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Reflections on Catholic Faith - January 2009 - A New Year. A New You?

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January 26, 2009
Bishops and Leadership

There is a saying in the Church: "The only ones who want to be bishops are those who have never been bishops." May God grant special graces and strength and companionship to our faithful Catholic bishops. May God purge from His ranks those bishops who are weak or have failed the flock (just a few I truly believe) - and may God grant a hearing to our prayers for each and every one of the overworked, (at times) conflicted and second-guessed bishops.
I have a short bishop story to share with you. Years ago, after four years of seminary formation studying to become a deacon, we came to the day of our ordination. There was a private breakfast in the basement of the cathedral. It was just us deacons to be ordained, our wives… a couple of the deacons who had been in charge of our formation. And here too was Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. I quickly confess that I have a deep spiritual love and respect for the leadership of Archbishop Chaput.

We had met with him individually before - but this was a breakfast meeting and a chance to talk with him. One of the things that sticks with me that day was when the bishop asked if we thought we were uncertain or unworthy to be ordained deacons. This was something that I had struggled with a fair amount through the four years of formation - I KNEW my track record… I KNEW my sinfulness…
The bishop said HE wasn't worthy to be in his position… and he said the Church had been studying us as we had been studying for four years.

If in the judgment of our formators, our professors and the staff - if in all of this it was decided that we were ready to be ordained - then we should consider that Christ through His Church has decided - and we shouldn't give it (unworthiness) another thought. Pray and enjoy the beauty of that morning…. This is exactly what I did. It was a glorious celebration… holy, musical… trumpet and organ music and a choir that could work in any heavenly setting… Oh! What a day.

But I'll never forget the example - the large example of a bishop with perhaps 800,000 souls in the greater area of his responsibility -- that bishop taking time for 14 or us men and our wives… Archbishop Chaput is like that - he is a great shepherd. He is a holy leader.

But you also hear his name in the national news - chiding so-called Catholic politicians who support abortion or any of the other anti-life attack points. You hear this leader pushing strongly for immigration reform as a natural human right. You hear AB Chaput speaking and saying that many in the Church have become 'Cultural Catholics.' Those are people who wear the brand name Catholic but practice some Swiss-cheese version of what they consider being Catholic is about. Cultural Catholics don't have a clue what The Faith or Truth (with a capital T) means…

Leadership like the leadership of bishops Timothy and Titus doesn't try to fit in with society as a whole… in fact, it challenges much of society. You can look at the Franciscan website on saints for each day. This site tells us, "What we know from the New Testament of Timothy's life makes it sound like that of a modern harried bishop. He had the honor of being a fellow apostle with Paul, both sharing the privilege of preaching the gospel and suffering for it."

And you may remember that Paul wrote a Letter to Titus and addresses him as the administrator of the Christian community on the island of Crete. Titus was charged with organizing it, correcting abuses and appointing presbyter-bishops. So the problems of every bishop and Archbishop of today are but reworked situations of the time dating back to the end of the first century in the Church.

This day - this day in which the Church calls us to remember Timothy and Titus - and in this year of St. Paul who was such a great leader in the Church of Christ - where are you with regard to knowing of and praying for your bishop? Have you ever written a 'thank you bishop' letter to your bishop? Would you know where he is located? Do you understand the structure of the Church? Do you understand the saying from very early days, "Where the Bishop is, is where the Church is?"

Now that my wife and I live in Arizona, I just did a March For Life with our bishop (Gerald Kicanas) of Tucson. He had just gotten off the airplane from the Mideast where he visited the Holy Land. With little time for sleep or time-zone recovery - Bishop Kicanas led us in a Mass for Life and then marched with us about 4 miles to a Catholic cemetery where there is a monument to the unborn. Thank you Bishop Kicanas. Bless you.

Once again - the only ones who want to be a bishop are those who have never been one.

