Monday, December 31, 2007

To Jesus Through Mary

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
1 January 2008
vigil celebration (31/12/07)
Holy Rosary Monastery
St. Ann’s, Port of Spain, Trinidad

Numbers 6:22-27
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

In the Opening Prayer of this the Octave of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, we prayed:

God our Father,
may we always profit by the prayers
of the Virgin Mother Mary,
for you bring us life and salvation
through Jesus Christ her Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Deus, qui salutis aeternae, beatae Mariae
virginitate fecunda, humano
generi praemia praestitisti: tribue, quaesumus;
ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere
sentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem
vitae suscipere, Dominum nostrum
Iesum Christum, Filium tuum: Qui tecum
vivit et regnat in unitate…
(1962 Missal)

Since time immemorial the Church has so prayed on this Feast, which is “bookends” to the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior celebrated just one week ago. We pray that Mary, the Mother of the Lord, will help us by her prayers. Her virginity bore fruit and gifted humanity with life, light and salvation. We ask God to allow Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our nature’s only boast, to continue to intercede for us. This is the right way to pray, to pray in the way we fit in to the great mystery of our salvation, as we fit in to God’s plan to restore our world to grace through His Son, born for us and for us given.

Never hesitate to ask Mary’s help; never cease asking her to plead for us before the Throne. Her “let it be done unto me according to thy word”, her fiat, is what is missing generally in our world today. Her love, her “yes” with all her heart, soul, mind and strength is so lacking in our everyday world. We need, our world needs to turn to Mary. She can inspire us by her example. She will take us by the hand and lead us to her Son. Mary, the Mother of the Church, will foster and nurture those vocations, especially to the priesthood, needed to bring Christ to a waiting world through the gift of the Eucharist. Mary will school us and our world in the ways of peace. Let us resolve as our one and only New Year’s Resolution (if you only have one your odds of keeping it just might be better!): to give ourselves once again and wholeheartedly to her, the Mother of our Lord!

In Jesus born of the Virgin Mary we are no longer slaves to sin and death; we are adoptive children of the Father, brothers and sisters of His only begotten Son through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. We need never dread the future or wonder about what tragedies might yet come. We are in God’s hands. Peace is ours in Christ. We live in him who fills the universe in all its parts. Fear and hatred have no place where Christ reigns supreme.

“When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”

Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn from on High, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel! The Holy Name, given today and so gladly spoken out by His Mother, who first heard that Name from the Archangel Gabriel! Jesus! Through the intercession of your Mother whom on the Cross you gave to us as our Mother too, Lord Jesus, help us bring this year to a good end and live the next one in your grace!

At the close of Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for this the 40th anniversary of the Papal Messages for the World Day of Peace, he invites “every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction (that we are all part of one human family), which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace.” He does so knowing that we “can trust in the intercession of Mary, who, as the Mother of the Son of God made flesh for the salvation of all humanity, is our common Mother.”

December 31st, January 1st: we conclude one calendar year and begin another in the beautiful words of the First Reading from the Book of Numbers, of the Aaronic blessing, taught by God Himself to Moses and by Moses to Aaron and his sons:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let the Child in!

Mass for Christmas during the Night
2007 - Rosary Monastery - St. Ann’s
Port of Spain, Trinidad

Isaiah 9:1-6
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

“’And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’. And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace…’”

I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt sort of left out when people start speaking about their conversion experiences. As long as it was just televangelists or non-Catholic types knocking on your door of a Saturday, bragging about the date and time their lives had changed having accepted Jesus, it was something I guess one could write off as a bit unbalanced and maybe even untrue. Truth to be told, even Catholic charismatic conversions never worried me much. But if none of that seems right doesn’t there still have to be something that we’ll simply call “growth in holiness”, change, betterment, or progress even in the life of a rank and file Catholic Christian? Shouldn’t the word “conversion” have a meaning for me too? Of course it should!

We’ve just finished a preparatory season in purple: Advent. Where do we find ourselves tonight? Has Advent helped us prepare for Christmas? Are our hearts more open to the Lord who comes? Do we live our lives watching and waiting for the Lord? Is He my hope and my salvation? This is a very tough kind of examination of conscience to make, because it’s not as concrete as pinpointing sins of thought, word or deed, action or omission. In fact, I’d probably say it may even be unwise to try and measure our growth in the spiritual life that way if you, like me, can’t really point to some earthshaking conversion experience like being knocked off your high horse as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. How does an average Catholic check himself or herself to see how things are going (remembering, please, that we’ve always been taught, and rightly so, to mistrust emotion or sentiment as the measure of our closeness to God)? We cannot, however, excuse ourselves from this type of examination of conscience, this kind of check on our devotion, on how or whether we are living for the Lord. The powerful readings of this Mass in the Night for Christmas are evidence enough that the Light, Who is Christ, shines in and changes the hearts of all the people. What difference does my baptism make in my life?

As I say, this is not an easy check. When all else fails, we can look to the lives of the saints to find a mirror, a solid point of reference for measuring how we are doing in our own lives. Thanks be to God there are lots of saints from every day and time and nearly all walks of life! If you look hard enough there has to be some saint you can identify with or who can be a model and a challenge to help you on your own path to holiness. Now maybe my early life wasn’t that of a “child-star-saint” like St. Catherine of Siena or the Little Flower, like young Aloysius Gonzaga or Dominic Savio. I certainly was not a bad boy, but in all honesty it would be hard to point to heroic goodness in those tender years of my life. Besides, they all died young and holy – I must keep looking. Let us get on to grown up saints and repentant sinners, like St. Paul or St. Peter, like St. Mary Magdalene, or if we dare mention him in a Dominican house, like St. Ignatius Loyola! If a lightning conversion hasn’t taken place, what has happened in my life? Do I belong (like I should) to God with all my heart, all my soul and strength, regardless of my age and state in life?

“The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone… For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace”.

Isaiah’s prophecy simply speaks of hope and of powerful, earthshaking change. Once the child is born, once the son is given, nothing can be the same. How indeed has the Birth at Bethlehem, the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, and Judgment before Pilate, the trudge up to Calvary… how has the Glory of Easter changed me?

I don’t know if my mother could pinpoint the date during my adolescence or preadolescence – I surely couldn’t tell you when – but I can remember very clearly awakening one evening after supper to the realization that my parents loved me very much and I hadn’t really shown them my love or appreciation in return. Having to do something and not knowing what (remember an adolescent), I walked out into the kitchen and washed the dishes. My suspicion is that something similar happens when we give ourselves to God, when we finally recognize how much He loves us and how little we have done in return. But how in my life of faith do I walk out into the kitchen to do the dishes for Jesus when the truth of who he is for the world dawns on me?

St. Paul tells Titus and he tells us: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own…”

“…we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come…”

Among the voluntary sacrifices we used to suggest to children as a way of bringing joy to their parents and sharing in the sufferings of Christ was going out to the kitchen and doing the dishes without being asked. At the very end of the popular novel, “The Lord of the Rings”, after all the incredible scenes which were painted, the little heroes of the epic story are faced back home with perhaps the biggest challenge of all three volumes of the book, namely together to stand up and say “no” to evil, reclaiming their homes and their land from a wicked group of bullies. They win that victory too and it is perhaps their greatest. Real conversion in the life of a follower of Christ is something like that – it’s not flashy, it’s a roll up your sleeves and get-to-work kind of thing.

The birth of the savior, Christ the Lord, is heralded to the least, to the shepherds, by an angel who gave them the great sign of a bundled up, baby boy, lying in a manger. We’re not talking about show time or ecstasy. Handel’s Alleluia Chorus is not the interpretive key for Christmas but rather the hymn “Silent Night” is.

Come to Bethlehem! Come with all your heart and soul! I am sure Mary will let you hold the baby. Rejoice! Rejoice in hope! The Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace” is here in our midst. Ultimately salvation is accomplished as our hearts open and we let the Child in, not as we slay the dragon, so to speak, but rather as we walk out to the kitchen to do the dishes without being asked.

Maybe this is all too much of a parable. But too many pious folk fool themselves into believing that they are the righteous and that the crown is theirs, as they sit comfortably with the innkeeper while the Child remains outdoors in the stable. Open your hearts to Christmas! Follow the angel’s invitation to go to the stable in Bethlehem! Leave lots of things aside for the sake of recognizing the son of David, born for us and for us given!

Between Christmas and Boxing Day a lot of food is prepared and here in this country many family rituals are replayed and a lot of socializing is done. It’s a favorite time of year for some and a source of almost desperate anxiety for others. Don’t, no matter how your spend these days, don’t mistake the true meaning of Christmas: it’s above all a time to give ourselves to God, a time when we can finally recognize how much He loves us and how little we have done in return. Keep the angels, the shepherds, the starkness of Bethlehem and its stable, keep the helpless baby boy, who is our savior, always before your mind’s eye. Let Christmas be the date and time of your conversion! Live your life in profound gratitude, wonder and awe! Respond to the love of the Christ Child; react like the shepherds or simply do the dishes without being asked!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turn the tide!

