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wheelbarrowWhen the day comes, hopefully far in the future that I die, obviously the first person I hope to have a conversation with is Jesus. And I hope I’ll have more to say than just Kyrie Eleison. (Lord have mercy) But after that, one of the first people I would like to have a conversation with in heaven is Thomas. And the simple question I’d ask is: What does it feel like to have been the most misunderstood apostle of all times? We get Peter’s denial and confession. We understand James and John and their scrabbling for position. But Thomas? – We have ascribed a thousand different understandings to his legendary questioning. Slow of heart. Doubting Thomas. Stubborn. A true Missourian – Show ME! Perhaps they are well deserved monikers. But I wonder.

In his defense, Thomas asks for no more proof of the resurrection than Jesus gave the other disciples that first Sunday of the week – “when he showed them his hands and his side.” That is all Thomas was asking for. To see and experience the risen Jesus as the other disciples had the chance to do.

But, what if there was something else to Thomas’ questioning? What if the story of Thomas is meant to open up something in the other disciples and in us who follow Jesus all these years later that we might miss without him? What if Thomas is to the apostles what ‘the Serpent was to Jesus in the desert, and what Satan was to Job in the Hebrew Testament – the kind of tester of hearts?

What do I mean by that? There is a story about a tight rope walker, who sets up a little demonstration over a busy street. He asks a passerby, “Do you believe that I can cross this busy street on the tightrope? Maybe. The guy walks across and then walks back. No sweat. “Now, do you believe that I can walk across this chasm on the pushing a wheel barrow?” It will be tougher, let me see if you can. The guys walks across and back. Still no sweat. The tight rope walker asks again: Do you believe that I can walk across the chasm on the tight rope pushing the wheelbarrow?” I just saw you do it. Of course you can, he says, in a slightly irritated voice. “Good. Now get in the wheelbarrow.” All of a sudden, it is a different story, isn’t it?

So what would it be like to imagine ‘doubting Thomas’ in that light. What would it be to have a conversation with him, not in heaven, but right here and now – about the challenge to ‘get into the wheelbarrow’ in our faith life? It is one thing to move from doubt to belief in our heads and hearts. It is another thing to get into the wheelbarrow by living the consequences of that belief in all the situations of our life.

Two corollaries flow from this. First, for many years as a young priest, I was always angry that the Annual Catholic Appeal was the first Sunday after Easter. What if someone who came to Easter was so moved that they decided to return to the church? And then, what do they get the next Sunday? The church asking for money. “Same ole church, they’d think – always asking for money.” But what if this Annual appeal is functions in the same way that Thomas functions to the apostles? Making sure that the good news of the resurrection gets translated into loving deeds, and not staying locked behind the doors of apathy in our hearts and world?

Secondly, as you may or may not know, the Missouri Bishops have put out a pastoral letter on the Death Penalty in Missouri. Do you know that Missouri has executed one inmate a month since November? And we are on track for a record setting year of executions. They challenge us to find other ways to keep society safe than killing to prove killing is wrong. Thomas would say: Get into the wheelbarrow. Write, text, email, call – let our governor know we will no longer tolerate killing in our name.

“Doubting Thomas” some would call him. I think there is a deeper truth here. This week, and in the weeks to come, take some time to sit, not with doubting Thomas, but the Thomas whom I would call: Practical Thomas. Wrestle with Thomas’ challenge, not just to his fellow disciples, but to believers of all ages. “If you say that Jesus is truly risen, and if you say you believe it, then get into the wheelbarrow and start making a difference. Be it your working directly with the poor, or, standing up against the death penalty as our bishops are urging us to do – get out of the locked room, and lock the door behind you – so that you can’t ever go back to life as it was…

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So there are consequences to the resurrection…

Because we believe that Jesus rose from death, there are some consequences and ramifications that flow from that event. Here is one arena where we are called to challenge the structures of our society.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The state of Missouri has executed five individuals in the last five months. This represents a dramatic escalation of executions taking place in our state. As Catholic Bishops we have consistently opposed the use of the death penalty. This ultimate penalty pro-motes a culture of death and undermines respect for human life, the dignity of the human person, the conditions for the common good, and definitively re-moves from the offender the possibility of redeeming himself (Catechism of the Cath. Church, #2267).

