Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Epiphany


Merry Christmas.
I know, I know, Christmas is like so last year….

Yet here we are, and yet we are still celebrating Christmas. How can this be?

When did Christmas begin for the world? For many it was on Black Friday. And when did Christmas end?

For the world, by the 26th of December, the holiday was over, tossed out with the dried up Christmas tree, wrapping paper, and assorted debris, dragged to the curb, while the twinkle lights were yanked down and the plastic Santi Claus and Frosty hurled into the basement.

Yet, let us contrast how we began our Christmas Season. The first reading at Midnight Mass was from Isaiah where the prophet proclaimed: The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.

So, have we seen the great light? Was our Christmas marked by the sight? Did we experience an Epiphany?

For many of us, there are a lot of other lights that are vying for our attention these days.

And there are still more dark clouds that prevent us from seeing the true light.

Yes, in many ways we are still a people that lives in darkness, clouds of violence fill our cities, and the fog of war hangs over our world everywhere making it a land of gloom .

Like the Holy Innocents killed in Bethlehem, many innocent children are killed today simply because they were untimely conceived or born in parts of the world poisoned with war.

Darkness still covers the earth. The culture of death still thrives on the sale and manufacture of arms and weapons.

Many children are taught to fire weapons before they ever learn to read – if they survive childhood or even make it to school.
Or a wee bit closer to home, we must ask ourselves
what keeps us from loving our neighbor as we should. If Christ died for you, then He also died for your neighbor, even the neighbor you don’t like. For Jesus taught us: “Love your enemy” and “love your neighbor” for he knows they are often the same person.

When people encounter us, do they encounter Jesus Christ?
 Are we truly being the Body of Christ?  What more could we do to show the love of God to others?

For better or for worse, many people have abandoned faith in God because of the behavior of believers. Right or wrong, people have judged the existence of God based on the lives of believers.  (pause)

Yet the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

In the words of Pope Leo the Great, God leapt down from heaven to earth in order to become a helpless, vulnerable infant, like each one of us, in order to teach show us how to live the kingdom of God.

And the strange visitors from the east, the Magi – astrologers – were seeking truth, seeking the God of the universe.

They were not interested in King Herod’s petty political maneuverings.

And to show the importance of their epiphany, the Magi did not return to King Herod.

He was not the true king.

He is not the star of Christmas.

He never was.

So the Magi return to their own country by another route for no one, after truly encountering Christ, can go back the same way they came.

None of us can go back to life as usual after such an epiphany.

After Christmas day some children will often return to the Christmas tree looking for more gifts with the question: “Is that it? Is that all there is?”

On Christmas morning – or perhaps even this morning – we may have awakened asking ourselves, “Is this all there is?”

“Where is this peace the world cannot give?”

Yet the star of Epiphany points us onward.

For the true gift is Christ.

“O Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”

Amid the darkness covering the earth,
and thick clouds of gloom covering the peoples,

“Lord, You shall rescue the poor when she cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
You shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
and you shall save the lives of the poor.”

For God’s love is greater than any evil; Mercy and Justice will have the last Word.

In the name of love, the Word became flesh so that we might know God's love. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Pope Benedict said: “Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings.

“God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love.”

“…As a child…he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love…your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: show your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph.”

In the name of love, He is the one who takes our suffering and raises us to new life.

In the name of love, He is the One who is rejected and yet rises from the dead.

And all who are baptized into Christ Jesus are buried with him, so that as He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

That is the message of Christmas. That each of us, like Christ, will outgrow our cribs and become the Epiphany presence of God in a gloomy world desperately searching for an epiphany of the true light, which is Christ.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Thankful Samaritan

The Thankful Samaritan  [Luke  17:11-19]

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
And when he saw them, he said, "Go show yourselves to the priests."
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

Who was this Samaritan leper? How had he come to find himself living among a group of Jewish Lepers?

This Samaritan was a group of ten lepers who had formed a community of the broken and shunned.

And today when the lepers encounter Jesus and cry out: “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us.” Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. The Jewish priests could verify if they were worthy to reenter normal society.

And it was while they were on their way that they were healed. The Jewish members of the group continued on to the Temple to present themselves.

However, our Samaritan leper – now cleansed – does he continue on or do as Jesus said?