The Presentation of Mary
Liturgical Blessing of the First Abbess
of Our Lady of the Assumption
21 November 2007, Castries, St. Lucia

Zechariah 2:14-17.
Ephesians 4:2-3, 7, 11-13, 15.
Matthew 12:46-50.

I’ve set my sites awfully high for this homily today, today being the Feast of the Presentation of Mary as a little girl in the Temple at Jerusalem. My goal is to challenge you, to invite you to join me today in turning the world around. As ambitious as that may sound (turning the world around), it’s really nothing more than another way of stating the scriptural challenge: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!” The only realistic way to turn a world around is by turning individuals around and one at a time. Change comes of free choice or it doesn’t come at all with us human beings. An ambitious challenge, well, yes it is, but an impossible task, no!

The Feast of the Presentation of Mary as a little girl in the Temple at Jerusalem is a day when the Church celebrates the total dedication of Mary to God’s service. We celebrate her obedience to God’s plans. It is in this sense that we understand the selection from Matthew’s Gospel chosen for this feast: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

On this day, we are blessing the first abbess of the Benedictine Abbey Our Lady of the Assumption, your very own abbey, here in St. Lucia at Coubaril on the Mount of Prayer.

Everything about today, Mary’s feast, Mother Marianna’s blessing, everything lends itself to big challenges. Maybe for that reason I am not hesitating to speak to your hearts and hope for big things from you. Today, I want to speak first of all to the hearts of the St. Lucian women and girls here present, but really my words are addressed to all West Indian women and girls who can or will hear my voice, women young and old. I say to you, “Turn the tide!”… “Turn the tide!” While we’re at it, let’s not leave the men out of this either and I will say to them too, old and young, “Turn the tide!” Be transformed; be renewed by seeking first what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel as “the will of my Father in heaven”. Jesus is inviting you to become part of his family through obedience; He is inviting you to become a “brother and sister and mother” to Jesus. How?

Turn the tide first and foremost, ladies and gentlemen, by calling forth all the vocations in your midst! Turn the tide by calling forth once again in significant numbers female vocations to the consecrated life. Rejoice today with Mother Marianna Pinto and her sisters, ladies; celebrate with them their joy at becoming a full-fledged Benedictine Abbey and at receiving from the Holy See not just a mother superior but a Mother Abbess. Then, do something more to share in their joy. Humbly claim that joy, which is theirs by reason of their consecration, by reason of their vows as Benedictine nuns, claim that joy as your own. I invite some of you; I challenge certain ones among you to claim that joy for yourself. “Turn the tide!” by giving up your resistance to God’s call to join the sisters on the Mount of Prayer. Don’t be carried off on the winds of fortune or misfortune like so many women in our day and time! “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!” Take your life confidently in your own hands and give it to God! Give it to the one Bridegroom; give your life, your heart to Jesus, who will never leave you! Entrust your life to the Lord who will never fail or betray you! “Turn the tide!”

Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with marriage. It is a great vocation which comes from God, a vocation with its own special sacrament, Holy Matrimony. Marriage and family is meant to bring joy and the fullness of life to our world. But the world must know that not all are called to marriage. Not all are called to found a family. Today, to focus on women in particular and on the monastic life in a special way, it is good that we remind ourselves that God the Father’s will for you may be that you find your joy in the vowed life; God the Father’s will for you may be that you find your joy as a nun on the Mount of Prayer. Think about it! Pray about it and pray about it again!

Today’s blessing which the Archbishop will undertake for Mother Marianna is an act of prayer, it is a fervent request on our part, we acting in the name of the Church, we acting while calling upon the intercession of all the angels and saints, begging God to make Mother Marianna holy! We hope she is holy already, but we pray humbly using the word holy and not holier. Make her holy, Lord, because she and her sisters are up to big things for which they need your grace. Who would have ever thought that women from Zambia would come to St. Lucia to learn about the Benedictine way of life? Who could have imagined that Coubaril would deserve the title of “city on a hill top”, that the Mount of Prayer would be the “light on the lamp stand”? You, St. Lucia, are home to something big, which you need to support in every way possible, by your friendship, by your prayer. Do that and do something more by putting your daughters even yet in their mother’s arms on the way, by putting them on the way with Mary the little girl going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. Love wants the very best for our children. We want them to be happy. “Turn the tide!” Give your girls to Christ as chaste brides!

In hard times, Zechariah (our first reading today) prophesied for God’s People that the Lord himself was coming to dwell in their midst. The Lord is among us; we need only open to him through obedience. He won’t force the door, but He is ours if we let Him be.

Saint Paul speaks to the Ephesians and to us today; he encourages us to recognize the special gift each has received from Christ, a gift given for the sake of the whole, given to each of us that we might contribute through our service to building up his body. We are invited to the Lord’s Table as brothers and sisters. We are invited to share His life through obedience to his call.

In the Gospel today, Jesus corrects the natural impression of some of his listeners about the source of Christian dignity. We have special regard for the relatives of important people, just like the man in the Gospel did for Jesus’ Mother and brethren. Jesus points out the dignity and the closeness to Him of all those who obey his Father’s will: “brother and sister and mother to me”, he says.

You see, the world has it all wrong. If you buy into the world’s message, then it would seem that physical appearance, the ability to sing and dance and put on a show, Hollywood or Bollywood, externals are what count. We know better and yet how often we go with the flow and chase after such illusions! “Turn the tide”! Parents, you worry yourselves sick sometimes about your children’s happiness and yet how often it is you who point them in the wrong direction by your own example or maybe you don’t point them at all or fail to shield them from negative, silly or empty influences. Children, you have a certain responsibility here too. You must surely know that you don’t make life any easier on your poor parents by begging, nagging, insisting on having the latest in clothes and shoes and hair.

Parents and children, join me today in turning the world around by your choice to live in the light and firmly anchored in God! “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!” Young women, challenge our new Mother Abbess by coming knocking on her door! Say to her, “Mother Marianna, could it be that God is calling me (you, not me!) to be a nun in the ancient monastic tradition of St. Benedict?” How wonderful it would be to be part of a house of prayer, a house of study and hospitality, a place of watching and waiting for Christ the Bridegroom’s return, for His heavenly banquet! “Turn the tide”! Miss World or Mr. Universe… No! You’ve got to be kidding! Our goals have to greater. The grass withers and the flower fades. This world, and all its boasts, is passing away. Choose the path up the hill to the Mount of Prayer. If Mother and the sisters send you home again saying, no your call is elsewhere, well you’re the better for having tried and the surer on life’s journey. The point is to do something constructive in trying to discover God’s plans, which are better than my own without a doubt.

When Jesus was presented in the Temple he was still a babe at arms. The tradition recounts that Mary was walking and talking when she was presented in the Temple. Though a little girl, she showed her eagerness to serve the Lord, to be his handmaid. Later in her life, the angel Gabriel announced God’s plan to this young woman who had shown her readiness to obey from her mother’s arms and so she spoke to the angel in the Annunciation and said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Be it done unto me according to thy word!”

You’ve heard the expression “hidden away in the convent”. Well there couldn’t be anything farther from the truth. Our life is very well described as a journey toward the light, from the shadow of darkness, the valley of tears, into God’s own wonderful light. It’s sad that many people haven’t understood that fundamental truth, but it’s no reason for you for any of us to just go with the flow and to continue to chase after things which are destined to perish. Think for yourself, turn things around, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!”, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Share in the joy of these Benedictine ladies and their mother abbess! Share in it today! Then, some of you young women, come to share in it more deeply and for a lifetime as Benedictine nuns! Help me turn the world around, one person at a time and starting with you. “Turn the tide!”

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Choose Life!

Resurrection Day N° 3

The other day on the Solemnity of All Saints (Nov.1) my friend Marion came beaming out of the chapel after Mass. She greeted me saying, “Well, Father, today is the Third Feast of the Resurrection: Easter, the Assumption, and now our day, All Saints!” She stressed the singular purpose demonstrated in the lives of the saints, their longing to be with God and to share life with Christ in the glory of the Resurrection.

On All Souls Day the breviary reading from St. Ambrose struck me in an extraordinary way. Starting from a St. Paul quote (in shorthand: “Life for me is Christ and death is so much gain”), in that homily the great archbishop of Milan urges, among other things, to keep the thought of death a constant part of our life so as not to be carried away by the illusion that life to the full is to be found this side of the grave. I asked those at Mass that morning not to lose the opportunity that day or at some point during the month of November, in which we pray for those who have died while yet in need of the refinement that only the “fuller’s fire” of Purgatory can provide such that they can come before the Lord as pure gold, to share their devotion for the Poor Souls with some young person or child. Even after a millennium and a half St. Ambrose is still capable of inspiring people to realize what is at stake if you or someone you love sells out to “virtuality” or gets lost in the virtual world, whether of the internet or TV or the magazine rack.

