Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Young SEE the Cross - We Pray that they ENCOUNTER the Resurrection


See – Encounter – Pray
Each year on Good Friday night, the Pope presides over a celebration of the Stations of the Cross at the ancient Roman Coliseum, a symbol of the history of Christian martyrdom.  This year, in anticipation of the Synod on Youth, Pope Francis invited fifteen young people between the ages of 16 and 27 to write the meditations. They did so using a precise methodology. Gathered around a table, they read the accounts of the passion of Christ from the four Gospels. In other words, they stood before each scene along the Way of the Cross and “saw” it. Then, after a certain time had passed, each young person spoke about a detail of each scene that had struck him or her the most. Three key words, three verbs, mark the development of these texts: first, as already stated, is seeing, then encountering, and last, praying. (See meditations here)
In giving young people, this challenge the Pope was asking that this two millennia old story be seen with the eager newness of youth.   When grow old when we no longer want to see anything new, we fear what is new, close doors and lack trust and openness.
To encounter means to change, to be prepared to set out once more on our journey with new eyes. 

To see and to encounter leads, finally, to prayer. 
If you would indulge me for a moment I would like to share with you, the meditation and prayer of the 11th Station – Jesus is nailed to the cross.


I see you, Jesus, stripped of everything. They wanted to punish you, an innocent person, by nailing you to the wood of the cross. What would I have done in your place? Would I have had the courage to acknowledge your truth, my truth? You had the strength to bear the weight of the cross, to meet with disbelief, to be condemned for your provocative words. Today we can barely swallow a critical comment, as if every word was meant to hurt us.
You did not stop even before death. You believed deeply in your mission and you put your trust in your Father. Today, in the world of Internet, we are so conditioned by everything that circulates on the web; there are times when I doubt even my own words. But your words are different; they are powerful in your weakness. You have forgiven us, you held no grudge, you taught us to offer the other cheek and you kept going, even to the total sacrifice of yourself.
I look all around and I see eyes glued to telephone screens, people trolling the social networks in order to nail others for their every mistake, with no possibility of forgiveness. People ruled by anger, screaming their hatred of one another for the most futile reasons.
I look at your wounds and I realize, now, that I would not have had your strength. But I am seated here at your feet, and I strip myself of all hesitation. I get up in order to be closer to you, even if by a fraction of an inch.
To see – to encounter – to pray
This has been our task this Holy Week, on this Easter Day and throughout our Christian lives which begins in baptism.  A baptism which 4 young people will receive tonight.  To see, to encounter and to pray is what the Holy Spirit whom we received at confirmation who empowers us to allow our seeing and encountering give rise to mercy, even in a world that seems pitiless and abandoned to senseless anger, meanness and the desire not to be bothered.
Today with these women of Mark’s Gospel, we see the tomb of Jesus, not as expected.  We watched the women make their journey to the place where Jesus’ body had been laid, carrying spices, oils and everything that was necessary to properly clean, anoint and bury the dead.  Shockingly we see the tomb as they do, the stone has been rolled away.  Has someone broken into the tomb or stolen the body?
sepolcro-vuotoWhat we see gives way to an encounter – not at this point with the risen Lord, but a YOUNG MAN – who is sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe. He said to them, "Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.”
What we and the women see is now different, no one has broken into the tomb – SOMEONE HAS BROKEN OUT!  This encounter at the empty tomb begins a change, a movement in a new direction, that will be empowered all the more when these women, and the disciples, encounter more than an empty tomb but the resurrected Christ.
Tonight, having witnessed salvation history in the scriptures proclaimed, having watched the story of Christ passion unfold over these days, we encounter the Risen Christ, in the Gospel proclaimed, in the conferral of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and in the reception of the Risen Christ in the Holy Eucharist. 
Having seen, having encountered, on this Easter night we are therefore called to pray that we who have seen the suffering and have encountered Christ might receive the wisdom, courage and the grace we need to share in the salvific mission to which the Lord calls us.
On Ash Wednesday, the day the Lenten season began, 19 students and teachers were killed by a shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida.  Since that time some of the young survivors have become very familiar to us.  They have appeared all over the media and have led massive rallies advocating change and have even inspired law makers to consider legislation that they hope would prevent such violence.  Many have been inspired by these young people and others have taken offense at some of the words, actions and policy proposals that these young people have advocated.  