Did the Samaritan go to the Temple priests?

We do not know. Maybe he did.

Why is this an issue?

If this Samaritan presented himself to the Jewish priests in Jerusalem, did they welcome him as they did the Jewish lepers who had been cleansed?

Maybe not.


Perhaps the reason is simple. He was a Samaritan, considered to be foreigner by the Jewish religious leadership and the people, no longer a legitimate heir to the Covenant promises given to the People of Israel.

He would also not be welcome in the Temple, let alone welcome in the territory of Judea, owing to his mixed racial background and heterodox theological beliefs.

But Jesus welcomes him.

Jesus healed him.

The Samaritan returns to Jesus, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

And Jesus welcomes him into his own community of faith.

Had he recognized in Jesus the true High Priest? Was the Samaritan the only one who had the insight to see in Jesus the fulfillment of the Temple and the Priesthood?

Maybe he did not go to the Temple.

He was a Samaritan. If he did not go to the Temple, then he disregarded Jesus’ words.

Or did he? Did he see in Jesus the new Temple?

Jesus asks: "Ten were cleansed, were they not?

Where are the other nine?”

“Where are the other nine?” Had Jesus expected all ten lepers once cleansed, to return to him?

He then asks: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Again Jesus praises the foreigner, the outcast, as an example of faith.

Jesus says: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

The Samaritan recognized the true source of all his blessings.

Where are the other nine?

May we have the eyes and faith of the Samaritan.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Shepherd King and The Surprise of the Righteous Sheep and the Clueless Goats

The Shepherd King


The Surprise of the Righteous Sheep and the Clueless Goats

The last Feast of the Liturgical Year is the Solemnity of the Feast of Christ the King.

This past week one of my students asked, quite sincerely, “What is Christ the King?” The student was asking, “Why do we call Christ a King? All of his actions, deeds, words, and demeanor, and even in the manner of his death, he does not appear as a king at al according to worldly standards. It was an excellent question and is worth our time to ponder.

In the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel that the Church proposes for our consideration on today’s feast, the prophet proclaims: Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them, I will seek out the lost and forsaken, I will bring back the strays, bind up the injured and heal the sick.

In the familiar Psalm, we sang, The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

So, what will determine whether we dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come?

Well, for the answer to that, all we need do is look at the gospel today. In fact, this is the very last parable Jesus tells from Matthews’s Gospel. And interestingly it is about the Second Coming of the Son of Man. Also take note that there is no mention of a Rapture. When Christ comers again, he will come again. He won’t come once only to take a few to heaven, but he will come here and usher in his kingdom, where he will come once to judge the living and the dead.

So we have work to do. And instead of looking for the Anti-Christ, we need to be looking for Christ. But where do we see Christ? Certainly we Hear Christ in the Word of God, especially the Gospels. He is also present in the person of the Priest or Deacon when he celebrates Mass and the other Sacraments, Certainly, in a very unique way, Christ is present in the Eucharist. And, yet, if we can see and recognize Christ’s presence in the Scripture, Sacraments, and ministers, we must also be able to recognize his presence in those most in need of mercy, those most unworthy of our love. For it was to all of us, including these least ones, that Christ came!

Saint John assures us that if we claim that we love God, but fail to love our neighbor we are deceiving ourselves. He writes: If we cannot love the neighbor we do see, then how can we say we love God whom we cannot see? If we fail to love our neighbor then we fail to love God. It’s pretty simple.

Or is it?

He is a good shepherd – The Good Shepherd! But a shepherd’s job is a thankless and dirty job. Poor shepherds have to tromp around in sheep dung all day. It’s not the most glamorous job – let alone vocation.

Yet Christ Jesus has humbled himself to be our shepherd. He endures all of our dung and ornery ways. So we must learn to be like the good shepherd. And this shepherd is a king in disguise!

We too must be kings and queens, princes and princesses in disguise as poor shepherds, willing to search out the lost andforsaken and carry the poor, blind, lame, soiled, and cold lambs upon our shoulders and restore them to the fold of the Good Shepherd, which is His Church.

He doesn’t even ask us to do things perfectly or in a heroic way, but to do simple things in a charitable way: Things that we all can do in our ordinary life. Who among us cannot do some of these things, “you welcomed me, you visited me, you gave me food and drink” or other similar things?

