Saturday, December 31, 2011

Photos - Belzoni, Mississippi at Christmas -

Below are photos of All Saints Parish in Belzoni Mississippi, with nativity scenes set up both inside and outside of the church.  The town of Belzoni was all lit up for the season.

Photos - Jesus as the light of the world

Jesus is the light of the world who has come to us at Christmas time.  The Christmas season last until January 9th this year, when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.  Here are some photos that symbolize the light of Christ in our world.

Christmas lights in our parish in Belzoni, MS as decorated by our parishioner, Linda Sanderfer-

Advent wreath at St Mary Parish, Yazoo City, MS

Candles lit around the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St Mary Parish, Yazoo City, MS

Advent wreath, St Mary Parish offices, Yazoo City, MS

Candles lit in a mass celebrating the anniversary of Trish and Darryl Jackson at their home in the North Kildonan neighborhood of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

A candle and a small icone of the Holy Family - home of Darryl and Trish Jackson, Winnipeg, Canada. 

Mary, Mother of God

Below is an icon of the Blessed Mother done by my friend Trish Jackson up in Canada.  This particular icon is called "Our Lady of the Sign."  Happy New Year everyone.  And as we celebrate the Virgin Mary in a special way on January 1 in the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, I ask for the prayers and intercessions of the Blessed Mother for all of us in 2012.

A Wintery day in Indianapolis

Greetings from Indianapolis!  I was up in Indianapolis earlier in the week visiting my good friend Anne Belcher and her son Marty.  Anne has been a family friend since my brother Cameron roomed with her and her husband back in the mid 1980s when he was doing his student teaching at Butler University.  Cameron is now a music teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.  This photo is a wintery scene from the deck of Anne's log cabin home along the White River in the neighborhood of Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.  I am holding Anne's cat Midnight.

Friday, December 30, 2011

1/6/2012 – Homily - Friday in second week in octave of Christmas – Mark 1:7-11

Today, we hear a reading describing those who question John the Baptist about the baptism he is performing, then comparing it with baptism Jesus receives from John, with the Holy Spirit coming down upon him like a dove.  Baptisms are certainly very joyful occasions in our faith.  When families baptize a small infant into the faith, when adults decide to be baptized after a long period of searching and struggle, it is certainly cause to rejoice.  And I have seen the Holy Spirit work wonders through people in the waters of baptism, bringing forth a movement and transformation in their lives.  An inmate from our prison ministry here in Yazoo City has been released now for about half a year, and he has now made the decision to be baptized and his son is being baptized with him.   He has had a very rough life, really struggling on his own for many years, and he realizes that he needs God in his life if he is going to make it. 

This upcoming Monday, on January 9, we will celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, bringing the Christmas season to an end, and then ushering in ordinary time once again in our liturgical year.  As we continue our journey of faith, as we move past our celebration of Christmas, may we ask the Holy Spirit to continue his saving work in our lives.  

1/4/2012 – Wednesday of second week of Christmas – John 1:35-42

“What are you looking for?”  This is the question that Jesus asks two men who are intrigued by him after they hear John the Baptist call him the Lamb of God.  So many of us are searching for something in our lives.  Many in our modern society feel so unfulfilled.  They try to fill this void in their lives with many, many things – drugs, alcohol, music, video games, entertainment, pleasure, work.  Many of these things are not bad in themselves if done in moderation, if we don’t make them our idols or our gods.  Yet, if we are looking for something in our life, our faith is where we will find it.

Yet, we won’t always get an answer to all the questions we have.  Many times we will have to walk by faith.  We will learn, we will grow, we will live out our faith.  This is a journey.  And the journey of faith in itself is important. 

We celebrate the saint Elizabeth Ann Seton today.  She was born in an Episcopalian here in North America in the late 18th century before we were even an independent country.  She became Catholic after the death of her husband while on a trip to Italy.  And her own father was a great example of someone who lived a life of charity toward others.  Elizabeth Ann Seton gives us a great example of faith today as the first American born Catholic to be beatified, as the founder of the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity, as the founder of the first American parish-affiliated Catholic school, and the first American Catholic orphanage.  What are you looking for?  Elizabeth Ann Seton answered this question by the life of faith that she lived in service to God and in service to her brothers and sisters.  We have to answer this same question with our own lives of faith. 

