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April 26, 2015

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listeningIn 2000, I broke my collar bone. That made typing a painful process. So I purchased what was then called voice recognition software that would translate my words into text. The technology was in the first stages of deployment, and much more cumbersome than we now experience. I had to teach the computer how to understand “my voice” by ‘reading’ 20 pages of pre-set up text to my computer. That reading helped to computer to recognize how “I” say the different words in our English vocabulary. And even then, it was far from perfect. But it got the idea across, and instead of having to painfully type all of my sermons, I could simply edit them – a shorter and less painful task. We take all that for granted now, as our smartphones do that *snap, just like that.

That process, though, has stayed with me. If it took the computer a while to ‘learn and recognize’ my voice, isn’t that true of others. With my college students, I have to learn again and again how to ‘recognize’ their voices. Not the physical side, but what is underneath. For some, the reading between the lines is an easy process, because they are so transparent. Others might only say ONE word about their emotional state, and if you miss the implications of that one word, then the conversation stays at that surface level, even though they really want to be led deeper. They want their truth to be pulled out of them.

You who have been married long know that, don’t you. You know how you can say and hear a whole conversation in just a tone of voice. (for better or for worse.) You know the other so well, that often, you can hear the truth they are struggling with long before it is in their consciousness.

So, too, in the realm of our relationship with God – which Jesus describes as a relationship between a shepherd and his sheep – we are called to a kind of ‘voice recognition’ of our savior. And like my college students, or folks who have been married for years – sometimes there are whole conversations that happen in single words. Or in this case, a single deed. The laying down of his life is for us the ultimate moment of voice recognition. A good shepherd lays down his life for us – that is how you know that Jesus is there for you. The recognition comes when we connect the DEED that Jesus did upon the cross – the laying down of his life – with his calling of us by name. When we realize we have a shepherd who laid down his life for us, then we can trust the motive, can’t we? Then we can recognize a love that calls us to life AND CALLS US TO THE SAME LOVE.

And why? Why does this shepherd lay down his life for us? Because he recognizes the connection between himself and the “sheep” he has come to save. Like those whole conversations that happen in an inflection of voice, Jesus knows us. “I know mine and mine know me.” And that knowing of us – is enough to connect us to him forever. He knows the pain, the struggle, the sacrifice – without a word being spoken. Because he sees a fellow human being, a member of his family, he knows that his Father’s heart would break if a single one of us would be lost.

That is the voice recognition that Jesus would have us know. That his desire for us is not to be lost, but to be given back to the Father. That is what his words say. And what his sacrifice on the cross does.

You and I are called to be shepherds after the heart of THE Shepherd. Perhaps people know our voices well enough to recognize in us the voice of the Good Shepherd acting through our lives and love. But the proof of the pudding is in the deeds. We can say a lot of ‘love words’. But do we do the “love deeds?” That, my friends, is the test of good shepherds…

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Net neutrality?

Another hidden and unexpected result of internet usage is the two fold erosion of professional boundaries and balance. Because email is ‘free’ – businesses rely upon them in their communications with their staff. In an economy where job security is not what it used to be, the subtle pressure is to ‘remain’ connected to work, long after the work day is over. That healthy boundary between work and lei-sure begins to erode, as we feel ‘tethered’ to our smart phones, at the whim of every form of text and tweet and email from our employers. The pressure is to be ‘always on’ – in terms of people being able to reach you. And suddenly, we don’t know what it is to be ‘off’.

And where do more and more people go to ‘relax’? To surfing the internet, of course. Studies show that the passive reception of materials that much of the internet is built up-on fosters fatigue and dullness, and lingers on, long after we have turned off the computer.

Finally, there is the addictive nature of the net. Internet Video gaming disease is now listed in the DSM-V. Like substance addiction, video gamers show increasing tolerance levels, withdrawal symptoms when they stop playing, and cravings when they are deprived of the ability to play. 90% of 8 to 16 year olds have viewed porn, with the average age of first exposure being 11. Because it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and the dopamine receptors, pornography is even more addictive than internet gaming.

