Pastor’s Pen – July 10, 2011

Published on 10. Jul, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen

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I received this letter from Beth Buchek, our part time youth minister of the past few years.

“During my 26 years as a member of our parish I have really seen St. Ann grow. Most recently through my work with the youth group I have seen the seeds of a St. Ann Catholic education blossoming in our young members of the parish. I have had the pleasure to see this through works of prayer, community building, service projects, Luke 18 retreat planning, and even through one of our members being honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Model of Justice Award. I am proud of what members of this group have accomplished, and I was blessed to walk with them on this journey.

At this time, though, I am going to step down from this position and look for new ways in which I personally can grow. I am grateful for this opportunity to have served. Although this decision is not without sadness I look forward to seeing in what new and exciting ways our Youth Group and Parish grow in the future. Thanks to all who help plant and water the seeds that make our parish grow.”

Youth ministry is always a challenging endeavor. As any of you who have/had young adults under your roof know, the demands on their time are multiple and varied. School and its related activities pull in one direction. Social calendars pull them in another direction. Family obligations are not lightly dismissed. I am so grateful to Beth for her efforts to engage our students here at St. Ann these past four years. I watched with her as that initial core of students grew “in age and grace and wisdom”, serving our parish community as lectors, as speakers for confirmation and first communion retreats, and in offering service for the elderly. What a gift her ministry has been. In your name, let me say a heartfelt word of thanks for her presence with our teens and the ways she has shaped them in the wonderful young adults they are becoming….

Obviously, this leaves a bit of a hole in our parish leadership structure, so I am investigating some options in terms of future youth ministry. As in all parish ministries, I invite you to do a little praying and reflecting, asking that simple question: “Is THIS an area where I have some gifts and skills that God is inviting me to use for the good of his Kingdom?” And then listen for an answer in those quiet moments of prayer. Then let me know…

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Pastor’s Pen – June 26, 2011

Published on 26. Jun, 2011 by in Uncategorized

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This summer is not going well.

My home computer decided to quit working the Sunday morning after UMSL’s graduation, back in May.    Since I needed to ‘read’ the information on the computer, especially my calendar – as I had not been able to sync that information to my phone (that was apparently part of the ‘dying process’) – I did what I have done before in similar situations.  I hooked the hard drive up to a working computer at the Newman Center.  Unfortunately, that computer decided that it did not like the extra work and IT decided to stop working as well.  Two computers down in 4 days time.

Last Thursday the computer on my car decided to send mixed messages to my number 2 and 3 cylinders, causing the engine misfire, and making the engine warning light flash.  The dealership is not completely sure why this happened (and of course, they could not duplicate this in the shop…) so they flipped the controls for 2 & 3 with 1 & 4 and said:  “Let’s see what happens.”  Though that course of action makes sense, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and hope…

The good news is that these are just things.  Cars can be fixed or replaced.  Computers grow old and eventually stop working, but you can back up the files to external hard drives.  So in the grand scheme of life, these are just annoyances.

“But they are MY annoyances” that petty little voice inside my head tells me.  And that is where the summer can go bad quickly, in that moment when I make the choice about how I am going to interpret the data.  It is never the obvious “God is out to get me” that undoes me/us.  Most of us know better.  It is the more dangerous and subtle – “Does anyone really care or really notice?” that winds up pushing you in ways that are less than healthy and healing.

But I am glad for that voice, because it is easily recognizable amidst the din and hubbub of the day.  Once I recognize its petulance, I can laugh and relax and remember that God is in charge.  And I am reminded that these ARE just things, like the flowers of the field that whither and fade.  I am just passing through.  All that matters about me is held lovingly in the arms of God.

So my summer is not going well.  Thank God for that.  It is another reminder of the things that really matter, and Jesus’ invitation to seek first and only Kingdom of God.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be…”

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An elderly, bearded gentleman, with a benevolent, yet powerful face and flowing beard.  A Jewish looking man hanging on the cross, with body bruised, but spirit somehow intact and triumphant.  A nebulous spirit kind of dove image.  I suspect that for many of us, those images are among our first images when we try to visualize the Trinity – God as Father, Son and Spirit.  I came across a different set of words as I was studying the changes for the priest in the New Edition of the Roman Missal.  They are taken directly from St. Paul.

Grace.          Love.            Communion.

The GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ, the LOVE of God and the COMMUNION of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (Communion replaces the word “Fellowship” in our current liturgy.)  If you notice, those are all words that describe relationships.  They describe what happens between people and among people and for people as they interact.

