Monthly Archives: August 2015

Wedding Homily for Alex and Lacy

Marriage clipartI have posted many homilies that I have preached on Sundays and other solemnities or for a couple of funerals on this blog. This time, I thought readers might like to see how I approach preaching at a wedding. What follows is the homily I gave at a wedding celebrated August 29 at my parish. Alex and Lacy are a couple I’ve been privileged to know as pastor the past four years.


Readings for the Nuptial Mass were
Genesis 2:18-24
Romans 12:1-2, 9-13
John 17:20-23

The word “transform” means to change. When something is “transformed,” it is changed to something else. For instance, when you use an electrical transformer when traveling in Europe the gadget changes 220 voltage to the 120 voltage used by our U.S. electronics. Otherwise, the electronic divide we want to use will burn up! To transform is to be changed. A group of individual athletes can be transformed into a team, functioning as one to achieve a goal. To do that they’ve got to think as a team, as one unit subordinating their individual wills for the goal of winning.

Catholics believe that the substance of things and the very core identity of people can be changed, too. Baptism transforms us into beings that can eternally live like God. Bread and wine are transformed in the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Christ. Two individuals, a man and a woman can be transformed into one identity, one reality, one in body, soul and mind. In a few moments we’ll witness a transformation, not just a change in legal status, but a change in how Alex and Lacey exist!

In the Eucharist we’ll celebrate this afternoon our church believes bread and wine are changed, they are transformed into the sacrifice of Jesus recalled in a few simple words. Words have the power to change reality especially if they’re words spoken by Jesus. We know that bread sustains life. Now, Jesus sacrificed his body out of love for humanity. With the words “this is my body” he transforms food and gives us his sacrificial love in the form food that is changed to make real his presence in us and sustain the divine life given us in baptism.

Lacy and Alex will speak a few simple words this afternoon that will transform them into something different, too. The words “I take you to be my husband, my wife, all the days of my life!” changes this man and women’s reality forever. They are able to do this because Jesus wants it to happen, he wants to use their lives, their bodies, their love to make himself present in the world in another way but in a way similar to what happens to the food placed on our altar. Lacy and Alex will, in a sense, declare that they will be imitating the sacrificial love of Jesus that makes life possible even in the face of death. This couple will be changed into a sacrament of God’s presence in our midst by the sacrifice of their wills, of their bodies, forgoing of any other partner acting always for the sake of the other’s richer life. Their love will remind us of the love of Christ for the church. The world needs such Good News. Sacrificial love triumphs over death. Love is what enables us to live something like God, fully alive, forever.

In the reading from Saint Paul we heard Paul say “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Paul is saying change your way of thinking. Don’t think like so many people do, today, that what’s important is MY happiness or I have a right to what makes me feel good as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Alex and Lacy have chosen to reject this thinking and chosen to do “what is good and pleasing and perfect” in harmony with the “mind of God” by a change in their thinking that focusing on my individual single good life is the way to fulfillment to having another, the beloved, always on his or her mind and honoring them with a sacrificial love like Jesus did for his beloved bride, us, the church.

Alex and Lacy know how to make this sacrificial love of Jesus really present in their relationship so we can see Him in our midst. In our conversation about the readings they shared some insights. Reflecting on the first reading about the creation of humanity Alex said the verse about “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” meant for him that he and Lacy must “Constantly be thinking about the other person. Their pain is your pain, their joy is your joy.” Lacy shared in our conversation that the change of mind needed to be sacrament of Jesus means that “you’re making decisions together, doing things together instead of separately when your married. Things will work out no matter what if your love is on where, as St. Paul said, you show compassion towards each other, caring for each other.” Yes, Lacy and Alex are well on their way to making the love of Jesus present to others in this world. As Alex said of the Gospel God set the example for us to follow by sending his Son who would sacrifice his life in love for his spouse the church. We should love each the same way.

That love, to be like the Love of God revealed in Jesus, must give birth to new life-like the love of the Trinity gave birth to creation, too. Someday, we hope Alex and Lacy will be blessed with children. Then They’ll discover new depths of sacrificing the self out of love. The new domestic church we see created today will proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus in even more profound ways. Then  Alex and Lacy will see that emotional love may have led you here, today, but God has used this human love as a way to continue to reveal his divine love present in their lives and our lives. He’s brought them together so they can help each other to heaven and help us believe sacrificing yourself out of love for others triumphs over all forms of death, making life more abundant.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve already told it to Alex who said I could share this story. When I first came to this parish I watched Alex read and distribute communion. I saw some spirit in him that lead me to think that maybe he had a vocation to be a priest. Apparently, others did too, he tells me, like a legendary person in the history of this parish did, Sister Mary Richard. But my thinking had to change, to be transformed. Soon I found out there was this women in his life named Lacy! A beautiful woman and their love for each other was evident. Alex still has a vocation, to proclaim the Gospel as husband and dad and Lacy is his partner in this vocation. Together they will make the real presence of Jesus happen not at an altar table in the midst of the church gathered in a large building, but around the kitchen table surrounded by children and family and friends. The love of Jesus will go forth from their house church into the world. You see, each person transformed by baptism into a disciple of Jesus has the same vocation expressed in different forms, to spread Jesus’ Good News in some way. Today, we your family and friends, the church, rejoice that you have responded to his call to serve as husband and wife. May God bring to perfection the transformational good work he has begun in you, today, so that the world may know the Christ whom the Father has sent! Amen! So be it!