This tragedy and these subsequent experiences with the young survivors have impacted the Lenten season for me.  We are foolish, if we reject seeing what they see.  No matter what we may feel about their words or actions, we can’t but help but be awakened to the injustices they see and to which we have become complacent.  Young people see the sufferings of Christ in a way we sometimes miss.  They more readily see poverty, racism, social inequity and a disregard for human life.  Yet often they don’t see the resurrected Christ.  Their anger and pain overwhelms them and they can be brought down in despair or overcome by the same forces they oppose.
So, we are called to see what they see and help them, help this generation to encounter the resurrected Christ, who conquers all these things.  As church and families, we witness to Jesus Christ risen from the dead, overcoming all evil.  As church we live the words of St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles
We are witnesses of all that he did…
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day
and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us…
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
In their empathy, our young can be lied to, and brought down the devil’s path of immorality, abusive relationships, destructive decisions and a rejection of the faith.  They need us to respond to their vision, to help them see that Christ sees what they see by living lives of faithful witness.  Because we have encountered the risen Christ we must reject hypocrisy, dualism, bigotry and any lack of compassion.  We must be merciful as the one who willingly died on the cross is merciful. 
The greatest experiences I have had in my priesthood are the moments when I have witnessed the empathetic vision of the young encountering resurrection faith.  The annual March for Life in Washington, Catholic Scouting, Youth Ministry, Service Retreats and our seminarians are what happens when the young encounter the resurrected Christ.
How blessed we are to have these four, young people with us  tonight.  They have a vision to share with us, they offer us a perspective that we must see.  And we offer to them - Christ crucified and raised – so that what they see does not end in despair but is transformed in hope.
Throughout Lent and this Holy Week, we have seen sin and death.  On this Easter Day we encounter Christ raised and we go forth in prayer and joyful hope.
Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing

With the vision of the young who have encountered the Risen Christ, let us pray the prayer which followed the meditation of the 11th Station last night in Rome
I ask you, Lord, that in the face of good
I may be ready to recognize it,
that in the face of injustice I may find the courage
to take my life in my hands
and to act differently.
Grant that I may be set free from all the fears
that, like nails, immobilize me and keep me far
from the life you have desired and prepared for us.


