Category Archives: Saints

21st Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

This homily probably could have used some editing or “tightening up” but here’s how I preached the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C of the Roman Catholic Lectionary this Sunday, more or less. 

Reading Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

I suspect most of us are familiar with the custom in St. Louis of asking someone you just meet for the first time “What high school did you go to?” The question confounds newcomers to St. Louis. Why would you want to know where I went to high school? Sociologists say the St. Louis question of what high school a person attended is a way of getting to know a person. The high school attended is an indicator of social status. If I know what high school you attended, I’ll have a clue if you come from a wealthy background or poorer. I’ll know a bit about your social status or if we have similar backgrounds. Supposedly, answering the question about your high school helps people negotiate what their relationship is going to be with that person.

Jesus asks a similar question in the gospel, today. When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am” He’s not looking for some indication if the apostles know his name. When Jesus asks “Who do people say I am” he is asking what kind of relationship do they have with him. Adding a couple more words in the question would get closer to what Jesus is asking. “Who do you say I am to you? Or “Who do people say I am ‘for them’? Jesus is asking for a relationship status update. Jesus wants to know what is the disciple’s relationship to him is going to be.

Various answers are given by the disciples. Some say you’re a prophet, a kind of spiritual teacher They relate to you, Jesus, in a non-intimate way like a person looking for wisdom that you might give. But teachers can be dismissed as not knowing what they’re talking about. Teachers can be ignored.

Peter gets the right answer. “Jesus, you are savior for us!” What’s Peter saying? By knowing Jesus as the loving God who comes among the human race so humans can relate to him in a way that people just can’t with a “spiritual being” folks can have a relationship with a person that can even save humans from the forces that seek to wipe out human existence.

Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus isn’t just someone to know stuff about, or a teacher that provides moral guidance about how to live a good life. Jesus wants to have a relationship with his followers that enables them to live through death. Christ, the name means “Savior,” wants humanity to relate to him like we relate to a spouse, a friend, or a lover who saves a person from being consumed with selfishness until there’s only a bitter old man or woman without love in their life, unable to experience love or enjoy life fully.

Relationships are a two-way street. Both parties in a relationship have to figure out who the other person is to them. It could be best friend. This person might be the love of my life. It might be helpful to understand the Gospel of Jesus asking who people say he is if we’d flip the question around. Who are we “to Jesus”? Who does Jesus say we are, sitting in these pews? Who does Jesus say the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are to him; anyone who has lived, lives or every will live on this insignificant rock perfectly positioned in a not too far, not too close orbit around a star in a remote corner of the universe? We are the beloved human race he called into being so that he could have someone to love and became one of. We humans are the creatures Jesus loves like no other created being, so much so that he deems us worthy of saving from death. We are the beloved bride of  the groom Christ who can not stand the thought of ever being separated from. So loved are we as individuals and a race that Christ desired us from before time began to live with him and be like him even when we allowed death to invade the beauty of life. Who does Jesus say we are? The Word of the Creator God says humanity is the love of his life worthy of salvation even when they betray the relationship He wants with men and women through their sinful acts that weaken the relationship like adultery is to marriage. Relationships are a two-way street. To understand who Jesus is to us, it’s helpful to know who we are to Jesus. We are the beloved spouse he wedded himself to in the incarnation, so that he might save his us from death in order to live in his house, forever beyond the limits of space and time.

When the Gospel author Matthew has Jesus say to Peter you are the rock, the solid foundation on which Christ will “build” his church Matthew is saying the Church makes possible the relationship with Jesus. Peter is not being made Pope in that instant. Peter becomes the symbol of authentic faith. His statement is raised up by Christ as the foundational truth on which the church stakes humanity’s fate. The church is the Body of Christ. Matthew, the writer, is teaching the community he wrote his Gospel account for that the church is the human vessel that makes possible the relationship with Jesus that saves from death. Peter is a symbol of the Church. The relationship description Peter voices is the rock, the solid foundation of the truth proclaimed by the Church throughout the ages. The role of the church is to hand on generation to generation through sacraments, preaching and catechesis a relationship with Christ that saves from death. Outside of the rock solid relationship Jesus offers through His body, the church (which is safeguarded by the successors of Peter, the Pope and the leadership of the church in union with the Holy Father) there is no hope of living after death.