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Recommended viewing to learn about the Eucharist

For five weeks I’ve been posting my homilies (or perhaps they should be called “teachings”) from my “sermon series” that I’ve called Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: Understanding the Eucharist More Deeply. 

communion-clip-art-gg62933764I’d like to recommend some videos that can help people go another step in their undertending of the Eucharist. I referred to one of these in my 5th installment of the series. The videos are each about 10 minutes and produced by the organization Word on Fire which was conceived of by a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago who will soon become Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Bishop-elect Robert Barron. Please, give them a view. Fr. Barron explains things in a way that is very accessible and understandable. Check out some of his other videos and homilies and articles posted at the web site.

THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE

THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS SACRIFICE

THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS MEAL


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 5

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, 'Eucharist, the Bread of Life' via https://commons.wikimedia.org

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, ‘Eucharist, the Bread of Life’ via https://commons.wikimedia.org

“What’s Really Going On, here!”

Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
JN 6:60-69

People often leave a club they belong to because the direction the organization is taking just doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Or, the leader of the organization will say something that rubs a member the wrong way and the member says, “I’m out of here, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense!” People pull their children out of sports teams because the coach isn’t seeing things my way, that my child is talented and should have more time on the field! People make choices all the time about how committed they are to an organization, a team or even a church. Often, if something challenges the thinking of an individual, he or she says “Forget it! I just can’t accept that way of thinking. I’m out of here!”

That kind of rejection of a leader’s direction for the group is what is going on in the Gospel, today. Some of Jesus’ disciples think he’s gone too far. Did he just say we’ve got to eat his flesh and drink his blood to live in the presence of God? That’s crazy talk! It’s repulsive, even. Who does this Jesus think he is? God?

Some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that they were in the presence of God in the flesh and that Jesus could make bread his body and wine his blood. They chose to leave his company.

Some people today, still can’t accept what we believe as Catholics. We believe that when we eat communion, the bread is not just a symbol of his body, it IS His body. The wine, some will argue is just wine that “represents” his blood, but isn’t really blood. Yet, we Catholics believe the bread stops being bread, the wine stops being wine and they are the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in our hands, mouth and assembly. Many have left the church over the years unable to accept this truth.

Continuing for this last Sunday my “sermon series” on the teaching of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel about the Eucharist, let’s look at how, as one of those  people who did send in questions I asked for about what members of the congregation would like to learn about the Eucharist, how does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. (I need to acknowledge where I’m getting most of my material for this teaching, by the way. There’s an excellent video on the internet by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the real presence. (Click this link to be taken to the video and see if I represent his teaching accurately THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE at the web site Word on Fire.)

Spoken words have tremendous power. When you, I or anyone says something the words we use can change reality. Words have tremendous power to affect reality. A lot of times we use words to describe something. I am wearing a green chasuble, today. The weather is rainy. These are descriptive words. But words can also change reality. An umpire has the authority to say to a player who breaks the rules, “You’re out of here!” and the ball player cannot continue to play the game. He ceases, for a day, to be a ballplayer.  A policeman says “Your under arrest,” and a person’s life is changed, sometimes forever carrying the identity of criminal where that wasn’t reality before. You and I can hurt the feelings of a spouse with harsh verbal criticism or make someone our spouse by saying “I take you to be my wife, to have and hold, forever.” Words have power to change reality. Saying something out loud can make reality change.

In the scriptures we proclaim every Mass, the word of God we claim guides our lives and tells the truth about what’s real, God is the ultimate changer of reality by the words he speaks. “And God said, let their be creation” and everything came into being. Not only did God change or describe reality by speaking a word. He made reality as we know it! That’s power.

We also say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. The beginning of the Gospel of John that we’ve been reading for several weeks states in the first chapter “And the Word of God became flesh, one of us!” (John 1:1-5, 14)Therefore we can believe that when Jesus, THE WORD, says something His words are God speaking. God who made and can change what is real. Think about what words Jesus would say in the Gospels. “Be healed” he’d say to lepers, the blind, the lame and the sick and they would be restored to health. Jesus’ words affect reality, sometimes at the very core of a person’s existence. Things change because Jesus speaks.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the bread and wine he and his friends were sharing, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” He didn’t say “this is a symbol to stand in for my body and blood.” Jesus’ word meant what he said. By his power as the divine in human flesh he could use words to change bread and wine into something else, at the deepest level of their existence.