HAPPY EASTER

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Homily 2017

As hard as we try, the auditorium sanctuary at Christmas, never measures up to the beauty and the festive nature of the church.  So I added some friends to the Holy Family in front of the altar.  They may not look like they belong there but who or what does?
About a week ago, I began to hear and read about this year’s nativity scene, as it is presented in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.  The news anchor of a popular Catholic television network called it bizarre. 
So, I did some investigating and here is what I found out. Outside of the traditional nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, the Wise Men, shepherds, an angel, and animals, the other figures of the nativity scene are represented in the act of performing the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy.  Surrounding the Holy Family, therefore, are the following scenes:
·       A man imprisoned in a cell with one bar – depicting not only physical imprisonment but the self-imprisonment of sin
·       A woman welcoming a homeless refugee
·       An injured man in conversation with another man, depicting the necessary healing of both mind and body
·       A man who being given food and drink stands in amazement at the generosity of these gifts
·       A wrapped corpse with its arm exposed as it’s taken into a tomb
·       A nobleman dressed in fine clothes giving his cloak to a naked man lying in the street.
·       In addition, the ornaments on the tree were created by young cancer patients and children in areas effected by earthquakes
The reaction of this national catholic news anchor and some others was that people want to reflect on the Birth of Christ, not these painful scenes.  These images, they say, don't evoke a silent night when all was cozy, calm and bright.  Still others fear that the Christ child was being eclipsed by these other images; ignoring the savior, while positing that doing good works is the most important means to salvation.
Any critique of art, especially that depicting tenants of faith or theological principals, is fair and appropriate.  Art is meant to evoke a reaction.  Yet a critique of this nativity scene ought not ignore the origins of the Christmas Crèche or the Gospel proclamation of the mystery it depicts.
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing the tradition of the Christmas crèche.  The mystery of the incarnation, is an underlying force in the spirituality of Saint Francis.  God taking on human flesh, transforms all of creation in the eyes of St. Frances.  If Jesus was a baby lying in a crib of straw – then then the stray, the crib, the animals surrounding him and all things of our world are created anew.  In the coming of Christ, the world is no longer the place to which humanity was banished, after the fall in the Garden of Eden, but where the living God chooses to dwell.
Saint Francis is more than an ahead of his time, ecologist or animal lover; rather, he understood profoundly what it means to say – in words of the John the Gospel writer, “The word became flesh.”  The imagery of the nativity – an artistic expression of the Christmas mystery is incomplete without, the crib, the straw, the animals and the real hardships of humanity.
Perhaps we have become too comfortable with the Gospel just proclaimed. We have lost sight of the wet straw, the odor of the animals and presence of unkempt strangers from the fields.  The birth of Christ can only evoke a sense of calm and peace, when we don’t deny the profound depth of the incarnation and a broken world’s encounter with the living God who establishes that peace.
In a homily, during his time as the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, spoke about what mean when we profess faith in a living incarnate God.
It means that God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking… if it were just a matter of that, then this God would never be more that a human idea…We cannot define him in whatever way we like.  He has defined himself and stands now before us as our Lord, over us and in our midst.
The image of the nativity, and the account proclaimed in the Gospel, is not a story of human creation but divine revelation.  It is not for us to say that our image of the new born king must not be muddied by the sorrows of our time.  The birth of Jesus Christ, elevates humanity and all of creation from the mud.  God chooses the mud.  The entering of our God into the human experience, gives meaning and purpose to our lives and unites we who are often lost, together into one flock, with one shepherd.
The other day I met up with an acquaintance someone who lives here in Hicksville and ministers in a Christian church in Bowery section of Manhattan.  Marveling somewhat at the number of people who come to our masses on Christmas, he asked, “what do you say to all those people?”  “Just Jesus,” I said.  In one mindset, it is hard to speak to the experience of every person.  The reality is that the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, the incarnation of the divine, speaks to the entirety of humanity on its own. 
At the inauguration of this year’s nativity in St. Peter’s square, Pope Francis said:
(The nativity makes) more visible what is perceived in the experience of the birth of the Son of God. (Calling it a) sign of the compassion of the heavenly Father, of his participation and closeness to humanity, which experiences not to be abandoned in the mists of time, but visited and accompanied, in their own difficulties
The new born savior is not eclipsed by the emotionally evoking images in St. Peter’s square or the feeding trough, the straw, the nomad shepherds or the animals we see in our own nativity scenes.  We do not lose Christ in the midst of addiction, terror, domestic violence, infidelity, racism and bigotry.  It is for these things he came.  And it is to this saving mission of feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, burying the dead, and visiting the sick and imprisoned that we are called, not to earn our salvation but reveal the savior.
Gazing on the crèche, the Holy Family and all its creatures and listening to the story of the nativity proclaimed this night is not a unique Christmas experience.  It is what we celebrate each and every Sunday.  For the human family, (the hungry, thirsty, poor, homeless, sick, imprisoned and the dying) gathers around Jesus Christ not in a manger, but on the altar in the Holy Eucharist.  For it is here in this church, on this altar and at “Christ’s Mass,” that those who long for a savior and the communion of others, encounter the living God, who comes first in the humble manger, to die on a cross and abides now and forever, to redeem the world.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, October 07, 2017

DO NOT BE AFRAID - Cultivate a Culture of Life

During my homily last week, I stressed that protection of the life of an unborn child is foundational to all other respect life issues.  I said when we do not defend the vulnerable, unborn child's right to life, it becomes easier to justify the infringement on the right to life of every other human being.  Our advocacy for the marginalized is undermined if we do not defend the unborn child's right to live.  Furthermore, if we are in fact advocates for the right to life of the unborn child, we must also be advocates for education, healthcare, fair wages, affordable housing, migrants and victims of all forms of violence, bigotry, and abuse. Respect for life is comprehensive and constitutive to living the Christian life.

Last Sunday evening, our nation once again experienced a phenomena whose impact continues to bear tragic results,  As of my writing this column, 59 lives were lost and over 500 were wounded through a mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Our nation and our world are perplexed, saddened and deeply fearful of these acts of terror.  How is it that fellow human beings can come to the distorted conclusion that there is justification in taking the lives of others? How are we to respond to these unconscionable attacks on human life? 