‘I needed to talk and you listened to me. I was worried and you comforted me. I was frazzled and you calmed me down. I was blind, and you helped me. I was poor and you stood up for me. I could not understand and you shared your knowledge with me. The list goes on….

All we need is to become sensitive to the needs of those whom God has sent into our lives. This is the real challenge of our own personal life and of our society. Simple gifts of hospitality! Seeking Christ in the face of the poor and unwanted.

But here’s the catch: those who were considered righteous or holy were surprised to discover that the deeds of mercy that they performed for the poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, or imprisoned were actually being done for the Son of Man! And they are dubly surprised that they have received eternal life! And the goats, those who did not tend to the needs of others, were surprised to discover that they neglected Christ in need.

As Saint Paul wrote, many, while ministering to the needy, have unknowingly been ministering to angels in disguise.

We are subjects of a Great Shepherd King who is the God of Surprise. God sneaks up on us in people we least expect. Be ready, for you know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord will surprise us.

[May we be known as his loyal sheep who heed the Shepherd’s voice by loving our neighbor. In doing this we will follow Him into the pasture of Eternal Life. Amen.]

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homily for November 13, 2011 (33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A)

Here is my homily for this weekend (November 12-13, 2011)

The readings were Proverbs 31 and Matthew 25: 14-30.

Click below to hear the homily.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


The Duty of Delight: the Diaries of Dorothy Day
Edited by Robert Ellsberg. Image Books, 2011.
Reviewed by Deacon John William McMullen

At the time of Dorothy Day’s death, David O’Brien, writing in Commonweal, notably called Day “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” Certainly the publication of The Duty of Delight: the Diaries of Dorothy Day confirms that she is indeed to be numbered among the likes of the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the author Flannery O’Connor.

            This woman, a symbol of civil disobedience, was ever obedient to her God and to her conscience and her convictions.

In her diaries we follow her through the 1930s when she first met Peter Maurin and established the houses of hospitality and the farming communities; in the 1940s when the U.S. entered the war she prophetically challenged the wisdom of solving problems through violence; through the 1950s she witnessed to the ridiculous notion that a nuclear war was somehow winnable and rational, and that air raid drills somehow made the citizens safer; amid the social turmoil of the 1960s with racial unrest, political assignations, and the Vietnam War; and through the uncertainty of the 1970s, until her death in November of 1980.

As I opened this formidable book by one of the greatest spiritual guides of the past century, I immediately thought to myself, why haven’t I been keeping a diary or a journal for the past twenty years? Her note to Robert Ellsberg: “Good thing to keep a journal,” convicted me. In comparison to Dorothy Day I have no idea where I have been and, I fear, perhaps I have no idea where I am going. Okay, that might sound a bit dramatic, but the practice of journaling definitely serves as marking one’s path with milestones. Indeed, Dorothy herself heeded the advice.

            In The Duty of Delight, her diary entries begin in March of 1934, well after the birth of her daughter Tamar, her 1932 prayer for guidance at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Peter Maurin’s entrance in her life, and not quite a year after the founding of the Catholic Worker on May 1, 1933. Al of these events are recorded in her Long Loneliness and are likely well-known to Dorothy Day’s devotees. This collection of her diaries is, as Dorothy might say, “a good long book to live with for a few weeks” (Diary entry, May 20, 1979). However, in this case it may well take more than a few weeks, and for good reason. These diaries cover nearly forty-six years of a life well-lived and therefore, ought to be read with loving devotion, the same love and devotion with which they were written.

The day I began reading The Duty of Delight, I couldn’t help but note a similarity in Dorothy’s diaries to Flannery O’Connor’s letters which are collected in The Habit of Being. Fittingly, Dorothy began reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters in June of 1979.

            Here is an ordinary woman, now being considered for sainthood, who admired Pope Pius XII, and yet as a faithful Catholic, who, prior to the Papacy of Pope John XXIII, lamented the priests who mumbled through the Latin Mass and the laity which did not participate in Mass.

