Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chip Off the Ol' Block

It's dark, rainy, and windy here.  Hope you're weathering well wherever you are...

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Well…how do you like the weather?

It’s kind of interesting to consider just how spectacular yesterday was:
sunshine, blue skies, fluffy clouds, the temperature just right—
all you could hope for at the end of August.

And now: this.
Such a dramatic change…and so very suddenly.

We see the same sort of thing in our gospel readings.

Jog your memories, if you will…
…all the way back to last week.
Jesus was asking his disciples,
“Who do the crowds—who do you—say that I am?”
Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
And Jesus responds, “You are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church.”
In the original Greek text of that passage,
“Peter” is Petros, and “rock” is petra.
Hear the connection that gets lost in translation?
If we were to have the same play on words in English as Greek,
we’d probably call the Pope the successor to “Saint Rocky!”

Now…back to this Sunday.
We’re still in the very same chapter of Matthew.
Jesus, for the first time, predicts to his disciples
that he must go up to Jerusalem and there be killed.
Peter wants to hear nothing of it: “God forbid!”
And Jesus’ response?
“Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.”
In the Greek, the “obstacle” is skandalon
which gives us our English word, “scandal”—
literally, a “stumbling-block.”
In pretty short order,
Jesus goes from naming Simon, “Rocky,”
to calling him, “Blockhead.”

How did Peter fall so hard and so fast?
Where is his mistake?

When Peter got things right last Sunday,
when the sun was shining down so bright upon him,
Jesus said to him, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.
You didn’t figure it out on your own
or with the help of other men.
No—this was made known to you by my heavenly Father.”

And now, when Peter’s way off base,
when the dark, heavy clouds are rolling in,
Jesus says, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

You see, Peter isn’t called “the rock”
because of his personal accomplishments or private virtue.
In fact, judged solely on his natural character,
Peter is anything but a rock.
He’s the one who—for lack of faith—
sinks through the stormy waves.
He’s the one who—out of fear—
denies even knowing his Master three times.  (cf. J. Ratzinger)
It’s only because of God and God’s grace,
because the Lord chooses and commissions him,
that Peter will go on to preach boldly in foreign lands,
to be a vital point of unity in the infant Church,
and to bravely give his life on a Roman cross.

So, which is Simon Peter?
Petra or skandalon?  Rock or stumbling-block?
He’s both…and so are we.

Somehow, most of us have subscribed to the notion
that to be a good disciple, to be a good Christian,
we have to get it all right, to keep it all together.
There we’re wrong on two accounts:
first, that we can be perfect;
and then, that it depends on us.

And that, my friends, would seem to be why
Jesus insists that I must deny myself—
that I must lose my life in order to find it.
I must let go of the foolish pride which says,
“I know best!  I can do it myself!”
The simple fact of the matter is,
my human nature is feeble and frail…
…while God’s grace is strong.
By myself, I trip over obstacles—
maybe even prove to be a scandal,
a stumbling block to others.
But with the Lord,
his strength shines through my weakness,
and only thus is the Church built up,
one living stone set upon another.

Last Thursday evening,
as I was coming back from a brief visit to my family in Plattsburgh,
I drove through a short rain shower just before sunset.
As the waning daylight broke through the clouds,
a most brilliant rainbow appeared across the sky.
But such a spectacular sight can only be seen
when the sun shines through the storm.
It takes both!
Likewise, God’s almighty power is best revealed
not when I run away from life’s heavy crosses,
nor when I try to avoid life’s threatening storms,
but when I let the Lord break right through them—
when I let him shine through my weak humanity.

So…when you’re feeling like a blockhead, don’t lose hope!
Not only are you in good company,
but at least it means that you’re still pretty rocky.
Allow the Lord’s strong hand to set you firmly on his foundation,
and you’ll never be an obstacle standing in his way.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Coming Attractions

This tree's out in the park right across from the rectory:

I guess "summer's beginning to give up her fight."

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Between the showers and thunderstorms this afternoon, Fr. Bernie and I went for a little hike to High Falls on the Salmon River (between Mountain View and Owls Head).  I wish I could have captured the roaring sound of all that rushing water to go along with these shots...

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; 
the God of glory thunders, 
the Lord, over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is power; 
the voice of the Lord is splendor.
Psalm 29:3-4

The Keys

Dark and rainy here today...but a rainy Sunday afternoon might be just what the doctor ordered.

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Pope Benedict landed in Madrid
for World Youth Day this weekend,
they got all of his luggage loaded into the limousine,
but he remained standing outside the car on the curb.
“Is their something wrong, your Holiness?” the driver asked.
“To tell you the truth,” answered the Holy Father,
“they never let me drive in the Vatican.
I was just standing here wondering
if I might be able to drive today.”
The Spanish chauffeur knew
that something like this could easily cost him his job…
…but how do you say no to the Pope?
So the Holy Father gets behind the wheel,
his driver sits in the back,
and they tear out of the airport at 105 miles an hour.
Needless to say, it’s not long before they’re hearing sirens.
Pulled over, a cop steps up to the window
but without saying a word
immediately returns to his patrol car.
“I need to talk to the chief,” he says to the dispatcher.
He tells the chief he’s stopped a limo going 105.
“So bust ’em,” says the chief. 
“Do you know who it is?”
“I don’t think we want to do that,” says the cop.
“It’s somebody really important.”
“Who is it?” asks the chief.  “Is it the mayor?”
“Bigger” answers the cop.
“A senator?”  “Bigger.”
“The Prime Minister?”  “Even bigger.”
“So who is it?” the chief pleads.
“I…I think it’s God,” the cop replies.
“God?” says the puzzled chief. 
“What in the world makes you think it’s God?”
“Well,” answers the cop, “he’s got the Pope for a chauffeur!”