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul encourages  us to keep doing what we have learned and received.  St. Paul preached Jesus Christ; who redeemed the world by remaining faithful to the mission, despite the overshadowing power of death.  Upon the birth of Jesus, Herod slaughters the innocent children and his son executes Jesus' cousin John.  Throughout his public ministry, Jesus' opponents continued to plot against him. Furthermore, his apostles, betray, deny and abandon him, yet he persists in the mission.  Hanging on the cross, Jesus looks to the convicted criminal at his side, respects his broken life and promises him a place in the kingdom.  So we too, despite the pressures of the  world, must continue to persevere against what Pope Saint John Paul II  called a "culture of death," in all its forms.

"...it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy against life" is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States."   Evangelium Vitae 12

A woman lights candle
 at a makeshift vigil on the Las Vegas Strip.
(CNS photo/Chris Waittie, Reuters
Saint Paul assures that when we are faithful to the what we have learned, received and heard in Christ, "the God of peace will be with you."  Our first response to what is evil and deadly can only be that which cultivates a culture of life.  Each of us has the power to break the cycle of death.  Each of us has the ability to raise up the dignity of another life, from conception to natural death.  Each of us can overcome the anger, pain and sorrow that we feel when we encounter these devastating acts of terror.

In the days following the tragedy in Las Vegas, the investigation revealed the planning and preparation which the assailant took prior to his attack.  Evil does not randomly come about, it is planned and calculated.  Transformative acts of good that cultivate life need a plan as well.  In the midst of this tragedy, there is evidence of God's plan persevering.  The Roman Catholic cathedral for the Diocese of Las Vegas is named for the Guardian Angels, whose feast day preceded the day of the attack.  The horror unfolded on Respect Life Sunday.   God's plan is rooted in the Gospel of Life and the saving mission of Jesus Christ.  It is a plan that does not built upon anger cultivated by public figures but upheld by guardian angels.  It is a plan which instructs us to, "Love one another as I have loved you."

Image courtesy Holy Trinity Diocesan High School

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Aware and Engaged - Easter Homily

