Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On the Camino de Santiago in Spain

          Hello Everyone!  Tuesday, I arrived in Madrid to hike the pilgrimage of St James.  I had hoped to be able to walk the entire route over a 4 week period, but some priestly responsibilities came up, and I had to reschedules, and due to Ash Wednesday coming up  on February 18, could only go for a 3 week pilgrimage. I will be flying back to the United States on February 14 and will report for duty for the Sunday February 15 masses, the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before Lent starts.
           I made my way to Madrid by bus, and started walking this morning (Wednesday -  January 28).  I made it 14 miles today over fairly rugged and hilly terrain.  For a priest that does not get much time to exercise, that was a pretty rough hike today.  This whole pilgrimage, however, I am going to listen to my body and my spirit and will do what I can each day.  Truth be told, this will be the first time since April/May 2012 - when I came to Spain the last time - that I have been able to take a  weekend off to myself.  I sometimes get to take weekdays off, but never an extended break and rarely a break over the weekend. So, this is a very needed retreat time for me.
            I just have my ipad mini with my here in Spain, and have not been able to post photos to my blog yet, so they may not be coming until I get back to the US.  Lifting everyone up in prayer on this journey.  Blessings to all of you.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

1/25/2015 – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Mark 1:14-20, Jonah 3:1-5, 10

       Jesus goes out to the people of Galilee and proclaims this message: “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  Jonah also has a message from God to preach, this time to the people of Nineveh who have turned their backs on the Lord.  He tells them: Forty days more, and your city will be destroyed. Two messages from God to his people.  Two different callings to bring God’s message to the world. What can we learn from today’s readings?
       First, from Jonah, we see that God can call us to a task that we particularly don’t want to do.  Jonah saw Nineveh as his enemy.  He definitely did not want to see them repenting.  In fact, what he wanted was to see Nineveh to be punished by God for all of eternity.  Think of one of the diehard Mississippi State fans in our congregation receiving the call to bring salvation to the Ole Miss community and the people of Oxford.  That wouldn’t bring joy to the heart of the Bulldog fan, would it? But God has his reasons and his wisdom for calling us to do something, and sometimes we just don’t understand, do we?  I remember a seminarian complaining to me about something he was asked to do by as a part of his seminarian formation.  I told him to lift it up to the Lord.  He said that he really disliked when he was told that, but it is true, there are some things we do need to lift up to the Lord.
         When I was a seminarian, I had to spend a summer serving as a chaplain at a hospital in a program called clinical pastoral education.  It was known to be one of the toughest experiences we would go through in seminary. Most seminarians dread it.  As a part of our training, we would do something called a verbatim: we would write down a dialogue we had with a patient in a ministerial situation, and we would act out the dialogue with another seminarian in the program.  I remember one verbatim I had, after I read out the dialogue with one of my classmates, our professor turned to me and said: Lincoln, I am going to be honest with you, the discussion we are about to have about your verbatim is going to be very painful for you.  And he was right; it was a very painful.  But at the end of the summer, I could honestly say that although that summer of clinical pastoral education in the hospital was not easy, and often it was a struggle, it was one of the most important things that prepared me for the priesthood.  Sometimes in the difficult situations God puts us in, there is great growth and a lot of learning that takes place.
       Another lesson that struck me in today's readings: We can try to run away from God’s call for us, but God will pursue us. It certainly took Jonah a long time to learn that lesson.   Because it was a calling he did not want, he went ran off to a ship, but he was swallowed up by a whale that God sent to bring him back to shore.  Jonah relented, resigning himself to the fact that he couldn’t run away from the will of God.   So he did what God asked him to do, although very reluctantly.  
        Contrast Jonah to the urgency in which Simon and Andrew answer Jesus’ call to follow.  The NRSV translation of the Gospel says that in the middle of casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, Simon and Andrew “immediately left their nets and followed him.”  IMMEDIATELY!!!  God can call us to serve him in our own backyard, or he can ask us to go to a faraway place.  I was at the leadership formation program for priests in our diocese this past week at the Duncan Gray conference center near Canton in a program called "Good Leaders, Good Shepherds".  It struck me how our priests come from different parts of the world – Africa, India, Vietnam, Latin America, Ireland.  From Andrew and Simon who left their old lives behind, to the men and women today who make sacrifices to serve in ministry in our Church, we have great examples of those who courageously follow God’s call and eave so much behind.
       God chose Jonah as his special prophet and he continued to rebel and fight that call.  God called those four fishermen in the Gospel today.  None of those men were perfect when they received their call.  And in their ministries and their lives of discipleship, they continued to be imperfect – they continued to make mistakes.  They continued to be human.   God calls us out of our reality.  He calls us to serve.  Let us answer that call.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

