Friday, August 28, 2015

Commemorating the anniversary of the death of Emmett Till

cotton field in the Mississippi Delta

Wow – hard to believe that today – August 28, 2015 – is the 60th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till in the small town of Money, Mississippi in the Mississippi Delta.  That horrific incident was one of the events that brought about the Civil Rights movement.  Having lived in the Delta for 7 years, in the towns of Greenville and Yazoo City, I have a great love for the people of this region, but can also appreciate the pain and suffering and poverty that are so overwhelming present.  We pray for continued racial reconciliation in our country and in the region of the Mississippi Delta.  May the Lord give us the courage and strength to confront the issues of oppression and racism that exist in many forms in our society. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

8/26/2015 – Wednesday of the 21st week of ordinary time – Matthew 23:27-32

     In the Gospel today, Jesus continues to criticize the scribes and Pharisees.  We heard the first part of this reading from Matthew at the daily mass yesterday.  Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of trying to portray themselves as perfect on the outside, hiding all of their faults on the inside, and miring themselves in hypocrisy. Contrast the superficiality of the scribes and Pharisees to the earnestness and single-mindedness of St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, how his efforts were all directed toward bringing salvation to others through our Lord Jesus Christ.  In this letter, Paul thank God that the Thessalonians received the holy word from him not as the Word of Man, but truly as the Word of God, which is now at work in them.  On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes were so concerned about their outward appearances and the reputations, that bringing others to Christ was not their calling.  So often we can concentrate on the faults of others, criticizing others and ripping them down, when we ignore what is going on in our own lives. Yes, it is much easier to rip someone apart than it is to build them up and help them get back on track.  In our society there is so much passive aggressive behavior as well – we rip others down and then won’t even acknowledge at what we are doing.  I wonder what Jesus would say if he saw what people are posting on Facebook, on how we are always looking tear someone apart by a scandal, at how our gossip is so damaging.  Would Jesus give us the same message he gives the scribes and the Pharisees today?

8/23/2015 – Vigésimo Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario - Ciclo B – Juan 6,51-58

    Por cinco domingos en seguida, escuchamos el discurso del Pan de la Vida del sexto capitulo del Evangelio de San Juan.  En estas lecturas, Cristo enseña sobre la Eucaristía, sobre El como el pan vivo.   Jesús nos explica – si comemos su carne y bebemos su sangre como la verdadera comida y la verdadera bebida, permanecemos en El y El permanece en nosotros.  Tenemos estas enseñanzas muy claras, pero una parte la Eucaristía es siempre un misterio para nosotros.  En el Evangelio de hoy, los discípulos dicen después de escuchar las palabras de Cristo: “Este modo de hablar es intolerable, ¿quién puede admitir eso?”  Si, la Eucaristía es un misterio de fe.  Si, es difícil para comprender.  Pero,  ¿como podemos entender la enseñanza de Jesucristo que El es el pan vivo? ¿Cómo podemos recibir y vivir la Eucaristía en nuestra vida?
     Tuve una conversación con un chico en su preparación de confirmación.  El me preguntó: “Padre Lincoln – en verdad, ¿Usted puede decir que cree en la presencia verdadera de Jesucristo en la hostia en la Eucaristía?, porque yo no lo creo en esto.”  Yo expliqué que en verdad, yo lo creo, y yo utilicé un ejemplo.  Podemos mirar la tecnología de nuestro mundo.  Puedo viajar por avión – puedo salir de Memphis por avión en la tarde, y puedo llegar en España en quince horas.  Para mi, es un milagro para viajar tan rápido como eso.  Puedo creer en la tecnología del avión, pero no entiendo las leyes científicas de las aviones porque no soy ingeniero, no soy físico.   Asimismo, puedo creer en la presencia de Jesucristo en la Eucaristía cuando no entiendo las leyes de transubstanciación, cuando no entiendo todo el misterio de Dios.  Aun, puedo creer en el cuerpo y la sangre de Cristo que recibo. Tenemos el mandato para creer en nuestro corazón, para creer en nuestro intelecto, para creer en nuestro ser que recibimos Cristo verdadero en nuestro vida.  Como católicos, esta creencia es muy importante y es una parte de nuestra fe.

     En la Eucaristía, no podemos comprender con nuestros ojos, con nuestros dientes – es una unión con Cristo que tiene el poder de la vida nueva, afuera de nuestro conocimiento humano.  San Ignacio de Loyola nos explica – la esencia de Dios, el ser de Dios, nos entran cuando recibimos la Eucaristía.  El misterio divino de la Eucaristía requiere que vivimos la realidad de Cristo en nuestra vida, pero también necesitamos contemplar la profundidad de esta realidad, necesitamos creer en sus demandas.   Podemos reflexionarnos sobre el pan de vida que recibimos, sobre la presencia de Cristo que entra en nuestros cuerpos en una manera muy especial. ¿Tiene un impacto en nuestra vida?  ¿Tiene una influencia en nuestra manera de vivir, de pensar, de hablar, si en verdad creemos en la presencia de Cristo que está con nosotros? La Eucaristía necesita vivir en la vida y la realidad del pueblo – un ejemplo.   Si entramos en la vida nueva de Cristo – tendremos una transformación con El y en El.  Si Cristo vino aquí para hablar con nosotros, si preguntamos sobre la manera de transformación y cambio que tenemos en la Eucaristía en nuestra vida, ¿cómo podemos responder?