Reading 1
2 Tm 1:1-8
Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to God,
whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy,
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.
For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
Ti 1:1-5
Paul, a slave of God and Apostle of Jesus Christ
for the sake of the faith of God's chosen ones
and the recognition of religious truth,
in the hope of eternal life
that God, who does not lie, promised before time began,
who indeed at the proper time revealed his word
in the proclamation with which I was entrusted
by the command of God our savior,
to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.
For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Sing to the Lord; bless his name.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise;
give to the Lord the glory due his name!
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Say among the nations: The Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Mk 3:22-35

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus,
"He is possessed by Beelzebul," and
"By the prince of demons he drives out demons."
Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables,
"How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided,
he cannot stand;
that is the end of him.
But no one can enter a strong man's house to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder his house.
Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies
that people utter will be forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin."
For they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

January 19, 2009
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the year 2006, I began a reflection on this same day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. And truly, even then, I don’t believe any of us would have thought that in two years and one day we would be installing a black man as president of the United States. And just 45 years ago, listen to the words of Dr. King when he spoke at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 th, 1963.

“F ive score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free…. W hen we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

And tomorrow – the 20 th of January 2009, will be the day when MLK’s words will be achieved…. Barak Obama will enter as the 44 th President of the United States. The complaints of hundreds of thousands of slaves and deprived citizens will no longer have the same meaning or fabric. Blacks will have become fully empowered in and by the leadership in America. Our country has spoken: Free at last… thank God Almighty we are truly free at last.

If there is a slavery (for people of color) remaining on Wednesday, January 21 st, it will be from the remnants of prejudice and bigotry and economic power. But the new president tells us that those faults will not continue to control the destiny of America.

Except for the pre-born. It is interesting that the niece of Dr. King has become one of the most outspoken advocates – a non-Catholic advocate I might add – for defending life. She has seen the damage that abortion has done to and in the black community.

And so, as we end the two terms of President Bush and begin to empower the termination of the complaints of black Americans -- we ought to ask the new president if he would read this among the papers left on the desk in the Oval Office.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America.

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is Sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents our commitment to building a culture of life in America.

Also, I was proud to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Reading 1
Heb 5:1-10

Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.

No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my Son: this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

In the days when he was in the Flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion: “Rule in the midst of your enemies.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
“Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor;
before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.”

R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

Mk 2:18-22

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

January 12, 2009

Good morning once again… my words are meant to be a bridge between the Feast we celebrated yesterday – and today as we begin our journey into Ordinary Time on the Church’s calendar – the calendar which follows the life and events of Christ on earth.

Technically, Ordinary Time began yesterday. It was the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord – water was a symbolic theme of the liturgy…. In Scripture, the Lord telling us, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” The Responsorial Psalm said ‘With joy, you shall draw water at the fountain of salvation.”In part, Mark’s Gospel for yesterday quoted John the Baptist saying, “I have baptized you with water….”

And yesterday, I watched a EWTN Mass from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican… that awesome, high-ceiling chapel in which so much Catholic history has taken place… popes have been elected there… and yesterday, our Holy Father Benedict baptized a dozen young babies – children of people who work in various offices of the Vatican.

The Holy Father talked about this transition we have just made from Christmas into Ordinary Time… just as those children are making a transition from their lives before Christ to new life in the earthly kingdom of God, the Church.

The Pope said to the parents and godparents that along with the joy of the child’s birth, they have the obligation to teach and to help the children to grow in the faith. And so – just as the parents of Jesus did at the Presentation in the Temple….

Those Italian parents were presenting their children to God – giving thanks and they were accepting the duties of assisting in God’s work here on earth.

Let me share a story with you -- back in Colorado, there was a woman whom I met with for some basic spiritual counseling… discussion of her journey and her walk with the Lord. One of the things she told me – unabashedly --- was that she had raised her children to be open to any and all religions… letting them find their own way in life. The wound from that conversation still hurts and haunts me. None of her children practice the Catholic Faith. May a merciful God forgive her … Forgive my wife and I for our own related failings… and may God help other parents and grand-parents who think that the practice of the faith is some sort of a personal decision – a decision best left to growing children to decide.

I have a good friend – a Ph.D. back in Colorado. He was a nominal Lutheran who didn’t go to church. His wife was a practicing Catholic -- but one who only took their daughter to Church – not their son. So on Sundays, mother and daughter would go to Mass – and father and son would sit home and do things together.

One Sunday at dinner, the young 7 or 8 year old son innocently asked, “Is Church just for girls?” When it became clear why the boy was asking this – the father became challenged and convicted. He started an extensive study of religions and he eventually became a Catholic. In fact, he has written a graduate-level paper entitled “A Convert’s Journey to the Truth: The Case for the Christian Faith and the Catholic Religion.” I have a copy here and if any of you would like to borrow it and study it, please do so.

