Monday, October 31, 2011

10/30/2011 - Scenes from the Halloween Carnival - St Mary Catholic Church - Yazoo City, Mississippi

                                   Linda Cader and Jo George take tickets.
                  Mary Menger Jones and Ana Posey Jones help out at a game.
Dressed up as one of the "Ghost Busters."  Retro costumes are
                                very popular this year. 

                                            A Tree decorated for Halloween.  

                     The Choate brothers dressed up as the Super Mario Brothers.  

                                    The kids had fun with face painting.  

                        Whister Hitt helps Noah McGraw with a game - throwing a football into the tire. 

11/4/2011 – St Charles Borromeo – homily for the Friday of the 31st week in ordinary time - Romans 15:14-21

        Today, we hear the concluding section to Paul’s letter to the Romans, as he addresses his audience in very personal and endearing terms.  Paul wants them to know about his true motives in writing this letter.  He lets them know of the goodness he sees in them, how he sees them being full of knowledge and being able to instruct one another.  In this passage, we hear of Paul’s zeal and enthusiasm in bringing the Gospel to others, to the Gentile who have not yet been exposed to God’s holy word. 
         As Catholics, Charles Borromeo might not be very well known to us, but he is also an important missionary and prophet in our Church, just as St Paul was.  Borromeo lived in the era of the Protestant Reformation, a time when our Church was under great scrutiny and great attack.  He was born into nobility in Milan Italy, being related to the powerful Medici family.  When his uncle was elected as Pope Pius VI, Borromeo became the cardinal and administrator of the important Italian Archdiocese of Milan.  He was named Bishop of Milan at a very young age.  He was very influential in the Council of Trent, and is well-known for promoting the system of seminaries that we have today to educate our priests.  Charles Borromeo could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege, but he gave much of his wealth to charity, led a very simple life, and took out enormous debts in order to feed the victims of the plague in his city. 
         Like Charles Borromeo and St Paul, we are all called to lives of holiness in our own way.  May all of us be able to discern the ways to which God is calling us to live out our lives of faith. 

10/30/2011 - Bingo at the Halloween Carnival - St Mary Catholic Church - Yazoo City, Mississippi

                                         The very famous and eclectic K K Hill calles out
                                         numbers at the bingo game.