When it is all said and done, whether intentionally or not, our electronic communications contribute to “the feverishness of life.” There is a frenetic pace that happens when we are ALWAYS connected. In that pace, there is little room for the interiority needed to possess our own sense of being and self worth. How can we ever give ourselves away in the self gift of service, of discipleship, of relationship, if we never have possessed a self to give away in the first place? If all our energy and attention is focused on what is without, when will we ever have time for the work of interiority – of trusting the still, small voice of God that whispers into our silences?

The education that is ours to do as church is precisely around the question of integration. St. Ignatius of Loyola says it best. Everything needs to be evaluated according to one foundational principle. Does this ______ activity/choice/path _____(fill in the blank) draw me closer to God and my path home to him, or does it draw me away from him? Once we have discerned this, then we are to choose accordingly.

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It comes as no surprise…

Today’s youth spend an average of 7 ½ hours a day consuming media; listening to music, surfing the web, watching television, social networking, and playing video games. This generation is sometimes known as the “Facebook generation”, and they are living what is referred to as hybrid lives. Not too long ago children and teenagers had time to be online and time to be offline. This is no longer the case. Young people are constantly connected and are living their lives increasingly online. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, it was discovered that only 35 percent of teenagers socialize face-to-face with their friends on a daily basis.

For most teenagers, texting surpasses face to face conversations. 33% of teens send over 100 texts a day, or over 3000 texts per month. Texting while driving has become the leading cause of accidents among teenage drivers. 50% of teens surveyed admit to texting and driving.

As you can imagine, growing up in this milieu has some unintended effects. Among the more profound is the lack of a skill set that most of us take for granted: the ability to ‘read’ body language, facial expressions and postures with any degree of accuracy. In addition, there is a ‘dis-inhibition’ that the perceived anonymity and lack of perceived consequences of social media fosters within them. People feel free to express a range of emotions electronically that they never would in a face to face interaction. Flaming, (angry responses with no filters) Flirting, and an Idealized version of the self they create in their various media profiles may actually lead to a generation that is less connected to them-selves and their friends.

Finally, the sheer volume of information that is presented to these fledgling brains has an adverse effect. The mind can only take in and integrate so much each day. What we lose in our constant ‘streaming of data’ is the ability to attend to things long enough to create long term memory. If we think of intelligence as the depth of thought and the ability to retain data, then unfettered access to social media content is not a good thing.

Interestingly enough, an ancient practice of the church is found to be a wonderful ‘antidote’ to the over stimulation of the ‘net. Lectio Divina. Lectio is a prayerful reading and reflection on the scriptures, using our imagination and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to open up in us a place for God to speak. And a place for us to be able to listen.

To be continued…

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April 19, 2015

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Where is your Emmaus?

Published on 19. Apr, 2015 by in Sunday Homilies

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EmmausBiblical archeologists have reasonable certainty about many of the scriptural sites described in the NT. They know where the synagogue was in Capernaum, because the ruins are still standing now. They are very sure about the site of the crucifixion and the tomb. They are reasonably sure about the general area of the mount of Beatitudes, but necessarily the exact site where Jesus spoke his sermon on the mount. We hear in the very beginning of today’s gospel the end of the story of the two disciples returning from Emmaus, having met Jesus along the road and recognizing him in the breaking of the bread. The trouble is, biblical archeologists have no idea where Emmaus was. Currently, there are 4 different places that stake the claim to be “the site” of Jesus appearing to the two disciples. (Part of the confusion is in the translation of the ‘distance’ from Jerusalem. Is it 161 or 60 ‘stadia’– which are 19 or 7 miles respectively). One site has support from St. Jerome from the mid 3rd century. Another boasts a crusader chapel from the 12 century. Still another has been venerated from the 16th century. And a recent archeological find might be the most likely of them all. But no one knows for sure.)

Here is what scholars can agree on. The two disciples headed to Emmaus were going there because they had given up. They were “getting out of Dodge” as our American Western expression says. Fearful that the fate of Jesus – put to death by the Roman authorities –would be their fate as well, they left. Roman justice could be swift and brutal. Leave now, before it gets worse. That is the obvious reason for the flight to Emmaus – the terrifying fear that they, too, would be killed. Emmaus is a ‘safe house’ – an anonymous place where they can hide from the crushing reality of their lost hope.