01/08/2012 – Homily - Feast of the Epiphany – Matthew 2:1-12

           Our celebration of the Christmas season wouldn't be complete without the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord which we celebrate today.  This part of the Christmas story so appeals to our senses & our imagination:  Most of us can probably picture in our minds the Magi crossing the desert on their quest to find the baby Jesus; we can also probably imagine the smells of the exotic spices that they bring him as gifts.  In many ways, the wise men are models for all of the Gentiles who later became followers of Jesus, and that is why the witness of the wise men was so important in the early Church.  While we have heard the story of the wise men from the Gospel of Matthew countless of times during our Christmas celebrations over the years, I wonder what it would be like for us to see the wise men from the perspective of a pilgrimage, to see them as pilgrims on a journey.  By seeing the wise men as on a pilgrimage, we might be able to better understand ourselves as a pilgrim Church and a pilgrim people as we journey through life as followers of Jesus.
         Just who were these pilgrims who we call wise men or Magi?  Scripture scholars think that they were probably royalty, magicians, astrologers or members of a priestly caste from Persia, which is the present-day country of Iran, or from elsewhere in the east.  They traveled from a faraway land, guided by a star to lead them to this newborn king & to do him homage. Wow, that is quite a pilgrimage they are on.  I wonder if the end point of the pilgrimage was what they expected: finding a little baby lying in a humble manger, not finding a great king in a castle or ruling over a powerful army. 
         And I see analogies between the pilgrimage taken by the Magi to our pilgrimage as Christians, and also to a specific pilgrimage I personally took to Spain to reach the cathedral that houses the remains of the Apostle James, the son of Zebedee.  I went to on the pilgrimage in Spain back in the summer of 2003, and many of you know that I am getting ready to go again this spring, as we will be leaving the day after Easter this year. 
         I wonder how the Magi received their call to find Jesus, this newborn king?  Since God told them in a dream to return to their homeland without reporting back to Herod, perhaps he originally called them on this pilgrimage through a dream.  God can call us to go on a pilgrimage in some pretty unique ways.  Some teacher friends of mine from Maine were the ones who originally recommend that I go on this pilgrimage to Spain, and they were not even Christian.  Wow!  And then I actually had a dream about going on the pilgrimage in Spain, and I knew that it was something that God really wanted me to do, so I went.
         As I can't imagine what the long journey was like for the Magi as they traveled across deserts and mountains, the terrain I encountered during my pilgrimage to Spain was certainly interesting.  As I hiked about 350 miles in northern Spain to reach the city of St. James, Santiago de Compostela, I went over several large mountain, through dry mesas, through remote rural areas  & large cities, through heavy rain falls and the blazing hot sun.  What a journey it was!  And while I was a very inexperienced hiker, I made the whole hike without even a blister, while my friend who walked it with me, a very good athlete and a very experienced hiker, had a nasty foot infection that bothered her from the very first day.  And that's the thing about a pilgrimage – you meet many unexpected, challenges along the way.  Only our imagination will help us know what the Magi really encountered along their journey. 
         And there was that magical star that guided the Magi.  The star certainly seems like a supernatural gift from God, as it moved with the Magi along their journey, stopping over the place where they would find Jesus. It's interesting that the pilgrimage of St. James in Spain is also linked to a celestial body, the Milky Way.  The pilgrimage route follows the same westward direction as the Milky Way, and a medieval legend explains that the Milky Way was formed by dust raised by the pilgrims walking across northern Spain.  Like the Magi following the star, we pilgrims followed big yellow arrows that pointed us in the right direction on the pilgrimage route. 
         I wonder what God taught the Magi from their pilgrimage?  I wonder if they remained disciples of Jesus when they returned home?  Certainly, their spiritual outlook on life changed by their journey and their discovery of the Christ child.  It is hard for me to put into words what I learned from God during my first pilgrimage to Spain.  First of all, I became much more comfortable in listening to God in the silence and nature that I encountered on the pilgrimage trail.  So often we come to God with a lot of requests & prayers; how often do we just listen to him, to allow him to speak to us in any possible way.  Finding God in giving up control is another lesson I learned.  We live in a society where we plan, we organize, we schedule, we want to be in complete control of things.  Yet, on pilgrimage, I was never quite sure how long I would be able to walk that day, where I would find a place to sleep, or what kind of weather or detours would be along my path.  Getting out of the daily routine, putting ourselves in God hands: that is what pilgrimage is all about.  And how often do we recognize the angels that we meet in our daily lives?  On pilgrimage, I was so aware of the people I met that went out of their way to be kind & to help me along my way.  These people were absolute angels to me, in both big and little ways.  I remember once when I was hiking I felt someone’s hand come from behind me, rubbing my neck.  And I thought: What is that for?  It was a lady from Germany, who in her broken English told me that she had seen that my neck was getting sunburned, and she was putting lotion on my neck to protect it from the sun.  This incident and others made me aware of how I could be helpful to others in both big and little ways, and I went out of my way to help the other pilgrims as well.  And I can imagine that the Magi met many people that helped them on their journey. 
         When I went to Spain, I went as a pilgrim, not a tourist. That difference was very important.  This meant that I viewed every step along my journey through the lens of my Catholic faith and God’s call for me to be a pilgrim.  We all need to be open to the way God speaks to us in our lives.  And God speaks to us in so many ways: through his Word & the teachings of the Church, through the people we meet & the daily experiences of our lives.  But, as Herod, the scribes and the chief priests were not open to become pilgrims, we have to decide if we are going to open to the call to pilgrimage.  Are we going to be open to the deeper spiritual meaning present in the way God is speaking to us?  The Second Vatican Council declared that we are a pilgrim Church, that we are a pilgrim people on a journey to the eternal life that we will have in God.  Like the Magi, are we really open to that call to pilgrimage? 