11/6/2011 – Homily for 32nd week of ordinary time – Wisdom 6:12-16

         When I was in seminary, we had to take many, many courses in philosophy.  Since the medieval period, when the training of priests became more standardized in our Church, the study of philosophy has been at the foundation of our training as priests.  I remember taking a course on the great medieval philosophers of the Church, using this huge two volume textbook set that included all of their essential writings, written by the great Jesuit philosophy professor Frederick Coppleston.  Many of the Church’s theologians in the medieval era spent a lot of time trying to prove God’s existence by using philosophical reasoning.   I wrote a major paper addressing St Anselm’s proofs, a task that I did not find very enjoyable.  Our professor was always wanting us to put something of ourselves into the paper, to personalize it, so in its conclusion, I wrote that for me, for the way I approach faith in my own life, approaching the existence of God from a philosophical view does not really have an affect on my belief in God.  For me, I walk by faith, I live my faith through the way I experience God in my daily life.  When I received my paper back, I saw that my professor had written a comment at that section of the paper, stating that he thought I was one of the lucky few, that for him, faith was not enough.  He needed proof, he needed a rational, philosophical, knowledge-based explanation that God really existed. 
         Our first reading today is from the book of Wisdom, a book that we have in our Catholic Bible, but a book that is not included in the Protestant scriptures.  When I think of the topic of wisdom, I think of a older man or an older lady, wise from years of experience, giving advice to a younger person.   Here in Yazoo City, and specifically in our parish communities, there is an older generation that is really the spiritual heart of our community, and I see everyone looking to them for guidance, wisdom, and examples of how we can live out our lives of faith in the midst of our modern world.
         Yes, book knowledge is one thing.  But it is not the only thing. We spend years and years in our culture studying in schools, colleges, and universities, but we need to go beyond that in finding a way to incorporate that knowledge into our lives and into the real world.  As most of you know, I spent four years teaching Spanish at Greenville Weston High School here in the Mississippi Delta before I became a priest.  I had learned Spanish as a missionary, almost literally out in the trenches you could say, not in the classroom.  So for me, putting my practical knowledge of Spanish into a classroom setting where I could explain the grammar and the nuts and bolt of the language to my students was quite a challenge.  However, I saw some other teachers who had the opposition problem.  On our teaching staff was a lovely young lady from the coast who had just graduated from one of the fine universities in our state. She was full of enthusiasm and energy.  She majored in Spanish in college, but had not really used it very much in real world settings.  I remember when I introduced her to the some of the Hispanic families who went to our parish in Greenville.  When they tried to chat with her in Spanish, she had no idea how to even start conversing with them, since she had learned so much Spanish up here in her head, all of the grammar, the rules, and the vocabulary, but using the language in conversation was something she had never really done.
         Tradition has it that the Book of Wisdom was written by King Solomon, a man very admired in ancient Israel for his wisdom. Yet, most biblical scholars today believe that the Book of Wisdom was probably written originally in Greek in the great ancient center of learning in Alexandria, Egypt a couple of centuries before Christ’s birth.  Today’s reading tells us that wisdom is received by all who love her, that she is found by all who seek her.  The writer tells us that if we watch for wisdom at dawn, she will be waiting for us at the gate.  It appears that we human beings innately yearn for wisdom and for a connection with the divine in our lives.  We are searching for wisdom, we are searching for God.  We are yearning, striving, and aching for such a connection.  Likewise, wisdom and God are searching for us. 
         So, if we are saying that wisdom goes beyond a book knowledge, beyond what we perceive intellectually, we can see wisdom as a resonance, as an understanding of God’s teachings, laws, and values.  Wisdom is all about being able to integrate God and his teachings into our daily lives.  And while book learning and knowledge are important in our development as human beings and in our spiritual quest, they are certainly not everything.  God can reach out to us, wisdom can connect with us, in many diverse and eclectic ways: through music, art, poetry, literature, and nature; through prayer, contemplation, and even silence.  And so meeting Wisdom at the gates means that we are to find ways to gain this understanding, this experience, this integration of God into our spirituality and into our lives.  In our Why Catholic groups this year we are looking at different ways to pray, so meeting wisdom at the gate is about connecting to God through prayer and meditation, in delving into his Holy Word through lectio divina, in hearing God in the silence of contemplative prayer, in connecting our experiences and our feelings with those that are expressed by the psalmists.  We as Catholics, in our search for wisdom, are to read good books, to listen to beautiful music, to see God in nature, to mediate over an intriguing piece of art.  And we are to find God’s wisdom in the talents and gifts that God gives us.  When we sing or play a musical instrument, when we create a work of art, when we knit or crochet, when we prepare a lovely meal for our family and friends, when we write in our journal, we are to experience God, to connect to the divine, to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding through those creative experiences.  And I know a lot of men out here are hunters.  I know that many of you really find hunting a spiritual experience, in the connection to the land and to nature, to the brisk autumn air and to the animals that provide you food.  Feel the connection to God’s creation in that experience; then, perhaps you will find greater spiritual understanding and a greater connection with your faith through those experiences. 
        Wisdom is all about integrating our knowledge and our intellectual understanding with our heart, our senses, our bodies, and our real life experiences.  And I want to make clear that wisdom does not always mean that everything is clear-cut, either-or, or an easily obtained answer.  We can see an example of this from our lives here in Mississippi.  There has been a lot of discussion and emotions going forth in recent weeks about Proposition 26 in the upcoming election.  Things are being said about us as Catholics that condemn us for the position we are taking, that twist the bishop's words in order to make us look like a villain in society.  Wisdom does not mean that I am going to stand up here as your priest and order you to vote a certain way or to always give you the answers.  As a priest, I am here to lead you, to guide you, to help you along your journey, not to force you along a certain path or to make decisions for you.   Bishop Latino is telling us to form our consciences in the Catholic tradition, and to use our consciences in voting on this decision and on the other issues that confront us on election day, and in all the other decisions, big and small, that we have to make in life. 
         Connecting with the divine wisdom, connecting with God, is not always easy and comfortable.   In our search of wisdom, we will have great joys and great struggles.  And all of this is an essential part of our journey.  

