Wednesday, September 10, 2014

9/11/2014 – Thursday of 23rd week in ordinary time – Luke 6:27 – 38

      The ways of our faith can be so different from the ways of the world.  In that way, our Gospel is especially challenging for us today, as it tells us to turn the other cheek when someone hits us and to give the person who tries to steal our cloak another piece of clothing as well.  This is so different from the code of vengeance and revenge in which many in our society operate today.  We all called to forgive and to show mercy as followers of Christ, rather than to judge and condemn others.
       John Chrysostom is one of the saints we celebrate this week.  He was the Archbishop of Constantinople in the late 4th and early 5th century, and he is one of the revered Doctors of the Church.   He was known as one of the greatest preachers in the early Church.  Here is one such teaching from his homilies that relates to today’s Gospel, on how to reach out to others and how to have joy in our hearts: “Helping a person in need is good in itself. But the degree of goodness is hugely affected by the attitude with which it is done. If you show resentment because you are helping the person out of a reluctant sense of duty, then the person may receive your help but may feel awkward and embarrassed. This is because he will feel beholden to you. If, on the other hand, you help the person in a spirit of joy, then the help will be received joyfully. The person will feel neither demeaned nor humiliated by your help, but rather will feel glad to have caused you pleasure by receiving your help. And joy is the appropriate attitude with which to help others because acts of generosity are a source of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver.”

        May the Lord give us the grace to reach out to our enemies, to forgive, and to foster joy in our hearts. 

9/14/2014 Exaltation of the Cross – John 3:13-17, Phil. 2:6-11

      Today, we commemorate the feast of the exaltation of the holy cross.  We honor the cross by which Christ redeemed the world.   We focus on the mystery of the cross today, and ultimately, the mystery of God’s love for us.  We just had our wonderful mission given by Father Burke Masters this past week on The Joy of the Gospel.   Pope Francis mentions the cross 18 different times in that document.   He reminds us that in our faith it can be easy to try to approach Jesus in a purely spiritual sense, to ignore the cross and to ignore the way we are challenged to see Jesus and our faith in our daily lives. 
      Where do we see our the cross in the reality of our lives?  When I was a missionary, we established a high school deep in the rain forest jungle.   This was the first opportunity most of the youth and adults in that region of the rain forest had of earning a high school diploma.  Most of the adults and youth work on their family’s cocoa, rice, banana, or coffee crops during the week, so we met all day on Saturdays.  I remember one teenager in particular. Jose had to paddle in a canoe 5 hours each way in order to get to our school.  I remember one Saturday morning he came in late, hobbling in actually with great difficulty. I noticed that his leg was all bandaged up.  He had an accident with a machete and had cut himself really badly while cutting some brush in the forest.  The wound looked awful, but this young man was grateful to be at school and to have the opportunity to get an education.
      We all have our crosses, don’t we? That is what reminded me of this young man who had to make such a great sacrifice just to come to school.   Our crosses can make us angry and bitter, or we can bear them with grace and dignity, uniting them with the cross of Jesus, finding meaning in our crosses and growing from the lessons we learn from them.  We hear an ancient hymn that is part of Paul letter to the Philippians.  Paul states that God exalted Jesus because of how he humbled himself in obedience, even unto his death on a cross.  The cross is such a ubiquitous symbol of our Christian faith, but what does it really say about our faith, and what are the implications of the cross in our daily life? 
      Why would we celebrate a feast day in our Church’s liturgical year every September 14 exalting the cross?   After Christ’s death, non-believers in Israel had hidden and buried the cross on which he was crucified so that the faithful could not come and venerate it.   The Roman Emperor Constantine so deeply revered the victory-bearing sign of the cross of Christ that he wanted to find the actual cross itself.  He sent his mother, the Empress Helena, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find the cross, which she discovered on September 14, 326.   Nine years later, on September 14, 335, the remains of cross were publicly venerated at the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. 
      When we think about the cross of Jesus, a symbol that means so much to us in our Catholic faith, we can think about other symbolic crosses we encounter on our journey.  When we talked the pilgrimage of St James in Spain during Lent of last year, we talked about the “cruz de ferro,” the cross of iron, located on a high mountaintop along the pilgrimage route.  When the pilgrim places a rock on that huge pile of rocks located at the foot of that cross, he feels the many prayers left with those millions of rocks in the pile: prayers for sick family members, for deceased loved ones, for the depression or addictions that we struggle with, for a failed relationship or for a new job, or for things that we’ve done that we know were wrong and that we are not proud of. Approaching the iron cross on the road to Santiago is one of the most humbling moments of my life, because for me, that really represented the cross of Jesus, the cross of my faith.
      It is a paradox that the cross of Jesus, a sign of shame and rejection, becomes for us Christians a sign of God’s victory in Christ, and a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death for all humanity.   Paul’s hymn summarizes this story of salvation: the self-emptying of Jesus in his incarnation, his obedience to death on the cross, and the exaltation in his resurrection from death and his ascension into heaven.   While our modern world admires power and strength, Jesus willingly took on human form and limitations, he embraced humanity in mind, body, and spirit.  C. Our modern world esteems freedom and self-determination, but then we see Jesus humbly obeys God in accepting his cross.   Jesus did not seek individual gain and achievement, but rather emptied himself as an offering for others.  In the exaltation of the cross, the one who came as a servant is now proclaimed LORD of all.  And now we are the Body of Christ.  Paul says: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  We are called to be humble and obedient as a part of our faith and trust in God’s merciful love.   Let us echo in our hearts and in our daily actions the antiphon for today’s afternoon prayer in the liturgy of the hours: Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life.  Save us by your cross, Christ our Redeemer.