The author Brian Doyle, when asked why he is Catholic once wrote how the Church had helped him to be in relationship with Jesus as savior and saved. Mr. Doyle wrote about the authentic faith handed onto him by the Church represented by Peter,

“Sometimes I desperately need to lean on a god wiser and gentler than myself. Sometimes I desperately need to believe that when I die I will not be sentenced to Fimbul, the hell winter, where there is only the cold voice of Nothing, but rather I will be at peace and draped in Light. Sometimes I am nudged toward belief by the incredible persistence and eerie genius of the tale [handed on by the Church’s Gospel]: the encompassing love of the mother, the wordless strength of the Father, the Lord of All Worlds cast ashore on this one as a mewling child in dirty straw. Sometimes I am moved past reason by the muscular poetry and subtle magic of these [Gospel] stories. Sometimes it is an intuitive yes as the light fails and the world is lit from below. And sometimes I simply cast my lot with the sheer bravura of such a patently brazen lie. That a man could die and live again is ridiculous; even a child knows that death is the end. Or is it?”

Doyle, Brian. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies (p. 80). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

512px-Rome_basilica_st_peter_011c

Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Possibly the work of Atnolfo di Cambio. Thought by some historians to be much older. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Mattis. This applies worldwide. Via commons.wikimedia.org

The author of this quote recently died in middle age of a brain tumor. Family and friends say he died at peace, knowing his relationship with Christ as savior was the rock that would break the power of death, the key that would open the door of his house in eternal life.

 

Don’t just see Jesus as one of many gurus that offer wisdom or moral teaching for a happy life in this world as some do. Do not delay! With the assistance of the Church, through its sacraments, preaching and catechesis, fall in love with Jesus, the one who saves and who loves you to death…and beyond.

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Funeral Homily for a Physician

On Friday, our parish family celebrated the funeral of a beloved Physician who had practiced medicine and lived in Trenton for many years. Many of his former patients and colleagues were not able to attend the funeral Mass that might have liked to, so I am posting the funeral homily on my blog. The obituary for Dr. Maximino Floreza, M.D. can be found at the Moss Funeral Home web-site.

Funeral Homily for Dr. Maximino Floreza
Dr. Maximino Floreza, M.D.

Dr. Maximino Floreza, M.D.

November 27, 2015
St. Mary Catholic Church, Trenton IL

The homily is based on the following readings
Wisdom 3:1-9
I Corinthians 15:51-57
John 6:51-59

There are a few vocations in life that pretty much take over your life. While many people are able to leave their work at the office or back at the shop and go home for some time off, there are a few professions that become your identity, something that you wear 24/7. Mom or dad, husband or wife is one of those vocations that become your identity. Priest is another. Doctor Max, as many called him in Trenton, had one of the vocations that becomes you and you become it so that you can’t stop being doctor just because you’re not in the office. Even when you’re the patient a doctor’s heart is beating inside you.

Let me explain with a short personal story. I visited Doctor Floreza at Barnes hospital a couple of Mondays, ago. While I went to bring the comfort of the sacraments to him, somehow the subject of  the conversation turned to my personal health. Doctor Floreza began to inquire what medicines I was taking for my high blood pressure, who was my doctor and was he suggesting anything I could do about my essential tremors. It was just natural, it was his nature for Maximino to be a doctor wanting to help the person in front of him with his medical talents. I could not help but think that the heart of a compassionate doctor like Dr. Floreza is very close to sharing the heartbeat of the divine physician, Jesus Christ. Doctors carry on the healing ministry of Jesus in our own time we believe as a family of faith.

Why do we call Jesus the divine physician? Yes, Jesus healed many people of their illnesses in the Gospels. The blind regained sight, the lepers were healed, the lame walked on legs that regained their strength. But every physician is deeply aware of one disease they can not treat with a pill. There is one human sickness that will not bow down before the wonders of medicine. Death is the enemy of doctors. There may be times when death is chased away for a while, but in the end, death seems to triumph. Even doctors themselves will be overpowered by death. Saint Paul refers to the truth of death having power over humans when he says that we wear a garment of corruptibility. Like the white coat some physicians wear all humans wear corruptibility. We need a different kind of medicine to heal the sickness of death that infects every person that breathes in this world.

Maximino once wore another white garment, not a lab coat, but a baptismal gown. When he was baptized in the Philippines almost 90 years ago, he was probably dressed in a white garment, a reminder that by becoming a member of Christ he would be clothed with immortality. When baptized, the little Maximino was united to Jesus and put on the coat of eternity. The baptismal garment was the promise of victory over death, yet, throughout life, like for any chronic illness another medicine would have to be taken regularly.

