Thank You!

Today, I am headed for Epiphany parish in Lake City. 

I wanted to thank you from my heart for the opportunity to have been a priest here for you at Saint Catherine’s.  My entire ministry here has been in service to you.  As a priest, my life’s purpose is to help people to embrace their call to holiness by cooperating with the Holy Spirit, to accompany them on the journey to becoming saints, and to assist them in accepting the gift of eternal life.  I hope that I have done that in some small way for you.

May you continue to live lives ever more centered on the Mass and the Eucharist, including Eucharistic Adoration.  May you continue to regularly experience the gift of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And may you continue to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building up the kingdom of God at Saint Catherine’s.

Perhaps our paths may cross again someday.

God bless,

Fr. Bob

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

The New Testament was originally written in Greek.  The current English translations that we use are translations of our best understanding of what the original Greek was.  In earlier centuries, the Church often used a translation of a translation: a translation of Saint Jerome’s Latin translation in the Vulgate of what (for the New Testament) the original Greek said.

Often, when we consider alternate English translations of the original Greek, it can add depth, or even another dimension, to our understanding of a passage.  It is that way with today’s Gospel.

After sharing a parable of the Kingdom of heaven in the end times as a sorting of the good fish from the bad, Jesus asks the disciples if they understand these things.  Then, he says, ““Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

The word “instructed” can also be translated as “trained.”  What does it mean to be trained for the Kingdom of heaven as opposed to merely instructed in it?  Does not a training imply a readiness to participate in some way…as opposed to merely learning about it?

Another translation is “every scribe who has become a disciple for the kingdom of heaven…”  Is this not an even higher level of participation?

This is a participation in God’s holiness.  How are we doing this ourselves?  This participation requires continual attention to take in Jesus’ teaching and make it fruitful in our own lives.  And we know that Jesus’ teaching is only relevant because of who Jesus is.  And because of who Jesus is, we must go to Jesus to receive not just his teaching, but the Lord himself into our lives. 

Are we ready to do that?  Do we want to do that?  Not as a half-hearted hobby, but as something that gives our entire life purpose, meaning, and orientation.  As something we want with our entire being.

When we do this…when we really want to do this…we become more like the one that we seek.  We become more like Jesus himself…God the Son who became human that we might become divine.

What does that mean to me?  Does it not change everything?

Memorial of Saint Martha

Today, we are given two choices for a Gospel passage for Saint Martha. 

The first is when Martha went out to meet Jesus after the death of Lazarus.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

The second is the story of Martha serving while Mary sits and listens to Jesus.  He tells Martha, “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.”

Almost certainly, none of us can live an exclusively contemplative life.  We all have some need of action in how we live.  We have responsibilities commensurate with our state in life.  Whether a parish priest, a religious, a husband or wife, an employee, a parent, a grandparent, or a single person, we all must find the right blend of prayer and action. 

An overemphasis on one or the other that is not appropriate for our own situation creates problems.

I have heard general complaints about priests (not in this diocese) who neglect their pastoral duties to focus exclusively on prayer.  That is not their calling.  Perhaps as a Carthusian monk, that might be more realistic.  But not as a diocesan priest.

On the other hand, I have encountered people who are completely stressed out trying to keep up with their to-do list.  I suspect that at least some of the items on their list are unnecessary.  But they try to do it all.  And they seemingly will do it all or die trying.  They take no time at all for prayer.  They do not even weave a simple repetitive prayer into the fabric of their day. 

For Martha, and for us, one symptom of a lack of balance with prayer in our lives is that we are “anxious and worried about many things.”  We must discern, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, how to best structure our daily lives to provide the right balance between prayer and action. 

For most of us, including myself, the only way to consistently have time for prayer is to do so first thing in the morning.  Once I leave my residence, my time is not really my own.  Too much can happen.  It was that way at CSX.  It is that way now.  So, I take time for a Holy Hour before I do anything else…with one exception.  Borrowing from the advice of Archbishop Sheen, I do get my morning dose of caffeine even before prayer.