9/12/2014 - Friday of the 23rd week in Ordinary Time - The Most Holy Name of Mary – Psalm 84

      How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord.   We hear the psalmist declare this today, and perhaps we think of Mary as the dwelling place of the Lord. Today we celebrate a memorial celebrating the most holy name of Mary. In accordance with Jewish custom, Mary's parents named her eight days after her birth, and were inspired to call her Mary. The celebration of this memorial thus follows that of her Birthday, which we celebrated in the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary last Friday, September 5.  This is a counterpoint to the optional memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus which can be celebrated on January 3.  The feast originated in Spain and was approved by the Vatican in 1513.  Pope Innocent XI extended its observance to the whole Church in 1683 in thanksgiving to our Lady for the victory on September 12, 1683 by Holy Roman Empire over the Ottomans, who were besieging Vienna and threatening the West.
        Pope Benedict, in an address at a Cistercian monastery in Austria in 2007, said that he wanted to invite everyone to become a trusting child before Mary, even as the Son of God did. Benedict stated: “Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the Pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.”
       The Hebrew name of Mary, MiryĆ£m, means lady or sovereign.  We call Mary our Lady as we call Jesus our Lord, and when we pronounce her name we affirm her power, we implore her aid and we place ourselves under her protection.  As we heard in the mission with Father Burke this week, Pope Francis ended his apostolic exhortation with a Section on Mary.  Pope Francis writes: “Mary is always present in the midst of the people.”  Yes, Mary is indeed always with us.  Her prayers and intercessions are always with us to bring us closer to her son.  As we honor the most holy name of Mary today, may we feel her presence with us.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

9/8/2014 – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Matthew 1:18-23

       Today is a special feast day in our Church, as we celebrate the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   Mary's birth to her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, is not recorded in the Bible, but we know about this event from the Sacred Tradition that has been passed down us by the apostles and the early Church to us in the present day.  As Catholics, we do not have to be reminded that the Virgin Mary is a very important part of our Catholic faith. Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Mother of our Church, she has a very unique role in the history of salvation.  The importance of Mary's role in our faith shows up in many different ways.  We have a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our church here in Tupelo, and I brought to show you a drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe that depicts the way that the Virgin Mary appeared to a man named Juan Diego in Mexico way back in the year 1531. This drawing was made by one of the men we visit in our prison ministry out at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility out in Pearl as part of our Catholic prison ministry.  He was a member of our RCIA program out at the prison and was confirmed into the Catholic Church on Easter Saturday back in 2011. 
      In the Gospel today, we hear about how the birth of Jesus was announced by an angel into the lives of Mary and Joseph.  The important thing we Catholics always need to remember is this: that we do not honor Mary for her own sake.  Mary never wants to bring attention to herself, but she always points us to Jesus and she always helps us grow in our faith.  By the love she shows to us and the example she gives us, Mary was truly the first disciple, the first one who believe in Jesus and his forthcoming ministry here on earth.  As we celebrate the nativity of the Virgin Mary today, may we recognize her not only as the mother of Jesus, but as the Mother of our Church as well, as a Mother to all of us. 