These word of St. Paul are captured in the meaning of an ancient term used by the Greek Fathers when they were trying to hammer out a theology of the Trinity – Perichoresis.  That Greek word literally means a ‘going around’, and suggests a vigorous dance-like movement – each person circling, interweaving, whirling in vibrant interaction with the others.  The point of this dance of love, however, is not just the enjoyment of the divine dancers only.  The dance is an open circle that invites all onto the dance floor drawing them right into the midst of the energetic flow of divine delight.

I was at a wedding reception of a Catholic to a Greek Orthodox some years ago, and I saw this in action.  The DJ started playing a certain song, and there was this massive RUSH to the edge of the dance floor.  Then the bride and groom joined hands, and started this side by side dance – a few steps to the left, a few steps to the right, a little Zorba the Greek dip, with a few more moves thrown in, and then two more people join the line.  Repeat, the steps and then four people.  Then eight.  And more.  And more.  The bride and groom and slowly leading this line into a smaller and smaller circle.  And soon, the entire floor is wrapped up in this intricate, weaving, dance, as the music builds and the energy builds and the people weave tighter and tighter.  Eventually, the entire reception is now wrapped around the couple as the dance and sing and enjoy one another in the amazing dance of love and friendship and COMMUNION.  It is thegrace of the couple, the love they have exchanged and shared with each other, that forms the communion of love at the heart of this most amazing dance.

That image, of the bride and groom, at the center of this amazing energy and movement, is my favorite image of the Trinity.  I fear too often, in my prayer, and in my thinking about God as Father, Son and Spirit, I miss the energy and the movement that is the nature of God.  Static images are not what the Greek Fathers thought about the Trinity, nor what Paul suggests in those words which are so often the invitation to the beginning of our Mass – grace, love and communion.  They invite us, like people at a Greek wedding reception, into a dance of delight and relationship with the one who is at the heart of it all.

Paul suggests some practical steps for the dance.  Rejoice.  Mend you ways.  Encourage one another.  Seek agreement.  Live in peace.  Greet one another with the holy kiss.  In these ways, we help one another onto the dance floor – circling ever closer and closer to each other and to our God who is at the center of it and is the source of it all.  In that way, we become one with the very source of grace and love and communion.

May the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the LOVE of God and the COMMUNION of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.  Amen. Amen

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What is the Holy Spirit trying to make know through you?

If you have ever traveled to a distant country, you probably have seen this interchange happen.  Someone is asking directions or ordering at a restaurant.  When it becomes obvious that the waiter they are speaking to does not understand English – what do they do?  They speak LOUDER and S-L-O-W-E-R.  As if that will make a difference…  It is kind of laughable, isn’t it?  Yet I suspect that a lot of us have been guilty of that very thing.

I was at the ordination of three men to the Jesuit priesthood this morning.  One of the men was from Vietnam.  So, as a part of the ordination mass, the second reading was proclaimed in Vietnamese.  And the communion meditation song was also in Vietnamese.  And though the lector read wonderfully, I knew that no matter how LOUDLY or S-L-O-W-L-Y she read or they cantor sang, I would never understand.  Fortunately for me, and all those who understand only English, they provided a translation in the program.

All of which got me to thinking about one of the roles of the Holy Spirit, as we heard in the first reading/acts of the apostles.  The Spirit reverses the sin of BABEL and the confusion of languages.  “Each one heard them speaking in their own language,” we’re told.  It did not take written translations on a page or someone speaking LOUDLY and S L O W L Y, but rather is the Holy Spirit’s gift to humanity.  The Spirit helps us sort out, from all the babble and all the noise – a narrative that makes sense.  One of the Spirit’s functions, as it were, is to help us hear clearly.

And what is Luke careful to tell us that Spirit helped people to hear that first Pentecost?  “Yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God…”  The Spirit’s role is to help us tune into the sound of the voice of God – calling and inviting and challenging us to be a part of THE MISSION for the salvation of the world.  And he used the 11 who had gathered, and the other followers to bring that about.  For what Pentecost tells us is that is still speaking, still trying to let himself be heard from the babble of all the noise that it out there.

So what is the HS trying to make understood BY YOU?  If the Spirit is using us, as he used those early disciples to reveal the mighty deeds of God, then within each of us is a gift, a voice, a note, a song – whatever image you want to use – that is given to us to make heard in the world.  What might that be?

