Reflections on Catholic Faith - April 2008 - Easter Reflections
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|April 20, 2008
Ahhh! God is good... all the time! This week, Deacon Tom and his bride are heading towards God's Country -- Colorado. We'll be gone for a little more than a week. We'll pick up when we return. Blessings. Tom
JPII AND Benedict (With Help From Author Peggy Noonan)
Like perhaps many of you, I spent time last week… looking at EWTN and Fox News and other outlets… trying to gain some sense of the history being made in the here and now… and trying to compare it to the history we saw in recent years… Everything I looked at about Benedict was seen as through a prism thinking about John Paul II. So let me start with the Great JP.
I was a deacon at the evening Mass on April 2 nd, 2005 and I had been scheduled for weeks to preach that weekend. And yet – our Holy Father John Paul II lay dying at the Vatican… and our young pastor was a Polish priest born in Krakow; this priest was much affected by that Holy Father and the ending of his life. I had two homilies prepared: 1. He is still living as a testimonial to the value of life even now… and, 2. Be not afraid – he is now on the other side and is closer to God than he was.
Just hours before the 4:30pm Mass, we were advised of the death of John Paul. That day, April 2nd, 2005 was perhaps a day when angels wept. What words could a Colorado deacon – a relatively newly minted deacon say about such a great man? In part, I turned to other people who saw John Paul and what they said about him. I found words from a young person at the World Youth Day in Toronto: “We had been told that when he landed, he would exit from the plane on a lift – away from the eyes of the camera and of people. He was, of course, an old man… but on this summer day, I watched an old man descend the stairs, step by painful step, down to ground level.
And then I watched him reach out to a child and then to a man in a wheelchair… and then we heard his faltering words… and I wept. I was overwhelmed by Love.”
This description was from Cheryl Ann Smith, a visitor to World Youth Day in Canada – these words describe the arrival in Toronto of the Apostle of our times… Holy Father Pope John Paul… That man – that anointed, elevated, holy man had done so much to demonstrate what it means to be ‘one who is sent’ – an apostle. John Paul had often given an example of carrying the cross as Christ did. He allowed nothing to prevent his paschal walk… “And do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” even all the hairs of your head are counted.
In my homily about John Paul II, I told a story about a rather worldly, almost hedonistic young African named Marcel… he found himself in France during an earlier World Youth Day… he was so overpowered by the love and awesome presence of John Paul, that Marcel came back to the Catholic Church and the Sacraments – he went to college and eventually became a Dominican Priest… Those who have heard him preach knew what awesome work God had been doing in Father Marcel. And he, Marcel was my spiritual advisor for two years of my seminary training in Denver.
How do these memories – these emotions compare to what we were looking at as we tried to come to knowledge and love of Benedict the Sixteenth? The journalist Peggy Noonan has written about the visit of Benedict to America.
So many of us want to see this new pope, to get some sense of him… Peggy said that she had attended an earlier JPII anniversary Mass led by Benedict. In that Mass, the celebrant Benedict spoke of the distilled message of John Paul's reign: "Be not afraid," the words "of the angel of the Resurrection, addressed to the women before the empty tomb." Which words were themselves a condensed message: Nothing has ended, something beautiful has begun, but you won't understand for a while. Is there not that same message for us looking at Benedict? Is it possible that John Paul II is whispering those words to us now? Benedict was doing and has been doing something great leaders usually don't do, which is invite you to dwell on the virtues of his predecessor. Oh yes, we miss John Paul II. We feel the presence of his absence. In Rome, the souvenir shops know. They sell framed pictures and ceramic plates of the pope: John Paul. Is there no Benedict? There is. A photo of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger being embraced by . . . John Paul. They have their hands on each other's shoulders and look in each other's eyes. A joyful image. They loved each other and were comrades.
