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Reflections on Catholic Faith - May 2008 - Spring Into Holiness... and Happiness

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May 26, 2008
Sister Mary Katherine entered the Monastery of Silence. The priest said, "Sister, this is a silent monastery. You are welcome here as long as you like, but you may not speak until I direct you to do so."

 Sister Mary lived in the monastery for 5 years before the priest said to her, "Sister Mary Katherine, you have been here for five years. You may speak two words." Sister Mary said, "Hard bed."

"I'm sorry to hear that," the priest said, "We will get you a better bed."
 After another five years, the priest called Sister Mary Katherine. "You may say another two words, Sister." "Cold food," said Sister Mary Katherine, and the priest assured her that the food would be better in the future.
On her 15th anniversary at the monastery, the priest again called Sister his office. "You may say two words today. "I quit," said Sister Mary Katherine. "It's probably best," said the priest. "You've done nothing but complain since you got here."

I start this morning with that smile – a little humor because the Saint memorialized today was somewhat of a wit. His name is St. Philip Neri – and he definitely was a sign of contradiction. He combined popularity with piety during the period there was a background of corruption in Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise of the 1500’s.

Philip walked away from life as a businessman…. And he went to Rome. And after years of philosophy and theology studies, he became an active layman engaged in prayer and church work. A group of laypersons gathered around him – won over by his wit… but also by his audacious spirituality. Eventually he was ordained a priest and many of his followers studied and became priests and good confessors as Philip Neri had done.

Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip’s cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow views of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh. Philip always wanted his followers to become not less but more human through their striving for holiness.

I love holiness…. I am lifted when I am around people that seem… that are…. reverent and spiritual…. But we who may take things so serious that we cannot speak a word in Church… we who feel it inappropriate to smile or laugh at something when we are here… we ought to pray to St. Philip Neri for help in becoming more holy and closer to our Lord… but with a recognition that it’s okay to smile and laugh… And now a change in subject matter….

I preached a homily on Saturday about the idea of – the necessity for thanking God for the gift of the Church… and for the gift of America. I did this then because I didn’t think I would be on the altar today…

Remembering something else I preached about last week, perhaps Saturday I should have said, ‘God willing – I’ll preach this today because I won’t be on the altar on Memorial Day.’ Well – at any rate… please allow me to share a few words issued by our President – Mr Bush for today: “ On Memorial Day, we honor the heroes who have laid down their lives in the cause of freedom, and we resolve they will forever be remembered by a grateful Nation, and we pray that our country may always prove worthy of the sacrifices they have made. NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 26, 2008, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer. I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day. I encourage the media to participate in these observances. I also request the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States, and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control. I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period. The recent rain and winds we had ripped down our flag. We just bought a new one – I’ll install it today and I hope – I pray… God willing that you have and will display a U. S. flag today.

Reading 1
1 Pt 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.

Responsorial Psalm
111:1-2, 5-6, 9 and 10c

R. (5) The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company and assembly of the just. Great are the works of the LORD, exquisite in all their delights.
R. The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
He has given food to those who fear him; he will forever be mindful of his covenant. He has made known to his people the power of his works, giving them the inheritance of the nations.

R. The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
He has sent deliverance to his people; he has ratified his covenant forever; holy and awesome is his name. His praise endures forever.
R. The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.

Mk 10:17-27

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”  

May 19, 2008
Well dear friends – God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’re going to spend the week together… you and deacon Tom and the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Mark. James is the bishop of Jerusalem. He writes to Jewish Christians most of whom were poor and oppressed. James tells them that persecutions are to be borne with patience and joy… and that when things test them (and us) – to pray in humility asking God for wisdom… asking for help with and in confidence.

James writes about so many things – often switching topics in mid- stream and then returning to his original thought after a diversion. Among his messages: He says that Christians ought to be against the worry about respect of others (God have mercy on me)…. Last Saturday at the Communion Service that Deacon Ed led, the reading from James says that not many of us should become teachers – and that for those of us who stand and teach – James tells us that we will be judged more strictly. If I had known and understood that before starting deacon formation – I probably would not have filled out an application. Any of us as clergy who have the call or the gall to stand before others and to presume to speak of God or for God – James tells us to be most wary at judgment time…

James admonishes us against envy and discord and contentions… against pride and detraction against others… James wrote and taught about the evils of the tongue… and in parishes when I hear or experience problems and dissention… I wonder if anyone – if anyone is reading Scripture.

Those in discord most often seem convinced of their positions… their wisdom… and what is it that James says? But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle and compliant. Where there is turmoil and dissention, how can that be of God? From God? Oh – it’s their fault… it’s the pastor… no – it’s the bishop… no it’s the music director… it’s the new deacon… the problem is always elsewhere… never in us… never in our hearts because we are wise. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. So says St. James.

Okay – enough of that because it challenges me and makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about the Gospel of Mark and today’s lesson about healing. I am a neophyte at this area. So you can take my words with a grain of salt.