She welcomed the Second Vatican Council and applauded the changes to the Liturgy so that the words of the Gospel might be truly heard and that the faithful might live out their baptismal promises and be living, conscious, and active members of the Body of Christ. Already in 1951, she wrote: “One comes alive in the Mass, is a living part of it.”  In 1960 she wrote: “Nonparticipation is so stifling” (August 24). By 1967 the Liturgical changes as a result of Vatican II were being implemented. She wrote; “The participation of the people [at Mass] is so easy and natural. One cannot conceive of the old silent Masses, often a half hour of dreaming and distraction.”

            Her point was that the faithful were drawn forth to the altar in the universal call to holiness. Nevertheless, she still loved the beauty of Gregorian chant and was ever faithful to the daily office of the Liturgy of the Hours, ever being conscious of her salvation daily as she joined thousands of Christians throughout the world who were praising God and praying for the welfare of all souls, in heaven and on earth. She became a Benedictine Oblate in 1955, although she had regularly prayed the Divine Office after her conversion and truly lived the Benedictine motto of “Ora et labora”, “Prayer and work.”

Dorothy visited Rome during the council, attended Mass, and was involved in discussion of the schema of the document Gaudium et spes. Her efforts, along with others’, such as Thomas Merton’s writings, at having the Council address war (September 1965) seemed to have had some impact. For Gaudium et spes contained the only condemnation of the Council (G.S. 80). It was the condemnation of acts of war which aim at entire cities or areas along with their populations.

In the 1950s she saw the insanity of the Cold War and refused to hide in a bunker rehearsing her role for when the world would burn in fiery radiation, and she paid for it with jail time. Dorothy’s legacy continues today in the Catholic Workers’ voice for peace amid a nation built upon the military-industrial complex, in the hauntingly prophetic phrase of President Eisenhower.

One can speculate all day as to where Dorothy would be in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement, but we are remiss if we fail to recall that Dorothy noted the October 29, 1979 sit-in on Wall Street where Catholic Worker members and others were arrested as they protested the immense corporate complicity in the nuclear weapons industry. According to Robert Ellsberg, (who was arrested as one of the CW protesters), the protest was also planned to mark the “50th anniversary of the stock market crash of 1929, thus generating enormous publicity.” The Catholic Worker is there now still distributing the literature advocating a Distributivist Economy.

She was nonplussed with Woodstock in 1969 and had no use for recreational drug use or abuse, promiscuity and nihilism. She insisted upon personal responsibility and self-sacrifice, prayer and worship.

Writing, for her, was a form of prayer. “Writing is an act of community….It is an expression of our love and concern for each other.” Her daily life was spent in the constant company of God and neighbor. Even in her rare moments of solitude, God and neighbor were the concerns of her heart and mind and soul.

She truly struggled to love her neighbor—whether she liked him or her or not—she was under the command of “love thy neighbor.” For her the real counter-culture was to believe that every human being was connected somehow, and that each person was a potential member of the body of Christ.

She witnessed to this radical love of neighbor when her former lover and father of her daughter, Forster Batterham, returned in her life when his partner of thirty years, Nanette, was diagnosed with cancer. Dorothy willingly care for Nanette and, much to the chagrin of Forster, as Nanette approached death she asked to be baptized a Catholic. Dorothy couldn’t help Forster, just as she couldn’t help him so many years before when Dorothy herself surrendered to Christ causing her and Forster the atheist to sever ties. Yet Forster remained close to his and Dorothy’s daughter, Tamar, and in the process close to Dorothy to the last.

Being a married man for nearly 20 years, I have learned greatly from the pen of Dorothy some of the travails my wife and other female friends have experienced. Dorothy, a single mother, ostracized by many and despised by others, continually lived her faith in each moment, even through menopause, and disappointment in herself, her daughter, and grandchildren.

Her constant faith and trust gave her and those around her a hope in divine Providence. She lived each moment, often literally, depending on who knocked on the door, according to Providence.

Lest I give away too much, I will allow the reader himself or herself to discover the soul of a devoutly active Catholic often called a Communist and un-American, yet one who loved her country so much she was willing to be a prophetic witness to the truth which is always inconvenient to those who wield economic control at the expense of the poor and weakest members of society and exercise power over the rights of all.

