travel to the missions in Mexico.  I am sure he did not seem to be the logical choice.  At the age of 55 and in very poor health, after spending 18 years in Mexico, Father Serra was chosen to found the missions in the Mexican province of Alta California, the present-day US state of California.   A hard worker, Father Serra’s founding of the missions in the state of California is seen as contributing greatly to the establishment and spread of the Church on the West Coast of the United States when it was still mission territory, Father Serra established 9 of the 21 missions in California himself prior to his death.  He is buried at the mission of St Charles Borromeo in Carmel.  A pilgrimage walk linking all of the California missions together has been established by pilgrims who have walked the Camino de Santiago.  And who knows, maybe in our lifetime that walk will become the American pilgrimage Camino.  I certainly have the dream of walking it one day, although most pilgrims have to break down over several years, since the whole mission chain from San Diego to Sonoma stretches across most of the state over more than 800 miles. 
       We never know how God is going to call us to follow him, do we?  I am sure Father Serra never imagine that his road from being a quiet college professor him would lead him to be founder of the Catholic missions in California.   All we have to do is take that first step in following that call.  

29 June 2016 - The Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul - 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18, Matthew 16:13-19

     Yesterday, we honored St Irenaeus as the saint of the day.  He was the Bishop of Lyons in France who defended the Catholic faith against heresy, dying a martyr’s death during a time of persecution. Last week, we celebrated the nativity of St John the Baptist, the man we prepared the path for the coming of Jesus, who also died a martyr for his faith, having been put to death by the Roman authorities.  Also, last week, we honored St Thomas More and St John Fisher, two men who were martyred from their refusal to deny their Catholic faith and the authority of the Pope during the reign of King Henry VIII of England in the 16th century.  I mention these martyrs today, because they all fall during the observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, 14 days in which the Catholic faith turns to prayer, education and action for religious freedom, both in our own country of the United States and in other countries around the world. The theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom is “Witnesses to Freedom.  During the Fortnight for Freedom, we are to hold firm, stand fast, and insist upon what belongs to us by right as Catholics. 
      We celebrate an important solemnity today in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom - the solemnity of St Peter and St Paul, two martyrs for the Faith during the first century of the Early Church in Rome.  Both Peter and Paul worked tirelessly in proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the first century after Christ’s death and resurrection.  They both had specific calls which had dramatic and profound effects on the development of the faith not only in Ancient Israel but throughout the world.  Peter, one of the original group of Christ’s apostles, was the rock on which Jesus established the Early Church as it declares in today’s Gospel from Matthew today.   The first pope, Peter helped establish the structures and traditions of the Early Church that have been passed down to us in the faith.  In many ways, Paul represents the continuity and constancy of our faith that has been passed down to us by the apostles and the Early Church Fathers and Mothers.  Paul, in many ways, represents the missionary and the prophet in the Church, the way the Church is always reaching out to different cultures and those of different walks of life, in responding to the lived reality of the people, infusing that reality with our faith.    The Church is always pushing into areas of social justice and social concern within the world, in communicating the message of Jesus Christ through new mediums and new technology.  When I was a missionary in Ecuador without even a telephone or a computer or direct mail service, I could never have imagined myself as a priest using things such as an ipad or a blog or a parish app.  Yet, in the spirit, of Paul, we are always finding new ways of reaching out to others, Pope Francis with his twitter account included!
       In the Early Church, one had to be a martyr to be declared a saint, with so many having given their lives for the Gospel in the time of great persecution.  The spirit of St Peter and St Paul is still alive and well in the Church today.  At the end of our days, may we be like Paul, who is able to say in the 2nd letter to Timothy, that we have competed well, that we have finished the race, and that we derive our strength from the Lord.  