Today, we’re gathered here to share what could be called the medicine for the cure of death, the Eucharistic food. The body and blood of Jesus, which Maximino received often, is for all the faithful literally taking into ourselves the life of Jesus, a life that was not defeated by death. We have heard proclaimed in the Gospel, “Whoever eats by Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. The one who feeds on me will have eternal life.”

Let’s remember. Just as bread or any healthy food enters our bodies and is changed, literally becoming part of us by being changed into an energy that builds muscle and enables the heart to beat that enables us to live for another day, the spiritual food of the Eucharist becomes part of us, too. We are enlivened by Christ the one who lives. We are united to his body, his life blood flowing through us when we drink from the chalice. No wonder St. Paul could write, “O death, where is your sting?” Paul’s saying that having received the medicine of Christ’s body and blood we don’t worry about dying. The medicine that is the fruit of the Eucharistic remembrance of Jesus destroys death. Maximino believed this. We can hope he now lives with Christ.

Dr. Floreza’s life was a testament to the truth that dying to self results in life being enriched, made better. Many citizens of Trenton, and patients of his in other places will tell the story of how Dr. Max gave them their life back. Many hours were spent away from family, I’m sure, so that others could regain their healthy life. This good doctor took seriously his vocation, given him by Christ, and often shared it without cost, simply asking those who might have trouble paying him to just share something from their garden.

Maximino also discovered that death leads to life in his sacrificial love for you, his wife, Belen and you, his children Eileen, Mabel, Noreen, Melvin, and Carol. The long hours of practicing medicine were a sacrifice of love so you could have a rich life. The precious time he spent with you helping you, playing with you, teaching you through his example about how to live a good life are a sign to you to remember this day, that dying to our selfish nature can lead to life. Because your father practiced what he believed we believe that Jesus will raise him up to fullness of life.

We might say his last illness chastised Maximino a little. I’m sure he knew what his prospects were better than most patients. But as the first reading said, God found Maximino worthy of himself, as gold strengthened in fire. Let us pray that God’s mercy will take this beautiful life, lived in service and honor it by raising him to heaven purified of the sins he may have committed.

Doctor Max’s family told me how much he and Belen loved traveling the world. In their home is a map of  the world with pins stuck in it of all the fascinating places they have cruised and journeyed to. Now, in our grief let’s remember Maximino has embarked on the journey of an eternal lifetime with Christ at the helm. He goes to a place we only begin to see in this world through beauty of nature and the love of family and compassion shown the sick, but can only arrive at through death, the eternal shores of heaven. Surely, by God’s mercy, there on the shore of eternity he waits for us with Jesus and his beloved favorite Saint Ildefonsus to welcome us to the shores of heaven, one day, too.


All Saints and The Beatitudes

All-Saints

A couple of weeks ago I was able to go on my annual retreat (that all priests are required to do) at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.  The retreat preacher, Fr. Eugene Hensell, O.S.B. , a monk of the Archabbey and faculty member of the St. Meinrad School of Theology, there, spoke over the course of 9 conferences about the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jesus (Matthew Chapter 5, 6, 7). This exploration of the Sermon on the Mount inspired my homily for this year’s Solemnity of All Saints. What follows is my attempt to preach the feast. The congregation was lucky I didn’t try to explain to them all the notes I took during the retreat! That would have been a much longer homily. 😉

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints 2o15

Readings for the feast

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12A

We all probably dream of our door bells ringing and there is some guy from Publisher’s Clearing House standing on the other side of the door with a big check for $10,000 dollars per week for life. “Congratulations!” the prize patrol guy says. “You’ve won the sweepstakes!” So there we are, the contest winner whose thinking our struggles in life are over. Thank God I signed up on the web-site for the contest! There will be no more financial worries for my family!

In the Gospel of the “beatitudes” Jesus is doing something similar. Jesus, in the beatitudes is announcing that his disciples have won the big prize. The Greek word used in this version of the Gospel written by Matthew is translated “Blessed” but it could be just as accurately translated “Congratulations!”

Congratulations, you’re poor!
Congratulations, you’re grieving and mourning!
You’re being persecuted for your beliefs. Hey, it’s your lucky day!

Using the word “Congratulations” sure makes the message Jesus is preaching to the disciples seem rather odd. What? Be excited because my life is in the pits? That’s not good news. How about you fix things so I don’t suffer so much?”