1/25/2015 – tercer domingo del tiempo ordinario – Marcos 1:14-20

      Cada uno de nosotros tenemos la llamada para ser discípulos de Jesucristo.   Estamos peregrinos en este mundo como sus discípulos.  Hoy, en el Evangelio, escuchamos la llamada de Jesús en la vida de cuatro pescadores.  Estos cuatro jóvenes dejaron su trabajo para seguir a Jesucristo.  Ellos cambiaron su camino totalmente. 
       Cuando Jesús empezó su predicación del reino de Dios en Israel, el comenzó en una manera muy particular.   Jesús anunció al todos los hombres: “Se ha cumplido el tiempo y el Reino de Dios ya está cerca. Arrepiéntanse y crean en el Evangelio”  No sabemos si Andrés y su hermano Simón eran discípulos de Juan el Bautista antes de su entrada a la cárcel.   No sabemos si ellos conocieron las enseñanzas de Jesús antes de este encuentro cerca de la orilla del lago de Galilea.   No importa si no conocemos estos detalles. Podemos reconocer como discípulos modernos de Cristo que estos dos hermanos tenían confianza en Jesucristo, que ellos tenían confianza en Dios y en su palabra. 
       Ellos estaban caminando a un camino muy particular en sus vidas.  Ellos eran trabajando y viviendo en una manera muy común en su cultura y en su sociedad.  Pero, con esta llamada, con la presencia de nuestro Señor en su vida,  ellos podían reconocer el momento que ellos necesitaban revisar su camino, que habían otros caminos y otros senderos allí en su vida.  En verdad, es un desafío para cambiar nuestro camino, nuestra rutina, y nuestra dirección.  La semana pasada, yo estaba en un taller de liderazgo para los sacerdotes de nuestro diócesis.  El perfil de mi personalidad dice: Para ti, no te gustan las sorpresas, la ambigüedad, y los cambios.  Para ti, te gustan el ambiente y las relaciones tranquilos y estables.  Pero, muchas veces, la llamada de Dios tiene muchos desafíos y muchos cambios y mucha ambigüedad en nuestro camino de fe.  No sabemos los problemas y las dificultades que estos dos hermanos tenían en sus vidas antes de la llamada de Jesús, ni los desafíos que ellos tenían como discípulos tampoco.  Pero, con esta llamada, ellos recibieron la fuerza y la inspiración de cambiar sus vidas y de aceptar a Dios. Faltamos algo en nuestras vidas si no contestamos la llamada de Dios, si no recibimos la invitación de Jesús con corazones abiertos. 
      La semana pasada, tuvimos un encuentro con nuestros miembros en la formación de teología y liderazgo.  Hora, ellos tienen la llamada de participar como líderes en ministerios y evangelización en nuestra parroquia.  Es un desafío, por supuesto.  Es algo nuevo y diferente.  Pero, ellos tienen esta llamada de Dios.
      Tal vez, tenemos muchas expectativas sobre la presencia de Dios en nuestra vida, sobre su llamada.  Tal vez, tenemos un punto de vista de nuestra religión, de nuestro Dios, que es fijo.  Según los judíos en Israel, el Mesías debería venir con mucho poder y mucha fuerza, como un líder de su nación. Podemos quedar sordos y ciegos sobre la Palabra de Dios si no queremos dejar esta expectativas que tenemos, si no tenemos una imaginación para aceptar esta llamada. 
       Hay el grito de Jesús en nuestra vida, es seguro ¿Qué está dice?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