Yesterday the Church celebrated St. Martin de Porres. When you think about it, this saint is an eloquent witness for us today. He was born of a forbidden union between a Spanish conquistador and an Afro woman of slave descent. What many might have considered a powerful disadvantage, to say the least, in Martin became a point of contact for him and a supernatural inspiration for the lowly and the “powers that be” whose lives he touched, because of his great humility and unbounded charity, both of which were fueled by his passion for Jesus Crucified and for the Holy Eucharist.

Last evening I made a futile attempt to watch Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto, but I soon switched it off because I found his art too close to life and what he was saying about the “culture of death” (to use an expression of Pope John Paul II) frightfully insistent. Even the brief encounter inspired some thoughts however.

I remembered what people told me back in the late 1990’s in Bonn, Germany about the elderly people from Holland who had fled almost like refugees to the neighborhood of Kevelaer in Germany for their retirement, to escape the devastation of the Dutch Catholic Church and in the Marian Shrine at Kevelaer find something closer to the religion of their youth. They also fled in fear from Holland’s euthanasia laws, not trusting the State, their children or other relatives who might be tempted to “put them to sleep” should they lose consciousness for a moment. What started in Holland has spread to many places around the globe.

The Holy Father made headlines the other day in a talk to pharmacists by urging what the papers referred to as conscientious objection or civil disobedience by pharmacists in the face of the push to impose what is commonly referred to as the “morning after pill” as a part of emergency room protocol for rape victims. The Aztecs tried to maintain hegemony over a vast region by sacrificing their neighbors, tearing out their hearts, ostensibly to assure that the sun would rise and the rain would fall. An unreflective cross-section of humanity would choose the death of the unwanted child or elderly person to assure their own continuance, sanity or comfort. You can be sure that St. Martin de Porres would have no part of such an approach to life and neighbor.

Two Halloween stories have come my way. The first is from the rector of Sacred Heart Seminary in the old city center of Detroit, Michigan. He told me they were expecting 4,000 children at a Halloween party which has remained popular for years in an inner city where tension and conflict are everyday affairs. We seek safety, life and celebration; we intuitively seek community and all things good, especially for our children.

The other story is actually told by my Mother! Her neighborhood has become the Halloween place to go for parents with small children in that town. Whether the treats are better than elsewhere in Hutch no one is saying. What seems to be true is that people find safety and society in likeminded numbers and wish thereby to assure their children a nice Halloween experience.

When given a chance, be it in the inner city or in a small town environment, people choose life and community. Perhaps because they are caught in a world of illusion they may not get beyond providing for a nice Halloween experience for their children, a Merry Christmas and a series of great getaways or vacations in the course of the year. Nonetheless, the will to life and happiness is there.

St. Martin de Porres could perhaps have openly decried, condemned or explicitly abhorred the injustices and cruelty both toward himself and others in his day and time. He chose to focus on Christ and find nourishment in the Eucharist. Martin was so satisfied by the love of God which came to him in prayer that he had love and strength for doctoring, serving, counseling and loving others whether they loved or respected him or not. “Martin, the charitable” brightened and transformed his world. He was not a victim but rather a protagonist in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

The “red carpet” Aztecs of our own day and time would love to sell us on the salvation procured through the cutting and pasting done to their bodies by their Beverly Hills plastic surgeons and the seemingly lifelike glow bestowed by their tanning experts. Personal training schemes seem to be more and more the order of the day. Neither have they found the fountain of youth nor can we share their joy over the removal of loose skin, the tightening of that chin or whatever else it is that they have had done to themselves and at a price. They fool themselves and no one else in ignoring Saints Paul and Ambrose: life for me is Christ and death is so much gain.

November is a Catholic month with a mission as we beg the Lord to purify our loved ones and other poor souls in Purgatory for the fullness of life and light in the Resurrection. As you visit your parish church or local cemetery with this intention, see if you can’t free a little hand from the mouse, the joystick or the channel changer which holds them bound and take him or her along on an adventure into freedom and into life, real life which has no end.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Life in Christ

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
7 October 2007, Annual Family Day
St. Benedict’s R.C. Church
La Romaine, Trinidad

“See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.” So we heard from the prophet Habakkuk in the First Reading.

No doubt about it, at least as far as I can see there are lots of hardworking people in this world who have every right to be tired or even exhausted sometimes. But there are also lots of people out there lamenting for no good reason. They are the ones the prophet Habakkuk is describing or quoting in the First Reading: “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen; … (W)hy do you look on where there is tyranny? Outrage and violence, this is all I see, all is contention, and discord flourishes.”

This may be true. The world may sometimes look that way, but I am sure the prophet would simply like to tell his fellow Israelites to get over it. You see, there are those folks who lament for no good reason, in the sense that their outcry is unrealistic. They expect too much from life here on this earth. They want success in their career life, in their personal life, sometimes even without trying. They try to be clever and get ahead using all sorts of shortcuts. As young people, they find it more than frustrating in school when fellow classmates and their teachers don’t seem to notice them and so they cry. At some point when they are older, that significant other person in their lives has to be there and make everything right or even better for them, and if things don’t work out, they cry. Many people pretend too much from the here and now, whether they just sit there waiting for the goods of this world to fall into their laps or they exhaust themselves in their search for fame and fortune. Miss T&T this and Mr. Handsome that are often to be seen in the newspapers. Are they truly happy? Maybe for today, yes, but I doubt if they can live from such an experience for a lifetime. Most sports stars end up retiring about half way through their life expectancy. We call it a tragedy if they fail to find a new project in life and just sort of settle back at age 40 to live from their memories. I am not saying that we shouldn’t achieve or that our achievements in life don’t have their importance. Life must be lived to the full. We cannot or should not simply resign ourselves to accepting our lot – to languishing or wasting away. But there’s more to it than that and we cannot fail to remind ourselves that what we refer to as retirement or old age is not the last chapter of the book, a time to draw conclusions. The sunset years, as they are called, are another part of an ongoing saga that finds its continuance in Heaven. Life is open-ended. What I am saying is that true joy is elsewhere. Life goes on beyond the grave. God made us for Himself and for eternity.

Certainly, life is tough sometimes and there is room for tears. In fact, in the Salve Regina (the Hail Holy Queen), that prayer many of us learned as children and which in most parts of the world is the concluding prayer of the rosary, we describe the world as it is. Life on earth is a “valley of tears”, we say, from birth to natural death. True happiness, equal to who we are as created and loved by God, is not to be found here on earth, cannot really be found in stockpiling goods, material or interpersonal. The investment has to be elsewhere. It has to be with God Himself. If one remains faithful to the Lord, everything will make sense, even death, otherwise not. For the man or woman whose soul is at rights, for the person who is faithful, God in Jesus Christ is present as Savior. Every tear will be wiped away later, in Heaven, in Glory, but even here on earth, in uprightness we will move from strength to strength. We will be fearless, strong in adversity, tireless in fulfilling our calling in life.

There must be an investment, a response on our part however. No one has it made without getting involved, without effort. This is true for one and all: bishops, priests and faithful. St. Paul encourages the young bishop Timothy with these words in today’s Second Reading: “… fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control.” I could say to each and every one of you today, as individuals, young or old, as families, functional or dysfunctional, “Do the same! Fan the flame of that candle which was lit for you on the day of your Baptism and which we light again each Easter! The priest said to your parents and to you, ‘Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart!’” Invest in your baptismal grace; let your light shine forth for all to see!

In a sense this is what Jesus asked of the apostles in the Gospel scene today. “Increase our faith!” they said to Jesus. And Jesus comes right back at them: “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”. Truth to be told, today’s Gospel isn’t the easiest one to explain to folks. Jesus is coming down hard; he’s confronting his listeners and saying, “Get with it! You haven’t the foggiest idea as yet of what is possible in your life once you let me in”. What really is the message of this Sunday? Let Jesus in! Let Him into your life!

When Habakkuk talks about the “upright man” he’s describing someone certainly who is morally decent, but not only that. Uprightness is connectedness with God (which implies holiness of life and much more). Connectedness with God comes through being prayerful and fully inserted in the sacramental life of the Church. I used the word “lament” to describe a certain kind of calling upon the Lord in prayer. In a sense that is just high-flown language for crying and complaining. “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen; … (W)hy do you look on where there is tyranny? Outrage and violence, this is all I see, all is contention, and discord flourishes.”