  • Perhaps it is to work with our youth – either as they prepare for confirmation next fall, or in our outreach to them as members of the community at large – that God wants to make known through you.
  • Perhaps it is the call to make the social justice dimension of the gospel known by words and deeds here at St. Ann.  Then come to a meeting this Tuesday night at the rectory at 7 pm.   – consider this your invitation.  There will be at least three of us there…
  • Maybe the Spirit is calling you to give a ride to a homebound person who can no longer drive.  Let Pat M. know your availability.
  • Perhaps it is yours to organize groups of people for activities – as the Men’s club has begun doing with a few social events. But instead of social activities, the Spirit is calling you to organize for a specific need in the community – such as the community garden that Sue Reid is organizing on the lower field.  Listen for that invitation…

It was eye opening and ear opening to hear just one of those different languages this morning – and a reminder of the Spirit’s mission among us all.  Spend some time LISTENING this week –  Listening WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and allowing God’s Spirit to sort through all the babble and the noise.  And then say, with the church, – Come Holy Spirit – fill my heart, kindle in me the fire of your love – so that THROUGH ME and IN YOU, we might renew the face of the earth…

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What is your favorite promise?

Published on 05. Jun, 2011 by in Sunday Homilies

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What is your favorite promise?

We make lots of promises as human beings.  Before a sports game, people promise to give their utmost effort for the success of the contest.  Sometimes parents will promise their children a trip to the ice cream parlor if they have been very good during the day.  When folks have fallen off the wagon, they promise our spouse or family members that they will not touch the bottle again.  A week ago, four men promised to serve the church faithfully as priests forever.  And it is hard to beat the promise that couples make when they vow their love: For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

A promise is a pledge that we will be true to the words we have spoken.  It is an outward sign of the inward intention of the heart – to do something, give something, be something in the world for all to see.

Promises are meant to be things to hang on to when all else fails.  And promises are things that we hold ourselves true to, when our courage would be lacking and our spirit would back away.  What is YOUR favorite promise?

Jesus knows that his time is short.  So in that ‘final speech, recorded in both Acts and Matthew’s gospel, we hear three different promises, don’t we.

You will be receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

I am with you always, until the end of the age.

The first promise equips his disciples [and us] for what had to be a daunting mission – go make disciples of ALL nations.  To these fishermen whose furthest journey had been the 5 day walk to Jerusalem, the whole world was a bit daunting.  YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER…  “Oh, so it is not just US doing this.  The promise of the Father called the Holy Spirit – got it. Check.”

The second promise gives us our identity- that which we hold ourselves true to – to be his witnesses.  Two thousand years later, it is still the church’s identity – to let our lives be conformed to his.

And the third, which is my favorite promise, gives us comfort in the midst of our struggles.  I am with you always, till the end of the ages. I do not leave you orphaned or directionless or without recourse, abandoned upon the street.  My presence is found whenever you gather with fellow believers, whenever you call on my in prayer, whenever you celebrate around this altar – there am I with you.

There are lots of ways we can experience that presence.  But perhaps the most important thing about that final promise is the most important thing about wedding vows and ordination promises – that we simply believe them to be true.  One author described it as ‘living into grace’ – which means that we trust the promise is real and true and alive, and then act accordingly.

And if Jesus is always with me, then doesn’t that make a difference in the choices I make and the way I respect my body?  Doesn’t that call for moderation in drink and food, watching only shows and movies that are worthy of me, reading only things that build up the spirit?

And if Jesus is always with my brothers and sisters, then discrimination in all its forms has to go.  The randy jokes and cruel humor are out of place, and I have a mission to not rest until all my sisters and brothers, be they in Libya or Syria or the West Bank or East St. Louis share the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.

And if Jesus is here with us on this planet, then recycling becomes a part of my stewardship of this earth; working for sustainability becomes essential, and even the energy debate that was splayed across the front page of this mornings’ paper becomes the work that God has put before us to accomplish.

Promises are amazing things, especially when they come from God.  As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord and prepare for the Feast of Pentecost, may we tune into those three promises of God in our living – you will have power, you will be witnesses and I will be with you…

And then, watch out, world…

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Pastor’s Pen – May 29, 2011

Published on 29. May, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen

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Amazing.  Simply Amazing…

With one bill outstanding from the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance (from the credit card machine – and we are not sure of the percentage they will take off of those sales…) it appears to be safe to say that we raised at least $65,000 and most likely even more.  Wow!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  You have always been so amazingly generous in support of this parish and our school and our teachers.  In a parish founded on the generosity and faith of one woman, Anne Lucas Hunt, it is edifying to see that her Charism of giving still thrives in this community.  It is in our genes to ‘pay it forward.’  I am sure that Anne could only vaguely imagine what her gift might look like 160 years later.  But it was worth it to her to give generously from the heart for people she would never see.