At the same time we reiterate and affirm our support for, and solidarity with, the families and loved ones of murder victims. As we bear witness to the Gospel message of Christ, we call for a new response to violence that upholds the sacredness of all human life. The canonization of John Paul II on April 27th, Divine Mercy Sunday, provides an opportunity for reflection on the death penalty and the need to take action to oppose it. Saint John Paul II, himself a victim of a serious shooting, was an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. In his historic visit to St. Louis in 1999, he called for “a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” We urge you to let your lawmakers know of your opposition to the death penalty and to ask them to find other ways to impose punishment on offenders that does not resort to taking another’s life and add to the use of violence as a solution to society’s problems.

We invite you to be a visible witness against executions by participating in local vigils and prayer ser-vices. Follow the lead of Saint John Paul II by asking the governor to show mercy and spare the lives of those on death row. Contact the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the bishops of Missouri, for assistance in getting involved in these actions.

In this holy season of the year, let us acknowledge the sacredness of all human life and work to end the executions in our state.

CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF MISSOURI

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 27, 2014

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 20, 2014

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loveAs you know, smart phones can do many things. One of them is to take your spoken words and type them for you, so you can send them as an email or a text. “Hey Mom, I just want you to know I love you.” It is a handy function to have, great for sending texts and emails on the go. What I didn’t know is that God can also use that voice to text function to communicate directly to us. I know this, because at the beginning of Lent, he did just that.

It was a horrible day. I had spent time the night before with my friend with ALS, and it broke my heart to see how far the disease had progressed since our last visit. I had not been praying like I had hoped to do as part of my Lenten resolutions. I was behind on a lot of things, and feeling the pressure. And to top it off, it was one of those cold and rainy and grey and miserable days that was supposed to be spring but felt more like the winter that would NEVER end… And I was pretty down on myself. (Granted, the last three of these are all first world problems – but they were MY first world problems.)

I was using my phone to respond to some questions about what songs are permissible in Lent. So I spoke the words into my phone: “You can sing anything as long as it does not have an alleluia in it.” In place of the “an alleluia in it”, do you know what my phone typed? Do you know what God chose to type into my heart that ugly day via my voice to text feature? And I love you yet! And I love you yet!

I am not sure if there is a better translation out there anywhere for the word Alleluia. I don’t even know if there is a translation for Alleluia. I just heard those word “And I love you yet!” washing over me, pulling away the stone from my heart, telling me: It’s is not over – not for you, for your friend, for your prayer, for your deadlines – it is not over, because I love you yet!

This is the heart of the Easter message. Not even the darkness of sin and death can keep the Lord of love trapped in the tomb. That is what the Father said to the Son in the stone cold tomb which caused him to rise. And because the Lord loves us yet, then we are free to do amazing things to pass that love on.

Fr. Robert Barron, author of the Catholicism series, said it this way:
The fear of death is like a cloud, a terrible shadow that falls over human life and experience. All of our proximate fears are reflections of, and participation in, this primordial fear. It cramps us, turns us in on ourselves, makes us defensive, hateful, violent, and vengeful.

Further, most of the structures of oppression in the world are predicated upon the fear of death. Because a tyrant can threaten his people with death, he can dominate them; because a dictator can threaten people with killing, he can perpetrate all sorts of injustice.

But what would life be like if we were no longer afraid? What if death had finally lost its sting?

Then we would live as the saints do–not immune to suffering, but, if I can put it this way, unaffected by it. We would know that we are loved by a power that transcends death, and this would fill us with an exuberance beyond measure. Jesus rose to inaugurate this fearless and death-defying love.

That is the message my phone taught me early this Lent. No matter the struggles, no matter the darkness, no matter how seemingly trapped we are in the tomb, whether it is a ‘first world tomb’ like my day, or the bitter life and death struggles of my friend with ALS; or the structures of sin and despair that we have been confronting with our Lent 4.5 series. There is one who removes the stones from the entrances to our tombs – because he is with us yet! and he loves us yet! And because he loves us yet, then we are empowered and impelled to not stop loving until all our brothers and sisters know the same truth. Like Mary of Magdala, we are called to RUN to all the places that need our love.

This year, every time you hear the Alleluia sung, every time you see it on a greeting card, every time you read it in the gospel story – do what my phone did with my text – a little defiant auto-correcting. Each moment you spend in loving service, each selfish addiction you choose to confront and change, each resolution from our Lent 4.5 program you choose to live, each and every moment of your day – let YOUR heart say to those you encounter what the Father said to Jesus’ on his resurrection day, and what Jesus says to each of this morning: And I love you yet!