At Mass, I as the priest, have been given authority by you, the church, the Body of Christ still in our world, to speak His words. I do not speak my own words. I say the words of Jesus Christ. I make audible what Jesus continues to say, as he did at the last supper, his words echoing down through the centuries. “This is my body and blood.” You “order” me, in Holy Orders, so to speak, to speak “in the person of Christ.” And so when I say His words, His words change reality of bread and wine at their deepest existence. Christ effects a change in reality. Bread and wine change at the level of substance.

There is a difference between appearances and what is real often in our lives. Usually, how something appears is what is reality. I appear to be a man. I am a man. But sometimes what something seems isn’t what’s really going on. Someone seems like a jerk, but when you get to know the guy, he’s really a stand up person who has a bad habit or two. You look at stars and it seems like you’re seeing them as they are now, this night, but what you’re really seeing is light that was generated maybe millions of years ago, as the star appeared a long time ago, not as it is now, which may be a dead black hole. The appearance remains, but at another deeper level, the reality has changed.

This is a way that St. Thomas Aquinas taught we can understand the Eucharist. Accidents (a word for appearances) and substance (a word for reality) is still how the church teaches about the real presence of Jesus in our gathering for Mass. The accident of bread-ness remains but the substance of Jesus is really there, his body, his love, his eternal God nature really, truly and substantially. Through the power of the Word of God the deepest reality of bread and wine change. We call this transubstantiation, a word if you break it down that means “trans” (to go from one thing to another, to cross over, to change) in substance, it’s realness.

One more thing, someone once said that you are what you eat. It’s true. The hamburgers and vegetables and fruits we put in our stomachs are changed into the muscle fiber and cells of our body. Because we eat of the real body and blood of Christ, we become what we eat. We become the real presence of Christ in the world, here and now. We are drawn into his person, our words as a church and individual members of the church able to change reality. We can speak words of mercy and love, reconciliation and peace. We have to make a choice. Do we reject the truth Jesus speaks and leave the church where we are assured of His truth? Or do we stay. If we stay we know his body speaking through us can speak a word that will change the world to be closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ came to bring.

Sometimes I complain to friends about one thing or another the church wants us to teach or believe. Friends will say, “Why don’t you just leave and go become a minister in another church, then?” But all I can say in response is that I choose the Catholic Church, where else can I go? I need the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ. I have come to believe I need Christ’s real presence. I may not be worthy to have Jesus come under my roof (to become part of my being) but I choose to believe! AMEN!

 


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 4

 Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ''Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass'' 17th century

Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ”Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass” 17th century

“Praying Without Words”

Gospel for the 20th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B
JN 6:51-58

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing what Protestants might call a “sermon series.” The homilies (probably better called “teachings” in that sermon series language) I’ve been giving are reflections on things pertaining to the Eucharist we celebrate, in an effort to help people get more out of the Mass. I’ve chosen to do this because we’re reading from the sixth chapter of John for several weeks during August, that part of John’s gospel where he explains what the Eucharist is about by having Jesus call himself “The Bread of Life.” This Sunday I’d like to focus my reflection on the “praying without words” that takes place during Mass.

There’s a saying “It was a picture worth a thousand words.” We understand what it means to say something is a “picture worth a thousand words.” You’d need hundreds of words to express the message or the experience that is captured in a single picture. Wether it’s a photograph or a painting, there’s more going on in the image than can be expressed even with thousands of words. Or think of a sunset you’ve seen. “A picture that is worth a thousand words.”

The same can be said of some of the ritual actions that are prescribed to take place during the Mass. Not all prayer involves words. Sometimes an action, a gesture is worth a thousand words. A simple gesture can sum up what would take many words to say. We, you and I, need to do these simple gestures to deepen our experience of the love of God that is being revealed in these few moments at each Mass.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t use the gestures prescribed by the instructions for Mass contained in the missal (and your hymnals, by the way) for the congregation to do to express more deeply what could be going on in their praying the Mass.

Let me mention a few…

During the Penitential Act (you know when we say “I confess to almighty God” after the first hymn), the church asks EVERYONE to strike their breast at the words “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Why? Striking the breast (either once or three times, it doesn’t matter) expresses sorrow. Striking the breast is a symbolic penance and disciplining of the body and mind that lead us away from God by our sins. Maybe it could mean my choices have not expressed the love in my heart for Jesus. It could mean we realize we’ve broken Jesus’ heart by our lack of living as he desires. Whatever it may mean to each of us, we’re asked to “strike” the breast to intensify our expression of the words we’re saying, “through my fault.”