The Pascal Candle is lit from the new and blessed fire at Holy Family Hicksville
Throughout this past week we have been witnesses of a drama.  From the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, to the institution of the Eucharist and servant leadership at the Last Supper, to the betrayal, denial, torture and execution of the Jesus on the cross to unexpected resurrection encounter – the drama of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus has unfolded before us.  Observers though we are, are we truly aware of what has gone, beyond our observance?
Kelli O'Hara quick changes at the 2015 Tony Awards
screenshot via Tony Awards Backstage Youtube
My friend Fran is a professional costumer and dresser for Broadway actors.  One of her most important tasks is to assist the actor with quick costume changes.  Not too long ago she was working with the actress who played Anna in the musical the King and I. If you recall the show, you know that Anna is always dressed in very, very large hoop skirts, in watching the show, you are too busy watching the actors on stage to think about how Anna gets in an out of those skirts so quickly.  But during a performance at the Tony awards that year, the online audience got to see how it all occurs a camera with backstage capturing Fran, much to her chagrin, and her team changing the actress out of one skirt and top and into another in less than 40 seconds.  The attention of those watching on TV or in the theatre only saw what happened on stage and were unaware of what was happening behind the scenes; all they saw was the amazing result.
Throughout this week of the Lord’s Passion our attention has been on the actions of those around Jesus.  Many of the readings from sacred scripture we listened to focused on the human actions of Moses, Abraham, and the words of the prophets Isaiah, Baruch and Ezekiel.  Furthermore, in the first reading, which tells the story of creation, and the Gospel account of the resurrection we hear something so familiar that we may take for granted what has happened.  It is fitting then that the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans begins questioning our awareness.  St. Paul is not simply asking us if we are aware of what we have studied, had preached to us or learned in a religion class.  He is not asking us if we know the stories of creation, the exodus and the resurrection.  He is asking if we are of what God has done behind the scenes throughout salvation history that leads to the Resurrection of Jesus.  More so he is asking if we are aware what has been done to us and for us without us paying attention to what is going on beyond our awareness.
Specifically, St. Paul asks, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Is this part of your awareness?  I know that this truth is not foremost on my mind.  Yet this truth is the foundation for our hope.  Because of our baptism we are united to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because of our baptism we have profound hope that the worst thing that can happen to us, death is not the last word.  We do not just observe the drama of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by baptism we experience it.  St. Paul concludes that “raised from the dead, (Christ) dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” So too must we be aware that death has no power over us.
The era in which we live easily distracts us.  Our political atmosphere is horrible. The moral struggles presented to our children are overwhelming.  Financial realities, racial tensions, and an ever-present media are what grabs our attention and therefore, the cosmic and spiritual realities of the Resurrection recede to the background.  We function as if we have no awareness of the God who both created and redeemed the world. 
As we listened to St. Matthews gospel proclaimed we are treated to some dramatic imagery.
·       And behold, there was a great earthquake;
·       for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
·       rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
·       His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.
·       The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
The Angel of the Lord  Announcing the Resurrection
Benjamin West  1805 Brooklyn Museum
These are events so dramatic in detail that they are meant to engage us and awaken us to not a happy ending of what was thought to be a tragedy but to empower our faith life.  Furthermore, with their encounter with the risen Jesus himself, the women experience a transformation and a commissioning.
In repeating and enhancing the message of the angel the risen Lord, Jesus commissions the women to be the first missionaries of the Resurrection.  He also gives them a specific task.  He tells them to inform his brothers that he will meet them in Galilee.  Why is this important.  The angel tells the women to give this message to Jesus’ disciples, Jesus calls them his brothers.  The change is important.  These disciples are the ones who betrayed, denied and abandoned him.  Hearing that he had been raised from the dead might rightly strike a fear of vengeance in their hearts.   He calls them brothers and in so doing extends reconciliation.  He does not abandon them but raises them from disciples to the dignity of brothers.  The women, therefore become the first agents of resurrection reconciliation.
Bishop of Rockville Centre, John Barres baptizes a woman
during the Easter Vigil at St. Agnes Cathedral.
Photo Credit: Ed Casey
At our Easter Vigil and most Catholic Churches we have the opportunity to witness a baptism.  The baptism of an adult in our midst is followed by the renewal of our own baptismal promises.  We all get wet from the waters of baptism today.  Shocked with the sprinkling of these waters we are made aware of the dramatic thing God has done in history and continues in us.  Like the newly baptized and the witness of the resurrection we are sent into the world to be missionaries of the resurrection and agents of reconciliation. 
This drama, this resurrection is not simply what we see but the often-unseen drama of God’s saving action.  Newly aware of what has been done we go fearful yet overjoyed and share in the building of God’s Kingdom.
Easter Sanctuary Holy Family Hicksville