1/15/2012 – segundo domingo del tiempo ordinario – Juan 1:35-42

      Juan el Bautista estaba con nosotros en la temporada de preparación  de adviento antes de nuestra celebración de Navidad.   Hoy, regresamos al tiempo ordinario.  Juan el Bautista está con nosotros otra vez.  En adviento, Juan estaba con nosotros para preparar el camino para la llegada de Jesús y para su predicación del reino de Dios.   Ahora, Juan está aquí en nuestro Evangelio para revelar la identidad de Jesús antes de llamar a sus discípulos. 
       Para seguir a Jesucristo no es algo muy fácil.  Conocemos esta realidad muy bien.  Necesitamos tener nuestros corazones abiertos para la verdad y los desafíos del reino de Dios.   Necesitamos dejar nuestra propia voluntad y nuestro egoísmo para entrar este reino con todos nuestras fuerzas.  Juan proclamaba en el Evangelio que Jesús era el verdadero Cordero de Dios.  Esta proclamación picaba el interés y la curiosidad de los dos discípulos de Juan.  Al mirar estos dos discípulos de Juan, Jesús daba esta invitación:  “Vengan a ver”.
       Todos de nosotros tenemos una llamada para seguir a Jesucristo como nuestro Señor, como el Cordero de Dios.  El Cordero en la religión judía de Israel en los tiempos de Jesús era el signo más importante para dar una ofrenda y un sacrificio a Dios.  En nuestra vida de fe en la Iglesia Católica, necesitamos proclamar Jesús como el Cordero de Dios, como el sacrificio que nos ganó la salvación y la redención.   En las aguas de nuestro bautismo, entramos en la muerte de Cristo – morimos de nuestros pecados y de la muerte -  y entramos en una nueva vida en El.   Juan el Bautista reconoció a Jesús como el Cordero de Dios, y nosotros debemos reconocer esta identidad también en la manera que vivimos nuestra fe.   Además, esta identidad debe tener un impacto importante en nuestra vida.  Juan el Bautista era un testigo para nosotros, para guiarnos a la fe.
        Vemos esto en las lecturas de hoy: las historias de Andrew en el Evangelio y de Samuel en la primera lectura nos muestran que en nuestra vida como cristianos necesitamos tener una experiencia personal con Dios. Estamos llamados a escuchar la forma en que Dios nos llaman hoy y estamos llamados a responder a esa realidad.  Pero no podemos ser miope en la forma en que vemos nuestra realidad - miope en la forma en que nos acercamos a nuestra fe.  En Andrés y otro discípulo de Juan el Bautista - si hubieran pensado en el presente y no miramos la realidad entera, probablemente no hubieran tomado el riesgo de dejar a su maestro a seguir a Jesús.  Tenemos que recordar nuestro foco: estamos en nuestro camino de fe para el largo plazo, no sólo mirar al presente.  Tal vez enfocamos en el presente y en el corto plazo, porque estamos abrumados con lo que está pasando en nuestras vidas.  Para muchos de nosotros, 2014 fue un año difícil, especialmente con el tornado que devastó una gran parte de nuestra ciudad.  Podríamos haber tenido luchas y desafíos en la escuela o en el trabajo, con nuestra salud o con nuestras relaciones.  Hemos tenido un montón de cambios y desafíos, y un camino difícil aquí en nuestra parroquia, así el año pasado.  Algunos de nosotros hemos tenido nuestros sentimientos de dolor a lo largo del camino, o tal vez no entendemos la necesidad de que los cambios que hemos tenido en nuestra parroquia.  Sin embargo, hay mas de nuestras necesidades y deseos individuales. Somos sin duda una parroquia muy diversa. Las necesidades son muchas y variadas. Tal vez no entendemos las necesidades de los demás o de ver más allá de nuestra propia zona de confort.  El panorama general es eso: construimos el Reino de Dios aquí en nuestra parroquia. Formamos los discípulos en nuestra parroquia, al igual que Cristo llamó a sus discípulos en el Evangelio de hoy. Necesitamos mantener nuestro enfoque en lo que es importante.

