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January 27, 2013

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Back to reality…

I write this knowing that my vacation ends tomorrow morning when I start my 10 hour drive back to the Newman Center in time to lead RCIA classes by 7pm. Obviously, by the time you are reading this, I am already back to life ‘after the mountain’, as it is sometime referred to when returning from vacation.

You all know what that is like, I suspect. Returning to the routine of daily life has both a melancholy element and a portion that is welcome. We love the time away. And though I am certain that I could force myself to have enjoyed a few more days of snorkeling and reading (I finished two books while on vacation), there is some-thing that is good about returning to the ‘work’ of one’s life. Not the meetings and busywork per se, but the involvement in people’s lives, the trying to make a difference in the parish, the proclaiming of the Word of God, the visiting the sick, bringing communion, hearing confessions and the like – all the reasons why I chose the priesthood in the first place. But doing so with a renewed spirit and heart as well as a rested body. That is what time away does.

It is not unlike the return to Ordinary time that we enjoy in the Liturgical year – the putting away of the white vestments, the gradual clearing out of the withering poinsettias, and the return to the gospels’ stories that unfold the life and ministry of Jesus – His “work” among us “to heal the captives, to bring release to the prisoners, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.” Back in ‘ordinary time’ we find ourselves trying to use the energy, not of vacation, but of the Christmas story, to energize us for the day to day work of living out the gospel.

Doing so, we find ourselves praying for the unborn on this 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. We spent time on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to do some service in the school and to commit ourselves to ending the racial prejudices that we haven’t quite erased from our hearts. We look forward to Catholic Schools week where we celebrate the ministry of forming our children in the life of faith, and educating them for their roles in society. We strive to do the works of mercy and the works of justice. In our ‘ordinary’ time, we let the un-folding of God’s plan for our world become the ‘work’ of our lives.

So whether you have had the gift as I have had, of a bit of vacation time away, or have just been busy with the routine of life, give thanks for the ordinary time that is never just that, but rather, an extraordinary opportunity to live the gospel message in all the places where we live and move and have our being…

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Many of us have been asked the question: “If you were to be stranded on a desert isle with just one ________(fill in the blank – woman, man, book, tool, passage from the bible, etc) what would it be? And though I usually don’t give a lot of time to that question, it did make me think of today’s gospel question. If you had to pick one scripture passage to summarize your life, what would it be?”

We hear today of Jesus doing just that. At the beginning of his public ministry, he picks out one passage from Isaiah, arguably either his favorite book or the gospel writers favorite one, and with great clarity says this is what I am about. Remember, in Luke’s Gospel, sandwiched in between the passage we heard today is his Baptism – where he ‘hears’ his Identity when the heavens are opened – “This if My Beloved Son”. That passage is followed by his temptation in the wilderness when the devil says: “Beloved of God?” – let ME tell you what that looks like. Jesus is tested and now returns to Nazareth where he boldly proclaims: Folks, here is who I know myself to be as I begin my work among you. It’s not exactly what you would think a messiah is supposed to be – you are hoping for someone to overthrow the Romans – but I will be something different. I will be always and at every moment the beloved of God. And let me use these words of Isaiah to give you a glimpse of what I understand my life is about.”

So what does Jesus tell that crowd in the synagogue that day, and we who hear his words two thousand years later?

There is a God-given, God-driven work to be done. And we are all called to do our part in that work. You can’t take a pass on it, or say: “It’s not my job.” God gives us a work to do, even if, as St. Paul tells us, we might function as different parts of the body.
…The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.

And if you want to know what that looks like, then:
Give a coat to someone who is cold,
give a bit of food to the hungry,
work with the legislature to enact laws to allow people the dignity of taking care of themselves… Do the works of mercy and the works of Justice
…be good news to the poor

Do you want to live more deeply what is it to be son/daughter of God?
forgive someone whom you have held a grudge against
let go of a prejudice you’ve long held that surfaces when you too quickly pass on those questionable emails that are funny at someone else’ degradation.
support a pregnant mother that she might bring her unborn child to term
…proclaim release to prisoners, liberty to captives

Do you want to live profoundly what is means to be beloved?
help a child to learn the love of God for them
enable an adult to see because of you, the reality of God and his care,
let your wife, your husband, your son/daughter/friend see their goodness – because you have reflected it to them instead of chosen to point out their faults.
… allow the blind to see…

Do you wish to know how to be God’s presence in the world?
bless a friend with a letter or a visit
cancel a punishment (just this once)
invite a friend to dinner
work a pro-life crisis hotline,
be a part of the peace vigil in front of College church
…announce a year of favor from the Lord.