It is important to remember Matthew writes about Jesus teaching the “Beatitudes” to a community that’s discouraged. Things were not going as well as they thought they would or should be after proclaiming Jesus as the Savior to the people in their day. Shouldn’t things be different because of Jesus. By now he should have come back and kicked beat up on the Romans and established his kingdom in power. And this is the good news, Matthew, Mr. Gospel writer? Congratulations! You say we win the prize but like the state of Illinois lottery now a days, payment will come sometime down the road! They needed a reminder that they were on the right track.

The Beatitudes are meant to be a reminder that God’s reign, God’s control isn’t just something that arrives at an undetermined future date. The Kingdom of Heaven is already present in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Because the disciples of Jesus believe Jesus rose from the dead, God is already in charge of death. God is in control of people’s lives even in the present. The way the beatitudes are written suggests that disciples are fortunate to know that God is ultimately in charge, not just in the future, but here and now.

Congratulations to those who live in the house built by Jesus’ death and resurrection because you know that deprivation is not permanent. You know that suffering does not last forever. You know that the forces of evil do not win, God does! When people know what the outcome of the battle is going to be, then the present suffering or pain or deprivation is a little more easy to go through. In fact, the suffering, if done with the conviction that God is already in charge will lead a disciple to see life differently. I’m not in charge of my fate, but the one who loves me enough to die for me is in charge. I’m his child, NOW (I John 3:2). By God, I need someone more powerful than myself to bring justice, to set my life right when it goes wrong.

Matthew is instructing us disciples of Jesus that since the Kingdom of God is already here, here’s how you live in it. These are not impossible life guiding principles. See in these laws of the Kingdom the way for everyone to experience a richer, fuller life. The rules are different from the way things are in the Kingdom of “Caesar” (this present era’s world of governments, radical religious fundamentalists and man-made economies) but you’ll be happier, more fulfilled if you follow these not so impossible rules.

Realize you can not secure your own life, but are dependent on the generous spirit of others to share your joys and supply what you need. (Matthew 5:3)

Work to forgive. Work at reconciling with those who have hurt you because resentment can strangle the joy out of life. (Matthew 5:7,9)

Realize you can not change the past. Let the past go! Live in the moment gratefully enjoying each day of life and the love you’ve been given. (Matthew 5:4)

The rule of God is already in the world. Follow the law of the beatitude and you don’t have to wait till you die to experience some of the fullness, the richness of life. The beatitudes are an achievable way of life, because we know that Jesus is in charge, not the powers that be of this world.

All the Saints were sinners like us, trying to live the way of the Beatitudes. Sometimes they didn’t live according to the law of peacemaker, or always in purity of heart, But, because they recognized their need to live differently than the “norms of this world” they began to experience the life of heaven in this world. Therefore, they have become inspirations to us that we celebrate on this feast of All Saints. Living life like Jesus lays out in his teaching is possible for sinners that are citizens of heaven in training. May the witness of the saints inspire us to understand we are fortunate. We’ve won the prize of living unafraid of whatever happens for we know Jesus is in charge and will share with us the prize of the fullness of life, now and forever!

 


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


Thoughts for the Solemnity of Peter and Paul

O.K. loyal readers, if I have any left after my long period of silence, I’m back. Sorry for not posting more often.

Today, when I am posting this, on the Catholic liturgical calendar, is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. This is a slightly expanded and adapted version of my notes for the homily I gave this weekend. As usual, when I preach, a few more thoughts, comments and words slip into the vocal presentation, but here is the core of what I proclaimed.

yinyangIn Chinese Philosophy, the Yin-Yang symbol, seen to the left, represents harmony. That is the harmony between heaven and earth, the bodily and spiritual side of human. Sometimes it is  a way of expressing a balance between what might at first look like opposing forces. To be whole, the symbol suggests one must embrace the opposing, seemingly competing forces in the person and hold them in balance.

Today’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul gives us the chance to celebrate the yin and yang of the Catholic Church. The church, in a sense, has a split personality. It might be said that there’s a Peter side of this family we call Catholic and that there is a Paul side of the Catholic community. The church needs both personalities to be who we are called to be by Jesus, that is to be his image, his body in this world.