What is it that is unsatisfactory about praying to God that way, if that is how we feel? OK, in a sense there is nothing wrong with it and that sort of prayer can certainly be a part of our lives. I repeat: a part of our lives! What is wrong with the lament which meets Habakkuk’s disapproval in our First Reading is that it ends up as a way of approaching life and God. Granted, in crying this way I suppose we are on speaking terms with God, but there has to be more to life and relationships than our crying. Not all speaking terms are good (the nagging wife, the subdued, forever complaining or ungrateful husband, the whimpering child). In our case the prophet Habakkuk judges such lamenting as negative and less than promising. Even in human terms or relationships the complainer, especially the chronic complainer, is at best a burden. It’s not just a matter of pulling our fair share or of being constructive in our relationship with God, but rather God wants us to open our hearts to Him and not hold Him at arm’s length with our crying and dissatisfaction, as the children of Israel did in the desert, as they did during their exile even after God, through the Persian Kings Cyrus and Darius, had brought them back to the Promised Land and had given them help with the task of rebuilding the Temple.

What is the message for this Sunday, for this family day in St. Benedict’s La Romaine, for the harvest festival? Well, in a very brief word, it’s that true happiness here and now and forever rests in living uprightly before God. Uprightness is engagement, is contact; it is connectedness with God. The verse from Psalm 94 for today’s Mass is: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The message would be, “don’t harden your heart, but rather open your heart to the voice of God”. Psalm 94 can be used every day to open the Divine Office by those of us who have the duty to pray the Liturgy of Hours, “O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the desert when your fathers put me to the test; when they tried me, though they saw my work.’” Not all of us are brilliant. Not everybody can be classed a genius or an Einstein. All of us, however, can be attentive to others, can be alert to the needs of family, schoolmates, friends and neighbors, of fellow workers, doing so motivated by love of God’s law and eagerness for Him to be at the center or heart of all we say and do.

The Gospel today also talks about our duty. They tell me there was a time when living your faith, practicing your faith, praying in the morning, praying before meals, praying at bed time and examining our conscience each day were things folks just did. That is how a Catholic lived. They tell me there was a time when folks had no doubt that Mass on a Sunday morning, every Sunday, was where they belonged, that sin was real and a person needed to go to confession. That was (and might I add still is and always will be) what it means to be Catholic. A priest says those things now and people thank him after Mass and say, “O, Father, it’s been so long since we’ve heard that!” Really? Or are our hearts maybe becoming hard? Have we stopped our ears so as not to hear the voice of God? Why do we chase after the fleeting fancies of this world? “Increase our faith!” the apostles say to Jesus in today’s Gospel. And Jesus comes right back at them: “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”.

We certainly need to pray for an increase in the virtues of faith, hope and love. The apostles had that much right. We also need to confess that maybe we’ve been turning our backs on God; maybe we’ve been keeping Him at arm’s length for some reason. Maybe we’ve been lamenting (to use the fancy word) instead of getting on with life, loving God and all those people He has given us to share life with.

The message for all of you here in St. Benedict’s La Romaine this Sunday is a positive one. It’s a pat on the back for all those couples, those parents who live their faith because they recognize that God first loved them and chose them for Himself. They live their faith for themselves and for the sake of their spouses and children. The message of this Sunday is an encouragement for all of you who are connected with God: you are on the right path. Uprightness is not a preachy thing; it is a way of being, of being connected with God, as absolutely essential as eating, breathing and sleeping is for our lives. This Sunday’s message is also a positive nudge to get you going if you are lukewarm in your faith. If God in Jesus ends up taking a back bench to almost everything you consider more fun or more urgent in your life, well, you’re lost.

“See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.” So we heard from the prophet Habakkuk in the First Reading.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Under the Banner of Love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
23 September 2007
St. Michael R.C. Church Maracas Valley
(Parish Novena for Patronal Feast)
Theme: St. Michael, Guardian of His Holiness the Pope, Pray for Us.

“St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle, …”
What battle? The battle against Satan, against the devil, of course! And where is the “battle” being waged today? In front of the TV? On the Internet? In the schools? At home? On the streets? Where is the “battle” against the “wickedness and snares of the devil” being fought? Where is it that we ask Michael, the Archangel, to come into play for us? I am sure that we need to ask him for help on many fronts, but I want to focus on one in particular, the one which holds the key for all the others.

I don’t know if it is fair to do it this way, but let us ask the prophet Amos from our First Reading from the Old Testament today where the battle is being fought. No doubt he would answer and he’d probably say, “The battle is being waged and lost in the lives of those who turn their backs on the poor,” or to use his words, “the battle is raging and being lost where the needy of this world are being trampled upon”. The prophet, speaking in God’s Name, is very hard. Our First Reading today concludes: “The Lord swears it by the pride of Jacob, ‘Never will I forget a single thing you have done.’”

Who falls under Amos the Prophet’s (and therefore under God’s) condemnation today? Where are the poor and the needy being trampled upon today? Where is such happening today? There are certainly a lot of quick and very straightforward answers, which would hit politicians and big business people the hardest, but would also touch on the lesser responsibility each and every one of us has for the world around us. What are abortion and euthanasia if they are not violence against the defenseless poor of our society?

Condemning such things can’t be the total point of what you and I need to reflect upon today, however, because a given Sunday’s message is not set up to hit only one, two or even three categories of people square between the eyes. Sunday and its message is for everyone. No one can withdraw himself or herself from the two edged sword of God’s Word. What stake does each and every one of us then have in the battle? Where do you and I by our failures risk those terrible words: “The Lord swears it by the pride of Jacob, ‘Never will I forget a single thing you have done.’” Are our hands free from guilt and oppression or do we find ourselves over and against Michael, commander of the forces of the Lord of Hosts?

Let’s look at the Gospel for further indicators toward an answer to our question!

The Gospel for today seems hard to reconcile with Amos’ message as it switches from warning against swindling the poor to taking an admiring look at swindling the rich or so it would seem. We read: “For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. …use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” It would seem that the Gospel is on a very different wavelength. Not so! The difference is only apparent.

The two readings complement each other and have a single, straightforward message for us: If you foolishly fail to use money or other options which are yours in this world to win friends for yourself from among the less fortunate, the poor and the needy, if you are too busy to care for others and are seeking your own comfort in this life, there will be no one to speak on your behalf when the thrones are set up for judgment and the book of life is opened up.

We have heard it before (1 Cor 13): “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The battle, St. Michael’s battle, is the battle for our hearts.

In the last year I relocated the chapel of the Nunciature into a larger room. For 25 years it had been in what was once upon a time a little porch in the old part of the house, but re-roofing that part of the house gave me a chance to take over a bigger room in the new part of the house for the chapel. Someday, if the lady who promised to work on them for me finds the time and I find someone with the money, we might even have stained glass windows in the new chapel and three of them will be dedicated to the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. As I say, for now, the project hasn’t really gotten serious, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been time for some thought on those windows and how the three greats of the heavenly host should be depicted. My first question was: what color says the most about each of the archangels? Raphael was easy. His color is green, the color of the theological virtue of Hope. Gabriel wasn’t quite so easy, but still no doubt in my mind that his color is white and his virtue is Faith. And Michael, the commander of the Heavenly Hosts, what is his color? It’s got to be red and his primary virtue has got to be Charity – Love. If you want to stand under the banner of the valiant Patron of your parish, St. Michael, then you’ll be standing under the banner of love! Love of God and love of neighbor will be your calling.

You know: life, our human life is anything but a passive, timid, indifferent sort of thing. We’re called to something quite radical in this world. St. Paul used imagery from athletics (running a race, boxing, working out) to make this point and in St. Michael, the Archangel, we meet the same in the imagery of a war of cosmic dimensions. St. Michael teaches us that the life of a person baptized into Christ is a life of struggle, it is a battle. If God is central in your life, that’s the way it is going to be. Without God, as so many people in our world are of course, it’s different.

In different countries and on different continents I’ve run into a fair number of people without God in their lives. The pattern is always about the same. These folks who live their lives without prayer, without church, without God can be quite refined and even polite, that is until you press them a bit and then “bang!” comes the reaction and many times also the rage. They push the other, the bother, the trouble, the burden away: most often they do so with violence but maybe they just run away. The way of divine love is quite different: it engages the other while fighting the battle within us against passion, against rage, even against the instinct to self-preservation, of wanting to climb to the top of the heap whatever it might cost others. Michael’s color is red and his virtue is love and his battle and ours along side him is to win the victory first over ourselves by laying down our lives with Christ.

What concretely is this trampling the needy? What is Amos condemning in our everyday lives? Where must we be if we want to stand on Michael’s side of the battle line? You tell me! Should we start the list? And where should we start it?

How much trampling goes on at home? Why are there so many more divorces and separations today? Why do so many people fail to marry and go from one relationship to another? Love demands that we stand with Michael and fight. Fight our selfishness, our willfulness and our pride, fight our anger, and fight all those things which have not yet been refined in the fire of Christ’s love. Years ago they used to talk about the old Irish woman, Molly, who stayed with that old drunk, Paddy, raised those children and never wavered. Molly knew that the book of life is written on the pages of other people’s hearts. Before the throne of judgment will stand Paddy and countless more who experienced Molly’s undying love in this life. She stepped on no one. She trampled no one. She fought along side Michael; she fought for love.

