Our parables probably sound familiar today – we heard them as part of our readings last Sunday. It is striking that the treasure in the parable is found by accident. The person was probably not even looking for that treasure when he found it. Our life of faith is that way as well. Jesus can come to us in very unexpected ways; perhaps those surprise visits are the greatest treasure we can have. On the website for the pilgrims going to the Camino of St James in Spain, so many people planning their pilgrimage don’t want to leave anything to chance and try to plan each little detail to the greatest extent possible. The trouble with that is that sometimes it does not leave much opportunity for God to interact with us in those unexpected ways. A big part of pilgrimage is being open to God in those unexpected ways. Even if we are happy and content with our lives, Jesus can come to us out of the blue and really upset our plans, can’t he? Let us try to open up our hearts to those unexpected ways God speaks to us in our daily lives.
Monday, July 28, 2014
We hear harsh words that the prophet Jeremiah delivers to the people of Israel today, which were given about 6 centuries before the birth of Jesus.. Even though the people are told that disaster will befall them if they do not repent and turn back to the Lord, they become angry and indignant, wanting to put the prophet Jeremiah to death. Sometimes we don’t want to hear what God says to us, do we. I remember one prisoner at the state prison in Yazoo City telling me that when he was in the process of doing the act that put him into prison, he knew that God was trying to give him the message that he was doing something that was wrong, but that he did not want to hear what God was saying and did it anyway. The Lord tells them that Israel will be treated like Shiloh if she does not repent. Shiloh was an ancient shrine that had been destroyed by the Philistines.
God sends messengers and prophets to bring his message to the people. Throughout the history of Christianity, God has sent different people to found religious orders, to bring a certain charism to our Catholic faith and to bring a certain message to the world. Yesterday, we heard of Ignatius of Loyola, who in the era of the Protestant Reformation founded the Jesuits, an order who has sent missionaries all of the world, an order to pledged their allegiance in a special way to the Pope at a time when papal authority was being questioned. Today, we celebrate Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church who was born into a noble family in Naples in Italy and who had a celebrated career as a lawyer before becoming a priest. St Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer – the Redemptorists – in 1732. This congregation’s goal was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places, to bring the Gospel to that reality. They also fought Jansenism, a spirituality which created an exaggerated sense of sin, deterring people from receiving the Eucharist. God used Alphonsus Liguori and the Redemptorists in preaching his message in a very specific way, in bringing his message of love and mercy to the world. He encouraged people to have a strong devotion to Mary and the Blessed Sacrament. May the Lord open our ears to the prophets who speak to us today, even though we might not want to hear the message that they have to tell us.
Jeremiah is sent to a potter’s workshop by God to be taught some lessons. One lesson Jeremiah learns today is this: just as a potter has complete control over his clay and makes whatever he wills, so is the Lord master of his people. We are like clay in his hands. He will fashion us and mold us if we let him.
The Lord teaches us lessons in our ordinary lives, just as he taught Jeremiah from the ordinary daily work of a potter. I think of how this relates to the life of St Ignatius of Loyola, our saint for the day. Since our beloved Pope Francis is a member of the Jesuits, the religious order that St Ignatius founded, it seems that we are hearing more about the Jesuits these days. Ignatius was born in late 15th century in 1491, the year before Columbus sailed for America. He was the youngest of 11 children from a family in the Basque country in northern Spain. Ignatius was destined to be a solider, but while fighting at the siege of Pamplona in 1621, he suffered a broken leg that had to be re-broken after it was not set properly. Ignatius was confined to his bed for a long period of time, where he learned about saints such as Dominic and Francis of Assisi - the affected in him a profound conversion of faith. After spending time as a hermit in a cave and time wandering, reflecting and ponding, Ignatius enrolled in the university of Paris at the age of 30 to become a priest, a very advanced to be in formation to be a priest. He had to study Latin with young boys in order to get ready for his study of theology. Like the clay that is molded by the potter, Ignatius had to open his life to be molded by God. From the humble beginnings of his conversion, to the way he wrote his spiritual exercises while trying to discern God’s will for him in his life, Ignatius of Loyola went on to found the religious order of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuit - an order of priests that still has great influence in Catholicism today. We celebrate Ignatius of Loyola today – and pray that his prayers and intercessions accompany us on our own journey.