The Peter side is expressed is found in the person or role of the Holy Father and the centralized authority most often identified as “Rome.” The Pope’s job, in a sense, is to hold everything together; his role is to be the authority that makes sure we’re all proclaiming the same thing, believing the same thing, even in our diversity of cultures, languages, and customs. In this unity of faith, overseen by the central authority we can see the church is ONE, unified in Jesus Christ.
YET…
The church, to be true to it’s identity must be Paul like. To be who we are baptized to be, sharers in the mission of Christ the church must go out to the ends of the earth, like Paul did, to proclaim Good News. If Paul lived today, he’d probably be a member of the million miles club in his airline’s loyalty program, going to every point of the known world, not just the ends of the world as known in his day. The church, as Paul, must ever seek out new ways to express the one eternal faith, not being satisfied to use the same techniques and language that sufficed in previous centuries. The church is to be all things to all people, as Paul claimed to be so that the church’s “missionary” identity is faithfully lived.

Now consider this fact. Where did Paul end up at, at the end of his life? In ROME! Under house arrest, yes, but at the center, that place that represents the core, the oneness of our belief. All our efforts to go out to the world to proclaim Jesus must always lead us back to unity in the Christ, the foundation of our faith.

Our identity as Church must have Yin – Yang, it must have the front and back of a coin. We must always push the boundaries while always being pulled to the center, Jesus Christ.

We give thanks, on the feast of Peter and Paul for these models of church life

Peter, the glue that holds us together.
Paul, the fire in our soul that propels us out to explore new ways to bring all people to Christ.

Peter, the support beams of the household of the church.
Paul, who is the dreamer architect that imagines new designs for that household to be always a welcoming dwelling place for all who live in Christ.

In this case, its good to have two identities, both of them in perfect balance, both necessary to truly be who we are as church: Peter and Paul, gifts of God to the church to help us be the one Body of Christ.

Picture from Wiki Commons.  Ss. Peter and Paul, oil on canvas, c. 1620 anonymous, Roman School.

Picture from Wiki Commons.
Ss. Peter and Paul, oil on canvas, c. 1620 anonymous, Roman School.

 

 


My alternative name day (not)

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Today, May 1, in the Roman Catholic Church we celebrate the feast day of “St. Joseph, the Worker.” Pope Pius XII gave us this day back in the early 1950’s as a response to the “May Day” celebrations of Communist and Socialist governed countries. In those societies founded on the ideology of Marxism the worker was seen as contributing to the good of the state, essentially a cog in a vast equalitarian economic system. The dignity of the human person was subordinated to the good of the state. A person was important and valuable only in the sense they contributed to the collective.

Pius XII wanted to stress that there is a basic human dignity given by God to the individual as created in God’s image. Further, he was advocating the Church’s teaching that all human activity is a sharing in the creative nature of God and is directed toward building up the human community, not the state, awaiting the day completes the work begun in Christ of creating the new heavens and new earth.

I’ve discovered a couple of nice summaries about the feast and it’s meaning at these sites:
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the Catholic View of Human Work at Catholic Online
St. Joseph the Worker, Saint of the Day at American Catholic . org (St. Anthony Messenger Press, the Franciscans)
St. Joseph Reminds Us that Workers Deserve Justice, an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that reminds us of the Catholic teaching that workers have a right to organize. (cf United States Catholic Conference of Bishops at Catholic Social Teaching).

The meaning of the feast day took on particular significance for me today, because I have been “supervising” (also known as watching) a new concrete drive being constructed next to our parish church and my rectory. For the couple of weeks, weather permitting since we’ve been having a lot of rain in Trenton, work has been progressing on the project. As I watched the crew doing what to me seems like back-breaking work of pouring, shaping and finishing concrete I realized a couple of things. One: I was watching the teaching of the church in action; men sharing in the work of creation of something new that will enhance the lives of others since there will be new handicapped parking spaces and safer access to the church. Two: I am definitely not the manual labor type and that I’m privileged to be called to the “work” of building up the community of faith into the City of God in the midst of the city of humanity. That’s why I’ve never claimed this day to be my patronal name day; I’m just not into manual labor and work that much!

God bless those who work with their hands, who teach, those who protect us as first responders and in the military, moms and dads who do the work of  raising children and all the laity who are the majority of the church whose work is to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. I pray that my work as pastor and preacher helps them do their work as members of the Body of Christ and affirms their dignity as partners with Jesus in the work of salvation.

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

O God, Creator of all things,
who laid down for the human race the law of work,
graciously grant that by the example of Saint Joseph
and under his patronage we may complete the works you set us to do
and attain the rewards you promise.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Taken from the Roman Missal, Third Edition
Prayer for May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker


Third Sunday of Advent – REJOICE!