9/10/2014 – Wednesday of 23rd week in ordinary time - Luke 6:20-26

        Today, in the beatitudes of Luke's Gospel, we hear Jesus address those whom he calls blessed: the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are isolated and insulted.   Jesus tells them that they can expect precisely the opposite of their present situations.  This can mean so many different things, both in Jesus’ day and in our present day.  We see so many who are poor trying to struggle to survive here on earth, but we see many who suffer from poverty of spirit or meaning in their lives.  There are those who hunger for food in their lives, who do not have enough to eat, but also those who hunger for friendship, those who hunger for hope or for a deeper connection to the divine in their lives. 
          I don’t think a lot of those whom Jesus listed would see themselves as blessed.  However, Pope Francis is saying somewhat the same thing in the Joy of the Gospel.   Pope Francis says that the poor have a special place in the Lord’s heart.  If you look at the Gospels, it was often the poor and dispossessed who followed him and had faith in him, who hungered for the words that he preached.  He assured those who burdened by sorrow or who were crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart.  Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus identifies himself as one of the poor in the crowd, saying “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was in prison and was sick and you visited me.”   How do we show mercy to those whom Jesus calls “blessed.”  How do we hunger for God’s word like they do? How do we unwrap the message of the Beatitudes and let it speak to our lives today?

9/9/2014 – Tuesday of 23rd week in Ordinary Time - Peter Claver - Luke 6:12-19

      On the last day of our parish mission, we hear a wonderful Gospel about Jesus choosing his 12 apostles.  A great crowd came to hear Jesus speak and to receive healing from him.  How are we carrying out that same mission?  That is one of the messages that Pope Francis and Father Burke have been challenging us with these last few days.  How are we being fed in our faith, and how, in turn, are we going out and making disciples ourselves?
     The saint we celebrate today really lived out today's Gospel message in the reality of his life.  And, I will be honest, he is a saint whom I admire tremendously.   In the age of the explorers & the Spanish conquistadors, many young men were leaving Europe for Asia, Africa, and the Americas in order to seek out a fortune and to become rich in a very material way.  Peter Claver, a young Jesuit priest, arrived in Cartegena, a port city in the county of Columbia, in the early 17th century in order to minister to the slaves who were brought there to work in the fields and the mines.  When the slave ships entered the port, Peter Claver would go aboard in order to minister to the slaves who were exhausted and who had been ill-treated on the long journey from Africa.  After they were herded out of the ships and shut up in nearby yards for buyers to inspect them for purchase, Peter Claver would bring them medicines, food, bread, and other items that would help them survive in this new land.  With the help of interpreters, he gave the slaves basic instructions in the faith; he assured them of their human dignity and the salvation that awaited them in God's kingdom.  Although its hard to imagine, during the 40 years of his ministry in Columbia, it is estimated that Claver baptized more 300,000 slaves.  Peter also preached missions to many in Cartegena, including the sailors, the tradesmen, and those living in the countryside, being a witness for social justice & the values of the Gospel. 
     What a great example we have in Peter Claver in being an evangelizer and being on fire for the Gospel message.  What a great message we have heard from Father Burke these past few days.  May we hear the Lord calling us to bring the joy of the Gospel to others. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

9/4/2014 – Thursday of 22nd week in Ordinary Time – 1 Corinthians 3:18-23, Psalm 24:1-6

      I found an interesting contrast in two of the readings we have in our daily mass today.  Our first reading from Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth states that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”  But, in contrast, the psalmist declares: “To the Lord belongs the earth and all that fills it.”  I remember that I was with Father Albeen registering him for surgery at the hospital.   The lady taking down his information asked him if he was married, and I responded: “No, he is a Catholic priest.”  She went on with the other questions, and then she said she wanted to verified something that we had said earlier.  She asked why we mentioned that Father Albeen was a Catholic priest when we stated that he was not married.  She just couldn’t believe that priests cannot marry.  She had never heard that before.  She asked: You can  never marry?  Never?  Never ever ever ever?  I said, yes, never ever ever ever.  Her response was:  Well ok.  That’s pretty strange.  But I guess it is what it is. Sometimes our faith calls us to do something that the world doesn’t understand.  Sometime what we do for our faith might seem foolish to the wisdom of the world.  But, sometimes, that is what we are called to do. May we take joy in our faith, even in the ways we are mocked or treated as being foolish according to the ways of the world.