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loveHe has been found in the strangest places, doing the most unexpected things. This week found him praying with the president Iran. Three weeks ago, he promulgated a book of common prayers to mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran catholic split, in preparation for a trip to Switzerland. Before that, he was found praying at a synagogue in Rome. Thursday found him meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio. Last week found him officially allowing the washing of the feet of women as part of the Holy Thursday ritual. There was a picture on face book of him with a cafeteria tray going through the cafeteria line, just like everyone else. In all those places people ask: “What is he doing here?” And then they ask: “what is he doing here?” Some want to ride him out on a rail. Others believe he is the best thing to happen to the church in a long time. Despite both criticism and applause, Pope Francis continues to shepherd this church according to that inner compass and mandate. It is amazing where love will lead you, if you let it.

He was also found in the strangest places –
•dinners with tax collectors
•in the company of prostitutes
•with common people, teaching and instructing
•with lepers, the sick, the infirm
• in front of court officials, Pilate, the High Priests
•on a hillside called Golgotha
• in a stone cold tomb

Is this not the carpenter’s son? What is he doing here? What is he doing here? Amazing where love will lead you – if you let it.

Could you come, my mother has just died.
Could you come, our daughter just moved in with her boyfriend and we’re not dealing so well with that.
Could you come, we need someone to give a talk to some teenagers
Could you come, my life feels so empty, – I don’t feel like it is worth going on…
Isn’t this Fred and Mary’s Son? Didn’t he go to Prep South? Isn’t he the pastor of the Newman Center? What’s he doing there? What is he doing there? It is amazing where love will lead you, if you let it.

Jeremiah says: “Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, -a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” For Jeremiah, that was a difficult journey. He was not a popular prophet. Through failure and rejection, all the while still being faithful to the message, he continued to speak as God invited him to. And it wasn’t until the end of his journey – as he is on his way to Egypt – that he realizes there has been a greater plan. “I have made you prophet to the NATIONS.” Isn’t this Jeremiah the prophet? What is he doing here? What is he doing here? Going where love leads him.

It is still amazing where love will lead you, if you let it.
Where will you let love lead you? That’s the invitation given in today’s readings – to go with God – to hear God say to us as he said to Jeremiah: “I send you!” To be willing to say not the easy things people like to hear, but the challenging things that they need to hear.

It is why they wanted to ride Jesus out on a rail – because he kept moving where love led him – dinners with tax collectors, in the company of prostitutes, with workmen, common people – even to God forsaken places like Calvary. And it was too much for them… It is why some people want to ride Pope Francis out on a rail. You wrote an encyclical on the environment? You prayed with Protestants and the head of an Islamist state? You challenged your own curia to live simply and to put service ahead of self?

Yet, Jesus walked right through their midst. As does the Pope. You see, love does that. Only love has that kind of power in a life – only love allows you to walk into places charged with anger; places full of despair; places that seem God forsaken and be God’s presence. Paul tells us so profoundly: “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” in the one who chooses to live it.

Will you go where love leads you? It won’t always be easy. You won’t always be liked. Or appreciated. Or understood. But, you will be God’s servant! Will YOU let love bear and believe and hope and endure all things in you?

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From Pope Francis’s letter for Lent

“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our con-science, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and techno-science, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

To be continued..

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

January 31, 2016

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Continuing last week’s reflection by Fr. Mike Schmitz on the sacrament of Reconciliation …

In confession, he continues, “The second thing I see is a person who is still trying – a saint in the making. I don’t care if this is the person’s third confession this week; if they are seeking the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it means that they are trying. That’s all that I care about. This thought is worth considering: going to Confession is a sign that you haven’t given up on Jesus.

This is one of the reasons why pride is so deadly. I have talked with people who tell me that they don’t want to go to Confession to their priest because their priest really likes them and “thinks that they are a good kid.” I have two things to say to this.
1. He will not be disappointed! What your priest will see is a person who is trying! I dare you to find a saint who didn’t need to God’s mercy! (Even Mary needed God’s mercy; she received the mercy of God in a dramatic and powerful way at her conception. )
2. So what if the priest is disappointed? We try to be so impressive with so much of our lives. Confession is a place where we don’t get to be impressive. Confession is a place where the desire to impress goes to die. Think about it: all other sins have the potential to cause us to race to the confessional, but pride is the one that causes us to hide from the God who could heal us.

Do I remember your sins? No!
So often, people will ask if I remember people’s sin from Confession. As a priest, I rarely, if ever, remember sins from the confessional. That might seem impossible, but the truth is, sins aren’t all that impressive. They aren’t like memorable sunsets or meteor showers or super-intriguing movies… they are more like the garbage.