Friday, April 14, 2017

Failure is the ONLY Option - Good Friday reflection

Crucifixion of Jesus by Marco Palmezzano
(Uffizi, 
Florence), painting c. 1490
The 8th graders who in level 2 of the parish confirmation program are given the opportunity to write reflections on the stations of the cross.  Their statements are incorporated into a parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross at noon on Good Friday.  After the last station I offered this reflection the confirmation candidates and parishioners.
In our prayer, today we have not only recounted a story but through the reflections you offered, we engaged ourselves in that story.  In doing so, each of you attempted to experience Jesus in a way that is real or more tangible to you.  Through this meditation of the Stations of the Cross, on this Good Friday afternoon we have had an opportunity to know the pain of our Lord in a profound way.  But some of us may ask, “What is the point?  We have our own pain and none of it seems to make any sense.”  So, as a way of bringing this experience to a close and in an attempt to “make sense,” of it for you, I offer you to points to take with you.  First, Failure is not only an option, it’s the only option.  Second, the only cross we are asked to bear is our own – and Jesus carries it with us.
We have heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.”  This statement originated as a line from the movie, Apollo 13 and it was uttered by the character of the flight director, whose responsibility it was to bring the astronauts of the disabled spacecraft home safely.  The truth is the real person, in the actual situation, never said those words.  They are the words of a Hollywood scriptwriter.  The reality was that failure had already happened.  That particular mission to the moon failed because an explosion had disabled the ship.  Because of that failure, however, the minds of many had to come together to figure out a way to get these men home and through the failure they learned what they never could have and achieved something they never would have believed possible.
Michelangelo's Pieta
St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican
From the human perspective, Jesus’ mission appears to be failure.  After being followed by throngs of people he was abandoned to die alone on a cross.  Two of his apostles fail him in the acts of betrayal and denial.  He is mocked, tortured and killed, what a failure.  We stand here today calling this Good Friday because we know that the mission does not fail.  We know about the resurrection and therefore we can see and anticipate the success.  But this reality was not yet known on that Friday afternoon.  The religious leaders, the Romans, the crowds and Jesus disciples only saw failure.  It was only after the resurrection that the apostles, other disciples and future believers came to understand how failure was in fact the only option.  Jesus had to be abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  The worse had to happen so that the greatness of God could truly be known.  St. Paul says that death has no power over us.  We only know this to be true because the failure of death happened first.
Holy Family School's 7th Grade
Living Stations 2017 
In our lives, we have daily reminders of failures; academically, athletically, artistically and socially.  We can even perceive our bodies as failures.  People around us might readily point out our flaws and some never seem to let us forget them.  We ask ourselves, “Why did I have to fail?  Why can’t I just get it right?”  The answer is failure is the only option.  We learn from our failures, and learn very little from that which we accidentally get right.  So too we learn from our sin, the very sins that led Jesus to the cross.  Our sins and our failures are the gateway to God’s mercy.  Through them we come to know the power of Jesus’ love and mercy for each of us.
It’s hard to know this amid failure however and so we must trust in what we cannot see.  We trust in the wisdom of others and we trust in the wisdom of faith.  Let me share with you a post resurrection story that illustrates this point.  In one of his appearances after the resurrection, Jesus meets his apostles on the sea shore.  They have breakfast together and after they finish eating Jesus says to Peter
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. Jn 21:15-19
Do you see what was happening here?  Peter who denied Jesus three times is given an opportunity to express his love for Jesus three times.  This must have been such an awesome revelation for Peter.  How much stronger and apostle and leader he was because he failed first.  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus teaches us that failure is the only option.
Confirmation Candidates and Parishioners
venerate the Cross following
Stations of the Cross on Good Friday
Lastly, I offer you this.  Before they knew what would eventually happen, Jesus told his apostles that if they wished to follow him they must take up their cross daily.  He did not tell them to carry his cross, nor did he tell them to carry the cross of others.  Jesus does not need for us or want us to suffer needlessly.  He does not expect us to take on the burdens of the world.  He asks us to make the sacrifices of our lives, to accept the burdens of love and bearing with our own personal failures.  He also tells us that our burden is light because he is carrying it with us.  While it is true that the Lord may use us, to be his hands and feet to help another person, he does not command us or want us to assume the burdens of other on ourselves.  Many years ago, I heard a mother tell her son she wished she could take away a pain he was experiencing, and he told her he didn’t want her to, because the pain was his and he needed to be healed from it, not have another take it from him.  In dying to the cross, Jesus alone takes on the burdens of the world, we who follow are to accept our burdens and trust that he will transform them.  Any even though he may call upon us to be his presence for another, we do not have the capacity, the ability or the right to make another’s pain our own.  That is for Jesus.

As we conclude I invite you to venerate the cross, to come forward and in gesture show that because of the suffering and death of Jesus we know that we can take up our cross daily because we believe he bears it with us and we know that failure is the only option that will lead us to new life.
Pilgrims touch the stone beneath the altar at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What happens in the Upper Room DOESN'T stay in the Upper Room - Holy Thursday Homily

