Thursday, July 11, 2013

Feast Day of Saint Benedict

In today’s gospel we learn that in hastening toward the kingdom of Heaven we must travel lightly, being freed of all that burdens us.

Today is also the feast of St. Benedict. St. Benedict was born into a distinguished family in central Italy, studied at Rome and yet he wasn’t happy until he discovered monastic life. He left Rome and became a hermit, leaving a mad world—pagan barbarians overrunning the cities, the Church torn by schism and confusion, people suffering from illness and war, and immorality at its lowest. Much like our own world today.

Benedict moved to the mountains where some other monks chose him as their leader for a while, but these lukewarm monks soon found his rule too much for their tastes, so they plotted to poison him. The story goes that as Benedict blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine, it shattered.

Thereafter Benedict left those wannabe monks and established monasteries south of Rome. Later, he moved to Monte Cassino, eighty miles southeast of Rome. It was there that he wrote the Rule for monks and nuns, that is still in use to this day and has earned him the tile the Father of Western Monasticism.

The Rule outlines a life of liturgical prayer, study, manual labor and living together in community under a common father or abbot. Benedictine tradition is known for its moderation and charity for the poor and pilgrims.

Benedict calls his Rule “a little rule for beginners.”  The first words of the Rule is LISTEN. "Listen with the ear of your heart." He exhorts us as does the Psalmist: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.”

In it he sought to lay down “nothing too harsh or burdensome…where the love of Christ must come before all else.” And tried to arrange everything “so that so that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak have nothing to run from,” “That in all things God may be glorified.”

Benedict writes: “Your way of acting should be different from the way of the world. Therefore never nurse a grudge and never give a hollow greeting of peace. Desire eternal life with all your passion. And never despair of God's mercy.”  

The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Therefore let us pray, as did Benedict: “May we learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. And may He bring us all to life everlasting life.” (RB73.11-12).

Prayers of the Faithful

For the church and her shepherds: that they may have the strength to lovingly tend to the flock entrusted to their care by Jesus, we pray to the Lord….

For all those who serve in public office and those who assist them in promoting the common good, let us pray to the Lord…

For our own community: that we might prefer nothing to the Love of Christ so that together we might share eternal life, we pray to the Lord

For the sick and suffering, those who suffer from mental illness, and the elderly who suffer from isolation, that they may be strengthened by our love of them as brothers and sisters, we pray to the Lord….

We pray for all those who have died in the peace of Christ, and all the dead, whose faith is known to you alone, we pray to the Lord….

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Year C            

"The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few." 

Jesus’ words express urgency, a burning desire to reach out to all in desperate need of spiritual direction and true meaning and love in their lives. 

And yet Jesus says there are few of his followers who are willing to go out and gather the harvest of souls.

So are we ready to go out two by two and evangelize as disciples?

We need to seriously ponder the missionary example that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons set for others. 

Obviously, we do not reject belief in the Holy Trinity – as do Jehovah’s Witnesses; and we do not believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers – as do the Mormons. But despite their notions of Christianity, look at their devotion and willingness to go out on mission!

Many Mormon missionaries learn a new language as part of their assigned mission and serve voluntarily and do not receive a salary for two years’ ministry.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses go door to door and they are required to file a monthly Report. And baptized members who do not submit a report for six consecutive months are termed "inactive".

Can you imagine if we required that???  If we did that????

Interestingly, these religions point to today’s Gospel passage in which Christ sends his disciples out two by two on mission, as the reason for what they do.

Oh, would to God that you and I would be fired up by the Holy Spirit to do the same! Can you imagine the change we could experience in this community alone?! And the diocese!

Now I am not suggesting that we spend all our free time knocking on doors or learning Spanish to spread the gospel….

But – But wait. Why not? Why are so many – too many – Catholics reluctant to share their faith? Or do they even have a faith to share? 

Unfortunately many Catholics claim that they do NOT experience God as a personal God! Others admit that they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!