And if sins are like garbage, then the priest is like God’s garbage-man. If you ask a garbage-man about the grossest thing he’s ever had to haul to the dump, maaaaaaybe he could remember it. But the fact is, once you get used to taking out the trash, it ceases to be noteworthy, it ceases to stand out.
Honestly, once you realize that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is less about the sin and more about Christ’s death and resurrection having victory in a person’s life, the sins lose all of their luster, and Jesus’ victory takes center stage.

In Confession, we meet the life-transforming, costly love of God… freely given to us every time we ask for it. We meet Jesus who reminds us, “You are worth dying for… even in your sins, you are worth dying for.”
Whenever someone comes to Confession, I see a person who is deeply loved by God and who is telling God that they love Him back. That’s it, and that’s all…………………………….Fr. Mike Schmitz

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Writing

Writing

I was reminded why I am not a huge fan of book introductions when I was trying to pick out a nook book for vacation. You can download a sample, so I did, but the introduction took up all but TWO pages of the sample. ARRGH. Don’t go into long detail about why you wrote the book – just get down to the good stuff. So too, it is easy for me to gloss over the beginning of Luke’s gospel, just proclaimed. I don’t really care. Let’s get down to talking about Jesus. Yet, it is important for Luke to tell us: “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” Luke was obviously familiar with the gospel of Mark, because he quotes it, pretty much word for word, in his gospel.) He continues: “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” Luke writes the story of Jesus, grateful for those who came before him, but wanting to tell this incredible good news his own way. And though I am not a fan of introductions, it is a great way to begin a gospel…

So let me ask: How will you tell the story of Jesus through your personality, using your words, in your way? Those first followers of Jesus told the story their way, those who followed told it their way, from century to century, – it has been passed down to us. Had they not, we would not be here. So I ask again: How will you tell the story of Jesus?

Luke gives us two guideposts for that undertaking.
I have decided to write it down in an orderly sequence. Not random, but according to a plan. So, how would YOU organize your experience of the Good News.

I suspect many of our Baptist and Pentecostal brothers and sisters would begin with the ‘moment they were saved” – when they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and go on from there to describe their walk since then. I wonder if we Catholics in St. Louis instinctively begin by saying: Here is what high school I went to. And what parish I am from. Then we’ll talk about the priests that we knew who affected us, and the things we got away with back in the day. And though it is less than an overt telling of Jesus’ impact in our lives, it is a ‘safe’ way to talk about our very personal experience of faith.
My college students will tell you what Stuebenville Conference they attended and where it was held. If they have the courage to go further, they’ll talk about a retreat that changed them, a homily that hit them square between the eyes.

I realized at one point, that I could tell the story of my vocation by the songs in my head and that I played on the guitar in my prayer. I heard a talk once that did it through the types of shoes they wore… Spend some time reflecting on how YOU will organize your story – loves lost? service given? communities you belong to? It doesn’t matter WHERE your start, only that you do.

Secondly, Luke writes so that all of us would understand “the truths concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

I remember the conversation in the threadbare house with a pair of students I had the gift to marry where they changed my perspective on stewardship and my own approach to money. “It’s not our money. God gave us the talents and skills and opportunities to earn what we do. So we never view it as ‘our money’ – rather it is on loan from God to do as much good with as possible.” Suddenly, I knew one of the truths of the life of faith.

As I watched my friend Dave face the gradual loss of control over his muscles to ALS, I also saw this profound courage to LIVE each breath God allowed him to have, even when breathing itself was a choice he made. What did the death of a close friend teach you?

I remember seeing my grandpa Kempf attending to grandma Kempf for 13 years as she was confined to a bed. Every day, unless the snow was 10 inches high, he was at her side in those nursing homes. I learned about the faithfulness of God by watching his loving care of grandma.

So, how will YOUR orderly account of the life of Jesus and the truths he taught you be told? Because the reality is this: we are writing that book with each day we live. And if you need advice about that, there is a bumper sticker that sums it up in 12 words: “Live so that the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral…”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

January 24, 2016

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canaIt is always important to look at the whole picture and context of a gospel story so as to understand the meaning and to grasp the truth of the kingdom being presented. But sometimes, it is those little ‘throwaway lines’, those almost forgotten details that can open for us a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus. Today I found myself reflecting precisely on two of those details I usually miss.

“They filled them to the brim.”

In response to Jesus’ request to fill the jars, John could have simply said: They did so. But John is careful to note that “They filled them to the brim.” Why to the brim? That would have made transporting them difficult, sloppy. Messy. Water spilling over the floors now becomes a slipping hazard. John is insistent. “They filled them to the brim.”