Have we all taken the time to intentionally reserve time for daily prayer?  Are we conscious of the need to discern the right balance between prayer and action?

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds and the wheat that we heard a little over a week ago on Sunday.  Of course, if you heard the short version that Sunday, you missed the explanation of the parable.

Jesus explained that he is the sower of the good seed.  The devil is the one who sows the weeds.  Those weeds are the children of the Evil One.

Jesus says that the weeds should be left for harvest.  Then, the harvesters will collect the weeds and throw them into the furnace.  He is explicit in saying that they will “collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evil doers.”

So often, we want to uproot all evil out of this world.  Yet, Jesus tells us that the harvesters are not us.  The harvesters are angels.  It is not up to us to root all evil from this world. 

It is up to us to proclaim the kingdom of God.  To share the Gospel with others.  It is up to us to live a life of Christian witness.  We must live out the Greatest Commandment.  We must live out Matthew 25 (“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”) by doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy for those most in need.

But it is not our job to uproot all the weeds. 

That is a difficult message for many of us.  Why does Jesus want this to wait?  He says that some of the wheat might be damaged.  The servants want to immediately uproot the weeds.  But Jesus counsels prudence and patience in the face of evil.  He wants to preserve life.  Even the life of those who do evil.  Until the end.  Until the harvest.

The other question is whether the servants correctly identified the weeds in the first place.  How do they know?  God is the one who knows.  God is the only one capable of making that judgement accurately.  If we read it too literally, we also see this parable excluding the possibility of conversion.  We know that is not the reality of our world.

Are we able to practice prudence and patience in the face of evil?  Do we allow for the possibility of conversion in others?  Can we be disciplined in following our own calling, or do we want to jump over to uproot some weeds?

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel contains parables from part of the same passage that we heard a little over a week ago on Sunday.  Jesus is teaching about the what is called the kingdom of heaven (here in Matthew) or the kingdom of God (Mark and Luke).  Elsewhere, he tells us that proclaiming the kingdom is why he was sent.

The kingdom of God is already, and not yet.  With the Incarnation, it is already here.  However, we will not see the fullness of the kingdom until the end of time.

Building up and proclaiming the kingdom is a responsibility that we have as members of the Church.  We are called to help make it a greater reality present to us here in this world.  And we are called to share this with others.  Pope Paul VI said that the proclamation of the kingdom and of salvation was the two-fold heart of Jesus’ evangelization.

While the Church, via its members, is proclaiming the kingdom, it is also “establishing herself in the midst of the world as the sign and instrument of this kingdom which is and which is to come (also from Paul VI).” 

Our legal system here seems to take flawed precedents and build further on them to create more decisions that stray further from the truth.  Pornography seems to be protected speech.  Promotion of causes contrary to the Church is also protected.  As Paul VI also wrote, “Why do these things have the right to be put before us, or even imposed upon us?”  Even apparent legal victories are usually only temporary ones that do not restore fundamental essential rights.

Where there is constitutional protection of religious freedom, we find that freedom jeopardized.  Protection against the establishment of a national church has seemingly morphed into freedom from religion that allows religion to increasingly be barred from the public square.  Most certainly it is being barred from the realm of public commerce.  And these developments have also seemingly allowed protection for the free exercise of religion to be ignored.  

But proclamation of the kingdom is not only our right, but our duty.  Even when it is difficult.  Prudence is still necessary to ensure that we do so in a way that is optimally effective (and not self-destructive).

Lay people are still called to sanctify the world by allowing the Gospel to inform their practice of their competencies in the realities of human love, education, professional work, etc.  It is only through them that those realities can be at the service of the kingdom of God.

So, how do we navigate this challenging environment today?  How are we fulfilling our duty to proclaim the kingdom in today’s world?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shares some short parables about the kingdom of heaven.  Scholars note that Matthew substitutes “heaven” in places where other Gospels use “God.”  So, Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, refers to the “kingdom of heaven” rather than the “kingdom of God.” 

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Simultaneously, he asks us to pray in the Our Father that this kingdom draw even closer.  This kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed planted in each of our hearts.  At the end of time, we will see it in its fullness.