It seems that there are two kinds of healing… inner healing and outer or physical healing. Jesus of course did both. What are examples of inner healing? The healing of hearts… the healing from past events and memories… the healing that Francis McNutt describes as bringing about interior transformation. He says that priests and nuns have spoken of their need for inner healing caused by their own failures and loneliness they have suffered. I don’t know if I have ever read this – but I believe that significant inner healing manifests the transformation that comes about from 12 Step programs.

And to go back to the subject of dissention and strife – James lays out a case for parishes and their people needing inner healing.

It would be awesome to get a group of us to come together… perhaps the whole parish… and pray over each other and to pray for healing – internal healing… and of course, physical healing.

One time at one of these Communion Services, my homily was about St. Joseph and the ‘miraculous’ circular staircase found in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, NM. I said it would be a grand thing for us to rent a bus and go on a sort of pilgrimage to there. Well, not too far from that beautiful Santa Fe chapel is another chapel… I’m speaking about El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, NM -- not far from Taos. Chimayo has been called the "Lourdes of America". No one seems to know exactly how this came about. As early as 1813, a resident priest wrote to his bishop expressing the belief that people were coming to Chimayo from great distances for cures from their ailments.

My wife and I have been there. There are perhaps thousands of crutches and other artifacts of people who have allegedly walked away from whatever brought them to El Santuario. Now I don’t believe in miracle mongering…. But what I do believe in and what I pray for for us today is to have faith… the confident faith that James told us to have… that whatever inner or outer healing we need is possible. In the words of Jesus: “This kind of healing can only come out through much prayer…” Let us be in prayer… individually with confidence… and together as a community in need of inner and outer healing.


Reading 1
Jas 3:13-18
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Responsorial Psalm
19:8, 9, 10, 15
R. (9a) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart. The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; The ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

Mk 9:14-29

As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James and John
and approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately on seeing him,
the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!”
Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!”
But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private,
“Why could we not drive the spirit out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”

May 12, 2008

What’s your sign? Do you come here often? These questions used in another time and place have a meaning from the 1980’s – but those who came around Jesus also asked about a sign… didn’t you come from a poor area? Who are you? Show us what you can do… Those of us who, by faith know Jesus wouldn’t dare… I mean we absolutely wouldn’t dare to ask such a question of Christ – He might just show us what he can do! Yikes! But let’s talk a little about signs…

There is a woman – a most holy woman that lives on a mountaintop in Colorado. She is a contemplative who does spiritual direction in person and by phone. The first time I went to see her, I asked about praying together before I left – and she started praying alright… she quickly started praying in tongues. Have you ever been around a person with that gift? It isn’t an ‘important’ gift – but it is a gift of the Spirit. I’ve been around many who pray in that manner – would it lift you? Edify you? Confuse you? Distract you?

Sunday at the Mass of Pentecost – we had a visiting priest who told this story. He had another priest – a charismatic priest pray over the priest for some health issues. The charismatic priest prayed in tongues – but what was interesting was that the language he spoke was a language from the Philippines. The charismatic priest had never been to the Philippines – and had never learned the language.

Yet the priest hearing the prayer words knew exactly what the other priest was saying. God is good. God is powerful. God has so many gifts for us.

H ow many recall that there is a Biblically based list of gifts associated with the Holy Spirit? There can be many, many more gifts. Our Catechism tells us there are permanent dispositions that make us docile to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The traditional list of seven gifts of the Spirit is derived from Isaiah 11:1-3: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord (1830). It challenges me to hear this list because of my own lacking in many of these. Yet perhaps the lacking is that I have not yet learned docility to accept – to follow the leading of the Spirit. Or, it could be a lack of docility combined with a weakness in my faith – my belief in what the Lord wants to do in my life. What is it we read in today’s readings: “ But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.”

We simply must have devotion to the Holy Spirit. IT IS THE AGE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT - It has been the age of the Holy Spirit since that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ, and it will be His age until time is no more.

I have gone to what is called Life in the Spirit seminars more than once. They have not caused any noticeable (i.e. ‘splashy’) signs. I don’t pray in tongues. I am not able to interpret the speaking in tongues of others. I have never been involved in God’s healing to my knowledge. But looking back at the list of the gifts of the Spirit – there are some things happening in my life. Often, I experience feelings of awe and a call to reverence… great reverence in Church or in certain settings of nature. I am called back to Scripture more often and I seem to draw more guidance, help, inspiration and knowledge from reading it. Thanks be to God.

What about you? As our Protestant brothers and sisters are want to say, “What’s the Lord (or His Spirit) doing in your life these days?” If you are finding areas where you are on fire – Praise God. Praise God. If you are in a lull… if things aren’t working in your spiritual walk right now… let us pray together: “Come Holy Spirit. Set us on fire in some way as you set the Apostles on fire in the Upper Room.”

If anything happens for you…. I’d like to hear from you… in one language or another. Blessings.

Deacon Tom

Reading 1
Jas 1:1-11
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.

But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in high standing,
and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away “like the flower of the field.” For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes. So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Responsorial Psalm
119:67, 68, 71, 72, 75, 76

R. (77a) Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I hold to your promise.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
You are good and bountiful; teach me your statutes.

R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
I know, O LORD, that your ordinances are just, and in your faithfulness you have afflicted me.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants.
R. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.