Why that little detail, John? Why was that important to remember in this great story? Since none of the commentaries I read mentioned that detail, I applied the rules of writing to the passage. John, the good writer that his is, is ‘setting us up’ for what will follow in his Gospel. For the next story in John’s gospel that talks about water is about the Samaritan woman at the well. We know that story and the woman’s failure and emptiness after 5 failed marriages. This woman who was SOOO empty, so wounded by life, so ashamed that she would come to the well only when she knew no one would be there – at midday, enters into this dialogue with Jesus who promises this woman ‘living water.’ And as that dialogue continues, this empty, broken woman herself is filled to the brim and becomes the first evangelist – running back to her village to proclaim Jesus as the messiah. When you are filled like that with grace, it is what you do – you have to share that good news…

“They filled them to the brim.”

And I wondered if I have let myself be ‘filled to the brim’ in the same way? Have I let the wine of Cana flow without counting the cost into my heart and life? And then came the invitation: “Bill – spend time with me in prayer so that I can fill you to the brim.” It is so much safer to let God only fill us a little – to say – we’ve got it from here, because then we can control where that grace will take us. Do you let God fill you to the brim in your prayer?

The second line, though this is more at the heart of the story:
“You have kept the good wine until now.”

In this FIRST miracle, the FIRST sign of God’s in-breaking kingdom, what do we learn? In this sign that reveals the glory of God, we come to know that it is not just any wine, but the choicest wine that God shares with us. The best vintage, not the cheap stuff! Jesus was not content with replacing the wine of the banquet with more wine, one Napa Valley Cabernet with another one of the same vintage. Sure, he could have done that. Instead, he replaces it with the wine of glory – the very best you have to give. “You have kept the good wine until now.”

Two comments about the good wine till now. Isn’t that what you and I experience in life – that God continues to bless each year, to make each one better and better. It is not that the aches and pains of aging are miraculously gone, but each year, I stand amazed at how good God has been. He has saved the good wine, the good year, the good day till NOW.

Secondly, isn’t that precisely what God is asking of me/us today? To give all that is generous for us to give? I think of that specifically in terms of the time I give God in my prayer. Do I give him my most wakeful self, the time of day where I am most up and functioning and alert, or does he get the dregs of the day? Do I squeeze him in while in the shopping line at the grocery, or do I set aside time for him when I can truly give him the best of me?

Perhaps your mind focused on other details in the story. Then let God take you where he needs you to go. In the mean time, what does it mean for you to have kept the good wine until now? And will you let the Lord fill you to the brim?

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From Archbishop Carlson:

Although the floodwaters have mostly receded, the needs are still very great. But our generosity must be greater. That is why I am directing all parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to hold a special collection the weekend of January 16-17 to assist in recovery efforts through Catholic Charities. Financial assistance, rather than clothing or food, is the most needed resource at this time.

This weekend’s special collection is part of a national campaign to help recent victims of disasters across the country, including the flood here in the St Louis area. Catholics across the country will be encouraged to give to this campaign. Some funds will stay here to help the St. Louis area relief efforts, and the remainder sent to USCCB/CCUSA for future disaster assistance. Catholic Charities is working to help victims of the flood disaster, which has affected every county in the archdiocese. Several Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) will be set up in a variety of locations in counties across the St. Louis Region as locations where flood victims can come to have their needs assessed and then access services from a variety of community agencies, including St. Francis Community Services (our lead agency for disaster response/recovery). The list of times and locations of the MARCs can be found at ccstl.org/floods.
— — — — — — — —
I came across this post by Fr. Mike Schmitz which is very reflective of my experience these 31 years as a priest, and appropriate as we begin this year of Mercy.

“I was once riding in a shuttle-bus with a number of older folks on the way from an airport. They noticed that I was a priest and started asking questions about it. “Do you do all of the priest stuff?” “Yep.” “Even the Confession thing?” “Yeah. All the time.” One older lady gasped, “Well, I think that that would be the worst. It would be so depressing; hearing all about people’s sins.”

I told them that it was the exact opposite. There is almost no greater place to be than with someone when they are coming back to God. I said, “It would depressing if I had to watch someone leave God; I get to be with them when they come back to Him.” The Confessional is a place where people let God’s love win. The Confessional is the most joyful, humbling, and inspiring place in the world.

What do I see during Confession? I think there are three things. First, I see the costly mercy of God in action. I get to regularly come face to face with the overwhelming, life-transforming power of God’s love. I get to see God’s love up-close and it reminds me of how good God is.

Not many folks get to see the way in which God’s sacrifice on the Cross is constantly breaking into people’s lives and melting the hardest hearts. Jesus consoles those who are grieving their sins . . . and strengthens those who find themselves wanting to give up on God or on life. As a priest I get to see this thing happen every day.”

(to be continued next week)

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

January 17, 2016

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January 10, 2016

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