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November 25, 2012

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We Christians say that we expect Christ to come back. We pray in the Lord’s own words every Sunday: Thy Kingdom come. Yet, I suspect that most of us approach that with a fairly dashed set of expectations about a better world that never quite comes. (We have been waiting for Christ’s second coming since St. Paul.) The present is not ok, it is not enough, and yet we seem fine with an imperfect world imperfectly lived. We say we are waiting for God to come again, but sometime I wonder. Are we really waiting for something more? Would we be happy – or inconvenienced – should Christ suddenly reappear in a spectacular fashion?

And then suppose Christ returned as King not to console us, but to confound and overturn the conservative control of the Church? Or to dethrone the Pope? Or to kick out the liberals? Or to point out that the Lutherans were right all along? What if He acted in a way that upsets our familiar and comfortable routines? Would we really welcome Christ as King on those terms?

We hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel: “My kingdom is NOT of this world” and, like Pilate, we breathe a sigh of relief as if somehow that lets us off the hook. Not so fast, my friends. Not so fast. For here is THE inconvenient truth – as often as we receive the Body of Christ and drink of his Blood, we pledge to work for and struggle to create the world that Jesus died to bring into being. Vatican II teaches us that the expectation of “a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one….” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” No. 39).

So, what might it look like for us to work seriously for the return of the king? I came up with a quick list of three attitudes/approaches to life that somehow must change.

I, who at 55, have hardly known a time without war, either for the U.S. or for the world, have to believe that our attitude toward war and violence would have to change. Somehow, we would have to take seriously our Lord’s command in Matthew to “Love your enemies,” and in Luke, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you”, and in Mark, “to forgive anyone who harms us so that God might in turn forgive us.” Think of how different would our interactions with our families look if we let forgiveness have the first, middle and last word! Maybe I am naïve, but what would the world look like if the first plank in our foreign policy was based on forgiveness and the loving of our enemies? Maybe it sounds crazy, but 55 years of wars and violence have not produced peace. Maybe something as crazy as forgiving and loving our enemies might bring about something wonderful in our world.

2nd, if we took seriously the image from the Book of Revelation which tells us us that Christ has made us all into a kingdom of priests for God, then we have another task to do. Our roles as priest, me by ordination and you by baptism, call us to sanctify the world, to make it holy by our prayer and our actions. So the gifts that we bring to the altar are not just the gifts of bread and wine, but our acts of love, justice and compassion. These help to sanctify the world. To live creating the kingdom means we are to work with Christ to make holy this world, by our uniting our prayer and work with Jesus the high priest.

Finally, the vocabulary of best and strongest and mightiest would have no place in our hearts or our actions. Instead, we would see ourselves always as foot washers of the last and least and lost among us. No matter the color or gender or creed, all would be treated with respect and dignity. All would know the servant love modeled by Jesus at the last supper, now mirrored in our love.

I suspect there is much more that would have to happen in our hearts should Jesus return as king. The question is – Are you willing to live differently because Christ is King? And if your heart is unsure, then here is a little challenge. Read the entire front section of the Newspaper for a week, or watch the evening news for a week. Then, remembering all you read or saw, ask “Can I or the world afford for me not to live differently because Christ is King?”

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Words of thanks…

During this week which reminds us of the many things we are grateful for, I would like to pass on to you some recent words of thanks addressed to our St. Ann Parish.

The first was a note from Sr. Olga, RGGS, and the women from Maria Droste home: The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Staff and Residents of Maria Droste Residence wish to thank each and everyone who helped us make the Trivia night a success through their presence, buying raffle tickets, helped set up and cleaned up the Parish Hall, donating time and talents, materials and prayerful support. Special thank you to Fr. Bill and the Parishioners for donating the use of the Parish hall. You make a difference in the lives of these women in recovery. We will pray for each one of you.