Have you noticed in the middle of the Creed we pray after the homily that there’s an instruction to “Bow slightly” at the words “and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary?” Why do we bow then? Hopefully, a simple bow says what’s going on in our heart and mind. I’m in AWE of such a mystery, God becoming like me, a human. Our humanness has been raised up to be like God. WOW! I want to honor the God who “lowers” himself to my state so I can be “raised up” (recalled in coming out of the bow to a standing position) to the nature of God in my resurrection promised because I take into myself the Bread of Life. Then too, what do people do when they want to honor and important person, like a king or superior? We might bow to show respect, our willingness to be of service. We humble ourself before the superior or important figure only to have him ask us to rise as an equal or to accept our honor.

Receiving communion…here’s were our actions speak volumes of words, and it’s not always positive as I observe communicants in many parishes.

The church has asked us to show reverence for what we are receiving, what we are doing in the communion procession. We are taking in our hands and mouths JESUS, the BREAD of LIFE, SAVIOR of our lives from death, GOD in our Midst. That should give us pause and have us mind-fully approaching the heavenly banquet food we are about to receive. Unfortunately, many Catholics by their manner of receiving common seem to be saying, “This is not a big deal!” receiving communion by the casualness of their actions. Sometimes, I compare how many Catholics receive communion to the drive through lane at McDonald’s, “Give me what I’ve been waiting for in line so I can get on with my day.” It’s not a very reflective or reverent type of action going on. The communion procession is not utilitarian like getting a snack, it’s a crossing over to another realm, the banquet hall of heaven and dining with God.

Let’s remember how we are to go to communion.

As the person in front of you moves away from the minister of communion,

a simple bow (even of the head) is to be done, to show respect for the presence of Christ before the communicant in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Approach with palms held one over another, as an early Church father said, as a throne to receive the King of the Universe upon which to recline. We Catholics, by the way, don’t “Take” communion. The Body and Blood of Christ is a gift. We “receive” a gift in our hands or mouth.

We also don’t eat on the run. Ideally, to give us time to reflect on what we have been given, we step to the side, STOP and consume the host while NOT MOVING our feet. Why? To show respect, to ponder what we’re doing, to be stopped in our tracks by the wonder of taking God into our bodies and being united to Christ in love. Don’t most people stand in amazement at a moment of beauty, or a when they see something that moves their heart, their inmost being? Isn’t this what communion is about? People often talk about an experience that made them stop in their tracks.

Only after a brief stop and consuming of the host do we move to the chalice. where a bow is also required. Don’t forget to say Amen! It’s necessary before a minister can give you communion. The minister needs to know you believe what we as church believe so that he or she can give you the host or chalice, an action that expresses our unity not only with Christ but with each other who are members of the Body of Christ.

Children often learn more by the actions of their parents than the lectures and words parents preach. People who visit our church will only know that we believe in some wondrous, mysterious thing happening in our church not only by our words but especially by our actions. Let our actions, not just our words be an authentic expression of our prayer and what we believe!


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 3

S._Apollinare_Nuovo_Bread_and_Fish

“S. Apollinare Nuovo Bread and Fish” by anonymous – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Silence, Be Attentive” 

Readings for the 19th Sunday OT Cycle B – 2015

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:41-51

This homily began with at least 30 seconds of silence, with me just standing at the pulpit head down, saying nothing. Quickly, people in the congregation began coughing and shuffling in their seats, clearly uncomfortable with the lack of something being said or some visible action taking place, uncomfortable in the silence.

You were uncomfortable with the silence, weren’t you? It’s normal. Our culture conditions us to be uncomfortable with silence. We’re almost afraid of silence. Our radios are on in the car, the house. Young people walk around with ear buds plugged into our MP3 players listening to music. T.V.’s fill our homes with sound. Silence often means something might be wrong. The power is off, the batteries in our electronic devices are dead. Mom yells at the kids, “It’s too quiet in there. What are you up to?”

As you know, I’m doing something with my homilies during August which in the Protestant Churches would be called a “sermon series.” Since the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus says he is the bread of life multiple times is being read over the course of 5 consecutive Sundays this summer I’m giving a series of “teachings,” so to speak, about the Mass. John 6 is the gospel writer’s explanation of what takes place during the Eucharist. Here at St. Mary we’re making this an opportunity to explain some elements of the Mass so that all of us might appreciate better what is happening at the Eucharist we attend each week.

Silence is an important part of the Mass. I’m aware that sometimes people think a priest like me is just drawing out the Mass, making it longer, by observing moments of silence in the Eucharist. “Father, just get on with it! Mass doesn’t have to take as long as it does with you.” Yes, I do get versions of that comment from time to time.

The instructions for how to celebrate The Mass (they’re in that big red book the server holds for me at certain times during Mass) actually specify that there are to be periods of silence during the celebration, of varying lengths. I’d like to talk about a few of those times silence is mandated during the Mass and hopefully give you some ideas on how to become comfortable with the silence.