Mk 8:11-13

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.

May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo – the Fifth of May. We see Hispanics celebrating this day…. and many of us don’t understand it – people driving with tops down on cars, radios blaring loudly, partying. Yet it is a date that truly demonstrates that we Norte Americanos are closely tied to our Mexican brothers and sisters. This could almost be considered Mexican Independence Day although it isn’t this date.

The fifth of May is a date when a modest army of Mexicans smashed the invading powers of the French army along with traitor Mexican armies at Puebla, Mexico in the morning of the fifth of May in 1862. To insure that there were sufficient supplies and manpower, the U. S. government gave arms and supplies to the newly empowered Mexican freedom government. Also, many U. S. soldiers were released from army duties if they would agree to go to Mexico and join the army there and help empower the Mexican government. So there is a link – a history of friendship between Mexico and the United States – a history that we should know about.

They say that Mexicans never forget who their real friends are… and neither do Americans. That’s why Cinco de Mayo is such a party – a party that celebrates freedom and liberty. In gratitude for its early support for Mexicans, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U. S. Armed Forces. And as recently as the Persian Gulf War, Mexicans flooded American consulates with phone calls trying to join up and fight another war for America.

Mexicans have fought shoulder to shoulder with U. S. forces since May 5 th 1862. Let us not think only of the things which divide or are problems between our two countries – let us remember the blood and freedom relationship we have had for almost 150 years.

Yesterday was the celebrated day of the Ascension. And the visiting priest shared some words about understanding the ‘why’ of the Ascension. That approach may make it seem to be a feast looking for understanding. Here are a couple thoughts.

Venerable John Henry Newman and St. Maximus of Turin explain the significance of the Ascension… First, a theme from Newman: "Moses brought a timid nation out of Egypt, and in the space of forty years trained it to be full of valor for the task of conquering the promised land; Christ in forty days trains his apostles to be bold and patient instead of cowards. They mourned and wept at the beginning of the season, but at the end they are full of courage for the good fight; they return to Jerusalem with trial and tribulations, but also with great joy. They are continually in the temple, praising and blessing God."

Next – from St. Maximus… As he, Jesus ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for power. But notice that he does not tell them to wait passively for the rapture. He does not instruct them to pour over Bible prophecies, debating about how and when he will return. In fact in Acts 1:11, after the Lord ascends out of their sight, the angels ask why the disciples just stand there, staring into space. So there is a message for us – we may yet to have the fullness of the Gifts of the Spirit given to us.

In fact we may wind up with only a select group of gifts… perhaps just a few. But through Scripture and the Ascension story – God’s messenger is telling us… What are you waiting for? Get to work and become disciples of Christ.  Another related and miniature theme – Has it occurred to you that when the Church celebrates Ascension on Thursday as it normally does – there are nine full days after the feast of Ascension until we are ready for the Feast of Pentecost… Himmm… Nine days. Anyone know how long a novena is? The waiting is not to be a squandering of precious time. It is waiting for a purpose, nine days of prayer leading to empowerment. Why empowerment? Because they have challenging work to do. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

And of course – the main theme that the visiting priest spoke to was the idea of completion of the earthly work of Christ. His mission is fini – and he is ready to report back to the Father. Jesus returns to the natural state… well, perhaps better said, the supernatural state. But in love – He sends the power and visitation of the Spirit to set the new Church on-fire. It is a gift we could routinely ask -- the gift of the Spirit is something we could pray for each and every day…. upon ourselves… upon our parish… upon our diocese.

A priest named Fr. Tommy Lane says, “ We are pilgrims on a journey. Just as Jesus’ earthly life was temporary, came to an end, and he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, so also our lives here are temporary, will come to an end and we will meet God in the next life.

The Ascension of Jesus reminds us in all of our busyness not to forget what life is all about. Well – there you have five reasons for the Pentecost… a perfect number for the Cinco de Mayo… or in this case, the Cinco de Ascension. Blessings.

Reading 1
Acts 19:1-8

While Apollos was in Corinth,
Paul traveled through the interior of the country
and down to Ephesus where he found some disciples.
He said to them,
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
They answered him,
“We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
He said, “How were you baptized?”
They replied, “With the baptism of John.”
Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance,
telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him,
that is, in Jesus.”
When they heard this,
they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul laid his hands on them,
the Holy Spirit came upon them,
and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Altogether there were about twelve men.

He entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly
with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God.

Responsorial Psalm
68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab

R. (33a) Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
R. Alleluia.
God arises; his enemies are scattered,
and those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so are they driven;
as wax melts before the fire.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
R. Alleluia.
But the just rejoice and exult before God;
they are glad and rejoice.
Sing to God, chant praise to his name;
whose name is the LORD.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
R. Alleluia.
The father of orphans and the defender of widows
is God in his holy dwelling.
God gives a home to the forsaken;
he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
R. Alleluia.

Jn 16:29-33

The disciples said to Jesus,
“Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech.
Now we realize that you know everything
and that you do not need to have anyone question you.
Because of this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

© 2006-2009 Deacon Tom Online

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