10/31/2011 - Scenes from a Halloween Carnival - St Mary Parish Hall, Yazoo City, Mississippi

Sunday, October 30, 2011

10/30/2011 - Photos of Grotto - St James Parish, Tupelo, Mississippi

 We attended the convocation of the Diocese of Jackson at St James parish in Tupelo, Mississippi earlier this month.  These photos are of the beautiful grotto there.

10/30/2011 - Photos of a Bayou outside of Yazoo City, Mississippi on Highway 3

10/30/31 - Happy All Hallows Eve - The Witch of Yazoo City makes an appearance at the Halloween Carnival at St Mary's Parish in Yazoo City, Mississippi

Vey McGraw, a parishioner at St Mary parish, portrays the Witch of Yazoo City in cemetery tours and in other public events here in Yazoo City.  She made a grand appearance as the Witch of Yazoo City at our Halloween Carnival this Sunday afternoon.  She read from Willie Morris' stories about the legend of the Witch of Yazoo City.  I am very, very thankful for Vey's appearance today.

Friday, October 28, 2011

10/30/2011 – Homilia – El XXXI Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Mateo 23, 1-12; Malaquías 1, 14b; 2,1-2, 8-10

Podemos vivir para la gloria de nosotros mismos, o podemos vivir para la gloria de Dios, para la gloria de su reino.  Es el tema de nuestras lecturas hoy día.  El profeta Malaquías hablaba a los sacerdotes cinco siglos antes del nacimiento de Jesucristo.  El pueblo de Israel ha llegado recientemente despues de su exilio en Babylonia.  En esta época, el pueblo ha abandonado su fe en Dios para dar alabanzas a los idolos.  En lugar de servir a Dios, los sacerdotes de esta época estaban ocupado de recibir sus propias ganancias.  Podemos aprender en nuestra lectura de Malaquías: No es suficiente para tener solo la superficie de nuestro culto.  Es mas importante para dar gloria a Dios en nuestros corazones.  Lo que es afuera debe reflexionar sobre lo que es adentro.
En el Evangelio de San Mateo, Jesús hablaba a los letrados y a los fariseos con palabras muy fuertes.  Ellos llevaron la gloria que necesitamos dar a Dios, y pusieron a ellos mismos.  Yo creo que nosotros podemos reflexionar sobre muchas personas en nuestra vida y en nuestra comunidad de fe que tienen mucha humildad y compasión en su espiritualidad que los fariseos no tienen en su vida de fe.  Para nosotros, Jesús es el ejemplo de humildad y del amor de nuestro Padre.  En los gozos y en los sufrimientos, en la realidad de nuestro mundo, Jesús está en medio de nosotros, sus seguidores.  Jesucristo está aqui con nosotros, dispuesto a servirnos, a ayudarnos, a reafirmarnos. 
Es importante para seguir la ley y los mandamientos de Dios, es seguro, pero no como los fariseos.  Cristo nos enseña como sus discípulos que el camino de los fariseos no es nuestro camino.  Con nuestro Padre, con nuestro Señor, podemos caminar en el Camino de fe.  Podemos reconocer un solo jefe, un solo maestro, Cristo, el Señor.  Debemos dar honor a nuestro Señor en el servicio de nuestros hermanos. 
En nuestra vida de fe, existe una tensión, un conflicto, sobre el ideal que tenemos en los valores de nuestra fe, y la realidad que vivimos diariamente.  El Evangelio y el profeta Malaquías hablaban sobre una tensión, esta realidad humana.  La religión y la fe son más de los ritos y las formas.  En nuestra vida de fe, en nuestro viaje, hay nuestras relaciones con Jesús, hay las cosas pasando en nuestros corazones.  Hay más que la superficie. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

10/30/2011 – Homily for Sunday of the 31st week in ordinary time - cycle A – Matt 23:1-12; Malachi 1:14b; 2:1-2, 8-10

