October 25, 2020
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear Followers of the Holy One,
Today’s gospel, Matthew 22: 34-40, reveals a two-fold action toward holiness. We are to love God and then learn how to love people. This is the foundation of the Christian life. We may easily learn one or the other. However, putting both into practice changes us and the world.
My years of priesthood have taught me many things. My ministry has been a form of spiritual direction for me. Learning to love is never easy in any commitment. I am still learning how to love God with all my heart, soul and mind, and my neighbor as myself. I am no model of fidelity. Yet, the purpose of the Christian life is to learn how to love.
Sometimes we get caught in thinking that love is the fidelity of keeping rules in the Church. They may be guides toward love, but we do not have an intimate relationship with rules. Rules and dogma do not replace the person of Jesus Christ. Unless Jesus is at the center of our lives, what we do in the Church has little meaning.
One of the most touching encounters with people who have taught me such fidelity came from a woman I met while in Portland. She had been severely abused as a child and gave up on the Church. She gave up because she always thought she needed to heal her own life. She showed up in our community that served people every day. Service was obvious and real. Yet, she needed to learn how to do that.
I listened to her for many years. Every inch of her pain was exposed to God. She spent many decades in therapy, but never spoke to any one of faith in the Church. I have never heard with my own ears the ache in a human soul like hers. God had her in his hand. Every inch of healing was a struggle, yet she believed with her entire being that God was with her. That was a very slow and arduous process. In our conversations, I helped her realize that God does the healing and not her. She was flabbergasted at such a notion. Once that damn broke in her, she allowed God in and God moved her toward an incredible fidelity of prayer and service.
As I would listen to her, I wept. She moved me so much as a human instrument of pain and love. She absolutely understood the message of today’s gospel, that love has to be at the center of life, that only God can heal, satisfy and claim our souls. I know in her as I reflect on her suffering, that life had given her such raw pain and that God had revealed a depth of love to heal her. When I knew her, she was in her sixty’s, so I know it is never too late to discover the love we are searching for in God. God’s timing is not our timing. I know that she helped me discover God’s faithful love in my own life as I listened to her.
So, years have gone by and I don’t know what has happened to her. I do know that her search for God’s love and her search to love people are still with me. Especially in these difficult times in our world, I go back to such people who reveal to me that the message of this gospel is real in every human heart. The message of loving God and loving people may very well be hidden among people we least expect, people on the periphery of life, people suffering from mental illness or addiction or in some way out of the norm of what we think the center of life is or should be.
We all have faced uncertainty and fear in our world in these months of pandemic. Such fear within us may very well be the door that is opening for us to claim the love of God. If our hearts remain in prayer, reflection, and we sort through the fear that evolves in our hearts, we may walk through these dark days becoming a people of hope. I so desire that for my own life, and I am sure you do as well.
Please, don’t let fear make a permanent home in you. Today’s gospel reminds us that love is the way to prayer and service. Only love through the complexities of fear, grief and loss may lead us to another side of life and the other side is love itself. God is in charge and God is in charge of the healing we need. So, please, allow God to do God’s work in you and in us.
Love is the greatest commandment. This is the rule to follow, love God and love neighbor.
God give you peace,
10th Anniversary of the Canonization of Saint André Bessette
On Sunday October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict canonized the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Brother André Bessette. Alfred (André) Bessette was born near Montreal, Canada on August 9, 1845. He was sickly, poor, and a man of faith. When he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross, he was assigned to serve as porter. He welcomed people at the door for over forty years. His hospitality turned into healing the sick and offering consolation for the hungry, the destitute, and crippled. He died on January 6, 1937. Please visit our website http://www.sacredheartcos.org to learn more about Brother André.
At Sacred Heart Church, a first-class relic of Saint André Bessette is housed in our new altar. His life as healer remains at the center of parish life and worship. His simplicity speaks boldly today as we ache for healing from a pandemic and the violence of our divided society. Through the intercession of Saint André, pray for healing for our loved ones who have died of COVID-19 and those who grieve. Pray for the healing of racial divides, for those who have lost jobs, for people who live outside, for the unborn, for reconciliation among families and those who survive domestic violence. Pray for our children who have lost hope. Ask Saint André to intercede to God for what your heart aches.
Saint Andre, pray for us:
You welcomed the lost.
Shelter those who travel in fear.
You embraced the weary.
Calm the storms of our anguish.
You lived simply.
Guide us through our complicated lives.
You healed the sick.
Give us hope when we are in pain.
You trusted Saint Joseph.
Open the door to God’s providence.
You embodied hope.
Give us respect for every human being.
You lived every day with body pain.
Heal our bodies during this pandemic.
You trusted your life to Jesus.
Show us how to live beyond selfishness.
You prayed for the ill.
Change our agony into courage.
You comforted the sinner.
Love us in our anguish.
You offered hospitality to all people.
Help us heal our racial divides.
You prayed during sleepless nights.
Reassure us when we are restless.
You were illiterate.
Help us read the signs of the times.
You were orphaned.
Form our communities with respect and dignity.
You were short in stature.
Pray that we may stand tall when politics wearies us.
You gave your life to others.