28 June 2016 - Tuesday of the 13th week of Ordinary Time - Amos 3:1-8, 4:11-12

     If you recall, for the last several weeks, we had been hearing from the 1st and 2nd books of Kings in our first readings in the daily masses.  Today, we hear from the prophet Amos. Amos was a shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah.  God called him to be a prophet, sending him to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Amos confronted the people for the way they were devoted to worshipping God in their liturgies and prayers and piety, but ignored the injustices around them. Indeed, Amos is now a voice of social justice in the Hebrew Scriptures whose voice still calls out to us today. Amos today tells the people that although they were favored by the Lord in all of the human family, they did not respond in love and service. 
     As we hear about the prophet Amos' call to bring God's message to the world around him, we might think about how we celebrate a wide variety of saints in our faith, men and women from different cultures and different times in history who served the Lord in many different ways.  These men and women reflect the signs of their times and the different realities that have faced the Church.   St Irenaeus was born in the early second century near the city of Ephesus in western Turkey.  Irenaeus moved to the city of Lyons in southern France where he served as a priest and then as the Bishop for 25 years.  He was martyred during a time of persecution in the Church there.  Irenaeus is most remembered for his writings in defense of Church doctrine, especially against the heresy of Gnosticism, a major philosophy that was present during the first centuries of the Early Church.   Gnosticism saw the material world as being inferior to the spirit world; it saw a need for human beings to gain salvation and liberation from the material world.   The Church, however, saw the world as intrinsically good as a part of God’s creation.  Irenaeus said: “He who is the Son of God became the Son of Man, that man might become the Son of God.”  He saw a unity between God and man, a unity between man and all of creation, very different from the dualism proposed by Gnosticism.  
     As Amos confront the reality of his day, of the way the people were not practicing the mercy and justice of God in their daily lives, and as Irenaeus confronted the heresies that were trying to take control of the Early Church, we also are to read the signs of the times in our modern world. Are we practicing justice and mercy in our lives?  Are we turning away from the word of God and turning away from his laws and commandments?  How are we called to turn back to the Lord.  

Friday, June 24, 2016

26 June 2016 – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21, Luke 9: 51-62

     God called Elijah to be his great prophet for many years.  After having endured many trials and tribulations, he journeyed for days and days to Mount Horeb in order to encounter God face to face.  When God appeared to him in that small, silent whisper, God told Elijah that he was to anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, as the prophet to succeed him.  When Elijah came to visit him, Elisha was still living at home, working the fields with a team of oxen. On the surface, Elisha does not seem to be the logical choice to be the successor of the great prophet Elijah. He accepted Elijah’s invitation, but he wanted to say goodbye to his parents.  Elijah told him to go and bid them farewell, but Elisha thought better of it.  Instead, he slaughtered his oxen for food that he gave to all his men.  Then he burned his plough in order to make a fire to cook over.  Elisha destroyed his means of making a living, leaving everything behind in order to follow God without any hindrances or restrictions.  Elisha served Elijah as his apprentice until it came time for Elijah to depart this earth.  Elisha then wandered the land of Israel for 65 years as a prophet, performing many miracles in the name of the Lord.  He purified a polluted lake.  He cured a group of young prophets who ate a poisonous meal.  He healed the Syrian General Naaman of leprosy.  He provided counsel and advice to the Kings of Israel, calling them back to the Lord when they had strayed.  Little did he know where his journey would take him when he left his father’s farm to follow the Lord.  But Elisha was very loyal in following the Lord as his prophet. 
      In our Gospel today, as Jesus proceeds on his journey, a man calls out to him: Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.  It is easy to say those words, but it is tough to follow them when the Lord takes us to some difficult and challenging places.  While we might admire the courage in the response of this man who calls out to Jesus, perhaps Jesus is able to look beyond the surface into his heart, realizing that he does not have the resolve to make such a commitment.  This man said that he would follow Jesus wherever he went – physically, geographically.  Even though he said this, I wonder if he really would follow Jesus to Jerusalem, even knowing that Jesus’ death there was a certainty.  We know that following Jesus is not just a matter of traveling to a physical place with him.  It is much more than that.  Jesus tells him – I don’t even have a place that I call home. Even though a fox has its den, even though the bird has its nest, I have nowhere to lay my head at night.  I go from place to place proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Sometimes I am sometimes welcomed into a place, but sometimes I am not.  Are you willing to follow me everywhere under those conditions, no matter how difficult, no matter how uncertain?
       In our Gospel message today, Jesus calls us to faithfulness, to constancy, and to sacrifice in our lives of faith.  We may say we want to follow Jesus, but then we may want to place limits and boundaries on the way we follow him. So many martyrs and missionary and saints in our faith exemplify this steadfast call that Jesus asks of us.  Throughout my missionary work and throughout my priesthood, one of my heroes and patron saints has been St Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit priest originally from region of Normandy in France who was a missionary in Canada in the early 17th century.  While a student with the Jesuits, Brebeuf contracted a severe case of tuberculosis, which almost ended his studies and his dream of becoming a priest.  However, he endured and after serving as a professor at the Jesuit college in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, he was sent to the French missions in Quebec to bring the Gospel to the native Huron people there.  In the novel Black Robe, based on the life of Jean de Brebeuf, the author Brian Moore has a scene where Jean de Brebeuf is kneeling at the site in the city of Rouen where Joan of Arc was martyred by being burned at the stake two centuries earlier.  At that site, Jean de Brebeuf’s mother prays for him and gives him a blessing, realizing that her son is undertaking a very dangerous assignment by becoming a missionary.  His mom realizes that he himself may die a martyr’s death, yet for the sack of the faith and her son’s calling to the priesthood, she still gives him her blessing.  She realized that this was God’s call for her son. Jean de Brebeuf, did die a martyr’s death in 1649 at the hands of the Iroquois, an enemy tribe of the Huron.  Yet, Brian Moore, a fallen away Catholic who wrote this novel about Jean de Brebeuf, saw in him a faith and a courage and constancy that still has a very strong message for us today.  So many in our faith have taken up their crosses and have followed Jesus wherever he called them, no matter the inconvenience, no matter what else is going on in their lives.  Being a disciple should take priority.  It should be at the center of who we are. Yes, it is indeed hard to be a disciple of Christ.  It can be very challenging and very frustrating.  It can try our patience and our steadfastness to the core.  But that is what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel: that our faith needs to be a priority in our lives.  It boils down to that. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