Today, we celebrate the memorial of St Martha. We hear about Martha, her sister Mary, and her brother Lazarus, but if you think about it, of these three siblings, only Martha is a saint celebrated in our Church’s liturgical year. What is interesting is that Martha announces as she meets Jesus: Lord, if you had been her, my brother would not have died. This statement is later repeated by Mary later in the chapter when she meets Jesus. Perhaps Mary is repeating a statement that her sister said. What is most remarkable about Martha in today’s Gospel is her profession of faith: I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. We heard in yesterday Gospel from Matthew about a small mustard seed that can grow into a big, beautiful bush. Martha ‘s faith probably started with that small kernel of faith, and her profession in the Gospel is the fruit of that faith that grew in her. It is interesting how often Jesus requires a statement of faith before working a miracle in someone’s life. Perhaps it is Martha’s profession of faith that propels Jesus to enact one of his most profound miracle’s in the Gospel of John – the raising of Martha’s sister, Lazarus. This miracle that he performs is a proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, of his identity as the Son of God. After he states that he is the resurrection and the life he asks Martha: Do you believe this? John shows us in his Gospel that everything is centered around faith: faith in Jesus – father in his Word. Martha is an example for all us. She is most particularly an example of faith for those of us in the modern world who face so many obstacles in living out our faith. St Martha – help us to have the faith to believe.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Faith the size of a mustard seed – sometimes that might seem like something unattainable. I think we often take faith for granted, not understanding that it is truly a grace from God to be able to have faith. In a conversation I was having with a friend once, he told me that he thought faith was nothing more than a cop-out from having legitimate tangible proof. I think the age we live in – with smart phones and tablets and computers and GPS systems – with all these technological devices, we think we need touch it and see it and prove it in order to believe. It all can begin with a little mustard seed. It can begin by being able to say: I want to believe. Or: Lord – I want you to help me in my doubts and in my unbelief. We need to wrestle with those doubts that we have. We need to be able to bring them to the Lord. It may be a very humbling act indeed to admit that we don’t have all the answers, to admit that we will never have enough proof to satisfy our hunger. But all we have to do to start off with is to have the faith of a mustard seed. That is it.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
We welcome all of you to this special mass today. We are so grateful to have Bishop Kopacz celebrating with us; so grateful to have all of you here with us celebrating this special occasion as well. Not only is this the weekend of the feast day of our parish’s patron saint – St James the Greater – but we celebrate our parish’s 100 years here in Tupelo. It is a very special occasion for us – one that helps us remember and honor the past, one that helps us to look toward the future with hope, and one that helps us to celebrate the community we have here in the present.
When I was assigned here to St James about a year and a half ago, I received a universal response from people when I told them I was going to move up here. Their response was: You are going to love St James. You are going to love Tupelo. In fact, Monsignor Elvin Sunds, the Vicar General of our Diocese, told me that he considered St James here in Tupelo one of the gems of our Diocese that a lot of people don’t know much about. That ties into the message of today’s Gospel, of a treasure that is hidden in a field. We would give everything we had to have that treasure. I wonder if anyone could image how a parish would grow and develop here in Tupelo one day? From the priests who accompanied the Spanish and French who traveled here in this area in the days of the explorers in the 16th century, to the visiting priests who would come and visit the few Catholic families who resided in this area in the 19th century. Our parish of St James in Tupelo would become established a hundred years ago as a small missionary parish served by the Benedictine priests from Culman, Alabama, and would grow into the largest parish in Northeast Mississippi and one of the largest parishes in our Diocese today. I look out at our parish and see a great richness and a great treasure in our diversity. Some of you here at from families that have been in the parish for many generations, who have many stories in your families from the early days of St James. We also have a lot of families who came here from other parts of the country, to work in jobs in manufacturing or at the medical center, who have added to the diverse spirituality of our parish. And then we have a large group of first generation immigrants to the United States, who are raising their families here, and who have added their experiences, their culture, and their languages to our community. We see that reflected in the rich and diverse participation in our mass today.
In these past few years, St James the Greater, our parish’s patron saint, has captured the imagination of our parishioners. We just celebrated the feast day of St James on Friday. His presence with us this weekend with our Saturday morning hike modeled after the Camino of St James in Spain, and the St James crosses and scallop shell that decorate our gathering space this morning, show home important St James is to us as our patron saint. The story of St James the Apostle is so fascinating, and in some ways reflects the journey that our Catholic Church and our parish here in Tupelo have as pilgrims. He traveled to Spain as a missionary after Christ’s death and resurrection, but did not make many converts to the faith, so he returned to Jerusalem feeling very disappointed and very defeated. He was the first apostle to die a martyr’s death. After his death, his body was sent back to Spain to be buried, which at that time still was not a Christian country, where his remains were forgotten about for 8 centuries. In the midst of Spain being occupied by the Moors, James’ remains were rediscovered in the 9th century, where he brought inspiration to the Christians to continue to practice their faith. In a modern world where many have become complacent about practicing their faith, the pilgrimage dedicated to St James, which has been in place for more than 13 centuries, calls out to people today from many different walks of life.
Just as St James has guided millions of pilgrims to his holy city in northern Spain on a pilgrimage journey of faith, so I feel that St James as our parish’s patron saint has guided this parish throughout its 100 year history. And we have a lot to be proud of in our parish. Today, we are very active in our community and involved in many social outreach programs in Tupelo, which has reflected the leadership and wisdom of many of the pastors we have had throughout the years. We have become a leader in Hispanic ministry here in our diocese, trying many new and innovative things. Yesterday, at the Saturday evening mass, we celebrated the LIMEX students that we here in Tupelo have hosted for some years now, training lay people for leadership roles in our parish and in our diocese. I always brag to my fellow priests about how I have the best liturgy committee in the diocese, another fruit of the lay leadership we have here in our parish. We do have a lot to celebrate today. It is a very joyful occasion for us. And we are challenged not to just rest on our laurels and our accomplishments of the past, but we are challenged to look to the future: to be the joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis talks about. To be a welcoming, committed community that helps its members be disciples, that goes out and makes disciples. To truly be the Body of Christ. As we celebrate our mass today around the Lord’s table, as we enjoy a meal together and fellowship with our fellow parishioners, let us give thanks to the Lord for the blessings he has given our parish of St James in Tupelo.