1/18/2015 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – John 1:35-42

       We have finished celebrating our joyful Christmas season.  We now have 5 Sundays in Ordinary Time before we start the holy season of Lent. Both this Sunday and next Sunday, we hear two different conversions stories as different individuals choose to accept Jesus’ call to follow a life of discipleship.  Today, two of John the Baptist are intrigued by Jesus, and they engage in a process to find out what Jesus is all about.  In next Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sees some fishermen at work in the Sea of Galilee, calling them to be fishers of men.    
        Jesus gives the men in today’s Gospel a very welcoming invitation - “Come and see”  Since the time of those first disciples, Jesus and his followers have been witnesses to their faith and have been inviting others to come join them.   John the Baptist himself witnessed to two of his own disciples, calling Jesus “the Lamb of God”.  By doing so, John expands their view of who Jesus really is.  In fact, near the end of John’s Gospel, the author states that this witness and these signs have been recorded here in the Gospel in order that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through this belief, that we might come to have new life in him.   
       “Come and see” is not only the invitation these young men receive in today’s Gospel; it is the invitation all of us receive.  Yet sometimes we can be like Samuel in our first reading.  God kept calling out to Samuel, but Samuel was confused.  Samuel wasn’t sure who was calling out to him.  It took four tries before Samuel could respond directly to God.  Sometimes we don’t recognize God immediately. However the main thing is that we not give up, that we keep listening until we recognize his voice. 
        “Come and see.”  Like this welcoming invitation that Jesus extends to us, we as believers are called to witness and invite others to the faith, too.  Look at how Andrew responds in the Gospel today – he is a great example for us to follow.  He hears the witness of John the Baptist, then goes with Jesus to where he is staying, and he stays with him.  He then searches out his brother, Simon Peter, telling him with great excitement – “We have found the Messiah!”   Andrew brings his brother to Jesus.  He is so excited about sharing his new-found faith with others.
         As we hear the conversion stories of these first disciples, perhaps we’re thinking, “Well, today’s Gospel story really doesn’t pertain to me.  I’m already a follower of Jesus. It’s not like I don’t know him or don’t already practice my faith in my own way.”   Yet, perhaps we’re called to look at our faith today and see how we can strengthen it, to see how we can live it out more fully, to see how our faith can serve as a witness to others. All of us in the modern world need to look at the different ways in which we are called to conversion. Perhaps we are the believer who is entrenched in a kind of religious legalism, in which we look at our faith as a check list of rules and commandments, expecting ourselves and all Christians to follow all of these rules to the letter of the law, in a very legalistic, rigid way.  That is sort of the way the Pharisees did it back in Jesus’ day, isn’t it?  Or, to the other extreme, perhaps we think that since we believe in God, since we’re baptized into the faith, that we can sort of do whatever we want to do because we are already saved.  Or perhaps we just go through the motions of our faith without taking any risks or chances. We do the bare minimum and think that this is enough. Perhaps we don’t really trying to discern God’s specific will for us in our lives, not allowing our faith to mold us and change us and transform us.  Maybe one of these descriptions applies to us and points to the type of conversion we need today.
        We also see this in today’s readings: the stories of Andrew in today’s Gospel and of Samuel in today’s first reading show us how our life as Christians has to be rooted in a personal experience with God.  We’re called to hear the way God is calling out to us today and we’re called to respond to that reality.  But we can’t be short-sighted in the way we view our reality – short-sighted in the way we approach our faith. Think of Andrew and other disciple of John the Baptist – if they had just thought of the here and now and did not look at the big picture, they probably wouldn’t have taken the risk to leave their teacher to follow Jesus.  We need to remember what we are focused on: we are on our journey of faith for the long haul, not just looking at the here and now of the present moment.  Perhaps we are focused on the present and the short-term because we are overwhelmed with what is going on in our lives. For a lot of us, 2014 was a rough year, especially with the tornado that devastated a big part of our city.   A lot of families have come a long way rebuilding, our parish has come a long way, but there is still a lot to do.  We might have had struggles or challenges at school or at work, with our health or with our relationships.  We have had a lot of changes and challenges and a rocky road here in our parish as well last year.  Some of us have had our feelings hurt along the way, or perhaps we don’t understand the need for the changes we have had at our parish.  However, we need to look at the big picture that is beyond our individual needs and desires.  We are certainly a big, diverse parish.  The needs are varied and many. Perhaps we don’t understand the needs of others or see beyond our own comfort zone.  The big picture is this: we are trying to build up the Kingdom of God here at St James.  We are doing our best to make disciples, just as Christ called forth his disciples in today’s Gospel.  Keeping our focus on what matters is important.
     And as we are thinking of discipleship and witnessing, I want to mention this: how are we being witnesses for the faith.  In a month from today – February 18 – we will start our Lenten journey with Ash Wednesday.  Maybe each one of us here in the pews can reach out to someone who is not coming regularly to parish or to was perhaps engaged here at our parish at one time, but for one reason or another is not very active anymore.  Perhaps we can invite them to our Ash Wednesday service, or to join us on our Lenten journey, or to start coming back to the Sunday masses.  We need to be more inviting and welcoming.  We need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Let us accept the invitation Jesus gives us today to truly be a witness for him in the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1/16/2015 – Friday of 1st Week in Ordinary Time – Psalm 95