      We are in the last weeks of our present liturgical year. We’re just 4 weeks away from the beginning of Advent, from a new Church year which begins on Nov 27.  Advent is not only a time when we prepare for Christmas and for the birth of Jesus into our world, but it is a penitential season where we look into our hearts in a special way to see those ways we need to turn away from sin and to receive renewal and conversion in our lives.   Today’s readings get us thinking about these themes, about how we need to repent and amend our ways, to look at those things that perhaps are eroding our faith, that are keeping us from growing in our relationship with Christ.
         The prophet Malachi spoke to the people of ancient Israel in the fifth century, just a generation or two after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon.  At that time, the people had once again turned their backs on God.  Many had married outside of their faith and had turned to the worship of foreign idols.  Malachi is very direct in his message, in identifying the sins of the people and the sins of their priests.  The prophet tells them that it’s not enough to go through the empty motions of religious rituals if they are doing so for their own glory and to make themselves look good in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God.  Malachi prophesies that the priests will be held accountable for having strayed from their faith, for leading the people astray as well.
         Jesus is very hard on the Pharisees and the Scribes in today’s Gospel, because he saw them not only leading so many of the faithful astray, but they took the glory that was due God, and in a very sneaky and hypocritical way, turned it into their own glory.  Yet, in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus warns us about, I bet we can all think of those who have been examples of faith for us, who truly have lived and served for the glory of God, who have led us closer to the faith rather than leading us astray.  When I was in Ecuador serving as a missionary, I saw so many priests and nuns who had left their countries from all over the world in order to serve the poor throughout this vast jungle region of South America.  I met one elderly nun from Italy – Sister Gemma – who had been there in the jungle for almost forty years.  Even though she had gone through some very difficult times, I was struck by the love, grace, and humility through which she served the Lord as a missionary.   She never drew attention to herself, she never was announcing to others how great she was.  She knew that God called her as a missionary, as his servant, so she served him simply and humbly, through patience, perseverance, and hard work.  That is so different from the message we see in the Pharisees and scribes in today’s Gospel, who follow all the laws of the faith, but who do so rigidly and dogmatically.  In flaunting the way they take the seats of honor, in drawing attention to themselves and lording their power over others, the scribes and Pharisees really are serving only themselves.
         Let us look at a very different example.  Our psalmist humbly comes before the Lord this morning, telling him: My heart is not proud, Lord.  My eyes are not haughty.  I don’t spend my time trying to accomplish great things.  I don’t not worry about those things that are too complicated or sublime for me.  Instead, the psalmist declares that he has found his peace with the Lord, that his hope is in the Lord both now and forever. 
         The Pharisees and scribes would not have understood one of the main messages St Teresa of Avila brings to us in her teachings, that love begets love, that even though we are all still truly beginners in loving in the same way that Jesus loved, we are to strive to implant this love in our hearts and to bring this love to others.  And we can bring this love to others in so many different ways, in so many creative ways, even in some fun ways.  Our parishes here in Yazoo City had a Halloween carnival that was a very important social activity for many years, but it had been a long time since we’ve had this event.  Out of love for our parish community, out of love for our children and youth, some of the ladies of our parish wanted to revive this event this year.  For many in our parish, the Halloween carnival brings back a lot of memories.  So, we look forward to having this social time together this afternoon in this revival of an old parish tradition.  If we try to be a community where Christ’s love is present, where we want to share this love with others, then that love will multiply, and be a true sign that we are living out the Gospel message in our world. 
         Just last week, we saw our own Pope Benedict using our Catholic faith to bring the message of God’s love to the world.  He convened religious leaders from all over the world to Assisi, Italy, the hometown of St Francis of Assisi, to stress the importance of all of us working together for world peace.  Pope Benedict pointed out that it had been 25 years to the day that Pope John Paul II convened the first world day prayer for peace in Assisi.  Leaders from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, traditional African religions, and from different Protestant faiths all pledged to work toward dialogue, justice, peace, and friendship.  In a world where a lot of terrorism and violence has been perpetuated in the name of God and in the name of different religions, a world day of prayer for peace tells the world what all these faith traditions truly stand for. 
         Yes, there are a lot of things that can erode our faith, that can lead us astray, that can bring us down.  However, if we make a conscious decision of living out a faith that is more than going through the motions, then God’s love will truly be present.