The events recounted in tonight’s gospel took place in an upper room of a building in 1st century Jerusalem. The Upper Room, or the Cenacle as it is known, might well be the most important room in all of Christianity.   It was in that upper room that the Last Supper took place, and the Holy Eucharist was instituted.  It was in that same room on that same night that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, inaugurating a ministry of loving service.  By tradition this is the same room where the apostles hid after the crucifixion and where the risen Lord first appeared to them; showing them his hands and his side.  It was here that he bestowed upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit and later in the presence of the Blessed Mother, tongues of fire rested upon them; and thus in this place, the Church was born. Finally it was from this Upper Room that the apostles went forth to proclaim the Good News.  Today we rejoice because nothing that happened in that Upper Room stayed in that Upper Room.
Today in the southwest part of the Old City of Jerusalem, a fourteenth century building occupies the spot traditionally believed to be the place where the building with that Upper Room once stood.  Naturally it is a place that Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land seek out.  The building, however, also has spiritual significance to Jews and Muslims.  The first floor houses a place revered as the tomb of King David and a centuries old mosque is located there as well.  For this reason, the Cenacle has been a place of religious and political controversy and only visits are permitted there, Christians are only permitted to celebrate mass there with the permission of the Israeli government and only on special occasions.  When I first visited the Cenacle 23 years ago, these controversies surrounding the Upper Room, disturbed me.  I did not understand how it was that anyone or any authority could prohibit a celebration of what happened here first.  Since that time both Pope Frances and Pope St. John Paul II did receive permission to celebrate mass there and Pope Benedict did lead prayer there during his visit.  Just this past fall, with our parish pilgrimage group, I had the chance to visit the room again.  For some reason, I felt differently during this visit – the rules were the same but they were presented to me with a different perspective.  We were told that it was here in this room that peace is protected and all 3 faiths respected.  I thought to myself – maybe the rarity of the celebration of the Eucharist in that place, is for a reason.  Maybe it stands as a reminder that nothing that happened in the Upper Room was meant to stay in the Upper Room.  And so, it does throughout the world in every church, the servant leadership of priests, the lived encounter with the Risen Christ and his Holy Spirit, the reconciliation of doubt and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is received daily, not in the Upper Room but in the Cenacle that is the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
In that room, last November, two of our pilgrims presented me with a chalice which depicts the Last Supper.  I will use that chalice tonight and those pilgrims are among the people whose feet I will wash tonight.  For tonight, the chalice and my fellow pilgrims help us to remember in a most profound way, that what happened in the Upper Room did not stay in the Upper Room.  Furthermore, I pray tonight that our parish community will recognize in a new way that our church is our upper room, a Cenacle, itself.  Where all that happened in the first upper room happens here.  And like that upper room, what happens here should not, cannot and must not stay here.
During his public ministry, our Lord, continually preached and sent disciples forth.  When they returned to him, he continued his preaching and teaching sending them out each time.  His words had significant power, but in the end, they are not enough.  On that night amidst the celebration of the Passover, tension is building.  Uncertainty abounds, his betrayer dines with him and the one he has called the rock will deny him.  So, on the night before his death on the cross, Jesus went beyond words.  With his hands, he washed their feet and with his hands He gave us them the Eucharist. 
Throughout human history, physical contact between persons has always said more than words ever could.  A gentle touch of a hand, a warm embrace and a kiss of affection move us deeply and significantly and they remain with us longer.  In the washing of his disciple’s feet Jesus preaches the profound truth of the Eucharist.  This sacrament is his flesh touching ours.  He embraces us as we literally consume Him within us.  With His physical and divine embrace Jesus gave his apostles and us what we need to take what happens in the Upper Room out to a world that needs this encounter with him.  Thankfully what happened in the Upper Room did not stay there, had it remained a private party for a select few, we would not know Christ. 
Because we have been privileged to know and experience what happens in the Upper Room we are called to be evangelists and missionaries.  We are called, as Bishop Barres has continually said to us, to share in the dramatic missionary growth of the church.  We may be uncomfortable with this mandate, feeling we are not gifted in eloquent speech, do not posses sufficient knowledge of the faith or are inhibited by our sinful imperfection.  Yet what the Lord gives us and teaches us in the Upper Room is all we need.
The other ten people whose feet I wash tonight have shown me through their service that they understand that what happens in the Upper Room, should not, cannot and must not stay in the Upper Room.  Two of them serve Fr. Daniel and I here in our home at the rectory.  Two give service to the liturgies of the Lord's house here in our church.  Four are members of a family who have made service a part of their family’s life, in scouting, in showing care for those who serve us in the military and through the time they spent helping to rebuild communities on the south shore after Hurricane Sandy.  Lastly, two of them are parents who serve by giving their son to the church so that he may be formed to serve as a servant leader in priestly ministry.  It is in these many ways that you and I can and should be a part of making sure that what happened in the Upper Room and what happens in this Upper Room, our Holy Family church, will not stay here.

