Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4/24/2015 – Friday of the 3rd week of Easter – John 6:52-59

     The reading we hear in today’s Gospel is part of the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of John.  In the past week, I gave a presentation to the parents of the children who will be receiving first holy communion and led a discussion with the neophytes in the RCIA program about discipleship. Both of those presentations talked about the centrality of the Eucharist in our Catholic faith. And the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel that we hear today does such a great job of giving us a solid foundation in our belief in the Eucharist. In fact, I recommend reading this chapter of John's Gospel to any Christian who wants to understand the Scriptural basis for our belief in the Eucharist. We can only imagine how radical it was for those Jews to hear Jesus tell them that they were to eat his flesh and drink his blood and that this would be true food and true drink for them on their journey. 
     One of the greatest honors I have as a priest is to give a person his first communion.  Looking in the eyes at the moment can say so much, more than words could. How important is the Eucharist to us in our lives of faith?  Is it something we long for?  Or is it just another something we fit into our schedule?  I know what the answer is for those of you here at daily mass.  I know the Eucharist is important to you and you make it a priority in your busy lives. How can we transmit that message to others?

Friday, April 17, 2015

4/23/2015 – Thursday of the 3rd week of Easter – Acts 8:26-40

      Sometimes, our reading from Sacred Scripture can be so compelling and so vivid that it may seem like a movie or theater production enfolding right before our very eyes.  In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, we hear about an Ethiopian Eunuch who receives the call to journey to Jerusalem to worship God, a God that he really doesn’t know about and really doesn’t understand.  The Lord sends Philip to greet this Eunuch, to teach him about this reading from the prophet Isaiah that the Eunuch had been trying to read, to teach him about the Lord of Life. Philip disappears from scene just as quickly as he appeared, just like a super hero in a Hollywood movie.  The Lord sent Philip to another land to spread the word of God to others.  Yet, before he leaves, Philip baptized the Eunuch in a body of water that they came upon.
       We hear about such miraculous stories of faith in Sacred Scripture, of how the Lord touches the hearts of different people, bringing them to him through great odds and difficult circumstances.  There is a lot of mythology associated with the saint we celebrate today – St George.  His name probably brings to our mind the image of this courageous saint slaying a dragon – certainly some of the mythology that has sprung up about him throughout history.  We do know that George was a Roman soldier who rose to the rank of officer and who was born in the latter part of the 3rd century before the Roman Empire officially recognized Christianity. The Roman Emperor Diocletian put George to death for his unwillingness to give up his Christian faith.  George became one of the most venerated Catholic saints, having become the patron of Crusaders and soldiers, and having been depicted often in iconography. 
        All of us face challenges in our journey of faith in one way or another. We can see in the story of the Eunuch how we are called to go out of our way to discover more about our faith, to find out more about what we don’t understand. We can see in the story of St George a calling to stand up for our faith in the midst of great adversity.  May the Lord continue to lead us and guide us along our journey of faith.  May he set our hearts on fire with a love of God and a curiosity and vigor to always want to learn more and to grow in the ways of faith. 

Rest in peace, Cardinal Francis George

With gratitude in my heart, this is my prayer:  Rest in Peace Cardinal Francis George. Cardinal George was a great leader of our American Catholic Church and of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was a great spokesperson for the Gospel of Life and for religious freedom. His voice will be greatly missed. Current Archbishop Cupich of Chicago announced today: "A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord." Go in peace, Cardinal George - our prayers are with you.  You have been a great example of faith for us.  As a fellow native Chicagoan, I thank you for your leadership of one of the great Catholic cities of the world. 

A great quote from Cardinal George, one that has been quoted to me by some of my Protestant minister friends who saw the quote as very profound and prophetic in light of the attacks on religious liberty and on Christians in recent years in our country: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

4/22/2015 – Wednesday of 3rd week of Easter – Acts 8:1b-5

     In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the increased persecutions of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that occurred just after Stephen was stoned to death, as he became the first martyr of the early Church immediately following Christ’s death and resurrection.   Yet, we’re reminded that this era of increased persecution led to even greater evangelization and an increase in conversions to the way of Jesus.  In the midst of these persecutions, Philip goes to Samaria where he performs miracles of healing and exorcisms to the shouts of great joy in that city.  There are times where we can feel out of place for the values of our faith that we try to live out in the face of adversity. 
     We are call to feel the joy of the resurrection during the days of the Easter season.  Jesus is resurrected – that should fill our hearts with joy and comfort. Yet, sometimes what is going on in our lives do not fill our hearts with joy and hope.  I found this quote from Henri Nouwen "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. We joyfully announce it. [And yet] I realize that my faith and unbelief are never far from each other. Maybe it is exactly at the place where they touch each other that the growing edge of my life is."  May we embrace the reality of our joys and our sorrows, our comforts and our challenges, our doubt and our belief.  May we feel God’s presence today on our journey.