Readings for the Day

Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:10-18

When a person receives good news, they usually show it by facial and bodily expressions. They can’t wait to tell someone about their good fortune. A person wins the lottery and wants to tell others. A young couple discovers that they are going to have their first baby. It’s difficult to keep the news to themselves. Smiles break across the face. Shouts of excitement escape the lips!

Yet, when we’re in church for Mass and hear “the Gospel (Good News in Greek) of the Lord” there’s little of the signs of excitement usually associated with the reception of good news. Generally, the people in the congregation just mumble “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ,” sit down and with faces bordering on boredom almost challenge the homilist to “get on with it priest, let’s get the homily over with so we can get on to more exciting things back home.”

The recurring image, the word repeated many times in the readings of the Third Sunday of Advent is REJOICE! Be glad, show excitement, even dance for joy is the directive the Word of God gives us.

Joy is part of faith in Jesus Christ. But sometimes you’d have a hard time telling that by the solemn faces and “reverent” liturgies we Catholics supposedly “celebrate” Sunday morning with in our Eucharistic gathering. But, Listen to what is prayed in the opening prayer of the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent. “Enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” (Roman Missal Third Edition, English translation) Liturgy should be “solemn,” true. It should also reveal our joy!

Joy is part of Christian faith because we’ve been let in on good news. Evil does not triumph. Death is not the end of relationships with those we love. There’s more to life than violence, sickness and human misery. Christ who took on our human nature has redeemed that nature and made it possible for humans to live like God.

And, if you pay attention to the last sentence of the first reading of the day, God “rejoices in his people.” He’s happy we’re around. God delights in the humans he’s called into being like a parent can’t help but smile at their children when they do something cute or sleeping in their bed.
Joy is essential to being a Christian. Humor can be a part of that joy, of the Christian life, too. It can be a way we delight in the truth. It reminds us that while faith and liturgy are serious business, we’re delighted that God is among us, saving us from that which is evil through Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons it’s important for people of faith to be seen with a sense of humor and who express joy is so that we can attract others to faith in Jesus Christ. In my current parish, pastoral council members and other members of the parish often say we’ve got to invite back, get re-involved, the members who have left our church or become non-active. Parishioners say they want to welcome new members to our church and parish who don’t belong to another church. Well, would you want to join a group of people who are always serious, whose worship is always solemn, where no one smiles or expresses delight that you are in the pew with them? A joyful disposition attracts people to have a relationship with Jesus! Even Jesus wasn’t above making a joke or pointing out the absurdity of a situation.

I’ve been reading a book by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Martin, S.J. that explores the relationship of joy and humor to faith in Jesus Christ. In his book he gives many examples of how humor and joy were part of the spiritual life of the saints.

The author tells a couple of stories about Blessed Pope John XXIII. Once, before he was the Pope, he was at a diplomatic dinner in France. A woman is there whose dress is very low-cut revealing much of her breasts. A government official mentions to the future pope how scandalous her attire is and how everyone is looking at her! The future John XXIII replies, “No, everyone is not looking at her, but at me to see if I’m looking at her!” Another time, after becoming pope, John XXIII is asked during an official visit by an important dignitary, “Holy Father, how many people work at the Vatican?” Blessed John replied, “About half of them.” Such humor and what must have been a sense of joy that infused the Holy Father’s spiritual life made him a very attractive figure. People loved “Good Pope John” and felt closer to Christ who he was the vicar of to the world.

If we Catholics want to attract people to our message we need a bit of the spirituality of saints like Blessed John XXIII. Humor attracts. Poking fun at ourselves can speak of humility and a realization that the one we serve is a savior that’s good to know and spend time (and eternity) with. The Christ came to bring joy, not fear.

I am not speaking of a type of frivolity or silliness that is off-putting. I’m not suggesting that we never be serious and act immature. The Gospel is much too important to present ourselves in such a way that we are written off as to not be taken seriously. Yet, joy helps gets the point across, sometimes.

There are serious things in this world that must be addressed with a serious, sincere message. We are all aware of the suffering in this world that brings sadness. Evil exists and shows its might, trying to suck the joy out of life in Christ. We need only look at the events in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. It seems that evil has gotten the upper hand. There is so much sadness in the effects of one person’s actions. We grieve with those whose lives have been torn apart so violently.