In some ways, like Anne, we have no idea the impact of our parish and school on future generations of the church and world, but we trust that God will never be outdone in generosity.  Like St. Paul, we are only responsible for sowing the seeds.  The harvest is in God’s hands.

So am I surprised?  Not really.  It is what you do so often and so well for all these years.  Am I amazed and grateful?  Very much so!  The hard work of the committee and the generosity of so many (a huge word of thanks to all those at Table 3!!) are just more reasons why I love the gift of being assigned as Pastor here at St. Ann’s.

Thanks to Kay Dieckmann and Cheri Smith, our co-chairs for the event once more.  Thanks to their sometimes ‘orphaned’ husband and families for the hours they spent working to pull everything together.  Thanks to all our generous sponsors.  Thanks to the Men’s club for donating the receipts from the bar.  Thanks to Kathy Dolson for setting up our electronic spreadsheets and projectors so people could see where they were in the bidding wars.  Thanks to Jennifer Bahan for coordinating the decorations, and to Favazza Florists for donating the center pieces.  Thanks to Tom Kielly, Jr. and The Liquor Doctor for contributing the wine for the dinner once again.  Thanks to “The Z-man” and the volunteers who did the floors.  Thanks to Pat and Eileen, our office staff, who coordinated all the comings and goings here at the rectory.  And finally, to all who had any part in this wonderful day, a simple yet woefully inadequate “THANK YOU” from the bottom of this pastor’s heart and from the next generation of students, faculty and staff who are the beneficiaries of your faith and love…

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Are you ready for the Rapture?

Published on 21. May, 2011 by in Sunday Homilies

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Are you ready for the Rapture?

Well, we’re still here…[Sunday masses…]

Harold Camping became famous for predicting that the rapture would come today.[yesterday]  We have until 6pm our time zone) before it is slated to happen here.  It is not the first time he has predicted this event.  Nor, I think, will it be the last time we hear about “the Rapture.”  It is an idea that has been around since about 1830.  It seems to have been invented by a British religious figure named John Nelson Darby, who claims God revealed it to him.  The Rapture is a scenario of events that are supposed to happen at the end of the world.  It goes like this:

At the end of the world, Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven and the righteous (the saints) will be raptured (caught up) into the air to be with Christ.  They will be separated from sinners who will remain on the earth to endure a period of great tribulation.  After this, Jesus will rule for 1000 years, and then the Parousia will come where Jesus comes at the end in judgment and will inaugurate the new heavens and a new earth…

Scripturally, people who believe in the Rapture will quote Thessalonians 4: 13-18 – which is really addressing a controversy in the early church.  Did those who died before Jesus returned have an advantage or disadvantage over those who did not?  Paul writes this in response:  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (raptured) in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words.

There are a few things to say about this text from our Catholic perspective.  First, Paul is borrowing a pagan metaphor for death.  The pagans would speak of people being snatched away by death. That word snatched away is translated in our text as ‘caught up’.  Paul wants to tell us that we will indeed be snatched away, but not by death, but by our Lord Jesus, to join him and to welcome him in his return.

Secondly, in the ancient world, the ‘air’ was a scary place filled with unseen, hostile beings.  Being together with Christ in the air, meant that there was nothing to fear.  It was meant to be a comforting message.

Finally, the passage says nothing about being separated from others – (ie – sinners from the saints). The whole thrust is exactly the opposite.  It is about being together with the dead, all of us caught up in the power of Christ’s coming.

SO – the conclusion is clear: There is no support in this passage for a doctrine of the Rapture.  It would be a distortion of the biblical text. Nor is there a catholic doctrine on the existence of the rapture.

Is there something to be said for Harold Camping and his followers?  Actually, yes.  What he has captured and engendered in his followers is what we heard in John’s gospel today.  He has a real longing for going home to be with the Lord.   And a real belief that there are many mansions in the Father’s house – and that Jesus’ desire is that we come one day to be with him there.  I don’t know if I am nearly so eager for the end of time nor that mansion in heaven as he is.  I kind of like it here.  I like to quote my uncle Wally, whose chalice I use at each mass – “The good Lord knows that I want to meet him.  Just not yet.”   Mr. Camping’s call to be prepared for that day when the Lord calls us home is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, we need to heed the first words we heard in John’s gospel.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  The day will come.  There is a place prepared for us.  Don’t worry about that.