 German: Ich bin klein
Mein herz ist rein
Soll niemand drin wohnen
Als Jesus allein.  Amen.

English translation:
I am small,
my heart is pure.
No one shall live in it
but Jesus alone.  Amen.

I remember this traditional German bedtime prayer that my grandfather taught me when I was a small child.  I used to say it every night to my mom before I went to bed, along with my prayers in English.  My mom grew up in a German immigrant family in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  My grandfather’s name was Wilhelm Spannenberg.  My grandmother was Clara Schramm.  Can’t get much German than that.  They were very proud of their German heritage and for my grandparents, German was their mother tongue and the first language they spoke at home.  I thought about this German bedtime prayer that I used to pray every night as a small child in Chicago when I read the first verse of our psalm today -  “What we have heard and know, and what our fathers have declared to us, we will declare to the generation to come: the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength.”  We pass down a lot of things to our children.  We do so through our words and our actions.  It is so interesting how our church is packed on Christmas Eve Midnight mass each year.  People love midnight mass because it is a tradition for them and most often something they remember growing up, something they want to pass down in their family.  Our faith has been passed down to us and now we pass it down to further generations.  Are we even aware of this?  There is so much about our faith that we take for granted, yet we should appreciate and treasure what we have and should enjoy passing it down to others.  It is what we are called to do as a part of our faith. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1/15/2015 – Thursday of first week in Ordinary Time – Psalm 72

      If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…as in the day of Massah in the desert. Massah means “testing.”  It is a place where the Israelites stopped in the middle of the desert while they were on the Exodus after leaving Egypt on the way to the promised land.  At Massah, the Israelites argued with Moses about the lack of water on their journey.  Moses rebuked them for testing God.  We can all harden our hearts to God in different ways, can’t we?  We can be angry at God for this way our lives turn out, for illness or disease or struggle in our own lives or in the lives of our loved ones.  We can hold a grudge, refusing to forgive or to reconcile with our brothers and sisters.  Like the Israelites, we can try to put God to the test.  Then, we can be disappointed or angry with God if we don’t get what we want.  Sometimes we come to God with a list of things that we want, not asking what God wants of us. As the psalmist says, we need to open our hearts to hear God’s voice.
      I remember working with a group of youth on a mission project for a week at Catholic Heart Work Camp when I was a seminarian.  At the end of the work, the youth were remarking that the hardest thing for them during the week was to work without any music or noise blaring.  They weren’t used to being surrounding by silence.  They always tried to fill the silence with noise.  Do we fill our lives with so many things that God’s voice does not have a chance, that our hearts become hardened to what he has to say.  Let us think about that today.