Even the lowliest among us have responsibility for others. Imagine that poor soul who opens the pages of his heart to God, saying: “Lord, you know that Bill always had time for me: I could talk to him and I knew I was not alone in my struggle to be a good husband and father. Lord, let Bill into heaven, he fought with Michael.”

On the pages of my heart are written accounts of children I taught in school, children who listened and tried to learn, and my heart remembers one child in particular who helped another child in class that everyone else had pushed away as some sort of a dummy. On Judgment Day one of the books which will be opened will be that of my heart which will read in their favor. We may forget, but it’s all written there and will once again come to light.

Where is the “battle” against the “wickedness and snares of the devil” being fought? Where is it that we ask Michael, the Archangel, to come into play for us? I am sure that we need to ask him for help on lots of fronts, but I want you to focus on this one in particular, the one which holds the key for all the others. It is right here within each and every one of us. Michael the Archangel’s battle ground is our hearts. Fight with Michael and leave a testimony for good written on the hearts of all in need. Trample them and you’ll be remembered in a very different way.

I surely hope you are all into this novena of preparation for your parish’s patronal feast. Some people think that preparing to celebrate is having enough food and drink on hand, the right music, etc. We all know that you’re not going to celebrate if your heart is not in it. A good examination of conscience and confession this week would probably do more for you than anything else in preparing you to celebrate with Michael. Valor in battle is a matter of the heart. Make sure yours is in the right place. Take advantage of the novena to get back to essentials and be thankful that you have such a great patron.

The Theme for today’s novena Mass is: “St. Michael, Guardian of His Holiness the Pope, Pray for Us.” So far in his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has written us one encyclical letter, DEUS CARITAS EST, God is Love. It’s obvious that the Pope is with Michael and Michael is with him.

Most everything else in life pales in comparison with this struggle. Commit yourselves to it today. Do it out of fear of condemnation, for that is a good start. Then do it out of conviction, which is even better. We were taught in catechism that imperfect contrition (inspired by fear of punishment) was sufficient for the Sacrament of Penance to do its work, but we should all strive toward perfect sorrow for our sins, inspired by love of God.

“For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. …use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.”

Be smart! Get on Michael’s side of the battle line. Don’t straddle the fence a day longer.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Saints for us

Teresa of Calcutta, virgin,
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Feast for the Missionaries of Charity

I’ve gotten myself involved in some rather interesting and important conversations with people these days over the stir in the press about the publication of letters Mother Teresa wrote to spiritual advisors concerning her longing for the Lord. That she would suffer being away from the Lord in this valley of tears people could understand. The problem seemed to be with the publication of those letters.

I hope my explanation of why such letters were published helped people. Namely, when someone is raised to the altars, presented to us officially by the Church for our veneration and edification, then that blessed or that saint belongs to us entirely. Their wishes concerning their private lives or their writings no longer hold.

The anguish of Teresa of Calcutta or of Therese of Lisieux becomes an aid to us as we seek to understand what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ. It’s not easy, just as it was not easy for the saint when he or she was going through it, but it is important for our own journey of faith and appreciation of what it means to follow Christ. This is part of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints and of the reason for the Church’s veneration for those who have gone before us in faith.

In the case of Mother, in a very special way we might say, in her letters recounting how much she suffered being away from the Lord, Jesus’ cry from Calvary, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabbactani,” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” takes on new meaning for us who seek to understand her suffering. We learn more about Christ as experienced in exemplary fashion in the life of one of God’s chosen, one of His holy ones.

In this same vein, the readings and prayers for today’s liturgical feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta sum up exceptionally well her insight into what it means to follow Jesus, how we go about imitating Christ and thereby doing our part for the salvation of the world.

Permit me to mention some key words or ideas from the readings for the Mass of today.

“Love is strong as death” The Song of Solomon can be very pretty, but very puzzling unless you happen to be a Mother Teresa or someone else who understands Christ as the Bridegroom. For most of us older folks here, death might be terrifying, but I suspect what really blocks us, may terrify us, certainly burdens us, are death’s calling cards: illness, infirmity, suffering, the pains associated with these and with age. Memory loss, hearing loss, loss of sight, loss of mobility, these and other burdens, mental and physical, take us out of the loop and bring us face to face with what really matters and how we ought to live. There is no real consolation in this life; our consolation is with the Lord who first loved us and gave Himself up for us: “Love is strong as death”.

Today’s Response to the Psalm was: “O Lord, we thirst for the light of your Kingdom.” O Lord, we thirst, hopefully, as Jesus thirsted upon the Cross, not so much for water, but for the salvation of each and every one of us down through the ages. This thirst is that which plays such an important role in the life and spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity: “O Lord, we thirst…”

I am sure Mother Teresa lived her own longing for the Lord, that sense of emptiness which Christ alone could fill in her heart, as St. Paul expressed it to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face… Then I shall understand fully…” We live by faith and not by sight. Our focus must be on the world to come. Our dwelling place is not here and as such while not being indifferent about our surroundings and the people who are part of our lives according to the old axiom, here today and gone tomorrow, we must nevertheless know that heaven comes later. Life in its fullness will be ours beyond the grave when we are caught up to be with the Lord, when we share in His Resurrection.

Mother lived with conviction the Beatitudes; she conformed her will, and so must we, to Christ’s, so as to live as Jesus exhorts us in today’s Gospel: “Let your light so shine… that they may see… and give glory to your Father…” The newspapers everywhere are full of stories about personalities, from politics as well as from the world of entertainment, about their crises and nonsense. We kind of take their ups and downs in stride: that they go off for rehab or are picked up for some sort of substance abuse or other failure doesn’t really surprise us. The word “Fame” has more of a dark side than light. The way of the saints is another way: it is the path of light which leads to Light Eternal. In this sense, a sharing in the Cross of Christ is not an impediment or drag on the highway to heaven. Suffering is not an accident, a sidetrack or a detour. Oneness with Jesus in His suffering and death is the way. “Let your light so shine… that they may see… and give glory to your Father…”

My prayer for the sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and for all of you here today is best summed up in the words of the Prayer after Communion:
“Lord God,
May this Eucharist renew our courage and strength.
May we remain close to you, like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, by accepting in our lives a share in the suffering of Jesus Christ,
Who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Start up the Hill!

The Patronal Feast
of the Parish of Santa Rosa
Arima, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago,
Sunday, 26 August 2007
St. Rose of Lima
Readings from the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Lord says this: I am coming to gather the nations of every language. They shall come to witness my glory.”
“And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.”
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.”

The primary duty of a Nuncio, my job if you will, representing our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the peoples and countries of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), is to do what the Successor of St. Peter would do at Jesus’ command if he were here: “strengthen the brethren”. I’m supposed to be a source of encouragement and help first and foremost to Catholics in this part of the world, starting with the bishops. To be able to encourage someone you have to know and love that person. That means I need to spend more time observing and listening than I do speaking. Every once in a while I need not only to share the lessons I’ve learned, I need to build people up by saying or doing something. How’s that for a great job description? And how about a few words of challenge and encouragement for all of you on this your parish’s patronal feast, your day to celebrate St. Rose of Lima?

Truth to be told, if all of us concentrated on promoting others we’d have a much better world. Constructive criticism has its place, I suppose, but it shouldn’t be any more than that occasional course correction on a voyage propelled by words and actions giving others encouragement. I knew a priest once, when I was still a high school boy, who went around telling everyone they were great. “Tom, Bill, Martha, Cathy, you’re great?” he’d say. People liked him until they figured out that often he really didn’t even know their names, let alone who they were… (How does he know I’m great?) The old catechism’s first question, “Why did God make me?”, “He made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next” really says it all. If I don’t speak or act from knowledge and through knowledge from love, I’m not serving God or my neighbor. I’ll tell you you’re great, or in the case of singing God’s praises (How Great Thou Art), once I know better what I’m talking about.

What about the hidden and brief life (31 years) of the first daughter of the Americas to be proclaimed a saint? St. Rose lived simply, she did penance constantly, she prayed intensely, and she loved the Blessed Virgin Mary very much. Almost 400 years have passed since her death and she’s still a light and an example for others. Her people especially, if they are people of the Gospel, are still proud of her and can still win lessons from her, as you and I can today, too. (…)

This coming December, it’ll be three years since I first landed at Piarco. I continue to learn and be surprised by the people of this region and of Trinidad in particular, whom the Holy Father has entrusted to my special care. Lots can be said, but let’s concentrate on Jesus’ words, words which St. Rose of Lima took seriously already at the tender age of 5, words from the Gospel of St. Luke today, words which I believe hold special meaning for all of us present here:
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.”