01/1/2012 – Mary, Mother of God – alternative homily – Luke 2:16-21

I earlier posted a homily for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  However, as I often do, I go back, re-edit, and change things, this time really writing a brand new homily that incorporates some elements from the other homily. This is the homily I will be giving on January 1.  

Today, we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God as we welcome in the new year of 2012.  Mary is always an important part of our Catholic faith and Catholic consciousness, and even more so this time of the year.  We not only hear a lot about Mary during our Advent and Christmas celebrations in her connection to Christ’s birth, but in the past month, we also had the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec 12, in addition to solemnity that we celebrate today. Even though Mary has a unique role in our history of salvation and in the story of Jesus in the Gospels, Protestants and Catholics alike often can have misconceptions about Mary’s role in our Catholic faith.  As a priest, when people ask me about our Catholic faith, especially when I go visit the inmates in prison, many of the questions often revolve around Mary and her role in our faith.  So, I thought I would structure my homily around some questions we are often asked about Mary.  

To begin with, we might ask ourselves: Why exactly would we celebrate a solemnity of Mary as the Mother of God?  This title does not come directly from Scripture, but it evolved in the early Church and was defined as a dogma of our Catholic faith at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. It is important to note that Mary was defined as “the Mother of God” rather than “the Mother of Jesus” because it was a part of the discussion the early Church fathers had about the divinity and humanity of Jesus.  The Church did not want to give the impression that his divinity and humanity are two independent components of his being. By referring to Mary as the Mother of God, the Church confirms that Jesus is one person that is at the same time fully human and fully divine.  And through the title “Mother of God” we come to a deeper understand of Jesus, since it is always important for us to remember that Mary does not direct honor and glory to herself, but rather Mary’s role in our faith is to always point us in the direction of Jesus, to help us in our journey of discipleship in him.

One of my favorite Catholic writers, the Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, tells this amusing story.  There once was an elderly man who came to the shrine of Mary, Mother of God to pray there each day.  Jesus himself heard the prayers of this devout believer, and wanted to show him a sign that blessings would certainly come to him.  So, Jesus as the Christ child appear to this man right above the altar of this beautiful shrine in place of the statue of Mary that was normally there.  Seeing the Christ child in front of him instead of Mary, the old man was irritated, and cried out: “Go away, little boy.  I am here to talk to your mama.”  This illustrates the devotion that we Catholics traditionally have to Mary, how we can so naturally relate to the motherly love, how we see her not only as Jesus’ mother, the Mother of God, but our mother, the mother of our Church.  So we might ask: Is it ok to pray to Mary?  I think a better way to describe it is to say that we pray through Mary and with Mary.  We don’t worship Mary as God, we don’t see her as an equal to God, but rather as an intercessor who prayers for us and with us, who strengthens our faith and who nurtures us with her motherly love. 