Guide us to build the Church on trust.
You allowed compassion to guide you.
Show us the tenderness of the Sacred Heart.
Sunday October 18, 2020
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear Believers in the Christ,
In today’s first reading from Mass, Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6, we hear, “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.
I love this simple reminder. Our Christian identity flows from the gift of our baptism. We are born again in God and sustained in the Holy Spirit. We may live, especially in uncertain times, clinging to many other things we think may replace this identity. For example, we often use cultural power to replace God, that is money, authority, politics, greed, lust, ambition, education and our own opinions.
This sense of power controls our opinions about how other people should live. We may look to the poor and want them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job in order to justify their existence. This is using power over others instead of using our gifts and talents to better understand our neighbors and their suffering. We can make our own lives greater than God’s life. We can turn our cultural power into a god. We can even make our opinions of other people real truths. These opinions can then lead to condemning people, especially those who are different from ourselves.
This text from Isaiah not only tells us who God is but reminds us that our false gods are not our real source of life and love. In these months of pandemic, we all have to be careful not to create new gods. We may think our political opinions are a solid identity upon which to build a life. We may take great delight when some people win, and some people lose. We may be waiting for a vaccine god, so to put our future in its hands. We may fight for the common good and believe that our fights are gospel truth. We may even create gods out of our fear, our distress and our economic uncertainty. We can make a god out of just about anything, even our education or our reputation or our employment.
In these days of great emotional stress and strain on family life and personal uncertainty, we settle into the mystery of God. I invite you to learn from these days of pandemic, to sort through your life and to not settle for hopelessness. Only God provides genuine hope for our future. There is no other god we can muster that will sustain us and give us direction in our lives of worry. God is here to offer us real grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
One of the beautiful outcomes of pandemic and the incredible natural disasters we face is that we need God. It is alright for our lives to need something greater than our own lives. We need love, mercy and hope. In fact, this is the spiritual life, to finally come to the conclusion that we need God. In such suffering, we have options, we can abandon God altogether, or finally surrender our own personal power to God who has nourished us to this point in life.
Some people view our younger generation as having given up on God. I don’t really think so. I think they have given up on the rest of us who have not come to the conclusion that we need a spiritual power. The Christian institutions may not look the same in future, but I believe we are going through a great time of transformation and renewal. The younger generation will lead us and lead us to live a greater spiritual life. Young people are calling the rest of us into lives of genuineness and living the truth of what we claim to believe.
I hold on to the Real Presence of Christ Jesus to lead us into lives of compassion, tenderness and forgiveness. Only God’s fidelity can soften hearts and heal our mistakes. Only God who has begun this great work in us will bring it to completion. I look forward to the future with great hope, when we can finally turn toward the One who created us, the One who loves us, the One who spurs us forward to bear witness to the world that love is real.
“I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”
God give you peace,
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
My dear followers of Jesus,
Our New Testament text from Philippians from today’s Mass states, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” I stopped in my tracks when I read this again for this weekend. This statement is so timely because we are weakened in our Church by much fear and anxiety. So, I want to say a few things about fear in times of COVID-19, one more time. As we surround ourselves in this mantle of assurance from this text, how do we survive the fear that seems to overwhelm us as a people?
I want to start with this quote from Pope Francis, from 2016. Pope Francis says, “Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in one oneself, trapped. Once we feel that way, our fear starts to fester and is inevitably joined by its ‘twin sister’, paralysis: the feeling of being paralyzed. Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons, in a word to live, is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering other, making friends, sharing dream, walking at the side of others.”
This quote was before COVID-19. Yet, this quote names what happens when we are afraid. I have spoken with many people across the country, and fear has settled into our human consciousness and daily lives like never before. Parents are exhausted from negotiating school policies and trying to make a living. Our older population is just frightened to pieces about the possibility of being sick. Our young people, perhaps, are most afraid, because they wonder what the value of life really is and is life itself really worth it. Fear cripple’s leadership in the Church and it covers our family life. Fear is messy and thick, and it is difficult to walk through or just not let it get to us. Fear negates faith in Jesus’ message of hope, and it rips apart our ability to thrive. Fear keeps us short of breath and sometimes keeps us from knowing the value of our lives.
I believe fear can lead us into a deeper, more complete life of faith. First of all, in these complex times, we may believe that faith is a commodity. We can’t purchase our lives of faith. Mass or personal prayer is not just something we achieve or accomplish. It is something we become, growing closer to Christ Jesus in exactly how life is and not how we wish life ought to be for us or the world.
These times of fear may become for us also days of faith and surrender. COVID-19 may easily become for us a time of conversion. I hear so many folks say that they are waiting for everything to be normal again. I sure hope not. This is not a statement of faith. We cannot go backwards in our belief systems. I don’t want to go back to what we had; I want what God will do in us in something new. God is leading our lives now, and God will eventually lead us into something more beautiful and healing. If we believe in God, then we realize we learn constantly to surrender to the love God has for us. We do not always get our way in God. Our prayers are not always answered in the ways in which we think they should be answered. In these COVID-19 months, we might for the first time in our lives find God in the surrender of our hearts and not in the intellectual pursuits of our control, power and authority.