When Peggy was writing a book about John Paul, she would ask those who'd met him or saw him go by: What did you think, or say? And they'd be startled and say, "I don't know, I was crying." John Paul made you burst into tears. Benedict makes you think. It is more pleasurable to weep, but at the moment, perhaps it is more important to think. Benedict says things… or he writes things… and we can download his words… print them… and ponder them. Thank you Holy Father Benedict… I’ve cried seeing you too.
|April 14, 2008
Some brief thoughts this morning…. Have you ever had a priest… a nun… or heaven help you a deacon who really played an important part in your life? I remember a dear, sweet nun named Sister Joanne who helped me and gave me confidence about the subject of math when I was in the 3 rd grade. She stayed after class with me and others who had similar math impairments… She helped me to come to grips with fractions and percentages. Imagine if you will -- these skills allowed me to own and manage my own business. And later to sell it – which in a way helped me to have the ability to study for four years in the seminary and to ultimately become a deacon. May God give you rest and reward, Sister Joanne.
I also had a priest – a dear priest named Fr. Pat. He lives in Florida and although he is a curmudgeon… he was (and is) a loving priest from Ireland. I once talked to him about being a spiritual guide for me – he said it would be like the blind leading the blind. And, he said if that should happen, then ‘both will fall over the cliff.’
These ramblings bring me to the Good Shepherd theme of Sunday’s and Monday’s Gospels. Leadership is found in the first reading. And it is interesting that Jesus would use this metaphor of the shepherd in John’s Gospel. It would certainly be understood back then. But the Good Shepherd depicted by Jesus would give his life for his sheep. That was a new twist on the then-understood role of the shepherd.
We have so many people who are trying to forge a path in life completely by themselves. We ought to search out and recognize those who are good and holy earthly representatives of the kind and gentle Jesus. Some try to do faith and the faith-journey completely on their own. Some find ‘easy-guides’ and self-serving gurus.
The placement of the Good Shepherd story in John’s Gospel is right after the story of the blind man and the miserable shepherding given to the blind man by the authorities of his time. Blind guides themselves, the leaders threw the blind man out of the synagogue because they couldn’t see the light and he could.
Light for our path comes from Jesus and his teachings. In fact, Jesus is the path… He is the Way… the Truth and the Light. To any that follow any other path of gurus and self-discovery, we pray… we ask God for help and good leaders… earthly shepherds formed in the heart of Jesus to help bring others to the light. Give us Lord many holy new men and women with vocations as leaders of the faithful. And for those who don’t have a person in their lives that might be a spiritual mentor – I suggest you pray and read until you can give an account of your faith and your journey.
I had a visit from well-intentioned, good-hearted Jehovah Witnesses recently. I thanked them for their visit… I told them that Jesus was my personal Lord and Savior and that I was a happy Catholic deacon – in love with my faith. They didn’t stand a chance.
I hope some of that radiance provides a little light to them… or to the faithful that I minister with in our parish… or in my work on the Internet. Jesus: in the words of the song, “You light up my life.” Help me to shine some of that brightness to help others find you.
The Apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying,
‘You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.”
Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying, “I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision,
something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me. Looking intently into it,
I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. I also heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’ But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir, because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
But a second time a voice from heaven answered, ‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’ This happened three times,
and then everything was drawn up again into the sky. Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”
When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”
42:2-3; 43:3, 4
R. (see 3a) Athirst is my soul for the living God.
As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place.
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
Then will I go in to the altar of God,
the God of my gladness and joy;
Then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
O God, my God!
R. Athirst is my soul for the living God.
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
|April 7, 2008
Comments Before Mass (or Communion Service)
Catholic saints are holy people and human people who lived extraordinary lives. Each saint the Church honors responded to God's invitation to use his or her unique gifts. God calls each one of us to be a saint. Today, there is a saint – and I believe it ties in with the theme in our readings. Today, in part is about a memorial for Saint John Baptist de la Salle.