There are times when we escape to the ‘security’ of our own Emmaus because we feel threatened. A cancer diagnosis. Divorce papers. A house fire. The crushing end of a long term relationship. We stagger down a lonely road, afraid to look back, praying we can make it to that ‘safe place’ where a warm fire might soothe our troubled souls.

Other times we escape to Emmaus because nothing inside of us seems to make sense any more. The God who seemed so close and caring is now silent, or worse – seemingly angry or judgmental. Emmaus is the code word for security. For life like it used to be when everything made sense.

Finally, Emmaus stands for all the places where we are stuck in the past as surely as those two disciples were. When Jesus appears to them, they don’t recognize him. They don’t see the possibility of God doing something new in Jesus – precisely because they are looking at the past and not the present. “Don’t you know everything that happened in Jerusalem these days?” they ask the stranger. Because we certainly do – and that is all we know. We saw him dead. And it is too much for our hearts to bear. And we will be stuck in that past forever… “We had hoped” are words of dejection – of people who have given up on the future because they are stuck in that unfulfilled past.

Where is Emmaus? Emmaus is all the places we try to flee to, BECAUSE of a past we will not look at. Emmaus is the crippling fear that we let stifle our hope. It is the crushed and broken parts of our lives that feel unredeemed and unredeemable. Emmaus is every moment on the journey of life that seems Godforsaken, in the fullest sense of that word.

And in that, is our biggest hope. For if we are attentive enough, if we are willing to share our pain and struggle and doubt and fears with those whom we walk with along the way, then like those two disciples, WE will discover that Jesus has ALWAYS been walking with us. And all our roads to Emmaus become the roads that lead us home.

Where is Emmaus? In many ways, I am glad that scholars have not pinned it down to one particular place. I am glad, because it helps me to know that no matter what foolish road I walk down, what unwise decision I make, what past I feel stuck in – there is always GOD’s Emmaus – waiting to FIND ME – God’s love, waiting to restore ME to life… And the one who walked with this first two Easter travelers, is waiting for me to invite him to stay, waiting to feed me with broken bread and to love me with nail scarred hands.

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Four simple words. That is how our risen Savior greets his disciples after those tumultuous days which followed their deserting him in the garden and courtyard of the high priests. They were, in many respects, a common greeting of his day. But spoken by the one who was betrayed and abandoned by those very disciples, what a profound gift they had to offer the disciples.

Peace be with you.

He had lots of other choices, didn’t he? “Where were you? How come you were so slow to believe? Why did you leave?” He had so many choices, and yet, like one of those seven last words spoken from the cross – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – this greeting conveys that same message. You are forgiven. And you are free.

Peace be with you.

Like the words spoken to the woman caught in adultery when all her accusers had walked away, “Neither do I condemn you” – this greeting conveys the heart of God’s heart toward us. The stance, the desire, the deepest wish in the heart of God is not that we be stuck in our past mistakes and sins, but rather that we be free to love anew. As John 3:15-17 says so eloquently, setting the scene for the whole gospel message, and the heart of the resurrection mes-sage: “For God so loved the world, that He gave us His only begotten Son… not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The risen Jesus does not want a relationship marked by retribution, vengeance or anger. All he wants for us is to be at peace with Him. And in that peace, to know we can begin anew.

Peace be with you.

To Thomas, he gives the offer of the exact proof he needed to believe in that message – “Put your fingers into the nail marks and your hand into my side.” To Peter, he gives him three chances to say “I love you, Lord,” not because Jesus needed to hear it three times, but because Peter needed to say it three times before he would trust it. To the incredulous disciples, he breathes upon them the gift of the Spirit who empowers them with THE mission of the resurrection: “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.”

Peace be with you.

It is an amazing gospel summary in four words. May it be the prayer we let the Lord whisper to us at the end of each day this Easter season – an expression of the desire of God for us to always come home to the love that frees us.

Peace be with you, indeed!