4/21/2015 – Tuesday of the 3rd week of Easter - Acts 7:51-8:1a

       Stephen is stoned to death in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, dying a martyr’s death with dignity and respect.  He is the first martyr recorded in Sacred Scripture by the Early Church after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We as modern believers know that there are many other martyrs that will die for the faith in those first centuries.  Stephen kept his faith, telling the Lord not to hold this sin against the people.   C. God’s grace was working within Stephen until the very end.
        Stephen gave his life for the faith. St Anselm, the saint we celebrate today, also gave his life to God and for the faith.  Anselm was a Benedictine monk in Normandy, France in the 11th century who was named as the Archbishop of Canterbury in England at the age of 60.  Even though Anselm was a monk and abbot, he is now remembered as one of the great theologians of Western Christianity.  Anselm is known as the Father of Scholasticism, a method of learning and reason that was employed in philosophy and theology for hundreds of year.  Anselm spent many years in exile while serving as Archbishop of Canterbury trying to defend the faith against kings who tried to overrule him and assert their own will.  I remember writing a paper on the proofs of God’s existence that Anselm put forth in a course I took in medieval philosophy.  Here is a quote from St Anselm that reflects his steadfastness in the faith: “0 Lord: my heart is made bitter by its own desolation; sweeten it by Your consolation. I beseech you, O Lord, that having begun in hunger to seek You, I may not finish without partaking of You. I set out famished; let me not return unfed.”

        We have so many wonderful examples of faith in the community of the saints; St Anselm and St Stephen are just two of them.  May they inspire us on our own journeys and may their prayers and intercession help us in the challenges and trials we face in life.  

4/19/2015 - 3rd Sunday in Easter – Luke 24:35-48; Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

       In our busy modern world, most of us have so many things to do pulling us in so many different directions; it seems like we finish one thing and we're already doing the next thing on our to do list. During the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter, we've endured a long period of fasting, prayer, and penance.  By the time we've reached Easter weekend, we've felt the joy of the risen Lord, and then we want to get on with the rest of our liturgical year.  But, Easter does not just end with Easter morning -  Easter is a season that lasts all the way to Pentecost, which falls on May 24th this year.  During the Easter season, our Sunday readings tell us about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  These readings help us to reflect upon what the risen Christ really means to us in our lives of faith.
        Why would we need any further explanation? Christ has risen: what’s so complicated about that?  Peter tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus. Jesus is glorified! Jesus is risen!  What did this really mean to the followers of Jesus right after his resurrection?  What does it really mean to us today?  That's what these post-resurrection appearances in the readings of the Easter season help us figure out.
         There are a lot of emotions going on in today's Gospel, feelings that some of us also might have in our own lives.  The disciples were terrified and startled, thinking they’d seen a ghost. They're troubled and skeptical, holding onto a lot of questions in their hearts. After seeing Jesus’ hands and feet, after starting to realize who he truly is, they are incredulous for joy and are amazed.  The disciples are coming to terms with what the resurrected and transformed Jesus is all about; this is a radical new experience for them.  Perhaps. we, too, still wonder what relevance the resurrection has for us, how the risen Christ can transform the reality of our lives.
          Luke's Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus personally opened the minds of the disciples to the fuller meaning of the words he spoke during his lifetime.  He offered a deeper understanding of the prophets, the psalms, and the law in the Hebrew Scriptures that he had fulfilled. The experience of the risen Christ for these original disciples and for those of us who follow Jesus today is to open our minds and hearts to this. 
          But how do we experience the risen Christ as a reality?  Incredulous joy and amazement: that is what the disciples felt in the midst of the reality of the risen Christ.  Pope Francis had issued an encyclical The Joy of the Gospel that many of us have read and that Father Burke Masters addressed at our parish mission last year.  I recently came across a pastoral letter that Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis had issued back in 2009 that I had used as a study text with the prisoners I visited at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl; it is entitled: Living our Catholicism: That Our Joy May Be Complete.    
          In experiencing the risen Christ in our lives, Bishop Steib asserts that we shouldn't approach our faith primarily as a code to live by or a philosophy of life, but rather as a faith that rests on a real, historical person: Jesus of Nazareth, who literally embodies God for us.  We can take for granted the fact that God entered human history and became flesh.  With joy, we proclaim that the entire Christ event is still with us today.  The risen Christ lives today in our Church's liturgy and symbols, in the sacraments and the Word of God, and in our interactions with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Through these many ways, the risen Jesus continues to be enfleshed by us, for us and among us in the here and now.  Bishop Steib emphasizes that our joy in the risen Lord must flow out of our love of God and love of neighbor, which are inseparable from one another.  Only if we serve our neighbor, can our eyes be truly opened to the reality of the risen Christ in our world, to the reality of how much God loves us.  Love grows through love, it's as simple as that.
           It is not enough for us to go to mass regularly or to fulfill what we see as the basic requirements demanded of us as Catholics.  Being Catholic, living with the reality of the risen Christ, means that we live out our faith doing what Jesus asks us to do. It means that we're constantly transformed by intentionally seeking to live in God's love, by sharing that love in a variety of life-changing ways.
           We here at St James take a lot of joy in being very involved in the community and in our different ministries.  In fact, we are handing out our Time and Talent survey this week to see where you would like to get further involved in our different ministries.   I just looked at the last two weeks and have seen the many ministries we have been involved in: our seniors outreach ministry at the Traceway community, with the Shepherd Center and with our own Happy Hearts group; two activities at the Dismas House, a residence that helps federal prisoners transition back to society; and a lot of different visits to the sick and shut-ins.  The youth have been involved in different activities. And members of our Hispanic community as at the Hispanic Diocesan retreat this weekend as well.  It is wonderful being in such an active parish where there are different activities going on all the time and where we take so much joy in living out the Gospel of Jesus and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  By prayerfully considering a new ministry or using our talents and gifts to grow on our own journey and to share those things with our community – that is a great way of living out the joy of the resurrection. We invite you to do that by looking over our Time and Talent survey.
             Our Easter season helps us discover what the risen Christ is all about,  it helps us experience the reality of the resurrection in our lives, and it helps us live out our Catholic faith in the joy of the risen Christ.  May we heed this call.