Wednesday, July 23, 2014

7/23/2014 – Wednesday of 16th week in Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:1-9

      We have been hearing a lot of parables in our daily and Sunday readings these past few weeks.  In fact, we heard the Gospel today in our Sunday reading just a couple of weeks ago. Parables and stories capture our imagination and help us understand God and what the Kingdom of God is about. Even though a lot of our society is not involved in agriculture and farming as full-time occupations, many of us have gardens, so the parable of the sower still speaks to us today. We can sow seeds in a lot of ways in life. Some of those seeds will fall on ground where they cannot take root, but some of the seeds will bear great fruit for God’s kingdom.  We won’t know if we don’t try.  If we just keep those seeds on a shelf, afraid to plant them for fear of failure, then none of them will take root.  We need to take risks on our journey of faith.  We need to go where God calls us, even if it seems scary.
      We think a lot about the seeds of faith that are sowed right here in Mississippi. We have the Glenmary missionaries and Priests of the Sacred Heart coming from up North to found parishes down here. We have diocesan priests from Ireland and other parts of the United States coming here to dedicate their lives to building up God’s kingdom in our parishes here in Mississippi. And now we have a large group of priests from India working in our diocese.  As we celebrate 100 years of Catholicism here at St James parish in Tupelo, we look back and see a lot of seeds that have been sown throughout those years. What are the seeds that we are able to sow today in our lives?  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

7/26/2014 – Joachim & Anne –

      I am not celebrating a daily mass today since it is Saturday and I have the Vigil mass in the evening, but I wanted to reflect briefly upon the lives of the saints we celebrate today - St Joachim and St Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 
       They are not mentioned by name in the Bible, but they have been honored since the days of the early Church.   The Tradition that has been passed down from our early Church fathers and mothers tells us that Joachim and Anne were an older couple without children when they were given the gift of a daughter.  The apostolic Tradition tells us that when their daughter, Mary, was with child herself, both Joachim and Anne were notified separately by an angel of the Lord of this good news, which was the same way Joseph and Mary both heard the news of the birth of Jesus as well.  Since their daughter was specifically chosen for this special role in the history of salvation, we can only imagine the holiness and example of faith that Anne and Joachim gave her as she grew us as a child and a youth.  We celebrate the lives of Anne and Joachim and the example of faith that they are for us. 
        Last week, when the volunteers from the Eight Days of Hope were here in our parish to help us in our recovery efforts from the tornado that passed through Tupelo at the end of April, a young man from Shreveport, Louisiana who was helping us paint the church engagement me in a lot of questions about Catholicism.  He was from a Baptist background and he wondered why we believe a lot of things in our Catholic faith.  He could not get over that we in the Catholic faith don't go by Scripture alone, but rather have the teachings of the Magisterium and Tradition to help us with what the Church teaches of the faith.  A lot of what we know about Mary and Jesus are filled in by what the Magisterium and Tradition teaches.  Let us celebrate the lives of Anne and Joachim today.  We give thanks for their place in the history of salvation.  

7/25/2014 – Friday of 16th week of ordinary time – 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28 – St James the Greater –

      We all know the story of St James the Greater, since he is patron saint of our parish.  James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, were called to be disciples of Christ while they were fishing with their father in the Sea of Galilee.  They both took up that call, which couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.  James and John make an appearance in today’s Gospel, in which we hear their mother ask if they can have the seats of honor next to Jesus in his kingdom – one at his right, the other at his left.  Jesus responds that they have to be willing to drink from the chalice that he himself will drink from, but that the Father is the one who will make that decision.  Jesus teaches the brothers that service, rather than honor and glory, is the most important attribute that he wants his disciples to have. 
         James and John were named the “sons of thunder” by Jesus; we can only imagine the fiery and tempestuous nature of their personalities.  We know that tradition holds that James went to Spain in order to bring the Good News to the world after Christ’s death and resurrection.  One would expect James to have had a welcome reception in Spain, but the opposite is the case; he was not very successful at all at that time in making converts.  James returned to Jerusalem, defeated and rejected, where he met his fate in martyrdom, the first of the apostles to be put to death for the Gospel.  The twelfth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Herod had James put to death by the sword.
         Even today, James draws people from every walk of life ever closer to the faith that he proclaimed as they journey across Spain as pilgrims on a journey. Last year, more than 215,000 pilgrims officially arrived as pilgrims in Santiago.   One of the prisoners I ministered in Yazoo City once told me that he had read that some question if it is really James who is buried in the Cathedral in northern Spain, since according to the legend, his body was transported there after his death in Jerusalem.  My response is that what is most important is that James lives in the hearts of those pilgrims who journey across Spain to where his spirit is so alive in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  So many people follow James to be ever closer to Jesus in a world that more often than not mocks our Catholic faith and see us as the enemy.  James and his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is pointing people all over the world to Jesus as they walk across the mountains, as they endure the hot sun and the pouring rain. When I hugged the statue of St James above the high altar in his cathedral, a ritual that pilgrims undertake when they arrive, you cannot imagine the emotion and prayers that swelled up in my heart. 
         Thank you, St James the Greater, for your journey of faith and for the testimony that you still give the world so many centuries after your martyr’s death.  You live in the hearts of so many today.  You live in our parish in Tupelo, Mississippi.  And you enliven us with the faith we have in our Beloved Lord Jesus Christ. 