Just be ready.  So if it does happen tonight at 6p – we’ll be ready.  Or tomorrow night at 6.  Or next week at 6.  Or whenever.  We follow the one who IS the way and truth and life.  And as long as our lives mirror his way and truth and life, then it doesn’t matter IF there is a rapture, or WHAT it might be or WHEN it comes.  We’ll be ready…

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Pastor’s Pen – May 15, 2011

Published on 15. May, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen

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Does it ever stop?

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to “feed my introvert.”  And the closer to the end of the school semester, the more vital that task is to my ability to be present to people.  Having just met with Mrs. Reichenbach to talk about graduation and awards and end of the school matters, I realize I am just beginning to move into my second busy season.  (The first one started with Holy Week and ended with the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance.)

The month of May has a plethora of activities.  We all know them.  Mother’s day.  First Communion.  7th and 8th grade picnic.  Last day of school for the 8th grade class.  Graduations. Last all school mass.  Open Houses.  Throw into that your usual sports practices and games, miscellaneous family birthday gatherings, and the regular business of work, and if you blink, you’ll miss the entire month.

That is why it becomes all the more important for to ‘feed’ the part of the self that restores balance and energy.  For some, that means an extra few minutes on the back deck, lingering over a solitary cup of coffee in the morning or evening.  For others, it is that healthy jog or walk through the neighborhood, either alone or with a friend.  For me, that means I need to ‘feed my introvert’ – reading, a few holes of golf, quiet time in front of a fire pit, prayer before the blessed sacrament, or a late night walk through the neighborhood does wonders for my spirit.

Though it sometimes feels a bit selfish, my years in the priesthood have taught me that those are the exact practices that I need to choose so that I can be present to the people involved in the events of these whirlwind days.  These are the choices that minister to the minister.  And when I choose them, I find myself ready to listen to that troubled college student or hear the struggles of a single mom or be present to the spouse whose other half is in the nursing home or hospital.

One truth about life in our time is that it does NOT ever stop.  It will be as busy as you allow it to be and choose for it to be.  So you have a choice.  Will you complain and be tired and a bit grumpy because you have not ‘fed your introvert’, or will you do the things that feed your spirit so that you can be fully present to all the things you do choose?

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When you imagine the Shepherd’s voice – what does it sound like?

You always knew when it was dinner at the Kempf house in the neighborhood. (cup hand to mouth as a ‘megaphone’) Buddy, Joey, Denny, Billy, Corky, Mary T… Repeated about 3 times. Usually we would be in the middle of some game – fuzz ball, football in the lot, Frisbee tag, you name it. As kids we learned pretty quick: If it was a brother or sister calling your name, you had an extra 5 minutes that you could finish the inning or the game. If it was MOM calling your name, you left, even if it was the middle of your at bat. When mom called your name, the time had come. It was just that simple.

I can never read this passage from John without that image coming to mind – of mom calling our names to dinner from the back porch of our house. The houses were close together, and the places that we played were almost always literally within earshot of home. The shout from the back door was how we communicated over the distance. And mom was not alone in that practice. Other parents would do the same. So you had to listen, even in the midst of the game, for the voice that might be calling YOUR name.

In retrospect, we always dropped everything and came home when mom called for two reasons. First, mom’s voice meant the food was ON THE TABLE – not just about to be on the table – and in the Kempf family, you didn’t want to miss that. But secondly, not only was it the summons to food you didn’t want to miss, but you had to come so you didn’t miss out on family time, so you didn’t miss the one time the entire family would be together that day- sharing in life and love. That is why, when mom called our names, we knew we had to drop everything – because around the dinner table was where our family was family at its best.

That is the truth that Jesus is trying to convey to the scribes and Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day. “I have come that you might have life and have it t more abundantly.” With an aching in his heart, Jesus sees good people, like you and I, trying to make their way in the midst of a world with all kinds of ‘voices’ – all kinds of ideas of what will work to help you get through. “Many people will call your name, will try to attract your attention. Thieves and Marauders! People who do NOT have your best interest at heart.. Do not follow them.” In his heart of hearts, he knows those paths will not work – because they won’t lead people to his Father, the source of life.