For right here and right now, we need to see this as the great treasure that Jesus describes.  It is worth more than all else that we have.  It is hidden so that it might be found.  Jesus wants us to seek it out and to rejoice in finding it.  In finding it, we will have found great riches beyond description.  But only if we orient our life as one in search of this treasure.  A life that seeks to find it and draw it ever closer.

The greatest treasure, of course, that God gives us is himself.  God gives us his only Son that we might have eternal life. 

Yet, it is possible to go about this life ignoring this treasure that has been hidden for us to find.   This world often seems like the streets of a busy city.  So often, people hurrying through the streets are so preoccupied that almost anything could be happening around them.  And they would be oblivious to it all. 

In New York, famous people have played music at subway stations without being recognized.  Jimmy Fallon made it a feature of his show.  U2, Alanis Morissette, Miley Cyrus, Maroon 5, and Christina Aguilera are just a few that have pulled that off with his help.   A much smaller treasure was there, and hardly anyone noticed.

It seems that many will have great regret that they never noticed what God has hidden from them in this life.  That they focused exclusively on the things of this world in living a life that is so, so short compared to eternity.  What a lost opportunity!

Do we fully recognize and appreciated the much greater treasure of God hidden in plain view?  Are we willing to help others to discover this treasure?  Are we equipping ourselves to help others make this discovery? 

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

In today’s Gospel, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John) asked Jesus that her sons be given seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom.  This is a breathtakingly audacious request.  And it does not come from James and John.  It comes through their mother.  Perhaps we could say that the concept of a helicopter parent has biblical origins.

Notice that Jesus does not address his reply to their mother.  Instead, he responds to James and John directly.  Jesus, even in his human nature, could read people and their thoughts in ways that we cannot.  He knew from where the request had come originally, and he engaged directly with that source.

While two grown men having their mother lobbying Jesus for honors for them is a problem, the bigger problem on which Jesus focuses is the desire for this honor in the first place.  To be an Apostle is to be a leader, yes.  It is to be one of the first leaders of Christ’s Church.  But this leadership is in service to the people.  The proper mindset is not one of a king, but one of a servant.  The goal is not to gain honor for oneself.  The goal is to gain eternal life for others by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

Priests must avoid falling into the trap of clericalism.  It can be easy to allow the people to give honors to their priest as they show their devotion to the Church and to her priesthood.  While their devotion is not a bad thing, the priest must always remember that he is a servant to the people.  Their success in following the path of Christ is what is most important, not the priest’s own success in fulfilling his agenda.

At the same time, this trap exists for lay leaders too.  Building a resume of accomplishments in lay apostolates is not the purpose of such apostolates.  Serving other people and helping them grow closer to Christ is the reason such apostolates even exist.  And such service is done by discerning and following the will of God. 

Have there been times in my work within the Church when I have been guilty of focusing on my accomplishments rather than on service of the people according to the will of God?  Am I willing to set aside my own ambitions to focus on the salvation of others?

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the sower.  He sows seed everywhere.  On the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil.

Jesus is the sower.  He seemingly indiscriminately sows seed everywhere. 

And yet, Jesus is also God.  And God is omniscient, all-knowing.  At least in his divine nature. 

Why would an all-knowing God waste seed where he knows it will not take root?  Why not save the seed for good soil?

Well, one reason is that this is not a zero-sum game.  There is not a finite supply of the word of God.  If it is given to those in whom it will not take root, that does not mean that there is less for the “rich soil.”  It is the same with the love of God and with the grace of God. 

We must also remember the universal salvific will of God.  God wills that all be saved, as we hear in Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy.  God offers to all of us the gift of salvation.  It is our choice to accept it or not.

This parable also illustrates the gratuitousness of God.  His love cannot be contained.  It is shared with all.  It is not rationed out only to those who God knows will respond positively.  It is freely given even to those that God knows will reject it.  God’s love is not rational.  It is excessive.

This infinite love is what leads to his boundless mercy when that love encounters a repentant sinner.  The sinner does not get what he or she deserves.  Instead, the sinner receives mercy that is not deserved.  God does not want to sentence us to eternal punishment.  God wants to welcome us into eternal life with the Trinity. 