A second note reads: With grateful hearts, during this season of gratitude, please accept the sincerest of thanks from the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation board of directors, staff and our scholarship recipients and families. Thank you for…
Educating our most precious gifts: the children  Your passion and commitment to the education of all children – mind, body and spirit.
Caring, inspiring, nourishing, motivating and instilling a love of learning throughout your school community. God bless you, your faculty and staff, students, families, volunteers and benefactors…..our partners in Education…

And finally, from the Archdiocesan Seminary: During this season of Thanksgiving, the seminary community is grateful to all of the supporters of the Faith for the Future Campaign. Your contribution has done more than renovate the campus and build the endowment. You have furthered the seminary’s mission of helping young men discern their personal call to the holy priesthood. This video (on the Archdiocesan Website) more fully expresses our gratitude and shares some of the impact of your gift. Please take a few moments to view the video and learn how your support has enhanced the formation and education of our future priests.

Let me also add my thanks for everything each of you does for the good of our St. Ann parish. I still consider myself the luckiest priest in the Archdiocese to have been allowed to be the Pastor of this wonderful community these past 10 and a half years…

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(Pull out a 3×5 index card – and start ‘reading’ the answer.) “This TV game show is known by this signature theme song during the final round.” <<play audio>> If you answered:”What is Jeopardy?”, you would be correct. It is hard for me to hear that song without a sense of the ticking of my own internal life clock. It reminds me, like it reminds the contestants, that there is only so much time left. Someday for all of us, life will be up.

People react differently to that news.

  • Some think they would love to be relieved of this world and welcome death because life hurts too much.
  • Others cling to life because it is so good right now, and the thought of not being here is almost unbearable.
  • Those who are the planners among us might dread the thought, but if there is to be an end, they want to know exactly when … and can be anxious that they do not know that
  • Those among us who like to “go with the flow”, <point to self> can live in denial of that and think the time they have, the time we have, is infinite.  So ‘Manana’ rules our day, while anxiety rules others.

However, when people find out via a doctor’s prognosis that the end is near, it changes them.  The live differently out of the awareness of the shortage of time. They finish up important stuff at work and home.  Perhaps they travel one last time.  They pray more and go to confession and Mass more.  They decide what mark they want to leave on this world – some by setting up trusts and wills to fund causes they believe in.  Many reconcile.  They help people.

What don’t they do?  They don’t play video games or watch more TV.  They don’t make excuses.  They don’t waste time doing things that don’t matter to the well-being of anybody else.  They don’t work more than 40 hour weeks at the office. They don’t hoard money or things.  They don’t let fear stop them as it has up till now.  They don’t fight about stupid stuff.  They don’t say mean things to people they love.  And they don’t take them for granted.

Literature written in the style of today’s scriptures – which we refer to as apocalyptic – reminds us that things end, and that endings are not easy.  It feels like “heavens being shaken to their foundation, stars being swept from the sky, the moon not reflecting light”.  Whether it is the end of a relationship or the end of life as we know it, enduring the ending of things takes great courage. And because endings are times of uncertainty, fear is great.  But apocalyptic language also wants to open up another truth in us.  Endings also tingle with expectation. They call forth Hope in us.  They remind us this earth, this body, this relationship, this situation in life is not my ultimate home.  And when we live with that sense of time ticking in our breast, then the endings of things are powerful, pregnant with purpose.  Living in the awareness of time that is ending makes us strive to create and shape our hope for the future.

Jesus tells us clearly today that we do not know when the end will come.  And so He invites us to live the end now.  To live these days with a lightening-speed reordering of priorities.  To live these days alert and sharply aware of everything. To live these days trusting the unknown future to God who is Love and Only Love and Forever Love.

So this week, in your prayer, ask yourself those “I’m running out of time” kind of questions:

Is there any goal to be realized or career change to be made or education to be sought?  Now is the time to take the next step!

Any gift of wisdom to give or words to speak?  Now is the time!

And risk to be taken, or forgiveness to be sought?  Now is the time!

Any place to see or friend to call or visit?  Now is the time!

Any prayer to be prayed or virtue to be embraced?  Now is the time!

And act of service you have been putting off? Now is the time.

<start playing JEOPARDY music in background while I talk over it >Things end. Everything and everyone, has a deadline.  Now is the time!  For all those things we say are so important to us… < When music concludes say >  “OOPS, TIME’S UP!”