1. The Penitential Act

Near the beginning of the Mass, the priest directs the congregation, “Let us be mindful of our sins so that we might worthily celebrate these sacred mysteries.” Before we pray “I confess” or another form of the Penitential Act there is silence. We pause at this moment for a variety of reasons, not just to think of what I did wrong lately. That’s one thing to do. But why? By recalling our humanness, our imperfections, we begin to sense why we even need Jesus, why we need to be at Mass. Jesus alone can set right what we make wrong by our human choices. Jesus alone can “reconcile” humanity and bring the peace we long for. We’re in the situation we’re in, needing someone to give us a way out of death, to give us bread that will keep us alive even when death comes calling. This is the time to realize, I’m not God. I need what God gives in Jesus, the Bread of Life. We humble ourselves before God and get ready to offer heart-felt thanks to Him. Otherwise we might just be going through the motions, but our heart’s not in it. Empty praise, thoughtless ritual. If we just rush into saying “I confess” we may not even be aware of what to confess and why it’s essential as we begin Mass.

2. After “Let us pray”

There’s a mistaken notion that the praying the priest is speaking about is just the prayer that he’s going to say after he says, “Let us pray” when it’s time for the Opening Prayer of the Mass. It’s really about something else.

“Let us pray” is an invitation to enter into silence, once more. Everyone is invited to think in their own heart and mind “What prayers do I bring to this particular Mass, today? What ‘grace’ or sign of God’s love or result do I want to have happen during This Mass in my encounter with Jesus in our midst, today?” This is a time to reflectively and silently speak to Jesus, this is what I need right now. Grant me (or those I love or this community or the world) this or that so that in union with all these people I’m standing with we can hope to receive signs of your merciful love that we will give you thanks for in a bit.

Only after he’s given the congregation’s members sufficient time to gather their thoughts and pray privately should the priest speak the prayer. It’s called a “Collect,” meaning, the priest collects all the individual prayers being offered in the room and presents them to God, summing them up in words given by the church for that day. There’s nothing to collect together into a summary prayer if the individual prayers haven’t been given time to be silently voiced by those present. It’s all part of the preparation for what is to follow. We are the humans who need God’s presence to grace our lives, which will challenge us in His Word and lead to our prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done.

3. After each reading & Homily

Ever need a moment to ponder what someone has said before reacting or before replying? That momentary pause can make a difference in the relationship. We do not rush through the conversation of the readings at Mass. Like any good communication between people, it’s not just listening to words, but hearing the meaning of the words that is important. During the readings we’re having a conversation with God who speaks in his Word.

The time of silence after a reading is a time to ponder what has been heard, to get to the heart of what God’s saying to me. Here’s a suggestion how to get more out of the silence. Listen for a word or phrase that you hear in the reading that grabs your attention. Hang onto the word or phrase. During the silence, repeat it over and over in your mind, a kind of rumination. See where your thoughts take you. Like in the first reading “Get up and eat or the journey will be too long for you!” What journey? The journey of life? What do I need to not let life wear me down? Do I need to pray more? Attend Mass more often? What is God telling me, because I’ve been kind of tired of life lately? (By the way, this is called Lectio Divina) Or maybe you can imagine yourself in the story being told. Who would I be? What does Bread of Life mean to me?

After the homily and before we stand to profess The Creed, we have silence, too. This is a time to ask yourself, “What challenge did I hear in Father’s word? Is there something I need to do differently in my life from this point on? I like to call this the “So what?” moment. I’ve heard Jesus speak, not what difference does it make in my life? Think of a concrete way you will live more deeply as a disciple of Jesus during that time of silence.

4. After the distribution of communion.

Perhaps some will think this too graphic an example or too profane. But, don’t husbands and wives, after the most intimate of acts softly talk to each other or even just remain silent in each other’s presence, basking in the intimacy and relishing the love they have encountered in their unique sort of communion? The reception of the body and blood of Christ is a kind of similar moment. Christ intimately enters our bodies and souls, we are joined with our Savior in a unique, intimate way. We, the church, are the spouse of Christ, the bridegroom. In the act of receiving communion we are united to our “lover.” We need to spend time reflecting on what has just taken place. We need a moment of silence to relish and savor the special union we’ve experienced and to give thanks. To rush on with Mass, or even out of the room where the sacrament of union has been experienced is to take for granted what has been given by Christ and we have received, the sharing in divinity (The Bread of Life) that will one day enable us to live like God, eternal where death has no hold on us. Our silent prayers of thanksgiving are an act of love returned to the spouse of the Church. We need to ponder the mystery we’re in the middle of!

“It is written in the prophets:‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him
comes to me.”
Jn 6:45

If we’re talking all the time, were not listening. We need some silence during the Mass to hear what The Holy Spirit is saying so that we all shall be taught by God through The Bread of Life, His Son, Jesus. Or as our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Catholic Rites often hear during their Divine Liturgy, “Wisdom! Be attentive!” God help us if we’re so busy talking and waiting for something to happen that we miss the lesson that will give us direction in this life, help us grow as disciples more and more aware of the mercy of Jesus able, in the end, to receive the gift of eternal life. Silence, be attentive!