Many people have given up on God and the Church in these COVID-19 months. They do not see the point of going to Church or receiving communion because they want God to be healing us and not keeping us apart. Many people have left the Church because of our country’s politics and the Church’s silence on many issues, including how to maintain our faith during the pandemic. Fear has made a home in our restlessness because every structure we have known in our society has changed. Fear collapses our hearts when we can no longer rely on the steadiness of routine and the surety of Church structure and authority. Fear creeps in every heart that is detached from the normal circumstances of routine and relationship.
We can never go back to what has been in our Church or society. This pandemic is real and has many consequences. This is not a hoax or a way for the government to weaken the Church. Real people have died across the globe and our scientific authorities simply do not know what the virus will do in the future and they do not know how the virus will affect our lives and bodies. The virus teaches us the reality that life is complex, and it is not to be controlled by us or anyone else. Life is fragile and it is real.
One aspect of our fear is that the virus has become a political football. This is so unfortunate for our common lives of faith. Fear and politics destroy our common lives of faith, love and service. I notice that when I say anything or do anything in the parish concerning our common life and the pandemic, I am immediately seen to be on one side of our nation’s political systems or another. In this reaction, I have been scratching my head. I am just trying to lead from the posture of a virus and to help us all live in the context of our faith in Christ Jesus.
So how can we live beyond fear today? I have some simple ways to help us engage our fearful hearts and to help us stop engaging in the turmoil that keeps us from believing in God. First, we need to learn how to be silent, how to quiet our lives, hearts and thoughts. I suggest every morning, upon awaking, we find time to be alone. I don’t know how to foster faith without this kind of routine. We need to face the sins, obstacles and insecurities of our lives. We need to face the truth of who we are in God. Alone time is golden to reduce fear.
In our alone time, I suggest we all read and reflect on the daily scriptures of the Mass. These can be found online or in written resources. There is wisdom in these texts, the basic message of the readings teaches us a pattern in the Christian life and year. In this time of year, our gospels open us to the reality of the Kingdom both in the end of times and at our death. Grace is here for us in these readings. Take time to find this grace.
Deep beathing helps us find God and reduce fear. Intentional breathing exercises can bring about not only physical relaxation, but a spiritual depth and reliance on God. Being in our bodies reduces fear, feeling our bodies, helps us calm down and rely on the holy.
Exercise, eating healthy are not just doctor’s formulas, but also ways in which to help our lives of faith. We need to become what we believe and not just have intellectual pursuits of being on the correct side of Catholicism. Fear has penetrated us as Catholics and living only in the externals will not help us heal in the ways in which we need right now.
We need to talk through our fear. However, be careful about who listens to our fear. Sometimes our friends mean well, but they can also trigger more fear and then not be helpful at all.
We need the sacraments. We need to find ways to let go of sin, doubt and untruth. However, we so need to cultivate a real desire for God, to discover within our beating hearts the truth of Jesus Christ that helps us know who he is for us, and who we are for others. Let us leave fear at the door of our hearts. Let us live in Him.
We need to learn something from our fear, that Jesus is nearer to us than we once thought.
“I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
God give you peace,
Dear Followers of the Anointed One,
We are very aware of the destruction of the fields, the crops and our food in late summer storms, droughts, hurricanes and floods. Our plans for such security come to nothing when natural disaster strikes. The basics of life are swept away, destroyed and our lives are at risk. In faith, we know that our true lives depend on the Kingdom of Heaven, the true source of hope. However, in light of the destruction, our view is of the earth, our survival, and the care of so many of our brothers and sisters.
Let’s look at today’s parable opening up another image of God’s Kingdom, our true and eternal home. This parable and image may seem so otherworldly, so out of place. Yet, we gain hope in our faith here in any destruction as we place our hope in God.
Today, we break open another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 21:33-43. Jesus tells the story about a landowner who carefully plants, protects and equips the vineyard, and about the tenants who take progressively more violent steps to usurp what is not theirs. Jesus issues judgment against the chief priests and elders. The Kingdom of God will be given to those who understand what is given, the promises made here on earth of the glory and hope of the Kingdom in Heaven.
There are many questions to be asked. What is the fruit of the kingdom? How are we to find it now? The only way to discover such a gift is to die to ourselves, to discover the life that is greater than our own plans, our own egos and our own desires. This is the fertile soil on which we plant hope, the breaking open of our hearts and lives.
We die to certainty on earth. This is a difficult way to find God and yet it is the only way. There are few people who are willing to risk security and a full ego to find the true fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
When we take the risk, God’s fidelity and love grow more deeply in the soil of our hearts, out actions and our decisions. Love only flourishes when we let go of our hatred, our violence and our illusions in order to discover a life of prayer and hope in God. The fruit of God’s Kingdom is lasting and true.
Some questions for this week:
What have you learned in the recent storms and natural disasters?
Where are you finding hope?
What lessons have you learned in such experiences of powerlessness?
How are you praying through these events?
What does it mean for you to die to self and discover the Kingdom within your life?
What does it mean for you to enter and care for the vineyard of God’s Kingdom?
God give you peace,