Using that comforting image that all in his society would know in their bones – the shepherd’s relation to his sheep – Jesus invites the leaders of his time – and US – to trust in him. And to believe that in him, we will find the path to life. Gatekeeper, good shepherd, the one who calls you by name – all are different descriptions of the same truth – we have a savior who has come that we might know his life and love flowing through our veins. So this week, do a little “listening” for that voice. And listen for it in two ‘arena’s – as Jesus tells us – the being led out and the being led back home.

  • Where have you felt that pull, that leading out into the “mission fields” as a sign from an Episcopal church in Illinois tells you: You are now entering the mission fields. If being Catholic is all about sharing the love and life and faith that we know in our savior – then where are you being called to be the bearer of that love? Perhaps it is a letter to a relative who has been holding a grudge. Perhaps it is a Face Book search to connect with someone who has dropped off your radar. Maybe you hear it in ACA brochure – listing of the different charities – Criminal justice? Hmm… LISTEN for that call to GO OUT and serve.
  • And where have you felt the pull to ‘go inward’ with Jesus. Perhaps it is a journey of healing over some decision made years ago that you need to reconcile. Perhaps it is to learn more about this Catholic faith that we share. Perhaps it is the call to linger in PRAYER over that morning cup of coffee or that evening bowl of ice cream. Listen for the call of the Shepherd to go IN to be with Him.

(Hold had to mouth as ‘megaphone’) Buddy, Joey, Denny, Billy, Corky, Mary T – it is time to come home. So too for us. HEAR this evening/morning –the shepherd calling YOUR NAME – not to the Kempf family table, but to this table of the Bread of life – so that you might have life and have it more abundantly…

To the First Communicants: Today is a pretty exciting day. Every other Sunday before this, you heard Jesus calling your family members and your friends to the table. NOW, he is calling you to the table! Casimir, Jacob, Max, Ferderica, Lucille, Christoff, Jack, Jacob, Ryan, Cloe. Dinner’s on the table. It is time for you to take and eat and take and drink. I hope today and all days, you will learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls YOU to the table of life… Close your eyes and listen… today and all days…

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What do you find worthy doing, regardless of how it turns out?

I hear a lot of expressions of hope around this time of year – at the Newman Center, at the parish and even in the scriptures these days. Some of them are around the future:

  • “I hope my internship year goes well.”
  • “I hope I can find a job teaching Spanish.”
  • “I hope the weather will be good for the upcoming parish and school picnic.”

Some of them are around the present:

  • “I hope the murder of Osama Bin Laden makes the world safer.”
  • “I hope the Dinner Dance did well.” (It did!)
  • “I hope this relationship continues to deepen.”

And finally, there is that intriguing yet sad line from today’s gospel:

  • “We were hoping he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Hope gets a lot of press, doesn’t it? But I wonder if we often misuse the word. There is a fine line between hoping and wishing. And the difference, at least as I understand it, is all about the engagement level that those verbs convey. Wishing looks for something outside itself as the source of redemption. Hope nurtures and calls forth something within.

Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic offered these reflections on hope, about three years before he became the president.

“Hope is a dimension of the soul, an orientation of the spirit. It is not the same thing as joy that things are going well, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out…”

The two disciples are blindly fleeing Jerusalem because things did not turn out well, according to their wishes. They end up returning there because Jesus helps them to see a whole way of life that embodies hope. In recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they understand first the truth that Jesus has liberated them from sin and death. But more importantly, they realize they have to live in such a way that they risk their own bodies being broken and their blood poured out in love of others. To put it another way, they make the connection between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the connection between the Eucharist and the Cross and finally the resurrection. This is what sets their hearts burning as they race back to Jerusalem – the hope that living for others is worth the doing regardless of how it turns out.

So the story of Emmaus becomes a description of the process of moving from wishing to hoping. In that gradual process of listening and speaking, of praying with and studying scripture, of walking with others on the road, – that daily perspective of taking, blessing, breaking and eating, and the invitation to the Lord to ‘stay with them” – the Jesus we thought we knew vanishes and the risen Christ remains.

This week, the story of the two disciples on the road holds out for us that amazing virtue of hope. I invite you to bring the sentiment of Vaclav Havel to prayer this week. You can ask it in two ways:

“Where do you find your heart burning, on fire with love, able to sacrifice and give?” That experience of a burning heart will point you to the source of hope.

Or: What do you find worthy of doing regardless of how it turns out?

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