Monday, August 24, 2015

8/28/2015 – Friday of 21st week of ordinary time – St Augustine of Hippo - 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

       In today’s reading, we continue to hear excerpts from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Today’s message from Paul is a call to holiness, asking us to remain true to our Christian values, asking us to live out the values of our faith in the reality of our lives.  I remember Brother Francisco from my work in Ecuador used to tell the youth there in our mission site that their lives at that present moment were the fruit of how they lived in the past, and how they needed to make decisions that would bring forth the fruits of their faith in the future.  In our modern world, so many people do what feels good and make choices based upon short-term pleasures.  Yet, today, Paul is calling us to a life of holiness.  We are not called to make decisions because they are the politically correct things to do, or because we just go with the flow with what everyone else is doing in our society.  We need to remember that the Thessalonians were not coming out of a strong Jewish background, but rather, they had been idol worshippers and had followed other practices that were contrary to the values that Jesus taught.  The Thessalonians also fought against so much of what was going on in the secular world around them just as we also do today.
        Our saint of the day is St Augustine who was born in northern Africa in the middle of the fourth century.  Augustine is famous for having searched for truth and meaning in different philosophies and religions and living a life searching for meaning and fulfillment in the secular pleasures of the world. While living in the city of Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the saintly Bishop there, Ambrose.  After his conversion to Christianity and his ordination to the priesthood, he desired to enter the monastic life, but he was asked to become the Bishop of Hippo.  His autobiography The Confessions is considered one of the great classics.  In that book, he wrote the famous quote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”  Augustine is considered one of the greatest theologians in the history of Christianity.  He was named as one of the original Doctors of the Church in 1298, along with St Ambrose, St Gregory the Great, and St Jerome. Paul and Augustine both saw us on a search for holiness.  May the light of the new life we have if Christ and the truth in God’s holy word lead us in our search for the truth we will find in God. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

8/23/2015 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – John 6:60-69

       For five Sundays in a row now, we’ve been reading through the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel.  This Chapter is referred to as the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus describes himself as the living bread that has come down from heaven, as the bread that will give us eternal life.  As we hear the conclusion of our readings from the Bread of Life discourse today, we can make some observations of what we’ve been hearing these past five weeks.
        Several times in these readings, it mentions that the people murmured and quarreled.   It seems like in our modern world, murmuring and quarreling are part of our DNA, something we think we are entitled to do. We can be complainers, can’t we?  Sometimes we murmur or complain for no good reason.  With all that Jesus had explained to the people about being the bread of life, of his disciples eating his true flesh that will give them eternal life unlike the mana that the Israelites ate in the desert, they were very confused and frustrated, not understanding what he was really saying.  Even his own disciples say:  “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Even 2,000 years later, after all of our education and theology and the faith that has been passed down to us, many of the faithful still have trouble believing Jesus’ words.  The national Catholic research organization at Georgetown University in Washington, DC – CARA – did a study recently, asking practicing Catholics if they believed that Jesus was truly present in the bread and wine that we receive in the Eucharist, if we believe that it is truly his Body and Blood.  Now, mind you, these are practicing Catholic who were surveyed, so we might expect the response to be high.  However, only 57% Catholics surveyed said that they believed in that statement.  What a staggering statistic.  In our faith, we are called to see greater understanding, and as we grow in our understanding of God, we are called to grow in our faith.  Some of the mysteries and tenants of our faith are difficult to understand, to be sure, which is why Bible study groups and religious education and small faith communities are so important.  We started an apologetics class last fall, and it really struck a chord with the adults who attended it, so much so that this group will reconvene in September.   In light of today’s Gospel, it might be relevant for us to ponder this:  When we think that understanding our faith is too hard and too difficult, is it really the Word of the Lord that is hard, or is it ours hearts that want only to close themselves off from what Jesus is trying to tell us?  Are we threatened by the way the Word of God contradicts some of the ways we live our lives and the secular values that have ensnared us?
        At the end of Christ’s discussion today with the disciples, some of them decide that this is too much; they draw back into their former way of life and leave their life of discipleship.  If we look back one or two generations, especially prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the changes the world went through in the 1960s, most Catholics back then attended mass because they knew it was the right thing for them to do, that it was what they were asked to do in their faith.  More than that, they respected the authority of the Church and felt a sense of obligation to practice their faith.   Perhaps we could say that there was an element of fear as well.  Some of that way of thinking might not have been the healthiest way to approach the faith.   Today, that sense of obligation is not present in a lot of Catholics.  The Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in the mass each time we gather should encourage us and transform us into wanting to live out the spirit of the Eucharist in our lives.  I remember when I first arrived as a missionary in a remote jungle region of Ecuador, I was amazed to find how much that region was abandoned by the government, and how much the Catholic Church stepped in and provided basic services to the people.  Schools, hospitals, medical clinics, an orphanage, agricultural stations, community centers, business initiative programs, small loan funds, community art projects – it seemed like the Church was involved in every area of the people lives.  Everywhere, our Church is working very hard to be relevant in the lives of the people.   In our masses, in our religious education program, and in our youth group here at St James, we try to be engaged in what is important in the lives of the people, to try to stimulate us in the values of the faith.  As the United States is becoming more secular, as we see more and more people leaving the faith, we need to find ways to stay firm in the faith and to live out the spirit of the Eucharist in the world.  I don’t think everyone is aware of all that goes on in our parish.  This past week, our prison ministry group went out to Dismas House, a facility that helps federal inmates transitioning back into society after their incarceration.  The original Dismas House was founded in Kentucky with the help of the Knights of Columbus, so it is an important ministry for us to get involved in as Catholics.  Members of our parish went out there with a spaghetti dinner for them, as well as socks and underwear, items that the residents there desperately needed.   This past Thursday, our senior citizens outreach ministry went out to the Traceway Manor facility where we hosted a Hawaiian luau dinner.  We expected maybe about 40 residents – we ended up serving 88 residents, and I cannot tell you how many came up to me with big smiles on their faces thanking us for coming.  Members of our youth group helped serve with great joy in their hearts.  And this morning I went out to have a mass with members of our 
      That is the point about the Eucharist, of Jesus as the Bread of Life.  It is to bring joy to our hearts and call us to action, just the opposite of the murmuring and quarreling and leaving the faith that we saw in some of the disciples in today’s Gospel.  If the Eucharist is supposed to be the Bread of Life, how is it breathing life into our lives? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