This week is one in which the readings are a virtual non-stop stream from the ACTS of the Apostles, and an almost non-stop series of verses from John’s Gospel. The readings from ACTS are the exciting early times as the Church begins to grow – and there is need for assistants and new leadership. It’s about Stephen who was among the first deacons to be ‘ordained’ in this community of believers – about Stephen’s martyrdom and others who took up for him… and about the conversion of Saul who became Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles.
And the readings from John are from the Bread of Life Discourse – John’s teaching about the Eucharist. In choosing these as early-after-Easter readings, the Church reminds us of the dual reality of daily life in the new faith – as described in ACTS…. And it reminds us of what makes Catholics completely faithful to the teachings of Christ and Scripture. This is, of course in reference to THE BREAD OF LIFE.
We will come to these shortly; first let us first pause and reflect on sin in our lives.
Reflection for Use After Gospel Reading
My opening words call attention to the memorial that is listed in the missalette today for St. John Baptist de la Salle He lived from 1651 to 1719. And it was c omplete dedication to what he saw as God's will for him dominated the life of John. In 1950, Pope Pius XII named him patron of schoolteachers for his efforts in upgrading school instruction.
As a young seventeenth-century Frenchman, John had everything going for him: scholarly bent, good looks, noble family background, money and a refined upbringing. At the early age of 11, he received the tonsure and started preparation for the priesthood.
He was ordained at 27 and certainly seemed assured of a life of dignified ease and a high position in the Church. But God had other plans for John, as gradually revealed to him in the next several years. During a chance meeting with a man from the town of Raven, he became interested in the creation of schools for poor boys in Raven, where he was stationed. Though the work was extremely distasteful to him at first, he became more involved in working with the deprived youths.
Once convinced that this was his divinely appointed mission, John threw himself wholeheartedly into the work, left home and family, abandoned his position as the canon at Rheims, gave away his fortune and reduced himself to the level of the poor to whom he devoted his entire life.
The remainder of his life was closely entwined with the community of religious men he founded, the Brothers of the Christian School (Christian Brothers, or De La Salle Brothers). This community grew rapidly and was successful in educating boys of poor families using methods designed by John, preparing teachers in the first training college for teachers and also setting up homes and schools for young delinquents. The motivating element in all these endeavors was the desire to become a good Christian. Afflicted with asthma and rheumatism in his last years, he died on Good Friday at 68 and was canonized in 1900.
The de La Salle Brothers exist till this day… they are everywhere: an order active in the U. S., Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, Spain, etc. They claim some 68,000 brothers and partners active in missions helping in education, work with the poor, evangelization and the rights of children. One man started this organization – and the Church gives us his saintly legacy to remind us of the importance of stopping to listen… to be attentive to God speaking to us whether in the people or the circumstances that God helps us to experience.
My wife just forwarded an email to me – it was from a deacon wife in Lubbock, Texas. Their new deacon formation program is getting started – some 41 men have been accepted as the Church continues to grow, to need educators… continues to thirst for vocations.
I want to conclude with a story from my own life about listening… I cannot vouch that this is a definite example of the theme of God’s voice in my life… well… just listen.
A month or two before we were to be ordained deacons – the Archdiocese of Denver… well the Church at large requires that anyone who is going to be ordained goes on a week-long ‘ordination retreat.’ It was silent for the first three days or so… time for liturgies, talks, much prayer and quiet time. I can’t say how much I was struggling with the idea of giving up my life to the Church – sometimes I thought about my sinfulness and my past track record – I wondered if I could make it as a deacon.
About Thursday of that week – I was out walking on a path… I don’t know where it came from but in my mind and heart bubbled up these words from my youth… Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I put my trust in you. And I found myself walking and saying this over and over. And then – as if a light was turned on – I had this affirmation come to me: “Do you really trust in us? If so – there should be no thought about not becoming a deacon.” It was very real to me… It was an immediate release – it was like a heavenly balm that healed the worries and concerns. And although sins and conflicts and seeing the underbelly of the Church have allowed periods of doubt to return… in my heart there remains a silent affirmation: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I put my trust in you…