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Dear Faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis,

I offer to you my deepest greetings of joy and peace on the Solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Happy Easter!

Easter is to the Church year what Sunday is to each week – a highlight of rest and rejoicing. Its vivid symbols of fire, water and exultant song remind us that Christ has overcome sin and death. Because of that we know, in the words of Pope Francis, that when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved by God.

Let us pray that the light of Christ will shine in our hearts this Easter, and reach out to others through us. We know that our Savior lives. Let us share with others the joy of knowing that they are loved by God!

I ask that you keep in mind that the collection for Regina Cleri, the residence for our retired priests, is today. You know how generously the retired priests served you, and how you counted on them. Now, in turn, they count on you, and are grateful for your generous support and prayers.

I pray these are days of blessing for you and your loved ones.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson

Brennan Manning, in his daily devotional book, Reflections for Ragamuffins, writes this about this great feast of Easter:

The power and wisdom of God is singularly manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is it really that surprising that from Jesus’ greatest act of love, his greatest power would flow? The life of the Christian is not the imitation of a dead hero. The Christian lives in Christ and Christ lives in the Christian through the Holy Spirit. He is empowered to lead a new life where sin has no place. If he does not, he frustrates the power of the Pascal Mystery by his refusal of faith in the power.

“How often are Christians unwilling to believe that they have been transformed and that the impossible has become possible?” asks scripture scholar John McKenzie.

If there is a challenge to this Easter Sunday, is it not just that – to believe, not just in the resurrection of Christ, but our own transformation by that event and his love for us? It is time to get busy living a changed life…

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servingWhen you are plunged into icy waters, the lessons are clear, straight-forward and brutal.

When a Korean ferry boat tragically capsized sharply this week, the top deck of the ship was no longer up. Like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure, I can only imagine the chaos and the fear as over 400 Korean teens looked death and doom square in the face. As a former high school teacher I can picture the scene all too clearly – the panic, the fright and the fight for life. But at some point in that chaos, apparently, the kids did a decidedly teenage thing to do. They started texting. The texts, if they are accurate and real, (more on that later) are heartbreaking and enlightening, an insight into what really matters.

“Mom, in case I don’t get a chance to speak to you…I love you,”
“If I wronged any of you / Forgive me / Love you guys.”

As I mentioned, there is some question as to whether these are hoaxes, (which, if they are sends this story into a whole new level of evil), but I got a feeling that these two texts adequately sum up what a lot of those young people were thinking and feeling. I doubt if they would have texted about the myriad of pointless things that teens often fret and text over. In an extreme situation, life gets pared down to the basics, the essentials, the fundamentals. In that desperate situation, shallowness and superficiality evaporate. The fluff is gone, we focus on what really matters.

In our gospel, John’s version of the Last Supper, Jesus realizes that he is coming to the end. He knows the powers that be are out to get him. He knows that Judas has set the plot into motions. He knows that time is short. The boat, in a sense, has flipped. And now he wants his disciples to know what is really most vital, what is really most important, what is really essential to his message.

John’s discourse tells us that this Last Supper was not about pious platitudes, the inconsequential, the insignificant or fluff.

And so Jesus does that which is least expected and yet that which is most central to his message, most central to his life, most central to what is about to transpire upon the hill of Calvary in a couple of hours. He will show that washing each others’ feet, service, giving of yourself in love is not only important, but it is the centerpiece, the focus, the heart of his message. If you want to know what is MOST important to Jesus, pay attention to his “text” in John:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Two quick things about this.
Jesus is reminding us that service and love for others is not just a nice thing that we do, it is THE thing that we do. This is SO central to all we are called to be as disciples, that each and every week, in imitation of that first Holy Thursday evening, we gather together and celebrate this obligation, this command of love.

The second thing we need to keep in mind that everything else in our faith, all the things we obsess over, all the things that we worry about, all the things that we cling to with the tenacity of an enraged pit bull, are merely minor, lesser, secondary to the Mandatum, the command to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We Christians, we Catholics get ourselves into a lot of trouble when we focus on the petty at the expense of that which is truly valuable and vital.

In a few minutes you will have the chance to commit yourself symbolically to that journey of service, that one command that Jesus has asked us to do in his memory. Let it be an opening of our hearts to what is truly and really real.

On this night we remember those poor children on that ferry boat, who taught us the crucial lesson of perspective. Every single thing that Jesus teaches us is in second place when compared to the command to serve, to do what he has done.