8/21/2015 – Friday of the 20th week in Ordinary time – Ruth 1: 1, 3-6, 14B-16, 22

      This week, our first readings during daily mass had been coming from the Book of Judges, telling the story of the different prophets and judges who were called by God to try to bring his people back to the faith after they had strayed and had worshipped other foreign gods.  Today’s reading comes from the book that comes directly after the Book of Judges in the Bible – the book of Ruth.  And what a different tone we find in this book.  Ruth was not an Israelite herself – she was a Gentile, a Moabite, but she married an Israelite man.  Rather than go back to her people after her husband dies, she stays with her mother-in-law Naomi.  The book of Ruth tells the story of this selfless, courageous woman of faith, a woman devoted to her family.  I was just remarking to someone the other day how we live in a throw-away society.  How we get rid of a cell phone that is only a year or two old because we think it is ancient and of no more use.  We sometimes don’t have the loyalty and commitment we should have for our family and our community and our parish.  In a world we see things as ephemeral and impermanent, what commitment are we willing to make to God?  Are we willing to be as tenacious and forthright as Ruth?  Or are we willing to just walk away?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

8/19/2015 – Judges 9:6-15 – Wednesday of 20th week in Ordinary Time

         For most of the first readings in the daily masses this week, we will hear passages from the book of Judges. Judges tells the story about how the people of Israel kept turning away from God, even though he would call judges and prophets to preach his message, to try to get his people to repent and return to their faith.  Instead of listening to God's message, the people often turned to false gods. 
         In the passage we hear today, Gideon had just served as a judge over Israel.  Gideon had been chosen by God from the humble tribe of Manasseh, to free Israel from attacks from neighboring tribes & to condemn their worship of foreign gods.  In fact, Gideon destroyed one town's temple to the foreign god Baal. 
         Gideon had 71 sons.  With the aid of his mother's relatives, his son Abimelech had 69 of his brothers put to death so that he alone would be able to claim the right to rule.  Jotham, the youngest son, escaped death.  The people of Shechem made Abimelech king.  Even though Gideon had a reputation of being a man of great faith, even being named as such by the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, Abimelech became an unprincipled, ambitious ruler who did not listen to God and who often engaged in war with his own people.
         After Abimelech became king, Jotham told a parable, in which the fig tree, the vine, & the olive tree all declined to be named king when asked, because they were too busy bearing fruit, even though each of them would have made a worthy king.  The bramble bush is asked to be king and he accepts.  Even though the bramble has pretty flowers, it is a shrub with spines, a twisted, tangled mess.  It bears no fruit, its wood is not useful for construction, & it is not large enough to provide shade. 

         We can often pick leaders for the wrong reasons, as this story about Abimelech shows.  If we stay true to God and his commandments, we will not go wrong.