So, how to we see Mary today’s as modern Catholics?  How do we see her as a model of faith for us today?  Mary has always been a part of our faith story, our faith history, but she has been seen and interpreted in different ways as our Catholic faith has developed throughout our human history.  At times, she has been held up as a model of a believer who was docile and passive, submissive and unquestioning.  Yet, even in today's short Gospel passage, as we hear how the shepherds visit Mary and Jesus in the manger, how Mary pondered all that she heard from the shepherds in her heart, we hear how Mary takes a very proactive, strong deeply spiritual way.  She does not follow blindly, but thinks, reflects, ponders, meditates, and makes up her own mind.  While she is formed by her faith traditions and is part of ancient Jewish society, Mary made the decision to accept God’s will for her in her life.  We can recognize that through her courage and strength of character, she truly becomes Christ’s first disciple. 

As someone who came to the Catholic faith as an adult, I can honestly say that Mary has played a major role in helping me grow in my Catholic faith and in bringing me to the Church.  Today, as we welcome in the new year of 2012, as we celebrate the day where we pray for peace throughout our world, as we honor Mary as the Mother of God, let us ask Mary for her prayers and intercessions, to help us, to guide us, to be with us as we journey in faith.  

1/1/2012 –Homilia - Solemnidad de María, Madre de Dios – Números 6, 22-27; Lucas 2, 16-21

1/1/2012 – María, Madre de Dios – Números 6, 22-27; Lucas 2, 16-21

Hoy es el primer día del año de 2012.  Hoy es la jornada mundial de oración por la paz.  Este día, el Papa anuncia un mensaje de paz a toda la gente del mundo. Cuando yo estaba en Roma con un grupo de jóvenes de nuestro diócesis, yo recuerdo esta experiencia de escuchar al mensaje de paz del Papa.  También, en nuestra Iglesia Católica, celebramos la solemnidad de Santa María, Madre de Dios. 

En la primera lectura del Libro de los Números, escuchamos a una bendición que Dios da al pueblo de Israel.  Dice esta bendición: “El Señor te bendiga y te proteja, ilumine su rostro sobre ti y te conceda su favor; el Señor se fije en ti y te conceda la paz.” Dios expresa su fidelidad y su bondad a su pueblo con esta bendición.  La encarnación de Jesús en nuestro mundo, nacido de la Virgen María, es una bendición para todos los hombres. Cuando María escuchaba el mensaje divino que los pastores han recibido, María conservaba este mensaje en su corazón y meditaba sobre su importancia.  Con su encarnación, con el papel de María en la historia de salvación, Dios está con nosotros. 

En esta solemnidad de hoy, podemos reconocer que nuestra Iglesia Católica quiere comenzar el nuevo año con las oraciones y las intercesiones de la Virgen María, de su protección.  En el año 431, en el Concilio de Éfeso, en la ciudad donde la Virgen María ha pasado sus últimos años después de la muerte de Jesús, había la declaración que en Jesús había una única persona, por lo que bien podía afirmarse que: “La Virgen María sí es Madre de Dios porque su Hijo, Cristo, es Dios.”

El título “Madre de Dios” es el titulo principal y más importante de la Virgen María, y de este título depende todos los demás títulos que ella tiene.  María es “Madre de Dios.” Y en nuestra vida de fe, en nuestra piedad popular en la Iglesia Católica, María es “Madre Nuestra.” Por esta razón, con gozo y con fe, podemos comenzar este nuevo año con la protección y el cuidado de nuestra Madre. Y en esta Jornada por la Paz le pedimos, sobre todo, que María, nuestra Madre y la Madre de Dios, nos enseña los caminos y los pasos para construir un mundo donde reine la paz, una paz fruto de la justicia y de nuestra fe.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12/24/2011 - Homilia – La Nochebuena – Lucas 2, 1-14