It is a hard lesson we learn from the icy waters off the coast of Korea.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 13, 2014

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candlesBefore the Passion Narrative:

There is much that is darkness in this world… Jesus came into our darkness as light. Into the darkness of our violent world, he came that we might know peace. (1st candle lit here) Into the darkness of our sinfulness, he came that we could find forgiveness. (2nd candle lit here) Into the darkness of our despair, he came to give us hope. (candle) Into the darkness of hatred, he came to call us to mercy. (candle) Into the darkness of selfishness, he came to free us that we could serve with joy. (candle) Into the darkness of our homes, he came that we might love. (candle) Into the darkness of our hearts, he came as life itself. (candle)

(Longer pause)
There was in Jesus nothing that was darkness. There was in him only the light that is love. Yet often, God’s people would choose darkness over light. Today, as we hear the Passion, we remember the beauty of a light that shone so brightly in the person of Jesus. We remember, too, the temptation of darkness even now. And as we listen, we remember that we are to choose again to walk as children of the light.

(AFTER THE PASSION)

We don’t seem to have a very good track record dealing with light, do we? Jesus came, only offering love. Always trying to bring the light of his Father’s love and truth into the world. And for this, we crucified him.

I was struck this year at the opportunities Jesus had to turn his passion into something ugly, something that would respond, not from that serene focus on his Father’s will, but rather from a place of retaliation and hatred.
• before Pilate as he is questioned.
• as the crowd begins to shout for Barabbas – he could have turned them to him.
• before the soldiers as they spit and struck him
• even when Simon helps him bear his cross – we have seen examples of people who lash out and hurt the very ones who are trying to help them.
• finally, upon the cross, as his life blood flows out – there was such the opportunity to curse the Romans, to curse the leaders of the Jewish community, to curse his own disciples for leaving him, even to curse his God as he feels that abandonment upon the cross.

How easy it would have been for him to die angry, embittered and unforgiving upon the cross. How tempting, even for the Son of God, to lash out in his pain, and thus, instead of saving the human race upon the cross, Jesus would have condemned it, condemned US forever.

Yet, not one bit of retribution flows from him, not one word of hatred, nor one syllable of anger or condemnation flow from his spirit or from his lips.

And here is what I know because of that.

I want that same clarity of focus, that same outer-looking, other-centered love to be the story that defines my life, as surely as it defined Jesus’ death.

There was truly within him, NOTHING of darkness – (hold final lit candle in hand) Nothing but the constant and ever expanding choice to bring light to all our human darkness.

This week – sit with that truth. (place candle on middle of altar) Take some time this week, to pause, to slow down, to absorb that light and truth into your hearts. Then his death will truly become the pattern of our living.

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The Christian should tremble…

“Forty minutes of prime time in solitary prayer, usually divided into two twenty-minute periods, before a symbol of the crucified Christ is the most effective discipline for making conscious contact with the living God and his liberating love. Lamentably, Christian piety has prettified the passionate God of Golgotha; Christian art has banalized unspeakable outrage into dignified jewelry; Christian worship has sentimentalized monstrous scandal into sacred pageant. We have corrupted our sense of reality by sentimentalizing it. Pious imagination, romantic preaching, and lifeless or raucous worship overshadow the real Jesus. The Christian should tremble and the whole community quake during the veneration of the Cross of Good Friday.”
(Brennan Manning – Reflections for Ragamuffins)

I am not sure where I came across that quote recently, but it seemed appropriate as we begin this holiest week in the church’s calendar. The challenge of Holy Week is to make the journey with Jesus, not as spectators, but as participants. On Palm Sunday, we are invited to ‘to follow our Lord with a lively faith’, both in our individual as well as communal moments of prayer. So the church will gather to celebrate this journey and to take in anew the horror, the suffering and the wonder of it all. The schedule for our common prayer is as follows:

Holy Thursday:
8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
10:00 a.m. Chrism Mass –at the Cathedral
7:00 p.m. Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Adoration begins after Mass
11:30 p.m. Night Prayer

Good Friday
8:00 am: Morning Prayer
3:00 pm: Stations of the Cross
7:00 pm: Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Holy Saturday
8:00 am: Morning Prayer
8:00 pm: Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday
8:00 a.m. Mass
11:00 a.m. Mass

May our prayer indeed be reason for trembling, in fear and in awe before such amazing love.

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