Patron Saint of Pastors St. John Vianney

Today (August 4) is the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint for parish priests. He was given this role in the church because of his dedication to being a pastor of the people of Ars, France. He is often called the Curé of Ars (which means priest of Ars). Parish priests are encouraged to imitate his pastoral concern for their parishioners. Part of his pastoral concern was expressed in the many hours he spent in the confessional, spiritually advising people and absolving them. Apparently, he was pretty good at it and brought great comfort to people! It is said that he spent 11 hours in the winter each day and 16 hours in the summer hearing confessions. If I spent that much time in the Reconciliation Room I’d probably be pretty lonely, nowadays. I also wonder how St. John Vianney had that much time for hearing confessions. Didn’t he have to visit the sick, prepare couples for marriage, manage the finances of his parish and make sure the physical property was o.k.? I am pretty sure he didn’t have to attend meetings as often as a modern day pastor! (I sort of envy him on that.) But, there is much I could learn about being a pastor from him, too.

VianneyImage2

St. John Vianney, pray for us and for priests!

A biography of St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney may be found at this link Biography of St. John Vianney at New Advent


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 2

737px-Stoneware_Jug,_Wine_Glass,_Herring_and_Bread._Claesz

“It’s boring! Why Ritual?”

Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Exodus 16:2-4
John 6:24-35

Parents who take family car trips on vacation are familiar with the voice of children coming from the back sea,t, repeatedly complaining, “Are we there yet? Are we there, yet!” That’s a bit what Moses must have felt leading the Israelites on their trek through the desert. The folks loved to complain. Today in the first reading it’s “We’re hungry! At least in Egypt we had something to eat while they beat us!”  Then after Moses and God have a conference about the complaint, the solution is “mana” and “quail” everyday. I wonder if after a few weeks if the People of Israel began saying “We’re tired of eating Manna every day! The routine, the ritual of gathering quail and mana is boring!” (Yet this food provided by God, kept them alive!)

I’m giving a “Sermon Series” on getting more out of Mass by understanding better certain aspects of the Mass during August, since the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we’re proclaiming for 5 Sundays may be a bit repetitious. Every Sunday we hear “I am the Bread of Life” and like dealing with the people of Israel and the children in the back seat of the car I am attempting to provide thoughts that are not repetitious each week that will not elicit “we’re bored!” The sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel is his “theology” of the Eucharist.

As I said in my first post in this series, I sought questions I could answer during my sermon series from parishioners through the bulletin but not many folks replied. Yet, the experience of the Israelites leads me to reflect on one of those questions. It’s something I often hear from some of our parents when I ask them to make sure their children get to Mass regularly.

“The Mass is repetitious, it seems like the same prayers are said over and over every week. The ritual get’s boring because it doesn’t change.” To a casual observer the order of the elements are always the same; gather, say I’m sorry of sins, a prayer, three readings, a too long (boring) talk, collection, a long prayer while we kneel, Our Father, shake hands, shuffle up to get communion, blessing and go home. But, why? That’s what I want to look at in my reflection, here.

Human beings need ritual. They always have. Ritual helps people navigate the unpredictability of the world, it gives a sense of predictability about life. In some ways it’s an attempt to order the chaos we experience. Ritual is also a way to get into the realm of deeper meaning, to make contact with that which is beyond the routine-ness of life.

We live in a culture that craves the “new experience.” People, nowadays think we need something new to excite us, stimulate us, to get us to notice something important. People spend hours in front of screens, where the images change every few seconds. Children are getting to a point where they get bored in classrooms or with books because it’s not stimulating enough. Attention spans are shrinking even in adults. So at first glance ritual seems “boring.”

But ritual is so much a part of other events in our life and we don’t object. Every culture has it’s rituals…It’s the way we identify having a connection with others, that we share an interest, we share meaning and purpose. How do most of us celebrate birthdays. It’s almost mandatory that family and friends sing “Happy Birthday.” Some sweet confection with burning candles signifying the number of years of life is presented, candles blown out and food consumed. Presents are given. If this doesn’t take place a person might feel “cheated” or like I didn’t really have a birthday. Maybe even the person might wonder if they were loved!

Or consider the “national pastime” the professional baseball game. It has it’s rubrics (rules) and no one stays away. The game must start with the opening hymn, The National Anthem. The 7th inning stretch is always observed and there’s the singing of another traditional hymn, almost always the same, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There are “rules” (In church language rubrics) and a prescribed ritual form of 9 innings, 3 outs per half inning on a field that has proscribed dimensions. All this “ritual” enables teams to play together.

Family Christmas traditions are rituals, unique to family, and one invites criticism if the rituals are changed. How often do people feel like it wasn’t really Christmas if the family doesn’t gather, doing things “like we always” do. There’s a disorientation, a sense of loosing our connection with past family members and present relations.