One of the lessons my Mother learned as a girl growing up on the farm, she and her older brother being the 2 youngest of 8 children from the only Catholic family in their one room school house, was that when you’re outnumbered like that you shouldn’t talk either religion or politics. Some people still get heated up about politics today, but more folks than not seem to be indifferent about matters of religion – even here in Trinidad. I read in the Catholic News that only 17% of those who declare themselves Catholic go to Mass regularly on Sundays. People are not exactly hustling to “enter by the narrow door” or so it would seem. Jesus would tell us in the Gospel that needs to change. The question is: what can you and I do if our life is in order to convince other people not to put off until tomorrow entering into the sheepfold? St. Rose of Lima did her share by giving good example and that’s what I’d like to encourage you to do as well.

You see, Catholics have never been fans of standing on street corners and preaching from on top of soapboxes, and for that matter neither am I. How do you communicate to your family, to your friends and neighbors, that knowing, loving and serving God is serious business which cannot be put off until tomorrow? Remember, St. Rose got serious at age 5 and never let up until her death at age 31. Don’t underestimate the power for good in the world of your good example at home. Child, youth, aged – it makes no difference – as you eagerly seek to know, love and serve God and all those who cross your path starting right at home like she did, you’ll light lights just like St. Rose.

How does it work? You just need to try and try hard. (Isn’t there some kind of tennis or sport shoes with the slogan “Just do it”? Well just do it!) Start with the basics: never a day without prayer – morning offering, meal prayers, and examination of conscience and bed time prayers; never a Sunday without Mass; regular confession with a firm purpose to change your ways and seek to live by all of God’s commands; learn about your faith; love your neighbor – do so especially for the sake of the poor and helpless.

St. Rose was a penitential soul: imitating her example of penance, personal sacrifice, is probably the hardest one for us in our day and time. Apart from supporting evils done to us by others, not barking or snapping when things don’t go our way or when we’re crowded a bit, nudged too hard or our toes are stepped upon, I’m talking about seeking to share the Cross of Christ as St. Rose did according to her state in life and the culture of her times. You see, it’s not so much that we have life too good, but our problem is that we want to have it too good. Embrace the Cross!

As I say, just do it! There’s a children’s book entitled “The Little Engine That Could”. It’s about a tiny train with a load to haul; the little train is frightened by a hill, but he makes it up over the top, he succeeds by starting, just by starting up that hill, while repeating over and over again to himself: “I think I can, I think I can”. The lesson is clear. Just like St. Peter, stepping out of the boat to walk on the waters to Jesus, we need to just do it, that is live the faith to the full, with our eyes fixed on Jesus. We cannot let ourselves be impressed by the wind and the waves.

The longer I watch, the longer I listen, the more convinced I become that many young mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, fail today for failing to try. They fail to try to learn, to try to love and to try to understand both each other in marriage and the children given to them by God in sacred trust.

Look at today’s man! Between airports and TV, you’d be surprised at the number of grown men one sees these days who are dressed like boys. They’re not doing anything wrong but they certainly confirm the old saying that mamma’s biggest boy is her husband. Is he trying?

Watch a woman who moves through life with a measure of grace and modesty, a woman who is at once self-confident and politely attentive to those around her. I wish there were more such women around: they radiate all kinds of things you can’t bottle and which steady our world. They know what they are about. They are trying for sure, trying to enter by the narrow door.

When there is more than one teacher for a grade level of primary school parents are and always have been anxious that their son or daughter get the better of those two teachers. It went without saying (years ago anyway) that which boys and girls were in the class wasn’t so important: if they misbehaved they’d be disciplined in school and punished again at home so that they would learn that comportment is part of trying, of growing and learning. We can say what we want about the quality of schools, but how many boys and girls out there today not only fail to try in school but make life miserable for their classmates? Even children have responsibilities, even children (don’t forget that 5 year old Santa Rosa) need to do their part, need to start up that hill.

I must admit that I am shocked by how pessimistic many people are about the future of society. I know older people even who’ll say, “Father, I’m glad I won’t be around in another few years!” Personally, I don’t agree when it comes to hope for the world. Moreover, I think that the man or woman of faith who is seeking the Lord, who is trying, shares my conviction that things don’t necessarily have to go bad at home, at school, in the neighborhood or in our world.

The lesson of the saints, our faith in the power of God to save if we but cooperate with His grace, should tell us that everything is possible for those who love God. We just need to be ready to embrace the Cross of Christ if Its shadow falls on us. I know of a man who was probably the most fortunate of a less than fortunate family. He wasn’t a lottery winner or some kind of a star. His life was nothing spectacular, but he did have the basics: he had a decent wife and healthy children, he had a good job and then threw it all away because things at home and at work got tough at a certain moment. Today he blames everyone else for his misfortune including God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He blames everyone except himself. He’s turned his back on the world, claiming the world has abandoned him and so practices transcendental meditation… He was among the first in a sense and now he’s last. He needs to try again. Maybe you do too? Try to enter in by the narrow door!

St. Rose of Lima entered by the narrow door and nations of every language, from east and west, from north and south, have recognized this and followed her. Rose lived a hidden life on earth, but from heaven she shines from end to end. She belongs to Lima, she belongs to Peru and Latin America, she belongs in a special way to the native peoples of the Americas, and she belongs to you, people of Santa Rosa R.C. Church, Arima! Don’t stay behind at the bottom of the hill! Start the climb! Just do it! Be lights for the world in our day and time! Follow her example and try to enter by the narrow door!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Girded and Watchful

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
11-12 August 2007
Holy Cross Parish, Hutchinson, Kansas

The key word that sums up this Sunday’s readings is “Passover”. Passover is a word we all know; it’s a coin really with two faces, the one is “deliverance” and the other is “retribution”. In the Exodus from Egypt, as we heard in our First Reading today recounting the first Passover, God’s destroying angel passed over the houses of God’s Chosen People marked with the blood of the lamb, saving them from God’s wrath and delivering them from their slavery, leading them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, while punishing their oppressors, the Egyptians, with the sudden death of their firstborn – retribution for their having oppressed God’s People.

This Sunday’s readings focus less on the topic of our salvation or deliverance and more on the retribution side of the coin as it applies not only to those who oppose God’s People but also to us who belong to the household. We’ve just heard about the punishment of those who do not turn to the Lord, those who are not sealed with the Blood of the Lamb, that is, those who are not watching and waiting for their Master’s return.
“That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.” Harsh words!

Am I motivated to look forward to heaven? Is that the quest of my life, the direction in which my heart is set? Or are the attractions, distractions and worries of this world the ones which have me in tow? Where will the Lord find me and my heart when He comes to call me?
St. Peter poses a further question in the Gospel which applies for every day and time, and therefore to us: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Who really is supposed to keep watch for the Lord who comes? Just priests and nuns? Retired people maybe? How are all the healthy young lay people out there in the world supposed to order their lives? Take note that the Lord Jesus doesn’t simply respond to Peter’s question by saying “Yes, it’s meant for everyone”. He answers Peter with another question: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?”

Do you, each and every one, believe that you are so called? I hope so! Recognizing that through Baptism you have been made a part of God’s People has its implications for the way we behave. “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” says the Responsorial Psalm. What sort of language, what sort of entertainment, what sort of life is appropriate for the rank and file among the baptized?
Stewardship is really the universal call. All of us, no matter what our state in life, have to be watching and waiting, ready at all times for the Master’s return, all the time serving the needs of others as well. What exactly is expected of us depends on where we are in the Church: I, for instance, have a stewardship role in the Holy Father’s place for the Church in the Antilles: I am to “strengthen the brethren” as Jesus charges St. Peter in another place in the Gospel. Fr. Joe has been entrusted by the Bishop with watching over and caring for the people of Holy Cross Parish. Moms and Dads have the care for each other and for their children. Single people have a special part to play in the work place and society as well. Filial piety, the respect and love we owe our parents, is ultimately a sacred trust given to us all, as stewards, for as long as our parents live.

We’re certainly talking about duty, but not as much in the sense of a task to be fulfilled as in the sense of a dignity which is ours. “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” Each and every one of us has an appointed task in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
The other night on EWTN’s program for young people called “Life on the Rock”, Father Francis was pressing the representatives of an international youth group called “Generation Benedict” who were on the show to explain how they planned to convince their peers of the value of being practicing, fully committed Catholics. In essence, he was asking how you get people to commit themselves to living according to God’s Will within His Holy Catholic Church when there are so many distractions, so many things out there which seem more fun and more attractive. Truth to be told, that is a question Catholics of all ages and states in life could ask themselves at every turn. Am I focused? Am I really convinced? Do I have the right priorities? As obvious as having faith in God may be, challenging ourselves and others to turn away from sin, big sin or small, and to be faithful to the Gospel is a real struggle. All too often people are as short-sighted as the delinquent steward, abusive toward his fellow servants and bent on his own pleasure and entertainment, thoughtless of the consequences he’d face upon his master’s return: “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.”