            Venimos juntos a esta Eucaristía para celebrar Navidad. Hemos venido para celebrar nuestro Dios que se hizo hombre, que se hizo niño pequeño. Venimos a participar y celebrar, y alegrarnos de este suceso tan increíble y único, como vinieron otra noche unos cuantos pastores, a asistir a su nacimiento y a rodear su cuna.
Ahora, ¿qué pasa realmente en Navidad? ¿Qué hace Cristo para nosotros en Navidad?
         En verdad, Cristo viene a traernos la luz. “El pueblo que caminaba en tinieblas vio una luz grande; habitaban tierras de sombras, y una luz les brilló” nos indica el profeta Isa
ías en la primera lectura de hoy.  Es una luz que puede cambiar nuestra vida y nuestro mundo.  Es una luz que puede ayudarnos con las miserias y las limitaciones que existen en nuestra vida. Es una luz que exige cambios en nuestra existencia.
También, Cristo viene para llenarnos de alegría. El ángel lo anuncia a los pastores: “No teman, les traigo una buena noticia, que causara gran alegría a todo el pueblo”.  Alegría, porque sabemos que hay un Dios que piensa en el hombre con amor, que se acerca hasta el hombre, que se hace hombre. Un Dios que recorre nuestro mismo camino, que comparte nuestras penas y miserias, nuestras angustias y esperanzas. Un Dios que viene a traer a todos la salvación. Cristo ha venido a traemos la felicidad, una felicidad que traspasa todos los horizontes terrenos para llevarnos a la felicidad verdadera que existe solamente en nuestra fe y en nuestro Dios.
Nuestra misión es convertirnos en luz. Que la luz de Cristo nos penetre, nos transforme.  Nuestra misión es convertirnos en alegría y ser testigos de la alegría cristiana que todo el mundo entienda que el mensaje de Cristo es un mensaje de salvación, no de condenación; un mensaje de liberación, no de opresión; un mensaje de alegría, no de tristeza.
         Mis hermanos, este nacimiento que hoy celebramos es el nacimiento de Jesús, por supuesto, pero es  nuestro nacimiento tambi
én. Esta noche tiene que nacer algo en cada uno de nosotros.  La maravilla de esta noche de Navidad es que el Niño Dios, en el corazón de cada uno de nosotros, pueda volver a nacer y a vivir.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

01/01/2012 – Homily - Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God – Luke 2:16-21

         Today, we celebrate the wonderful solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on the first day of the new year of 2012.  And it is quite a treat for us to celebrate this special day on a Sunday, which doesn’t happen very often in our Church’s liturgical calendar.    In today's Gospel, we hear how the shepherds visit Mary and Jesus in the manger, how Mary pondered all that she heard from the shepherds in her heart. Through this reading, we see a very human side of Mary.  However, as we celebrate Mary in a special way today, we might ask ourselves a question about something we as Catholics might take for granted:  Why do we call Mary the “Mother of God”? Even though this title does not come directly from the Scriptures, it was commonly used to describe Mary long before it was defined as a dogma of our Catholic faith at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. 
         There was considerable debate in the early Church about the nature of Christ, about whether he was both fully human and fully divine.  At the center of this discussion was a title ascribed to Mary, because since the early third century, some followers of Jesus gave Mary the title of “Theotokos,” or God-bearer. I was very fortunate for having had an entire course in the seminary on the Virgin Mary, taught by Father Marcello Neri, a Sacred Heart priest from Italy.  He emphasized again and again that any title given to Mary is not given to just glorify her or to tell us only something about her, but Mary and her titles ultimately point us to Jesus, her Son, and tell us something about him or about our redemption & salvation that comes through him. 
         So, why is it important for us to call Mary “the Mother of God,” rather than to simply refer to her as the Mother of Jesus?  In an important way, the Church insists on the title “Mother of God” for Mary so as to not to divide or separate Jesus’ divinity from his humanity; the Church does not want to give the impression that divinity & humanity are two separate & independent parts of Jesus.  By referring to Mary as the Mother of God, the Church confirms that Jesus is one person that is fully human and fully divine. 
         Just as we refuse to separate the humanity of Jesus from his divinity, we lay the foundation that we refuse to separate Jesus from the body of the Church, for as the Church, we are truly the Body of Christ.  The divine work of Jesus is an integral and essential part of the human work of the Church; the two cannot be separated.  Jesus shares his divine life with the members of his Church, as he also shares in our human lives.  In the Church, Jesus lives and works, as we as members of the Church live & work in Jesus.  As we give Mary the title “Mother of God,” it helps us to understand the mystery that we are proclaiming when we say that as the Church we are the body of Christ. And as we receive the Eucharist today, as the priest & the Eucharistic ministers distribute the host and pronounce that this is the Body of Christ, we not only declare the host as the body of Christ, but we also declare that the person receiving the Eucharist is the body of Christ as a member of Christ’s Church.  When we think of it in these terms, what a profound theological statement we make each time we gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate the Eucharist to receive the Body of Christ as the Body of Christ.
         Mary is the Mother of God, she is our mother, and she is the mother of the Church.   As our mother, as our intercessor, as the first disciple, Mary brings us ever closer to her Son.  As we honor Mary today as the Mother of God, we honor her son, we honor the way God is working in her.