Our secular rituals help human beings to “play together” and sense their commonality in a common purpose. So too, our sacred Catholic rituals actually help us experience our communion with one another as the Body of Christ. Ritual makes it possible for people to get below the surface and not have to worry about what’s going to happen next. It opens up a space, so to speak, where we can contemplate and encounter the mystery of God in our midst and what God does in our lives. It enables us to experience God’s love.

I am glad that I am a Catholic with a predictable liturgy! Please, understand I am not “putting down” or being critical about our brother and sister Christians of other denominations. But, to be honest, I always feel disoriented, almost on edge, at Protestant services…what’s going to take place next? Yet, when you go to enough non-Catholic liturgies I’ve learned even protestant services follow a ritual pattern most of the time. I just don’t know what the pattern is going to be, because it is somewhat flexible from denomination to denomination. The other thing that’s happening in many protestant churches is the appeal to the “surface need” (as opposed to a basic need, essential need) for stimulation and entertainment with the big screens flashing images during worship and music leaders “performing.” This isn’t a comfortable fit with the Catholic liturgy, by the way.

The beauty of Catholic ritual (or any ritual for that matter) is that a group or pastor doesn’t have to recreate the wheel each week. Ritual helps us experience being part of a long tradition, connected with our ancestors and our descendants. We’re family across the ages, brothers and sisters in Christ! (Sort of like that Christmas, Birthday experience I mentioned, earlier.)

And Mass isn’t always “the same” In each celebration: the words change, various options for certain prayers can be used. The music selections change (but a common set of familiar music is needed so the congregation is comfortable singing together, not feeling like they don’t know the songs). Yes, the “pattern” is the same, the music is familiar, but there are differences from Mass to Mass.

Even there, though, the words used are prescribed by the whole church, not the individual pastor. A ritual book approved by “the Church” (The Roman Missal) is used to pray from. That is so the congregation is assured that they are being asked to pray in an orthodox way, expressing the one truth the church holds to and not the opinion of an individual pastor. The ritual is your and my assurance we are not veering into heresy or something we don’t believe in common. The books the priest prays from, the scriptures we read are agreed upon by the whole church and therefore a sign of our unity now and across the ages in our belief.

The ritual pattern, since we’re not worrying about what’s going to happen next or what to say or do, this gift of ritual, enables us to listen more deeply to the words, to listen to what God is saying through the familiar actions, to speak to him in the silence and hear God’s reply. If we let the ritual carry us along, we’ll find ourselves transported to a place where we are guaranteed to meet Jesus Christ! It’s worked for 2000 years, so why throw it out?

The people in the Gospel, John 6:24-25, were like modern people whose attention span is shrinking and who want to be constantly stimulated by something new, are looking for the fast fix, the quick solution to a problem, getting food to fill their stomachs another day. Jesus offers them something more, to fill a deeper need. When we stop wanting to be entertained, when we cease looking for a new way to be stimulated, then we’re beginning to be ready to hear and receive what God wants us to experience gathered at the Altar-Table; that God loves us and wants to satisfy our deepest need. That need is to know God loves us ,that Jesus wants us to live in a new way, a way that is without the distractions of suffering and death, forever!


My Parish Is On Facebook!

Well, thanks to initiative taken by our parish’s Coordinator of Religious Education, Mrs. Kim Moss, who often has to deal with my tendency to procrastinate, my parish of St. Mary in Trenton now has a “Facebook page.” I’m not sure how it all works, but I’ve been learning and have even managed to post a few items. It seems, nowadays, having a Facebook presence is practically essential for a business or church. It’s a way to get information out “there.” It’s a way to engage people with your mission. So, go check out the parish’s Facebook page. Maybe you’ll even “like us.” Click the link below.

Facebook link


Reflections on the Gospel of John, Chapter 6: part 1

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes painted by Lambert Lombard (1505 0r 1506-1566)

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes painted by Lambert Lombard (1505 0r 1506-1566)

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve published here on the blog! Let’s get back to work.

For several Sundays in Cycle B of the Roman Catholic Lectionary the church proclaims the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. This is sometimes called “The Bread of Life” chapter. On the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time the first verses of the chapter (John 1:1-15) are read which tell the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish that feed a huge crowd. This sets up the rest of the chapter as a time for Jesus to teach about himself being the Bread of Life.

The story of the “multiplication” of the five loaves of barley bread and two fish, some scripture scholars say, is St. John the Gospel writer’s story of the institution of the Eucharist. Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus do this on the last night before his death. But John uses the story of a miraculous feeding of thousands as his story about the Eucharist the Church continues to celebrate. There will  always be enough of Christ’s body and blood to feed his church down through the ages through the miracle of the Mass. The rest of John 6 is a “theology” of the Eucharist. The rest of the chapter which is read over 5 weeks can sound a bit repetitive, though. “I am the bread of life!” I AM the bread of life!” I am the BREAD of life!” I am the bread of LIFE!” This sequence of readings becomes a challenge for a preacher (like me) to find something to say and not sound repetitive, too. Repetition can have a congregation tuning out. “Didn’t we hear this last Sunday?”