7/24/2014 – Thursday of 16th week in Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:10-17

      We celebrate the feast day of a Lebanese priest today named St Charbel Makhluf.   He was born in a small village in Lebanon in 1828 to a very humble family.  His father, a mule driver, died when he was 3, so he was raised by an uncle.  He entered the Monastery of St Maron in Lebanon and was ordained a priest.   For the last 23 years of his life, he lived as a hermit in the desert where he practiced a life of strict fasting and of strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.  People sought him out for his prayers due to his reputation for holiness. 
       The life of a hermit is austere and difficult, and it might be difficult for the average person to see God’s love and mercy in such austerity and discipline.  Yet, God calls us all in different ways, and when we follow that call and choose that life that is meant for us, it is a liberating and life-giving experience.  Finding where God’s love and mercy exist in our lives is one of the main challenges we have as followers of Christ.
       As we think about St Charbel today, we recognize how we live in an age when the motives behind our faith are questioned by many in society, as many people can’t believe that we are sincere and grounded in what we believe. Jesus tells us in today Gospel from Matthew: Blessed are your eyes because they see, blessed are your ears because they hear.  Being able to believe in our modern world is a grace.   Yes, indeed our faith is a grace; our faith would not exist without the way that God and the Holy Spirit interact in our lives.  If we look at the faith of St Charbel, our faith is in the same tradition of theirs, our faith finds strength in the prayers of the community of saints.   Just as St Charbel accepted God’s calling for him, may we also see & hear the way God is calling us, and may we follow that plan in faith.

7/22/2014 – St Mary Magdalene – John 20: 1-2, 11-18

       In John’s account of Christ’s resurrection, it is not one of the 12 apostles who arrives at the tomb first, but rather Mary Magdalene.  When she realizes that the stone has been removed from the tomb and that the tomb is empty, she runs off to alert Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple.  From this account in the Gospel of John, some have referred to Mary Magdalene as the apostle to the apostles – quite an interesting description of her.  There is a lot of discussion in our modern Church about who Mary Magdalene is and who she isn’t.  Many scholars and believers are trying to go beyond the myth and the legends and the labels that have been put on Mary Magdalene throughout history to try to reclaim her as how she really was portrayed in Scripture.  In fact, if you go to the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites, you will find many recent books about her with titles such as The Meaning of Mary Magdalene or Unveiling Mary Magdalene.  Though a traditional Catholic view saw her as a reformed prostitute, with “Magdalene houses” being established in her name to help women leave the profession of prostitution, there is much debate about how that perception perhaps is not the truth about Mary Magdalene’s identity.  Some scholars say it was Pope Gregory the Great who first fused the identity of Mary Magdalene with that of the promiscuous women with the alabaster jar in Luke’s Gospel.  Perhaps modern imagination and books like the Da Vinci Code do Mary Magdalene a further disservice in seeing her as Jesus’ wife or his love interest.  All of that discussion detracts from how Mary Magdalene is portrayed in today’s Gospel: as a faithful disciple of Christ, as one who believed and brought his message to others.  The Church sees Mary Magdalene as being a patron saint to converts to the faith and to those who contemplate the mysteries of God.  Texts from the era of the Early Church suggest that Mary Magdalene was very instrumental in preaching the message of Jesus Christ in the days after his resurrection and ascension into heaven.  May the faith, perseverance, and loyalty of the devoted disciple Mary Magdalene be an example to us on our own journey.