Do we fully appreciate that this is who God is?  Are we skeptical that we could be loved with such an excessive love?  Are we doubtful that we could be forgiven for some of the things that we have done?  When we go to Confession, do we trust in the forgiveness and mercy of God?  Or do we still carry guilt for our sins? 

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about how some cannot understand parables.  Yet, others can.  So, why do “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand?” 

Jesus himself tells us, “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have  closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.”

Are our eyes open to see?  Are our ears open to hear?  Are our hearts open to understand?

If we are not striving for God and to live a holy life, they will not be open.  If we do not want to see or hear, then we will not. 

When our lives are ones of prayer and sincere love of God, they can be open.

Sin can make us blind and deaf to the help of God in our life.  Mortal sin is certainly a block.  Many people want the Church to more clearly define mortal sin.  But mortal sin has three components – grave matter, full knowledge, and free consent.  The Church can and does help teach us about grave matter.  Murder, idolatry, blasphemy, serious theft, pornography, and not reserving the marital act for within marriage are all examples of grave matter.  However, knowledge and consent vary and are dependent on the individual.

Preoccupation with the things of this world can choke out our receptivity to the things of God.  So often, we cannot hear God because of the noise of our earthly lives.  Correcting that starts with reordering our priorities to put God first. 

A lack of prayer limits our ability to see, to hear, and to understand.  God comes to us in the silence of our prayer.  We must be intentional about creating opportunities for this silence.  We must strive to listen in that silence.  We cannot hear if we do not take time to do so.

Of course, our efforts must be commensurate with our state in life.  A busy parent with many young children cannot attempt the spiritual life of a cloistered monk.  But, in his or her own way, this parent must have a life founded in some way upon prayer.  Even if it is merely repeating a simple prayer in the midst of the busyness.  At the same time, someone with more available time should not bury the opportunity for more time in prayer at the expense of far lesser activities.

How are we intentional about being open to cooperating with the grace of God in our own lives?  Do we make God, and time with God in prayer, a priority?  Are these efforts consistent with our state in life?

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Today’s Gospel is John’s account of the empty tomb.  Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb so early in the morning that it is still dark.  When she finds it empty, she runs (not walks) to tell Simon Peter and John about it.  All of them return to the tomb.  While Peter and John return home after finding it empty, she remains.

Why is the role of Mary Magdalene so significant?   She was among the early followers of Jesus.  In Luke 8:2, there is a mention of her that includes the fact that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.  Not every person who benefitted from a miracle of Jesus followed him in the way that she did.

She was either the first, or among the first, to discover the empty tomb.  In all narratives, she is either alone or with one or more other women when the tomb is found empty.  The Apostles did not discover this.  It was up to Mary Magdalene (possibly with the other women) to inform the Apostles of this. 

She was the first (or first as part of a group) to see the Risen Lord.  He did not appear first to the Apostles.  Instead, he appeared first to her.  And he told her to tell the disciples of his Resurrection.  And so, she did.  It was Mary Magdalene who announced the empty tomb to Peter and John, and it was Mary Magdalene who first reported the Resurrection to the disciples.  For this reason, the decree from Pope Francis that elevated today to a feast is called “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Yes, it is from the Apostles that we have the governance of the Church through their successors, the bishops.  But that is only one aspect of the Church.  There is always a Marian aspect to the Church.  The Blessed Mother is so important to us.  There is also an evangelical and charismatic aspect that we see in Saint Paul.  There is a spiritual, and even contemplative, aspect from Saint John. 

Mary Magdalene was not an Apostle.  But her role of announcing the Resurrection, even to the Apostles, was so important.  What an honor that was for her too.  She had come to be a holy disciple who was also close to him.

So often, we look only to the commissioned leaders of the Church for our role models and examples for our lives.  We fail to appreciate the critical roles that so many others play.  Roles that might be more important than those of the official leaders. 

What role models can we find in the Church for ourselves?  How many are outside the official hierarchy of the Church?