It may reaffirm what it means to come to understand and practice the faith. (In our parish, I’ll leave this at the top of the stairs – you are welcome to pick up this copy), but please return it to me.

Here in Ordinary Time, we are on our way – to walk with the Church as we walk with Christ – learning, reading, hearing and becoming the Word of God to others. It isn’t enough for us to just come to Church (although there are graces and benefits from doing this) – but we must be like Simon and Andrew… like James and John… we must be willing to drop anything and everything to help bring about the Kingdom of God…

And the way that I think most important is to be in the Kingdom of God and to share it with others, especially with children. Oh how I’ve prayed for the youth of this parish… the young of this community… Do you remember when I shared the experience of coming to a Sunday evening youth program meeting – two teens showed up… two! Oh my God… what is going to become of our Church?

This is my challenge to you for 2009… pass an active faith on to children. If they are grown, let them see how important it is in every facet of your life… in Church… at home… and by saying grace in restaurants. If you have any to do with your grandchildren – let them know that your heart is on fire…

Let us become like the angels in today’s Responsorial Psalm. Let us all worship God… and be filled with fervor in our faith and in our hearts. Amen.

Reading 1
Heb 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say: You are my Son; this day I have begotten you? Or again:

I will be a father to him, and he shall be a Son to me ? And again, when he leads the first born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 97:1 and 2b, 6 and 7c, 9

R. (see 7c) Let all his angels worship him.
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many isles be glad. Justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Let all his angels worship him.
The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory. Let all his angels worship him.
R. Let all his angels worship him.
Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods.
R. Let all his angels worship him.

Mk 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

January 5, 2009

Testing the Spirit

What is going on in your personal life or your family right now? What is happening in your parish? Your circle of friends? Your workplace? What is happening at your children’s school? Many of us would answer with some statement or statements of problems – few of us would claim perfection of complete satisfaction in these areas.

We are all a broken people, carrying with us the wounds of original sin… and of our own personal sin. And while we intuit that we will never experience perfection here on earth – we strive for it… and we look for answers when we don’t have peace and good will. We phone, email or ‘text’ each other…. We talk to friends or other family members. We may even feel the need to go to counselors to help us feel ‘at peace.’

As we come towards the end of the ‘season’ of brotherly love and peace and harmony, we need God’s Spirit to teach us… to lead us. What does the Spirit teach? He teaches Jesus Christ. He teaches that Jesus is the only and true Savior and that we cannot be saved (or healed) without him. In today’s reading from St. John – he writes: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God...”There are more words in the Epistle – but John tells us we must believe in the name Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and He in them, and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us.

And so – are you struggling with areas of division or disharmony as you begin 2009?

Are there fractured relationships that can be or ought to be healed? Are there people that you do not love as the Gospel instructs us to do? Are there people you are not praying for? Fr. Robert Barron – the wonderful preacher and teacher from Chicago says that we should set out to heal a wounded relationship in this New Year. Turn first to Jesus – pray and ask for His help and guidance. Then test what the Spirit is telling you.

Do you have an area that needs healing (even if you are not personally involved)? Are you fervently praying about it? In anger or any personal failing, have you caused a brokenness that needs to be healed? Has someone else caused a brokenness that you are refusing to forgive? Test the Spirit that is speaking to you within your heart. Test your motives. Test your desire or capability to bring healing. Seek guidance. Bring forth a ‘manger’ of love.

Yesterday – we celebrated a feast second only to the birth of Christ. Yesterday was the Epiphany, a gift of recognition of Christ – God come to earth. Those who were wise brought gifts… gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Would you consider bringing three gifts into an area that needs healing? What three gifts? Prayer. Love. Openness of heart and mind. Test the Spirit within you right now. Is the Spirit speaking to you of an area you ought to attend to?

Come Holy Spirit – fill the hearts of the faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of Your Love – send forth Your Spirit and they (we) shall be recreated… and Thou shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Reading 1
1 Jn 3:22–4:6

We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit whom he gave us.

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist who, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.

You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them. We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 2:7bc-8, 10-12a

R. (8ab)  I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.”
R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
And now, O kings, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before him; with trembling rejoice.
R. I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.

Mt 4:12-17, 23-25

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His fame spread to all of Syria,
and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.

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