23 June 2016 – Thursday of the 12th week of Ordinary Time – Luke 9:51-62

      When I first walked the Camino in Spain in 2003, the economy there was going full steam.  A lot of people there were building new houses or buying a second or a third house as an investment, betting on the price of the house was going to rise.  They thought it was a sure thing.  They thought the would building their lives upon a solid rock.  Well, we know what happened next.  The housing market and the stock market collapsed.  Countries like Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, and Greece had economic tragedies unlike anything scene like the Great Depression. When I walked the Camino in 2012, and again in 2014 and 2015, we walked through they very creepy town that had hundreds of houses and town houses and a large golf course, but many of the units had not been finished, and of those that had been completed, most were unoccupied and unsold.  During the housing boom in Spain, all of these house seemed like the best investment possible, but now it certainly did not seem like a good idea.

       Are our lives built on a strong faith?  What is exposed in our hearts when suffer a trial or a storm in our lives?  Sometimes those times of challenge and suffering bring us closer to Christ.  Sometimes our lives can fall apart and our faith can collapse.  We may see a need for security or protection, but do we turn to God in those times, or do we go to other things?  Is our house built on solid rock or does it collapse when the going gets tough. 

24 June 2016 - Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist - Luke 1:57-66, 80

     Normally, the Church celebrates the day of a saint’s death as his feast day, because that day celebrates his entrance into heaven and eternal life with our Lord.  However, in addition to celebrating Christ’s birth on Mary on September 8 and the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25, we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist today on June 24.  We Christians interpret the life of John the Baptist as a preparation for the coming of Jesus, which is why John’s birth is so important to us and why we celebrate this solemnity today.   John’s parents - Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and his wife Elizabeth were beyond child bearing age and were without children when John’s birth was announced by the Angel Gabriel.   Zechariah did not believe this message, so he was rendered speechless until the time of John’s birth.  
      The nativity of John the Baptist is one of the oldest feasts in the feasts, being listed in a calendar of feasts in the early 6th century.    Today’s feast comes three months after the celebration of the annunciation on March 25 when the Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was with child and was in the sixth month of her pregnancy.  It also comes six months before Christmas.  So how is the feast of the nativity of John the Baptist relevant to us today as modern disciples of Christ?  That is a good question, isn’t it?   As we celebrate John’s birth today, we can remember how we can be like St John the Baptist, leaping with joy in his mother’s womb the first time he is in the presence of Jesus.  We, too, should leap for joy as we encounter Jesus’ presence on our journey and as we announce his presence to the world.  We are to do this by not only our words, but our actions as well.  On the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, may we ask him to help us have the strength and courage to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.