Now I realize that many of you do believe and do share your faith. And, like the disciples, we rejoice because our names are written in the book of life in heaven! 

But today’s gospel should nudge us out into the fields of the kingdom! We cannot remain casually comfortable any longer. 

First of all there are too many casual Christians – and too many empty pews. Our faith is meant to be lived and shared! This is no time to be complacent about our faith. Christianity is meant to be lived and shared!

Our faith is personal, but it can never be private. Jesus never intended that. We are called to be in a real relationship with Christ. And our faith requires an urgent response.

Pope Benedict said: "Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus…." Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter Lumen Fidei, states: “Faith is passed on…by contact, from one person to another (#37)

Many people are looking for a church of believers with passion and compassion. They are looking for a community of love and mercy, people who practice what they believe.

That’s what led me to serve Christ and the Church. I was surrounded by passionate priests, sisters, and lay persons and family members who wanted to be saints. And they wanted me to become a saint. Literally. They loved me with a heavenly compassion.

Yet there are souls in peril all around us. There are people starving for truth! Thirsting for love! There are souls longing for friendship, community! Grace! Mercy! Hope!

You and I have a great responsibility to our community. But we have to do it together!  Jesus knew it would not be easy, so he sent his disciples out two by two because we are in this together as a church community!

We must reach out to others and bring the message of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. We can go next door to our neighbors who have no faith, or those across the street who have lost faith, or to those who live in fear, who no longer trust anyone but themselves!

And I believe that if each of us were to live as witnesses to the love of Christ, people would be standing in line to come to Mass here. It’s happened before in the life of our church and the lives of the saints!

So if we seek to be saved, then we must be willing to reach out and seek to save others from our culture of violence and consumerism.

Yes, this could be dangerous, but our Catholic faith isn’t meant to be tidy.  Jesus never called us to be safe. He said: I am sending you like lambs among wolves.

Sounds dangerous. Indeed. He wants us to die to ourselves and share our lives by taking up our cross daily! Being disciples, we will get some serious splinters from the Cross of Christ!  

In fact, as we go out of our way for others, our own body might become bloody, and thereby resemble that of our Lord Jesus. Saint Paul’s life had been so transformed that he wrote: I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

Yet it is not about what we do. It’s about what Christ can do through us!

So invite someone to Mass next weekend; take a friend on a retreat to deepen your personal relationship with God; or attend daily Mass. You could read a good book like Forming Intentional Disciples or join Community of Praise, go to bible study or join a prayer group, or form one; visit the sick with the Legion of Mary; volunteer with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society; or help at the soup kitchen. Whatever you do, do it with joy!

Pope Francis reminds us that Christianity is about joy! And it is this joy that will attract others to Christ. Joy is what will fill these pews. Joy is what will bring others to happiness with Christ.

And in the joy of the Holy Spirit, life will become an adventure, full of new life. And the Holy Eucharist will give us the strength to do this.

But you do know that this means war. Spiritual war. Yes, Satan has fallen like lightning, but the devil wants to keep you from Christ, and he will use any means to keep you from loving God and from loving your neighbor. He seeks the ruin of souls. But, be not afraid. He’s only the devil.

Always remember to rejoice that our names are written in heaven. And when we do so, we will accept our baptismal call to labor for the Lord, inviting others to the kingdom of salvation so that their names will also be written in heaven.

Trust me, if we don’t evangelize our own people, someone else will.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Our Declaration of Dependence - 4th of July as seen through Luke 10.1-9

Gospel Passage 
Luke 10.1-9 

What a way to begin Independence Day. “I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. Eat what is placed before you.” What? So much for Good News! 

And these words of Jesus are especially bothersome today for they come to us on Independence Day!  Yet these words imply a radical dependence! A total reliance on God and one another, for he sends the disciples out two by two.

But I ask are we really independent or do we recognize our dependence upon God? Are we Americans first, then followers of the Gospel? Which messengers are we following? FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, the National Enquirer or Cosmopolitan – or Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?