 

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November 18, 2012

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Of many things…

By now, you have all received this year’s Visitation Drive appeal. As you may have noticed, my ‘ask’ is for twice the usual amount – to help defray the cost of the new boiler. Because of your wonderful stewardship to the weekly collection, the Dinner Dance and the Visitation Drive, I have not had to ask for money above and beyond these appeals since the installation of the new pipe organ and sound system in the church. But the need is real and your generosity is great, so I trust that you will do what is possible for you. I also know that people’s circumstances change from year to year. And that sometimes this time of year creates some ‘cash flow’ issues. So, if it is helpful, feel free to make a pledge – perhaps $50 a month for 4 months. Thanks for all you do to keep us on a sound financial footing.

I received a note from a parishioner after mass this weekend. With his permission, I share it with you.

“A few weeks ago, as I sat in church at the 8 a.m. mass, I was struck by the mystic silence that followed communion. Preceding the silence are the fading noises of people returning to their seats, servers put-ting ‘things’ back in place, and finally the priest sits, and, although it is only a short time before he rises again for the concluding prayer, it seems much longer – like ‘dead air’ on TV or on the radio.

During that ‘mystic’ moment I found myself sinking into a silence of my own, one that took me deeply within – a silence that seemed to transcend the physicality around me. I was focused on the Eucharist: What brand of bread could taste so sweet? What miniscule quantity could be so filling? Before I could answer myself, the sound of a baby’s cry jostled me back to reality.

As I drove home, I thought about the sound of that baby’s cry – the SOUND OF NEW LIFE! Of course! We are renewed in Christ through the Eucharist. It took a baby’s cry to remind me: the sacred noise that silence makes…”

I can only echo these sentiments. It was for me, the richest part of my retreat – the chance to be in the Chapel at the White House retreat in silence – no noise of traffic, hum of air handlers or sound of planes overhead. Just that ineffable silence in which my desire for God and His desire for me were able to be one. May we all know that Holy Silence in our lives…

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November 11, 2012

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Now the work begins…

It is Sunday afternoon as I write this. I leave after the Newman Center’s mass for my retreat, so I don’t know as of this writing who has won the presidential elections. Like many, I will not miss all the negative ads and campaign commercials. And like many, I will find the temptation to get back to ‘normalcy’ where every minute is not focused on politics as a desired option.

But the demands of justice do not support that option. Regardless of which party ‘won’ the White House, there is much work to be done in our country. In a race that focused (or tried to) almost exclusively on the economy, many issues took the back burner. I believe we ignore them to our peril as a country.

Front and fore, are always the LIFE issues. 54 million children (and counting) in the womb never had the chance to walk upon this planet, to see the beauty in a fall leaf, or behold the wonder of a mother’s love. Nearly 40 years after Roe vs. Wade, we still live in a culture where it is easier to end a life than it is to bring it to birth. And after nearly 40 years of political wrangling over the issue, I become more and more convinced that the most effective way to fight the battle for life is in the hearts of young men and women. How will we communicate our support of “Life” and our belief in its sanctity from the womb to the tomb – ending abortion on demand and the death penalty alike? And will we ever find a way to bring about peace without the wars that kill and wound so many innocent?

The deficit continues to loom large. More than eighty Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of leading companies in the United States urged the members of the Congress to reduce the federal deficit by spending cuts and tax reforms, and prevent the impending fiscal cliff from stifling our children and our children’s children.

What to do with the immigrant at our door? Or the burgeoning military budget? An op-ed piece in America magazine wondered at what point do we risk becoming morally bankrupt when as a country we spend 6 times more than any other nation proportionately upon our military, while our school infrastructures decline, and education becomes more and more the privilege of the elite.
There is much work to be done, indeed. And if you would like to work on the ‘structural end’ – AKA, the Works of Justice (as opposed to the Works of Mercy) then contact Barry Buchek or Holly Schieble to join our St. Ann Social Justice group. Or stop down to the fair trade extravaganza in the Assembly room this Sunday…

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Long before the Electric Slide, the Macarena and the Cha Cha slide, the original line dance at weddings was the Hokey Pokey.  It goes like this:

You put your right foot in,   You put your right foot out.

