Tuesday, August 19, 2014

8/22/2014 - Friday of 20th week in Ordinary Time – The Queenship of Mary – Isaiah 9:1-6, Luke 1:26-38

      I just finished reading a book entitled Behold Your Mother: Priests Speak about Mary, edited by Stephen J Rossetti.   It talks about the special relationship we priests have with Mary, and it really touched my heart to read these reflections by different priests about how they see Mary in their lives and in their priesthood.  We have a lot of different days in the Church in which we honor Mary, but I thought that it would be nice to celebrate this special feast in honor of Mary today.   Mary is indeed  the mother of the King of Kings, so today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth one week after we celebrated her Assumption into Heaven Body and Soul.  Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954, but like most doctrines and dogma declared about Mary, the faithful for centuries had believed this before it was officially declared so by the Church. 
     Isaiah boldly proclaims in the first reading: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”   For us Christians, we see Christ as a light shining in the darkness.  We see Mary doing all she can through her motherly love for us to guide us to that light and to help us grow ever closer to her Son. In the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary with a greeting of Good News:  Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you!   The Lord was with Mary in a special way in the manner she consented to his will to be the Mother of our Lord. Through the lens of our faith, we see how special Mary was in the eyes of God for this task.  We as Mary’s adopted sons and daughters honor her today as our Queen.
     Just 2 days ago, we celebrated the Memorial of St Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church.  Bernard had a great devotion to Mary and his spiritual writings on Mary still have a profound resonance in our modern world.  I will close with some of his thoughts: “Whoever you are that perceive yourself during this mortal existence to be rather drifting in treacherous waters, at the mercy of the winds and the waves, than walking on firm ground, turn not away your eyes from the splendor of this guiding star, unless thou wish to be submerged by the storm. Look at the star, call upon Mary. With her for guide, you shall not go astray, while invoking her, you shall never lose heart if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”

8/21/2014 – Thursday of 20th week in Ordinary Time – Ezekiel 35:25

      We in Mississippi seem to have adequate rainfall most of the time, although I think there are times that the farmers in our area don’t have adequate water for their crops.  And while it may seem so far away and so different from our reality, the drought that they are having in California and others states in the West is terrifying to comprehend in its magnitude.   So have an image of water today from Ezekiel, a cleansing image that is heard both in our first reading and in our psalm response:  “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” What do we need to be cleansed from today?  What idols are we fixated upon?  What impurities are holding us back on our journey of faith?  And when we think about cleansing in this sense, even though water is a good symbol for us, the working of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation and response to God are what will bring it about.  May the Spirit renew us.  May the Spirit cleanse us. 

8/20/2014 – Wednesday of 20th week in Ordinary Time – Memorial of St Bernard of Clairvaux – Ezekiel 34:1-11, Psalm 23:1-6

      We hear about sheep and shepherds in a couple of our readings today.
A. In the message that the prophet Ezekiel delivers to God’s people, he sees them as sheep without shepherds to adequately watch over them, and so they have becoming prey to wild animals.  And the psalm we hear today is the popular 23rd psalm, in which the psalmist declares the Lord as his shepherd.
      The saint we celebrate today is one of the great shepherds we have had as a leadership role in the Catholic Church – St Bernard of Clairvaux.  Even though Bernard died way back in the 12th century, his influence as an abbot and spiritual writer can still be felt in our Church today, as evidenced by Bernard being declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830 by Pope Pius VII.   In fact, the Cistercian monastery he founded in Clairvaux in France was instrumental in founding other monasteries throughout Europe and spreading the influence of monasticism.  Bernard’s writings on Mary are seen as particularly influential, especially his writing on Mary’s role as a mediator in our lives as disciples of Christ. There is one quote of Bernard’s that I find particularly interesting: “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”
       It is interesting how Bernard can still be so influential in our faith today – in his writings, in his example of faith, in his influence on monasticism, and in the prayers and intercessions he sends our way.  As Bernard so eloquently said: “What we love we shall grow to resemble.”  May that be so in our lives of faith.

8/19/2014 – Tuesday of 20th week in Ordinary Time – Matthew 19:23-30

     Where do we find our riches here on earth?  How do we use our treasures We heard these themes addressed in the Gospel yesterday when the rich young man asked Jesus what good he should do in order to gain eternal life.  Then, today, we hear Jesus tell us that a camel could enter the eye of a needle much easier than a rich man can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
      You know, in our Catholic faith, we have those who have been gone through the canonization process and who are official saints in our Church’s liturgical calendar, but we also have members of the community of saints who have not gone through that process, but are still strong examples of faith for us.   Jessica Powers, known with the religious name of Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, grew up in rural Wisconsin in the early 1900s and became a Carmelite sister.  She died on August 18, 1988.  I became aware of Jessica Powers and her poetry through a presentation at my seminary given by Bishop Robert Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay.  She did not enter the Carmelite monastery in Milwaukee until she was 36 years old.   With over 300 published poems and more than 100 that were unpublished during her lifetime, she has touched many lives and has been recognized for the themes of discontent, spiritual longing, contemplation, mysticism, and an exploration of the human condition.  Her poetry and her devotion of living the life of a Carmelite nun in service to God have spoken as to where she put her treasures.  I want to end this homily with one of her poems -

Creature of God

That God stands tall, incomprehensible,
infinite and immutable and free
I know. Yet more I marvel as His call
trickles and thunders down through space to me.

that from His far eternities He shouts
to me, one small inconsequence of day.
I kneel down in the vastness of His love,
cover myself with creaturehood and pray.