Yet, we can face such evil, unafraid and undefeated because our lives, our faith, are grounded in Good News, joyful news that we are not afraid to let show in our expressions of faith that at times include humor and laughter and smiling faces that invite others to share the joy in our heart knowing Christ. He came among us in the flesh in order to defeat evil on the cross. He comes among us in this liturgy to lighten our fears about death and help us rejoice in God’s love. He will come again to finish the work begun in his incarnation when he will make right all that is wrong with human existence by joining it to his divine nature.

Our vocation is to witness to others, even with lightheartedness the joy that underpins our ability to not be afraid of evil. There was a deacon of the early church, St. Lawrence, who was put to death for his belief in Christ by being put on a spit over a fire to be burnt alive. At one point in his execution he taunted his executioners by saying, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” Such playful joy even in the midst of dying mocks death and proclaims, as another saint said, “I do not fear death, I believe in God!”

As it is proclaimed in the Communion Antiphon for the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent;

Say to the faint of heart: be strong and do not fear. behold, our god will come, and he will save us.

A joyful attitude will take us a long way to getting the message out to those who are “faint of heart.”

 

 


Another Purification of the BVM

The official name of my parish is The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. The official feast day is February 2, which is celebrated as The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Jewish women were “purified” at the time of the presentation of the first-born. Above the main door of our parish church is a mosaic depicting the presentation/purification.

Mosaic above the main doors of St. Mary Parish, Trenton. Presentation of Jesus and purification of the BVM

Mosaic above the main entrance of St. Mary Parish, Trenton.

We also have a grotto outside our parish church depicting the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima. Lately, the statues have been looking a little dirty and needed cleaning (they’re under a holly tree popular with the birds, if you catch my drift). A family in the parish volunteers to take care of the flowers plated in the grotto, so they came to power wash the statues. As I watched the proceedings, the statues being power washed and scrubbed, it occurred to me that I was witnessing another kind of “purification” of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Statues of the BVM's appearance at Fatima, Portugal are washed by parishioners of St. Mary Parish, Trenton.

Parishioners “celebrate” the title of our parish in an alternative ritual action, the “purification” of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue.

Please, forgive me for the pun!

Thanks to Matt and John for making our grotto shrine statues clean. May the Blessed Mother reward you for your devotion.


Feast of St. Joseph

Sometimes, I’m not always quite “with it” when I wake up in the morning or even know the date. And, if I don’t happen to celebrate Mass in the morning, I might not realize what day it is in the Church year till later in the day. Today, March 19, it was a few hours before I looked at a calendar and remembered that it was the feast day of my patron saint, St. Joseph! In my spiritual life, it’s a biggie day. Oppps!

After finishing my last post, I decided I’d like to post a picture or reflection on St. Joseph. Rather quickly I stumbled onto this picture of St. Joseph that I found to be a bit different from the usual more “pious, saccharine” images of traditional Catholic “art” and holy cards. I was attracted to it, probably, because it shows a younger (Middle-aged like myself”) Joseph and Jesus as a young teenager. It is not often that artists portray that age of the subjects. I was drawn, too, to the intimacy, the affectionate way that Jesus is holding the hand of his foster-father.

picture of St. Joseph as middle aged man with hands on shoulders of Jesus portrayed as a teen

St. Joseph and Jesus

The picture is taken from an Archdiocese of Washington web-site and blog. The particular blog entry is authored by a Monsignor Charles Pope who wrote the entry St Joseph: Model Husband and Father – A Reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family. I’ve done a quick read of the article and find it a very nice meditation on St. Joseph as a model for Catholic men, especially those called to the vocation of marriage (leaves me out, but some of the points still can be applied). There’s a short video embedded at the end of the blog entry that is worth watching, too.

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that by Saint Joseph’s intercession
your Church may constantly watch over
the unfolding of the mysteries of human salvation,
whose beginnings you entrusted to  his faithful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Taken from the Roman Missal, Third edition English Translation
Collect for the Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, March 19


The Blogger’s Patron Saint

picture of icon of Saint Francis De Sales

St Francis De Sales, pray for us bloggers, writers and journalists!

Today is the feast day of St. Francis De Sales (January 24). He is the patron saint of writers and journalists. Therefore, I figure he is the patron saint of people who write blogs, too. May Saint Francis de Sales help all bloggers and me use this medium well to proclaim the Good News in the 21st century just as he used the media of his day to catechize and preach during the era of the Reformation and Counter Reformation.


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