It’s easy to shake a finger at someone else and shout “Clean up your act!” The reality, especially as we face up to our own human frailty, is quite another. What to do? Are we really convinced that watching and waiting for the Lord is our calling? Are we convinced that a holy life, care and concern for others, sobriety, living close to God, are the happy choice, the right choice?
Leaving you hanging with such questions would probably be the best route to go. In a sense Jesus’ response to Peter’s question “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” is the only real answer to give to a responsible adult: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?”
Who then is the good Catholic? Can we hedge on any of the commandments or requirements the Church places upon us? Can we be anything other than the best: faithful to the practice of Mass and the Sacraments, eager to share our faith with our children, especially, but also since we’re sharing joy, eager too to share our Catholic faith with others? Do we recognize the gravity of having let a day pass without having lifted our hearts and minds to God in prayer? This type of examination of conscience could go on and on, but let’s just leave it right there with Jesus’ question: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?”

Passover: salvation/deliverance… retribution for our negligence as well as for wrongs committed – here we are, watching and waiting, I hope, for the Lord’s Passover.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

What Matters to God

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
4-5 August 2007, Hutchinson, Kansas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

“Vanity of vanities… Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave his property”.

“…seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

The readings for this Sunday lend themselves to a real rip-roaring sermon on detachment from material things. Just quoting Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel, I guess I could really come down hard on a congregation exhorting them not only to change their ways and seek first the kingdom of God, and I could also urge them to give of what they have to help those in need, instead of leaving it to their estate. Giving a tough sermon like that, however, is a job for the pastor and not for a guest like me, so I suppose you could say that Fr. Ned is getting off easy this week. He asked me to give a missionary sort of talk to you and I’ll try to do that not losing sight of the powerful message in these readings.

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

What is it that matters to God? Who is it today who merits Jesus’ condemnation like the successful big farmer in the Gospel, if not the person in any walk of life and at any age who is totally caught up in himself or herself? The farmer with his storage barns for years to come is right in not worrying about next year’s drought. He’s wrong in concentrating on creature comforts as if having them was all there is to life. What are those things which “matter to God” in which we should be rich and thereby spare ourselves the Old Testament writer’s head shaking “vanity of vanities”? Let it be clear that we’re going much beyond the question posed in the First Reading of what’s the point of storing up this world’s goods with hard work and intelligence, if it means leaving them for someone else to squander? In asking what matters for God and how can I be a part of that kind of important business, I’m asking the profound and basic question concerning why I was placed on this earth and which is the way to the really big happiness which God has willed for me. It is certainly seeking God’s kingship over me, but more than that, it’s sharing joy; it’s sharing truth with all those I can. It’s sharing the wealth, not only in the material sense, but in terms of life and ideas. It’s what it means to be a missionary.
What is being missionary all about? It’s about reaching out beyond me and inviting others to know truth and share my joy. In that part of the world of today which we glorify with that funny expression “virtual reality” sharing truth and joy seems to be harder than it was in the past. People read blogs and listen to podcasts but the virtual nature of that sort of activity gives one the sense that things are just sort of out there, that people don’t really, I mean really, exchange ideas or reach out to one another.

The Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries were times when the missionary consciousness of the Catholic Church was truly dynamic. Not only were there lots of vocations to the missions from countries like France, but this was the time of the birth and growth in France and beyond of what we call today the Pontifical Mission Societies. We’re most familiar with two of them: the Propagation of the Faith, which manages the October Mission Sunday collections from around the world, and the Missionary Childhood, which works to involve small children in praying and sacrificing for the sake of other children their age in mission countries, that those children might come to know Jesus, too.
I can remember yet as a little boy in the 1950’s how strong the Missionary Society of the Holy Childhood was in our parish and school and how we used to save money and say our prayers for children elsewhere in the world that they too might come to know, love and serve God as Catholic Christians.

If I have a message for you today, that would be it. Namely, I would like to invite all here present to rediscover that kind of focus from the past now in the Twenty-first Century. My hope would be that all of you, young and old, might prize the spread of the Gospel more than creature comforts. That you would do something in proportion to your age and state in life to share the Good News about Jesus with someone else near or far.
That’s saying it a little too abruptly. In a sense you are already going beyond yourselves. You’re here today at Mass and I’m sure that you’re here on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, offering God the praise He is due. I’m sure prayer is a part of your daily life as well, and that you strive to live a good and holy life. I’m sure that all of you parents have taught and are teaching your children their basic prayers; I am sure that you pray with them at mealtimes and most certainly also at bedtime – no doubt you talk to them about God Our Father, about Jesus, His Son and Our Lord, about Mary, the Virgin Mother of God and our Mother, too. I am confident that you all share the wealth of your faith, that you are all truly missionary, at home.
What I’m not so sure of is whether you are eager to share your faith with others farther afield, that you really are convinced that your life is at its best within the Church and that others would be happier too if they shared your same faith. I guess I’d like to see another “golden age” of missionary zeal in our day and time. I say this because I know that the little children who in significant numbers in 19th Century France dreamt of spreading the Gospel in North American or China haven’t crossed my path in the Midwest of the United States today. Whether such an environment of mission consciousness exists or not determines whether or not there will be the numerous vocations necessary to preach the Gospel to those who have not as yet heard about Jesus. I’m wondering too where the people will come from who will come to the part of the world where I serve and provide for those numbers which are missing. I had the great joy of seeing Father Boor the other day and he said that one of the big things he’s preaching about out in the Dodge City diocese where he’s helping out these days is vocations. He’s convinced and I’m sure he’s right that the Lord is calling more than enough young men and women in Western Kansas to be priests and sisters. They just have to hear the call and respond. The region of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, where I live, is not that fortunate for a lot of different reasons. The regional seminary is almost empty and that means that even if things were to turn around in a big way those good people (let’s say a million Catholics) have to face a whole generation without ordinations and desperately short of priests to celebrate Mass for them, hear their confessions and do all the things only priests can do for their people. The life of the Church in the Antilles is very much endangered.
The Caribbean is right on your door step. I’d ask you to keep your neighbors down south in your prayers. Let your prayer reach out in missionary fashion beyond your home and neighborhood.
“Lord, let the Gospel be alive in our hearts, in our parish, in our community, in our diocese. Lord, call forth priests from our parishes, from our families, from our homes for the service of your Church here in the diocese of Wichita, in the Dodge City diocese and farther afield. Lord, let the Gospel be proclaimed anew in the countries our ancestors came from. Lord, send workers into your harvest for the sake of your people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Teach Us to Pray

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
28-29 July 2007
Holy Cross Parish, Hutchinson, KS

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.

It would be hard to imagine more of a press than what Abraham puts on God in our First Reading today. He ventures to bargain even with the Lord: if there were 50 good people in Sodom? …if there were 40 would you destroy it? …30? …20? Would you destroy the good along with the bad if there were 10 good people left in Sodom? Abraham serves as an example of that closeness and dependence on God, which Jesus tries to urge people to in the Gospel of St. Luke today: ”I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence”.
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.

What is prayer all about? What is petitioning God in prayer all about? What is there to gain out there by asking something of God? Fame or popularity? Fortune, maybe? What can we ask for and expect to receive from our good God?
There are folks out there who would like you to believe there is some kind of material recompense already in this world waiting for one and all. All we need do is ask. That’s not this Sunday’s message, however. Neither is it a good rendition of what the Old Testament promises to God’s Chosen People nor do such claims have much to do with the New Testament and what Jesus promises to those who follow Him. If you will, look from one end of the Bible to the other and see how many examples of selfish prayer requests you can find that were granted by God. Lord, let me win the lottery and I’ll cut you in for 10%... No! Try, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, to convince me that God favors his beloved on this earth with material prosperity, health, success in business, politics and love, just because they ask insistently… Or better, don’t waste your time as the Christian life, life with God, is something quite different.
Remember too, Abraham didn’t ask for himself; he didn’t bargain with God seeking something for his own benefit. He asked on behalf of Sodom; he bargained with God for the sake of the good people, like his nephew Lot and his family, which he supposed might still live in that city so infamous for its many sins. Abraham’s was a prayer for God to be Himself, to be just. Abraham’s prayer was inspired by a certain familiarity with God. Jesus in the Gospel is coaxing and cajoling people to turn to the Lord in their need and ask just like Abraham did. Ask for what? How does today’s Gospel conclude?
“If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