So, here at St. Mary where I am pastor, this year I am going to spend a few weeks talking about different aspects of the Mass, to try to go a bit deeper into our appreciation of what is actually taking place in the liturgy we come to each Sunday and maybe begin to get a little complacent about or just go through the routine and miss the wonder of what’s happening. I can tell you those folks who were fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish weren’t complacent. They were in awe about what had happened. I hope maybe my parish will be a bit more in awe, too, at what takes place at the altar Sunday after Sunday when we’ve finished what some churches would call a “Sermon Series.”  I asked for some input about  what to talk about in my sermon series in a survey that was published in the parish bulletin throughout June and July. Unfortunately, I got all of two responses. I hope that doesn’t mean that my parishioners are not curious about learning more about the Mass! But some of my reflections over the 5 weeks will be related to one of the responses I did get. The person carefully hand wrote a page and a half of questions. Not all were about the Eucharist, but maybe his or her thoughts will inspire a couple of other homilies. This first reflection on preaching John 6 reflects another concern the person expressed about how to get adult children who choose to not attend Mass to come to the Eucharist more often.

First let’s talk about why we even attend Mass. That’s the point I want us to contemplate this first week. Why do Catholics need to come to Mass? We can get to the heart of the answer by paying attention to a detail in the story of the feeding of the thousands. Jesus was responding to a NEED. The people were hungry. They had a recognizable physical NEED. .

Now a small host and sip of wine isn’t going to fill you up when you attend Mass. That’s because we’re not at the Eucharist because of the need of physical hunger. Some people might be hungry who come to Mass because there’s not enough food in the house. Or the hunger is a result of the Eucharistic fast of an hour we’re supposed to observe to remind us of our need for what we receive in communion. Just as we need food to survive in the body, our souls, our spiritual relationship with God needs nourishment. That’s what we find here at the table of the Lord Jesus. Food for our souls to strengthen us to live what we are baptized to be, members of Christ, witnesses to his resurrection. Here, we encounter the risen Jesus in person (a real presence of Jesus) so that we can tell others the truth. Jesus lives and you can live perfectly with him, too.

Our presence here is a response to a NEED. Our need is to encounter Jesus, to be feed to become what we eat for the sake of the world.

We hopefully don’t attend Mass to be entertained by a witty pastor (although that’ might get people in the door). It’s not to be moved by a great praise band (while that might make the time seem to pass more quickly or lift our hearts to God). We’re not at Sunday Mass, I hope, out of fear of punishment for a sin (although it is a sin to miss Mass. But adults, hopefully, don’t do things to avoid punishment but to satisfy a need to do the right thing).

If we’re here at Mass  because of need…then how do we encourage others to attend, especially adult children? First, we don’t try to guilt people into participating in the liturgy. Guilt won’t work. They’ve decided to be absent, probably because it’s not fulfilling a felt NEED in their lives. All the excuses about not attending Mass (It’s boring, it’s repetitious, I don’t get anything out of it, I want to sleep in, I put my time in, in Grade school) are just that, excuses. What strikes me as odd is that we don’t stop eating after we’ve had a couple of meals as a child. We keep eating to stay alive or we stare. We NEED to help others see they NEED to be fed, to be strengthened, that they only get what they need, hope, peace, a better way to live, AT MASS, sitting down with Jesus and sharing the meal of his Body and Blood.We must help people who don’t attend Sunday Eucharist to meet Jesus and want to get to know him better. We have help them to have a significant relationship with Jesus that gives meaning to life, a reason to live unselfishly. Instead of the “knowledge” about Jesus and the theology we pour into the heads of children in Catholic Religious Education we have to help the non-attending see they can have and NEED a deeper RELATIONSHIP with Christ. Knowledge about religious things doesn’t save you from death and give life to the soul. Being united to Jesus, does. And you can’t be united to the one who loves you without being by staying away from his Body experienced both in the assembly of the faithful and in receiving the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine changed into his Sacred Body and Blood.

That’s more difficult to do than guilt, or the bells and whistles of praise music or amazing preaching.  Tell people how the Mass leaves you feeling closer to Jesus, how the Eucharist gives you a sense of God’s love. Maybe then others will want to share in this banquet.

The boy in the story of the feeding of the thousands was willing to give away what he had and Jesus did amazing things with the gift. Give to others what knowing Jesus means to you. Tell non-attenders, with love, about how you meet Jesus and encounter at the Mass, how the Mass fulfills your needs to you and maybe the crowds will come to our Eucharistic banquet rooms seeking to be nourished and with their needs met, perhaps needs they didn’t even know they had!


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