God likes me covered with my creaturehood
and with my limits spread across His face
He likes to see me lifting to his eyes
even the wretchedness that dropped his grace.

I make no guess what greatness took me in.
I only know, and relish it as good,
that I am gathered more to God's embrace
the more I greet him to through my creaturehood.

8/18/2014 – Monday of 20th week of Ordinary Time – Deuteronomy 32:18-20

      I had not spent a lot of time visiting my siblings in the last couple of years, so I arranged to see them when I travel to a mission appeal on the East Coast last weekend. I spent my layover on the train in Chicago visiting my brother, and then spent several days with my sister and her family in Boston before heading to the mission appeal in New Jersey. With my brother, we not only ate in diner in downtown Chicago where my parents and grandparents had eaten before, but I also visited the Chicago Cultural Center, housed in the old city public library building built in the 1890s.   In fact, in the cultural center, there was an exhibit of recent object and graphic design innovations that have come out of Chicago in recent years.
       I thought of these experiences I had last week when I saw the responsorial psalm today, which is actually taken from the book of Deuteronomy.  The refrain states: “You have forgotten God who gave you birth.”  It is good for us to remember where we came from, but, unfortunately, we sometimes can forget about our heritage and our beginnings.  And that relates to not only our family heritage, but our spiritual heritage as well.  If we think about our Bible readings, we can reflect upon how we are handed down the faith by the prophets such as Ezekiel and by examples of faith such as the rich young man in the Gospel who wanted to fully live out his faith and his discipleship.
      May we always remember our roots – where we came from.  May we always remember our heritage – our earthly heritage and our spiritual heritage.  As we recall those who passed down the faith to us, we will receive their prayers and intercessions, both guidance and renewal in our lives of faith.

Friday, August 8, 2014

8/10/2014 – 19th Sunday ordinary time – 1 Kings 19: 9, 11-13

     In our first reading from the first book of Kings, the prophet Elijah is in quite a predicament.  He’s fleeing for his life, knowing that King Ahab and Jezebel are out to kill him, knowing that the people of Ancient Israel have broken their covenant with God by worshipping the foreign god Baal.  Elijah flees into the wilderness in haste and despair, wishing for a quick, peaceful death.   The word of God comes to Elijah, telling him to stand on the mountaintop to see the Lord pass before him.  But God isn’t in the great wind, or the strong earthquake, or the tremendous fire – all the powerful and wondrous places he expected God to be.  Elijah looked out of the entrance of the cave where he was hiding, watching all those powerful manifestations of nature pass by where God often appeared to his prophets.   He saw God not in those grand acts of nature, but in a tiny, quiet whisper.  We might be looking for God in certain things ourselves, we might be expecting God to speak to us in a certain way, but God often presents himself to us in some very surprising ways. 
      Elijah is one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel.  He had just defeated the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel right before today’s reading starts.  In that gentle whisper, God reassured Elijah that he was to continue his mission in speaking for God to the people of Israel.  In this reading, we see how even a great prophet like Elijah needs encouragement on his journey.  Even though Elijah had accomplished so much as a prophet, even though he had some amazing victories in fighting off the forces of evil, he still felt afraid and alone at times. In the midst of victory, Elijah felt loneliness, discouragement, and doubt.  But, rather than rebuking Elijah for his fears, God encourages him.
     How is God encouraging us?  How is He speaking to us in subtle ways?  We are all human. Even Elijah, who was called by God in a very special way, was human.  What I take away from today’s first reading is this:  God did not give up on Elijah.  And he does not give up on us. God was patient with Elijah, taking him to a place where he was able to respond.  God is patient with us.   And we must be patient with him and not give up.
       As I thought about how God speaks to us, especially in the context of our faith community of St James in Tupelo, two things came to my mind.  First, God calls us not only as individuals, but as a community of faith as well, and we are called to be loyal to that community.  Someone who is not a Christian or who is a member of a Protestant denomination might enter a Catholic church and notice first and foremost how our altar is front and center.   The Eucharist we celebrate on that altar there is considered the source and summit of our Catholic. We may be hurting or disgruntled or in pain about things that are going on in our lives, in our world, perhaps even in our Church our in our parish.  The Church calls us bring all of that to the altar of the Lord, to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist as Jesus speaking to our hearts, as Jesus bringing us healing and comfort and strength.  It may take an extreme act of courage to even come to the Lord’s table on some days, we may be hurting so badly, but that is what that quiet whisper of God residing in the recesses of our hearts is calling us to do. 
      The next thing I want to say is this – sometimes the way God speaks to us is not the way God is speaking to others.  So many of the revered saints and movements of our day were mocked and criticized during their lives here on earth.  Teresa of Avila was brought before the Spanish. John of the Cross was thrown into a dungeon in the middle of winter by his brother monks and died of exposure.  Both of them are now Doctors of the Church and two very beloved saints.   The world now looks on with joy and hope as Pope Francis, a Jesuit priest, leads our Church.  Even though the Jesuits are largest Catholic religious order of priests in the world, in the late 18th century, the Jesuits were suppressed and not allowed to work in ministry in the Church for 40 years. Even Hildegard of Bingen, named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict in 2012, who is described to have a very creative theology, was often criticized and condemned in her day – way back in the 12th century.   The point is – many of the theologians and saints whom we esteem today were criticized for the message they once proclaimed in their own day, a message that often becomes accepted and appreciated with time.  It is easy for us to think that the theology we personally embrace is the only right and orthodox theology.  It is sometimes easy to snub our noses at theologies that we are skeptical about or that don’t personally speak to us.  However, think of how such remarks and comments can be hurtful to our brothers and sisters who find God in those theologians and movements. 
      God speaks to us in many ways – through a clap of thunder sometimes, through a quiet whisper other times.  God can come to us in very expected ways in the different situations we are confronted with in life.   God often comes to us in those seemingly mundane, ordinary events that make up the majority of our days here on earth.  Maybe we’re looking for a specific way for God to speak to us, so much so that we miss the way he is already present to us.  Let’s be open to the ways God is opening our hearts to his presence.  And let us do so with patience and kindness. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