            The quotidian duties of daily life gave her delight, and in being a sincere follower of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower” and her “Little Way,” she believed that each act of love, each sorrow, and each joy of daily life was a source of delight. Hence the delight that she discovered in her daily duty – despite the pain of violence, war, death, destruction, injustice, hatred, apathy, cynicism and despair. And through her words, we discover that it is our duty to find delight in all we do, for to serve one another is to serve Christ.

At the end of her life, all this Servant of God could do was pray. Her life was spent doing good, living a very human life, and all the way to heaven she was both experiencing Christ, who is “The Way” to heaven, and giving witness to the existence of Him in our midst.

All of us are beggars before the throne of grace, all of us have received a free hand-out from the Providence of God. Those among us who fail to acknowledge or remember this, do so at their own peril.

Dorothy Day’s first memoir From Union Square to Rome (1938) and her autobiography The Long Lonliness (1952) will be fine companions to this work, as will her 1963 book Loaves and Fishes.  We discover a beautiful soul, and in reading the thoughts of this saint (who didn’t want to be so easily dismissed as such), you hope you get the chance to meet her. Those of us who believe in the communion of saints will have that opportunity one day.

Among her worldly joy of reading, she often quoted Dostoevsky: “the world will be saved by beauty.” In her diaries, one finds her soul dutifully unveiled in beauty.

        And in her duty we delight.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Lazy, Wicked Man and a Faithful Woman

In today’s gospel the master who goes on a journey returns to find one servant who has done nothing. And the first thing the man paints for us is a very rigid and ugly image of his master and accuses him of harvesting where he did not plant. Not exactly flattering, is it? This guy burns his bridges. Some people have an image of God like this that is harsh, rigid, and ugly. But God doesn’t demand human sacrifice. We do that. Our culture is addicted to demanding the pound of flesh and the blood and sweat of the poor.

The man who received one talent lived his life in fear. In his fear he only trusts in himself. The master calls him wicked – evil – for doing nothing. He didn’t do anything. Aye, there’s the problem. He failed to act. He failed to take a risk. He was apathetic and inactive. In matters of justice, if we stand idly by, there are consequences. This man is cast out in the darkness where there is weeping and wailing and grinding of teeth. Not good.

Compare this with today’s first reading. We are given a wonderful example of a woman after the heart of the Lord. She is worth far more than pearls. She is willing to use her talents and gifts in her everyday tasks… she may not obtain wool and flax or ply her hands to the spindle, but she surely does go to the store, cook meals for her family, does the laundry, washes the dishes, and many still have a full time job! Wow! Us men have it easy. Those are two full-time jobs! There are many such women in our midst who give of their time, talent, and treasure in a steady faithfulness. They are indeed pearls of great price.

The woman described reminded me of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. This month on the 17th we celebrate her memory. She was a woman who loved the LORD. Elizabeth lived in the 13th century from 1207-1231. She was the daughter of the King of Hungary when she was married to Ludwig of Thuringia (in Germany). They deeply loved each other; in fact they were madly in love. Ludwig’s advisors did not like Elizabeth and told him not to marry her. But Ludwig said: “I would rather cast away a mountain of gold than give her up!” They were so young at heart and so in love that it embarrassed some.

Sadly in their sixth year of marriage, her husband, Ludwig, died on September 11th 1225 while on his way to join one of the Crusades. Elizabeth was devastated, but she did not despair.

She was a good woman, fervent in prayer and her faith. She was always generous to the needy and poor. Elizabeth set about building hospitals and cared for nearly one thousand poor and hungry each day at the castle gates. Her husband’s family looked down on her for what they considered the squandering of the royal treasures. They ridiculed her and threw her out of the palace. However, when her husband’s allies returned she was reinstated, since her son was legal heir to the throne.

She chose a life of faith and service, and with the spiritual direction of a Franciscan friar, she led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. Seeking to become one with the poor, she wore simple clothing.

In 1228 Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded in honor of St. Francis. Elizabeth’s health declined, and she died in 1231.

In her short life Elizabeth manifested such great love for the poor and suffering that she has become the patroness of Catholic charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order. And she was canonized four years after her death.

Elizabeth took her worldly goods, spiritual treasures, and talents and placed them at the service of her neighbor and she never went without—for it is in giving that we receive!

So today we have before us the example of a lazy, wicked servant and a faithful woman.

Whose example will we follow?