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communityThere was a period of time at the Newman Center Sunday night mass when the students would gather around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer. We were small enough and the Daughters of Charity chapel was so big that we would kind of get dwarfed. And so I would invite the students to come up around the altar. And it was fine for about a year and a half. But a funny thing happened. Some new folks arrived in our community who felt uncomfortable with coming up around the altar. They were not vocal or militant about it, but no matter how I would ‘invite them’ to come forward, they would stay in their pews. And then we had an experience where the community was ‘not of one heart and mind’ – the pew kneelers vs. the altar standers. Here around the symbol of unity – we were so divided physically, if not emotionally and spiritually. So I decided that everyone would stay in their pews so there would be unity around the altar.

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Of course the early church was united in all things. Of course they freely gave of what they had for the good of each other. Of course there was no greed and selfishness. Yet, 2000 years later, I can’t even get 40 college students to agree on standing versus kneeling around the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. Community is such hard work. How do you balance the needs and sensibilities of the one against the needs of the many?

Lest you think the early church got it all right, read the next chapter of Acts – the continuing saga. They were not perfect. But, in the matter of Thomas, they indeed got it right.
Imagine what that week was like between the first and second appearances of Jesus. Did they chide him each day? Don’t you trust us? Did he grumble each morning – “I will never believe it until I see it?” We don’t know, as the scriptures are silent in this matter. BUT, what we do know is this: Thomas stayed CONNECTED to the community. Somehow, there was room there for his doubt, room there for his questionings. He did not need to leave the community. The believing disciples did not cast him out or marginalize him, or call him a ‘cafeteria apostle’ because of his struggle to believe. Rather, together they walked and prayed and reflected. Together they found a way to be of support and love to him.

Perhaps I am a little biased because of my work with college students, but here is a truth (with a small ‘t’) that I have learned in my time with them. What they most need is a place where their doubts and questions and struggles can be voiced, surfaced and honored. They need a community that can reverence their questions as much as we reverence the answers we want to share with them. Because Thomas did not leave, nor did the community kick him out, he was able to be present to experience the Lord revealing himself to him. And in that moment, he knew a mercy that restored him. That is always my hope for this parish and my Newman community – that we know that room for questions and struggles and doubt.

So, what does this have to do with us? 2 thoughts…

How are you doing with the Ferguson stuff? Perhaps like many people, you/I so want to be done with Ferguson. Why can’t we just get back to normal? Why don’t people just make some sensible choices about policing and rights and balancing safety and justice and move on. I suspect the doubting Thomases on both sides of the fence might find it hard to stay a part of the community dialogue these days. So when someone brings up: “What’s next?” – listen first. And second. And third. Hear the questions that are STILL surfacing. The ones that take a long time surfacing. And then pray for understanding.

Secondly, today is Divine Mercy Sunday – when Jesus’ first words to the Apostles offered them peace and not condemnation. How destructive that could have been if Jesus had played the ‘blame game’ or the ‘shame game’. Instead he builds a community around peace and reconciliation. And he states a truth. When you forgive people, they are set free. When you hold them bound, they are trapped. So, today, grant amnesty to a son or daughter for an offence. Make a phone call to the sibling who hasn’t spoken to you since ‘IT” happened. (whatever the “IT” was that drove a wedge between you.) Let mercy be the first choice in your dealings with everyone today.

Pew kneelers or altar standers? Doubting Thomas’s or believing apostles? Might we choose the path to be of one mind and heart…

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April 12, 2015

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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
Archbishop of St. Louis

Brennan Manning, in his book: Reflections for Ragamuffins, writes this little pearl of wisdom.

“Christ is Risen, alleluia! He is the Lord of the dance, the dance of the living. He is the Lord of laughter; our laughter is the echo of His risen life within us. He is the risen Lord of glory, who in sovereign authority can say: Blessed are you who laugh now, because you can bring the joy of Easter to others. But blessed are you only if you can laugh at yourselves, if you don’t take yourselves too seriously, if human living does not revolve around you and your needs. Only if you can take delight in all of my Father’s creation – in sun and surf, in snow and star, in blue marlin and in robin redbreast, in Cezanne and veal scallopini, in the love of a man or a woman, and in the presence of the living God within you. Only if your laughter means that you have let go in reckless confidence all that shackles you to yesterday, imprisons you in your small self today and frightens you with the uncertainty of tomorrow. Blessed are you who laugh, because you are free.”

May you know the joy and laughter of the risen Christ this Easter day. – Fr. Bill

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