Our world needs a dynamic encounter with Jesus Christ.  It needs to know the divine embrace of Jesus.  It longs to experience leadership of servants, ministers of mercy, gifts of the Holy Spirit, certainty in doubt and the real true presence of a savior.  Like the apostles we are privileged to encounter Christ in this our Cenacle, our Upper Room, our church.  Tonight, as we celebrate the institution of what is expressed not in words but in sacrifice, let us recommit ourselves to living lives committed to the assurance that what happens in this upper room will not stay here; but be lived every day and so share in the building of God’s Kingdom.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

CHRISTIAN LIFE...a TEAM sport

Some time today before tonight's 6:30 kickoff two coaches will address their teams one last time before they take the field for Superbowl 51.  Their messages will most likely not be addressed to individuals but the team as a whole.  They will direct their teams' attention to the gifts and talents that they already posses and challenge them to know that those gifts exist for the purpose of bringing their team to victory. Some time later at halftime those teams will be back in their locker rooms and winning or losing at that point their coaches will speak again.  The coaches will point out the successes and the failures of the first and instill in them a hope that using those gifts and talents they will succeed.  And win or lose both of those teams will return to the locker rooms at the end of the game and the coaches will speak once more and even the non victorious team will hear their coach speak perhaps of some individual achievements but will once again acknowledge the universal gifts and talents that brought the team to success that season.  The victories and the losses of life are reflective of the team not one individual.

Today's Gospel continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; his address to the team that are his disciples.  He speaks to their gifts, calling them salt and light, and teaches them that these gifts are to be used for a victory that serves others and gives glory to our heavenly Father.  He isn't telling them to conjure up these gifts or intensify them - as a team they are already salt and light, they simply must dedicate themselves to using them.

Salt and light elements that do not exist for themselves, they are made for the other. Salt preserves and brings out flavor.  Light highlights beauty helping us to appreciate it more and it also illuminates what is evil, dark and dangerous.  In commissioning his "team" Jesus is identifying them as gifts that are made for others.  To be salt, bringing forth the flavor, the presence of God and preserving the goodness of his kingdom.  To be the light that helps all to acknowledge the beauty of God's presence and to illuminate the darkness of sin and evil.

So in the midst of the game, how is this team, this church, these disciples doing? Looking over the course of some 2000 years of history, we can see the effects of the salt and light of the church.  In the care for the poor and infirm, the team has responded.  In the education of young and old, we have seen victory.  In laying down lives in sacrifice for those who are treated with injustice, persecution and violence we have known triumph. 

But as a team of disciples we must also be attentive to our
failures.  How did genocide and holocaust take hold in Christian Europe and anciently Christian Russia?  Why did slavery and racism take root in a land founded by Christian pilgrims?  Why does gun violence prevail in the streets of cities with churches on every block?  Why in a country that was born under the Christian premise that all are created equal do we see abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, bigotry and bias being celebrated as a right?  Quite simply these are examples of the team, Christian disciples not being salt and light.

Today we mark the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. We celebrate and give thanks for the professed religious men and women who through their communities have been at the forefront of manifesting the gifts of salt and light and even more so modeled for us the unity of team.  We may mention a particular sister or brother who taught us, but we speak of being educated by the Dominicans, the Jospephites, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers, Franciscans and Marianists. We not only give thanks for what they have done for the mission of Jesus Christ in the church, but pray fervently that consecrated life may continue to grow and flourish.

As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are reminded of whose
team we are on and through it we are empowered to be salt and light as a team.  We are the team of the universal church. This week we celebrated the installation of our new Bishop, John Barres and from those days one image of team stands out for me.  The seminarians of the diocese were assembled to take a picture with the bishop.  The formed a semi-circle with some standing and some on one knee waiting for the Bishop to slip into his spot.  Before he did that though, the Bishop stood before the group of seminarians and spoke with them for about five minutes.  He looked like a coach speaking to his team.  I expected them to run a play after he was done. As church we can never forget that we are a team united around our bishop who stands before us in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.


Our families are the most basic of our Christian teams, where salt and light are fostered.  Our families are fractured, not necessarily in the sad brokenness that is a reality for many. But by simply having two and sometimes three generations in one household our families can be simply a group of individuals living under the same roof.  We pray for the unity of our families, the first team of Christian life so that they may be salt and life for each other and the world.

Its half time, the struggle is real.  The gifts have brought successes and our failure to use them have hurt us.  Let us hear Jesus speak to us, recognize the gifts with in us and use them to be salt, light and share in the building of his kingdom