The world says that the more we have, then the better off we are! The world says to consume and use whatever we can to make a name for ourselves. If I can just get that new car or a bigger house or whatever it is, then I’ll be somebody! 

Advertisers spend billions of dollars every year telling us that we need their products to make us acceptable and help us achieve more! Right? Isn’t that right?

But Jesus tells us today to live simply and not be weighed down with all that extra stuff and not allow our possessions to possess us!  So maybe that’s the whole point of the gospel message – that we have become so independent-minded, that we are actually too dependent upon the wrong things and not dependent enough on God.

Christ commands us to live radically simple lives, relying less on things, and relying more on Him and one another; not asserting so much our independence as our interdependence upon one another. 

This means that we cannot live just as Americans or citizens of the U.S., though that we are, but our worldview must be focused on the Cross of Christ! Christ’s worldview turns the world’s view upside down. 
So I ask are we Catholics first, then Americans, or have we allowed American values to dictate what parts of the gospel we like and discard what doesn’t seem to fit our political agenda?
Christ calls all people to himself. And so has the United States in her history.

Can we imagine what it would be to leave everything we know, leaving our native land and immigrating here with a different language? The people that made the journey to the United States often had little more than a dream in their heart and a hole in their pocket. Many were literally penniless, having sold all they had to simply purchase the ticket to sail on the boat, and with no real guarantee they would be granted entry or survive in the New World. 

And these exiles, arriving here tattered and torn, with a few words of English, set out to begin a new life. Many of these exiles had nothing to speak of, no money bag, no extra pair of shoes, but only the clothes on their backs. And for many the first sight they beheld upon arriving here was the Statue of Liberty.

The image that comes to mind for many of us on this Independence Day weekend is the Statue of Liberty, a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

The bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s giant pedestal calls her the Mother of Exiles, from the poem by Emma Lazarus.

How many souls long to belong, long for welcome in this world of ours, and imagine all those who journeyed here to the U.S., whose first sight was the Mother of Exiles, Lady Liberty.
The plaque reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!

Interestingly, the name "Mother of Exiles" was never taken up as the Statue of Liberty’s name, even though it is engraved in bronze. Yet as Catholics our Blessed Mother and Mother Church herself have both been called “Mother of Exiles”. And isn’t this the hope of all exiles, that they will find welcome and rest and a home? 

 Yet in a way, as Catholics, we are exiles in this world. If we live by gospel values, we may well be exiled by our neighbors or even our friends. Some may say of us that we’ve gone too far with our faith in this Jesus business, that we are unpatriotic to the point where we place gospel values above American values. 

It is certainly an interesting thought to imagine that the Statue of Liberty is calling us to be better Americans and in the process better Christian, better Catholics.

So if we are marked by the sign of the cross, then we can expect suffering, rejections, and crucifixion. Not everyone can or will accept the gospel cross. We will be judged as fools for Christ.  We will be going against the popular opinion.  Yet we recognize that Only in God is our soul at rest; our true fulfillment will not be in any party, except the party of Christ. Our independence day is celebrated on Good Friday. St. Paul encourages us to find our freedom in the cross of Christ.

Finding rest in Christ, recognizing His Mother as our Mother, and knowing that the Church herself is the Mother of Exiles, is truly liberating! The irony of today is that our true independence is found in our dependence upon God, Christ, 
Mary, the Church, indeed our dependence upon one another.

There is no such thing as a lone Christian. We are in this together.  And just as Jesus instructed his disciples, he continues to instruct us that we must trust in God for our defense and depend upon the hospitality of others for our well being. And this is what we celebrate today: our Dependence upon God and dependence upon one another. God alone is enough.    

But if God alone is too much for our neighbors or family to handle, if believing in Christ and following the gospel somehow makes us less patriotic than other Americans, then let us repeat the words of Patrick Henry: “If this be treason, let us make the most of it!”