You don’t need to be stranded on an island to know what mattered to Jesus. The rest of his life and ministry attests to his choice to live out his self understanding from that one passage from Isaiah. In all of his “Today’s,” that scripture passage was fulfilled. And if that passage was good enough for Jesus to live into, then, it is good enough for us believers as well…

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January 20, 2013

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A Letter from the Archbishop…

Dear Fathers, Deacons, Religious and People of the Archdiocese of St. Louis,

The season of Lent is not that far away and it is a time to reflect upon the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is also a time to experience the love of God that supported and gave strength to Jesus as He faithfully accepted God’s will that would eventually lead Him to His Cross.

We experience this supportive love of God when we partake of the sacraments, especially the sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation.

I am happy to announce to you that as part of our celebrating in this Year of Faith, proclaimed a few months back by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will host a Reconciliation Weekend. This is scheduled for Friday, February 22 and Saturday, February 23, 2013. These two days will provide an opportunity to open your hearts to experience God’s love and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Designated host parishes will have extra confessors available beginning Friday evening and continuing all day Saturday for the faithful to go to confession, thus allowing one to prepare for the great celebration of Holy Week and Easter. More information concerning this weekend will be forthcoming through your parish and the St. Louis Review.

As Pope Benedict XVI said earlier this year, “Forgiveness is not a denial of wrong-doing, but a participation in the healing and transforming love of God which reconciles and restores.”

As with previous Reconciliation Weekends, thou-sands of faithful have come to experience the healing and transforming love of Jesus Christ with hearts set on fire. I ask you to pray that many hearts will be open to receive this outpouring of God’s mercy and grace through this sacrament of forgiveness when we celebrate this upcoming Reconciliation Weekend.

Be assured of my prayers for you and your loved ones over the Christmas season.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson…

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January 13, 2013

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Support group…

For 28 years and counting, I have been meeting with a few of my brother priests for fraternal support and challenge. In the early years, we used to complain about our pastors. In our later years, we complain about our associates (or lack therein.) And we pray with one another and for one another, and challenge each other to faithfulness and holiness of life. And sometimes, we even get to play together. This week is one of those times.

There are some advantages that occur when one of the members of your support group becomes a bishop. Through the graciousness and generosity of one of the families in the diocese of Knoxville, TN, where Bishop
Stika is the ordinary, we are once again being provided with a wonderful place to get away from it all and relax. Their ‘complex’ is in the island chain of Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, on the biggest island – Provinciales. The back of the house fronts Grace Bay, whose beaches have been consistently voted in the top three beaches in the world.

To make it even better for me, one of the best places in the Island to snorkel is 150 yards down the beach. So each morning I grab my mask and fins and a towel, and make my way down the waterfront, take a deep breath, and launch myself into the bay to do a little snorkeling in some the clearest water on the planet. It is so beautiful. Visibility is easily 45-60 feet. And God was having such a good day when he created the many varieties of salt water fish. Every color and shape imaginable I find darting in and out of the coral fronds and sea grass. I am interested to find out if the two manta rays that majestically circle that section of the reef are still around.

After about an hour, my mouth gets dry from the continual mouth breathing that a snorkel demands, so I reluctantly make my way to the shore, throw the towel over my shoulders and make my way back to the house. A light lunch, a little nap, and I am back at it mid afternoon. We celebrate evening prayer and mass together about 5:30, either cook-in or walk to one of the restaurants located nearby, have a leisurely dinner, watch some TV while solving more of the world’s problems. I walk to the edge of the beach, do my night prayer to the sound of the surf, and then call it a night. Morning dawns and I repeat the process.

The combination of time spent with my brothers and time spent with nature is such a blessing to my world. Thanks to the parish staff for picking up the slack while I am gone and to Fr. Ron Chochol for so graciously covering most of the masses. FYI – There will be a priest from “Food for the Poor” the 19th and 20th. And I’ll be back for the beginning of Catholic Schools week….

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2013…

Although I write this column before Christmas, you won’t be seeing it until after New Years. (You have to love holiday printing schedules for bulletin companies….) So it is Christmas-eve eve, and I finally started to listen to Christmas carols on Pandora. (FYI – Pandora is an internet radio ‘station’ that plays songs in the same genre and tenor of the songs that you “like” and that you “create” the station with.) I was ready to hear the carols of Christmas but not the schlock of Christmas. Fortunately, this particular ‘Station’ does a good job of keeping the trite music out.

In the middle of my musings (and, I confess, more than a bit of writer’s block) they played a wonderful version of the Hail Mary by Corrinne May. It dawned on me that here is the scriptural figure who spans that gap between the writing and the publishing – between Christmas and Epiphany.