You put your right foot in and you shake it all about.

You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around.

That’s what it’s all about.

Now you may think that’s just silly but the Hokey Pokey actually has an interesting, and somewhat controversial, history.  Some say it was written to satirize the Catholic Mass, especially the consecration, which when spoken in Latin, had the phrase Hoc est enim corpus meum, (this is My Body) from which we get the derisive term “Hocus Pocus”, or, twisting the knife even more, Hokey Pokey.  Others claim it was a fun song written from a Shaker tradition.  Still others say it was about ice cream vendors, sometimes called hokey pokey men before the invention of cones.  A few people even claim that it is written about cocaine use.  Perhaps we will never really know.  But I think there is a bit of wisdom for us in the last verse of the song that today’s Scriptures actually tap into.  The last verse, you may recall, goes like this:

You put your whole self in.   You put your whole self out. 

You put your whole self in and you shake it all about. 

You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around, 

That’s what it’s all about.

In today’s scriptures, we hear the stories of two widows who “put their whole selves in”.  When Elijah asks the widow to share, literally, her last meal, she ‘puts her whole self in’.  She risks not just a little bread with Elijah, but her life and her son’s life, in order to be generous. So too, in the gospel.  Jesus, taking a seat in the temple and observing what was happening as he was wont to do, watches a poor woman putting all that she has into the collection basket.  His response comes from two places, it seems.  First, he is critiquing a religious system that oppresses and takes advantage of the poor, demanding that she give all that she has just to pay the temple tax.  Which, in our day, is not unlike some of the budget proposals for our country that would balance the budget by cuts to the most needy in our midst.  But I also think we can detect a note of admiration that Jesus has for the elderly woman’s faith.  She is trusting God to take care of her and so she “has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Both of those stories makes me wonder: “What am I putting my whole self into these days?  What am I willing to risk my life for?”  Though in our country, we are seldom asked to risk our lives for our faith, yet, in the choices we make, we reveal our meanings and our hopes.  What causes or people or situations are so vital to our world or to us that we are willing to put our whole selves in?

 

We see examples of this all the time.

  • I always look with admiration on people who pick up everything and go help after a natural disaster.  There are people who have uprooted their whole lives to help the folks in New Jersey and New York to recover from the Superstorm Sandy. Or down in Joplin Missouri, partly because they can.  They have some freedom in their lives to do that.  I had that freedom my senior year of college and the first two summers of grad school – to spend three weeks in Northern Ireland, doing volunteer work there.  We may not have that freedom, but still we are invited to put our whole selves in.
  • I see it with grandparents who, because of a divorce or loss of job, ending up housing their children and raise their children’s children out of love and necessity.  Their lives are turned all around to accommodate the unexpected need of their children.
  • I see it in people giving their lives to educate children who are behind and troubled.
  • I see it in those among us, like the members of the Vincent De Paul society, who spend hour after hour trying to feed the hungry and connect them to resources that might give them a hand up.

So the question remains.  “Where might God be asking you or me to commit more of our whole lives and selves?  To put our whole selves in?”  Call it the Hokey Pokey moment of faith.  Call it the gospel imperative.  You and I are indeed called – after the example of Christ himself – to put our whole selves in.  And if we are not doing that, then it’s time to turn ourselves around…

(Pause on the way back to the chair…)  By the way one last tidbit about the Hokey Pokey.  It seems that Jimmy Kennedy, the artist who popularized the song in the U.S. died recently.  He left very specific instructions for his burial and funeral, which the mortician tried to follow faithfully.  Everything was going well until it came time for the mortician to put the deceased man into the casket.  Here, the instructions started with, “You put the right leg in…”  And things got a little difficult from there.

(ps – Thanks to Fr. Joe Kempf and Fr. Jeff Vomund for allowing me to shamelessly steal this homily idea and much of its content directly from them…)

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November 4, 2012

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