7/21/2014 – Monday of 16th week in Ordinary Time – Matthew 12:38-42

     The people of Ancient Israel were looking for signs, they were searching for something.  Yet, they could not see the sign that Jesus was right before their eyes.  We can be that way, too, can’t we?  We can ask for God for things, we may want things with all our heart to help us on our journey of faith, but then we can’t see the way God is present to us in our lives in the here and now. Sometimes, as a priest, I hear people telling me that they are wanting a certain sign from God to validate something that is going on in their lives or in answer to their prayers.  But God can speak to us in more subtle ways, ways that perhaps we are not aware of, that we can easily miss.  The first part of the Jesuit examen that the members of Jesuit spirituality follow to review the end of the day is to be aware of God’s presence.  Taking time to see God in our busy daily lives is not easy, but that will show us the signs that God is there with us on our journey.

Friday, July 18, 2014

7/20/2014 – 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:24-43

      In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells a series of parables to the crowds.  Why would he speak to them in parables?  Why does he still speak to us in parables today?  Perhaps these parables were meant to get the people of his day to think: To get them to think about their faith, to get them to think about the kingdom of God.  These parables challenge us to critically think about our faith and about God, too.  Perhaps it is not proper to say that we interpret the parables, but rather we should say that the parables interpret us.  In Jesus’ parables, we’re able to see things a little differently; we do this through the paradoxes, contradictions, and multiple meanings contained therein.  The parables that we hear today get us to think about the Kingdom of God and the different meanings his Kingdom might have for us.
      We might ask: how can we describe something that is indescribable?  That is why Jesus’ parables give us little glimpses into what God’s Kingdom is all about.  We hear about a tiny mustard seed that grows into a plant large enough for the birds to nest there.  We certainly want the Kingdom of God to grow in our lives, don’t we? We want the Kingdom of God to grow in the world.  We might think about this in the context of our own parish here in Tupelo as we celebrate our 100th year anniversary.   We’ve gone from a little parish where Benedictine priests from neighboring Alabama had to come to celebrate mass to one of the largest parishes in our diocese and a regional hub for ministry in Northeast Mississippi. We have people here in the pews each Sunday whose ancestors were founding members of this parish, who really had to endure so much in order to continue to practice their Catholic faith.  And we have others here each Sunday whose families came to Tupelo from other parts of the country for work.  We have parishioners who are first generation here in the United States, coming from places like the Philippines, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Columbia, Mexico, and Vietnam.  The diversity and richness we have in our parish community is something that often strikes visitors when they attend mass here with us.  So, in some ways, our very parish exemplifies the parable of the mustard seed.
      Yes, we probably think that the Kingdom of God growing as quickly as possible without any hindrances at all is a good thing – perhaps the best thing possible.  But life is not always so smooth and easy and uncomplicated, is it? Maybe there are other things to consider as well.  What if only one tiny little mustard seed blows into a garden where other plants are already growing, where there is already order and structure.   The mustard seed could grow into this huge plant, it could produce other little mustard seeds that grow into other mustard plants, and pretty soon the mustard plants have taken over the entire garden.  The reign of God can grow and grow.  And we want the reign of God to be a welcome addition in our lives, don’t we?   We want it to grow from this little tiny seed into a big, beautiful plant.  But the changes it brings can make us frustrated and insecure.  The power we see in the reign of God and the way it calls out to us can stir up a lot of fear in our hearts.
      Unfortunately, we may want to help the Kingdom of God grow and grow, but there are weeds that sprout up as well.  And through the parable of the weeds and the wheat that we hear today, we know that God understands that the weeds are going to sprout up in his Kingdom.  Yet the master is afraid of doing damage to the wheat, of destroying those parts of God’s kingdom that are growing alongside the weeds, so he lets the weeds remain until harvest time.  God is forgiving and merciful.  He forgives our weeds.  He lets us grow and develop without uprooting us or casting us off.
       When we see the reality of the world around us today, we cannot just assume that the Kingdom of God is going to continue to grow and grow.  We cannot just assume that the Church is going to be around when we need her if we do not do our part today.   I see so many people committed to our parish, committed to help the Kingdom of God grow.  It has been a tough road these past few months since the tornado hit, hasn’t it?   Some of our parishioners lost their homes.  Part of God’s Kingdom is about dealing with the ups and downs of life. When we think about the wonderful volunteers from the Eight Days of Hope who helped us so much this past week here in Tupelo, who have done so much to help our parish recover, it reminds us of what building the Kingdom of God is all about.  In the midst of tragedy and destruction, in the midst of weeds, there is God’s mercy and love, there are the fruits of God’s harvest.
      When we hear these parables in the Gospels – and there are certainly a lot of them – maybe we should try to go beyond the surface meanings that they have.   Maybe we need to see the paradoxes and the multiple meanings and contradictions that Jesus challenges us with.  And just maybe this will help us in our understanding of what the Kingdom of God is all about.