Mary the pondering one…

Mary, who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart,” as Luke tells us. I believe her example in doing this can be fruitful for us as we strive to find our way through another year in the turning of this world. What does it say to our eyes of faith, to live in a world of Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary? How are we to respond to the seeming intractableness of both parties that govern our nation? What do we tell our children and our children’s children about the sub-standard public education system in our neighborhood? So many problems and issues that are not subject to a quick fix, that require a measured response on the part of the believer and non-believer alike.

Certainly Mary is an example for that interior reflection that is needed for individuals. But her Magnificat, her song of praise at the Visitation with Elizabeth, challenges the very structure and order of society. It is easy to read that as a kind of pious, ‘isn’t God great’ prayer on the lips of this woman. In the hands of Luke the Evangelist, it becomes a kind of manifesto, where those who are on the underside of life – the poor, the meek, the hungry know the strength of God’s outstretched arm. And those who hold power – the mighty on their thrones, the rich and the proud – are sent away empty.

These are responses that take more than interior prayer. Rather, they are the fruit of taking that prayer into the political arena and the public square. This is what it means to be the pondering one. As we celebrate this first Sunday in the new calendar year, providentially the feast of Epiphany, do a little pondering with Mary – how is God inviting me to help manifest his kingdom in our world?

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Most Christians would not list King Herod among the good guys in the story of salvation. Though he was a great builder, and did rebuild the temple for the Jewish people, he also built many other temples to other gods in an attempt to pacify the people under his rule. At most, he gets a lukewarm response from the Jews. His slaughter of the innocents puts him squarely on the ‘bad guy’ side of the Christian Christmas story. Or does it? Is there anything we can learn from King Herod?

Herod functions in at least three ways in Matthew’s gospel. In many ways, he is the first one to realize the threat that Jesus is going to be in our world. In a story that so far has been about the unfolding of God’s plan through the 3 sets of 14 generations from Abraham to Jesus, we have seen only the tough personal choices that needed to be made one individual – Joseph – and how that might affect two families – his and Mary’s. Now we hear, that because of Herod “all of Jerusalem is troubled.” And though Herod misunderstood ‘how’ Jesus would be a threat – he saw it only to his power – he was accurate is realizing that Jesus would become a challenge to all the structures of the religious institutions of his day, as well as to the accepted images of God that people employed. “The temple doesn’t matter? The Sabbath is made for man? Is he crazy? Call the God who created the universe and led Israel out from Egypt with a mighty hand ‘Daddy’? Won’t God smote you for even suggesting that?” Herod reminds us, who perhaps have grown comfortable with the cuteness of the manger and the warmth of a guiding star, that this story is far from over, and much will be demanded of us who believe.

Herod, ironically, gets it right in the first part of his request to the magi: “Go and search diligently for the child…” Isn’t that the goal of all our prayer and worship – not to placate our consciences, but to introduce us to the living God, to help us wrestle with the truth that his incarnation brings, and to let that truth shape our response to the world. The church teaches a lot of things that are not very culturally popular in our world – about the sanctity of each life, about the dignity of marriage between a husband and wife, about the call to end the death penalty, about the preferential option for the poor – all based on the truth we have come to know in Jesus. In this Year of Faith, we are called to do just what Herod said, to study the catechism, to read scriptures, to ‘search diligently’ that we may know who Jesus is and what He calls us to.

The second part of that statement, “So that I, too, may go and do him homage” if it stands alone, outside of the evil intentions of Herod, holds two challenges for me and perhaps for us. First, it invites me to look at the truth of my intentions in my conversations. Though I usually don’t mean to be that deceptive about my motives in conversations, I know that many times the filter for my inner frustrations about someone else’s actions has everything to do with how it will affect me.
• A teacher did not handle a difficult situation perfectly, and I am angry at them because now I have to get involved.
• My house manager at the Newman Center forgot to take out the trash before they went home to study, so I have to go back in the house and empty trash and gather recyclables and though I say I am frustrated because I am doing their job, it’s really because now I have to be out in the cold (and rain) an extra 2 minutes.
• I’m retelling a story about an event that happened during the week, and I slant the details in a way that makes ME look better than I actually was.

It is so easy to point the finger elsewhere, when the change that needs to happen is right here.

Second, once more in that ironic statement, Herod invites me to offer true worship to our Lord. To give to him, like the Magi, all that is generous for my heart to give:
-extra money to a monthly beggar at the door who reminded me when I gave him my usual $ that the price of a bus pass went up.
-time spent really listening to those who need my love –turn off the TV, step away from the computer/desk and listen
-time spent here in worship – give Christ the full hour, without rushing off early…

Herod may never make the list of good guys in the bible. But I learned a lot from him this week. Perhaps we all can…

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January 6, 2013

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