3 de agosto de 2014 – Decimo octavo domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Mateo 14, 13-21 –

      La narración en el Evangelio de hoy es mas de un milagro que Jesús hizo en la multiplicación de los panes y los peces.  La muchedumbre estaba buscando algo. La muchedumbre tenía hambre, y ella estaba buscando algo para llenar esta hambre.  Una hambre física  - pero otras niveles de hambre también.  Pero, ellos estaban buscando un Salvador, un Mesías, un centro de su espiritualidad.  Nosotros, los fieles de nuestro mundo moderno, buscamos algo también.  Buscamos algo para satisfacer la hambre en nuestro espíritu, la hambre en nuestro corazón, el hambre de la búsqueda de significado en nuestra vida.
       Hoy, como un don de Dios, tenemos el milagro de la Eucaristía, el milagro del cuerpo y sangre Dios.  Hoy en la misa recibimos a Cristo como alimento de nuestra vida nueva.  Estamos unidos en la Iglesia, en la Eucaristía.  Estamos unidos como el Cuerpo de Cristo en el mundo, el Cuerpo de Cristo para continuar sus obras aquí.  Los discípulos han mirado la muchedumbre y ellos tenían miedo – ellos querían dispersar la muchedumbre porque ella tenía hambre.  Jesucristo no quería dispersar la muchedumbre.  Al contrario, Jesus quería unir. 
       ¿Cómo puede la comunidad hispana de nuestra parroquia de Santiago el Apóstol alimentar los miembros de nuestra comunidad de fe como Cristo alimentó a la muchedumbre en el Evangelio de hoy?  A veces, es un desafío y una cruz para nosotros.  El viernes pasado, tuvimos un momento de oración en nuestra iglesia sobre el asunto de inmigración y la crisis con los niños y jóvenes quienes entran la frontera de los Estados Unidos solitos.  Unos miembros de nuestra parroquia estaban preguntándome sobre la meta de esta momento de oración y la demostración que tuvimos afuera en frente de la iglesia.  Es difícil para tener una conversación sobre este tema.  Y en mi opinión, hay los problemas con inmigración ahora porque el gobierno federal tenía sus ojos cerrados sobre esta realidad por muchos años.  Si – es mas fácil si no conversamos sobre los temas como inmigración porque son temas polémicos.  Es mas fácil y mas tranquilo para tener nuestras cabezas en la arena y para decir que no hay ningún problema, que no importa que no tenemos solidaridad con los pobres o los extranjero o los oprimidos – que no importa esta enseñanza de justicia de los profetas en la Biblia. Pero un miembro de nuestra parroquia me explicó ayer que la iglesia no es un club social, que necesitamos conversar sobre justicia y los valores de nuestra fe. Estoy muy agradecido al ministerio hispano en nuestra parroquia y a las parroquias de Pontotoc y New Albany con su colaboración con nosotros en esta momento de oración.  Sabemos que nuestro camino de fe no es suave y no es fácil.  Pero, para mi, es una manera donde nuestra comunidad hispana puede alimentar nuestra parroquia y ser testigos de fe.  Gracias por su testimonio.