What are the good gifts Jesus is talking about? What is the object of our asking God if not to place ourselves in a position of complete dependence upon Him?
Lord, teach us to pray! The disciples asked and He responded: Say, Our Father. That is, enter into God’s life! Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! Let the Trinity dwell in you! Be caught up into the life of the Holy Trinity! Make your life one with God!
Among the books I’m reading this summer 1 comes to mind written by a nun on prayer. Sister insists without wavering that faith is the key and that faith is what is lacking in the lives of lots of people who seek to pray. I don’t know why that idea took me somewhat by surprise. Jesus kept hitting hard throughout His ministry on that very notion: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you…” “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
The Catechism defines faith as follows, saying: “To believe” has thus a twofold reference: to the person and to the truth: to the truth, by trust in the person who bears witness to it. We must believe in no one but God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Come to be a person of prayer by coming close to God in faith and thereby put your life and things in your life in right order. I guess that diet, exercise, reading and a social life all help to round us out, but without a relationship to God in Jesus Christ it would hardly make a complete human picture. The other day in the newspaper, they tried to gently break the news that although eating tomatoes was healthy there was no evidence that tomatoes were a cure-all for cancer and other diseases and a guarantor of long life. Without faith, without a life of prayer, such bad news could be a real downer. Seriously, “Our Father”, why does Jesus urge us to child-like trust in our Heavenly Father if not to give us the context we need to face life in this world (with or without organic tomatoes)?
Life lived within the community of believers, life in the Church believing what the Church believes and teaches, Sunday Mass, regular Confession, our fixed times of prayer each day (morning offering, meal times, examination of conscience and bed time prayers), a devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and taking time for some part of her Rosary, I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Many lay people seem naturally to be able to incorporate daily Mass into their schedule. I’m acquainted with a group in Jamaica, called Mustard Seed which cares for abandoned children (often handicapped physically or mentally, these days frequently HIV positive from birth) and one of their principles for all who volunteer with them at Mustard Seed is that 10% of each day (2 ½ hours) belongs to God. Catholic or not if you come to Kingston to serve you spend that much time in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament each day, as do the children, who seem to understand that they’re doing something important before God. Two and a half hours!
An older priest friend of mine was sharing his deep concern with me this summer for those who turn their back on the Catholic Church and look elsewhere because they feel neglected or even hassled by the Catholic Church, the Church in which they grew up. Invariably they make their home in some group whose approach to life is more black and white, and always more emotional with no small amount of hype. My priest friend thought that better preaching on Sunday might help matters. I’m sure it would. Myself, I guess I’d be tempted also at every instance to encourage people not to be so standoffish in their relationship with God; I’d be inclined to coax and cajole people like Jesus in today’s Gospel to be asking God more, to be begging Him, reaching out to Him, “Our Father”, establishing that relationship of absolute dependence upon the only One worthy of our trust, Whom we have come to know in and through Jesus, the only One who is light and life for the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
You’ll invariably run into people who are convinced that life is so different nowadays that the “faith of our fathers” so to speak has to be looked at differently. Often, well-meaning people not that much a part of the Catholic Church wonder when the Church is going to modernize; they ask this without even really thinking about what they are asking or knowing the point of the question. Granted, our ancestors didn’t know high definition TV; they had no cell phones, no laptops, traveled less and had more job security. But Jesus came once and for all. Better health care and nutrition or not, life is not really that much different today than it was a hundred years ago or even more. You can’t really presume when you start out that your life expectancy on the charts will translate into a life any longer than that of your parents or grand parents or that modern day health care will secure you more quality of life or less pain than your arthritic grandmother had. Young people die all the time today too. Faithfulness a whole life long in marriage requires the same faith today as it did for them. If you live life on your own terms, without prayer and without God, the consequences are what they are. That has never really changed.
Lord, teach us to pray! Say “Our Father”. Ask, Seek, Knock! Depend upon God for that which goes beyond our daily bread! Life with and in Him, which translates into the good life without end in God!
They tell us that there’s all together too much emphasis put on youth, health and beauty. I would agree, but without forgetting that what we see in the child, the youth, the young adult is God’s gift and a reminder, albeit through the looking glass and somewhat darkly, of that which God wills for us and for all eternity. Get your act together, get things straight, and turn to the Giver of all good gifts! Say “Our Father”!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Attentive to God and Neighbor

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Holy Cross Parish
21-22 July 2007, Hutchinson, KS

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

All those of you who are fans of the monthly prayer book MAGNIFICAT may have noticed that the cover picture for July, a painting from Johann Friedrich Overbeck, entitled "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary", not only captures the scene of our Gospel today, of Jesus admonishing Martha and taking Mary’s part, but through the window in the painting we can see last week’s Gospel of the parable of the Good Samaritan! That’s a wonderful sort of art as far as I am concerned. We should never underestimate the value of good Christian art not only to help lift our minds and hearts to God in prayer because of its beauty, but to inspire and teach us as well.
Just as we see it in Overbeck’s painting, so it is in fact: the teachings of these two Sundays are different but complementary. Being a neighbor to those in need like the Good Samaritan was for the man left for dead by robbers on the road to Jericho is a crucial part of our Christian calling. No less important is genuine and generous hospitality, true hospitality as illustrated in the First Reading and Gospel for today, that is, attentiveness to the guest.
What was Martha’s mistake that won her a little reproof from Jesus? Abraham too in the First Reading from the Book of Genesis is rushing around. It’d be hard to fault Martha on that account, but Abraham, different than she, really is attentive to the three passersby: he welcomes them, he feeds them, and most importantly, he has time to talk with them. Martha has an idea of how this visit from Jesus and His companions should come off and is always looking over her shoulder at her sister wishing for her help in the kitchen. But it is not Martha; it is Mary who understands that a guest in their house is there to be with and to be cherished, first and foremost. Preparing and serving the lunch and deciding which dishes or napkins come out with that lunch may have a certain importance, but Mary has chosen the better part, much to the pleasure and approval of her Sacred Guest.
Abraham did not go to all the fuss he did because he guessed the true identity of the three men. No, he offered the hospitality common to his day and because he kept the men company as they ate and rested in the shade Abraham was also rewarded with an encounter with God and good news of the heir, the baby boy by his wife Sarah, that the couple had all but given up hoping for.
Visiting with my cousins up in Sioux Falls this summer the topic of “progressive dinners” came up and there was a laugh and a comment about not only how rarely people entertain today, but how the quality of potluck suppers has fallen as people resort to delis for their contribution, as no one seems to have time for cooking any more. The progressive dinner thing was definitely out as that would mean upsetting not one but five households for an evening. Abraham’s and Martha’s concerns might in a sense belong to another culture and other times, but attentiveness to the other, to the guest, never goes out of style and carries with it the same reward, as it did for Abraham (receiving confirmation of a covenant promise to him, which he had all but despaired of seeing fulfilled) and as it did for Mary in her home in Bethany seated at Jesus’ feet and taking in His every word.
A retired priest friend of mine up north told me about the small town or rural weekly newspapers he enjoys so very much yet today, not only because of the obituaries, but also for the news items about someone’s son and his family who were home to the farm for a visit and the like. I didn’t realize that such papers still existed, papers that value what’s important to Mom and Dad, so to speak. I don’t think Father knows all these people, but he sees the small town papers as placing the accent on what’s really important. They come from that more personable world of once upon a time, which had its etiquette and its propriety, it was often quite formal, but because of this deliberate, and though by our standards slow-paced lifestyle, a world marked by social interaction. It was a valuable world of relationships, more valuable I’d say than what we glean from a whole Sunday afternoon of TV or video games or phoning and chatting on the internet.
Did Abraham expect a visit from God personally by his tent under the terebinth of Mamre? Was Martha any less aware of the importance of Jesus than her sister Mary? Maybe neither question is to the point and doesn’t or can’t lead us where we want to or ought to go. Sunday afternoon visits to and from relatives were not exactly what you’d call transcendental experiences and nothing would be gained by bringing them back, but much is lost in the distracted isolation which is so common to our society. Distracted isolation steals time from immediate and extended family; distracted isolation leaves little room in our lives for God and His surprise visits.
God entered the lives of Abraham and Sarah, of Martha, Mary and Lazarus through attentive social exchange. I have no doubt that the reason Perpetual Adoration is so popular today is because it’s one of the few face to face encounters left in our lives; it’s a quiet break from all the pushing, shoving, elbowing and digital connectedness which keeps us at arm’s length from everyone, including ourselves.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Jesus is speaking to lots of us here today. What are we to do? Take the reprimand and react! Don’t waste another moment! Choose the better part as Mary of Bethany did!
People may not be able to manage the time needed for you to slaughter and barbeque a fattened steer, bake bread and set out curds and milk, as Abraham did for strangers, but then as Mary knew and Martha learned, that really wasn’t the point. The win or gain comes in treasuring the other and opening up to him or her.
Quality living begins at home as we take time for our spouse, for our children, for our parents, and for the extended family and neighborhood. How much time is wasted on Google Searches and the like, which could be better “wasted” in listening to someone or just being together and thereby affirming the other’s worth, even without words.
It’s not a question of choosing a different, alternative or otherwise radical lifestyle, it has nothing to do particularly with ecology or of moving to an acreage and raising goats and chickens, but represents a choice in favor of real society and is indeed a premise for possible encounters with God in our lives, which may be no less striking or dramatic for us than they were for Abraham and Sarah or for the family in Bethany.
Let thoughtful interpersonal relations open another door to prayer and adoration of the One God living and true for each and every one of us! The two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor require not only sacrifices of us but attentiveness to the other, human or divine, which carries with itself its own reward.