Do you know who I am?
That’s the probing question Jesus asks his disciples.
He’s not all that interested in the word on the street.
Jesus is after their own understanding.
No one else can answer for them.

There’s a similar question
many have trouble answering today:
Do you know who you are?
I’m not looking for your name or address,
your parents or date of birth,
where you go to school, where you go to work,
or what you like to do on the weekends.
This isn’t about where you come from or what you do.
Who are you?

I dare say, from looking at how people act these days,
a clear majority don’t know the answer.
As human beings always have,
modern day folks are searching for love and happiness,
for truth and freedom, for meaning and fulfillment,
for a sense of purpose and of belonging.
They’re searching…but their not finding…
…because they’re looking in all the wrong places.

Notice in the gospel reading
that it’s only after Simon says, “You are the Christ,”
that Jesus says, “You are Peter—the Rock.”
You see, it’s only in revealing the face of his heavenly Father
that Jesus also uncovers the truth
about human flesh and blood—
revealing to us our truest selves.
The answers to those two questions—
Do you know who I am?  Do you know who you are?
aren’t really very far apart at all!

And that, my friends, is why it matters so much
what we think, what we say, what we believe about Jesus.
Was he just another nice guy?
another wise teacher from the past?
one religious reformer among many through the ages?
If that’s the case, it’s rather easy to take him or leave him.
But don’t we sense deep down—
more like Simon Peter than that Spanish cop—
that this is someone “even bigger?”
Don’t both heart and mind lead us to say,
“I…I think it’s God?”
And so we confess the faith
which comes down to us from the apostles:
that this preacher from Nazareth, this son of Mary,
is the promised and long-awaited Messiah,
God’s only-begotten Son,
one-in-substance with the Father,
through whom the universe was made,
who for us men and our salvation took flesh and became man.

It matters that we really believe all of this about Jesus
because it determines what we believe about ourselves.
Only if Jesus is truly the Christ, is truly the Son of the living God,
can I recognize that I, too, am a child of God;
that I am someone God has chosen—anointed—as his own;
that I have a unique role to play—a mission to fulfill—
which has not been entrusted to any other.
Oh, I can keep on searching for answers elsewhere—
in fame or fortune, in power or prestige, in sex or drugs,
in any of the other countless things
that promise to take me away
from the cares and concerns of this life.
But my true identity can only be found in one place,
and that is in God.

Through the power of the keys
(the keys to the kingdom, that is, not the papal limousine!),
Jesus opened for us the gates of heaven,
and continues to do so through his Church.
But Christ and his Church also open for us
the real secret to life here on earth.
Jesus comes revealing
not only the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,
but the truth about ourselves—
about our human nature and its full potential.

Jesus is still asking, Do you know who I am?
And do you know who you are?
But don’t wait for the Pope or the priest,
for your family or your friends to reply.
No one else can answer these questions for you.
But they must be answered.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

St. Helen

Although not on the universal calendar, a little French almanac I follow tells me that today is the feast of St. Helen--namesake of our parish in Chasm Falls--who died in Rome on this date in 328.

The mother of the emperor Constantine, she restored many sacred sites in the Holy Land and recovered many important relics there--including the Holy Cross of Christ.  Little wonder she became the patron of archeologists.  A pious woman, she prayed fervently for her son's baptism, which (according to most historians) would only take place after her death.

Evelyn Waugh wrote a fascinating novel (Helena, 1950) based upon the story of her life.  Quite movingly, on its last page we read:
The holy places have been alternately honored and desecrated, lost and won, bought and bargained for, throughout the centuries. But the wood has endured. In splinters and shavings gloriously encased it has traveled the world over and found joyous welcome among every race. For it states a fact.
"There is no wood like that of the cross for lighting the fire of love in the soul."

--Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keep Out

I just LOVE these people!

From the way of Italy...just click on each photo for the next one.  Ha!

Family's Value

This just in from NPR this morning:
As more and more U.S. couples decide to have children without first getting married, a group of 18 family scholars is sounding an alarm about the impact this may have on those children.
In a new report out on Tuesday, they say research shows the children of cohabiting parents are at risk for a broad range of problems, from trouble in school to psychological stress, physical abuse and poverty.'re saying that marriage is good for kids?  Who woulda thunk?  

You can read more about it here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

All For One

While shaking hands after the 9:15am Mass, a fellow asked me, "Does Jesus charge $55,000 for an appearance like Randy Travis does?" I answered, "Of course not! And we don't ask for $15 at the door!"

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

As you may already know,
I spent a few days on vacation this past week up in Québec City.
I always enjoy visiting this land of my ancestors:
the food is amazing, the architecture stunning,
and it’s very good practice for my French.
But French was not the only language I heard in the city:
there was, of course, plenty of English,
but also Spanish, Italian, some German,
and a few Asian and Eastern European languages I couldn’t identify.
With the many things Québec has to offer,
it draws visitors from all over the place.

Lately I’ve been remembering an earlier visit
to another French-speaking city:
to Paris, way back in 1997,
when I traveled there for World Youth Day.
Last evening I offered Mass in Saranac Lake
for twenty-four young adults from the diocese
(including one of our own parishioners)
who are leaving today for World Youth Day in Madrid.
Nearly half a million are registered to take part this week in Spain—
all Catholics in their teens, twenties, and thirties—
with hardly a country on the planet not represented…
…and I’m quite sure, based on my own experience,
that even more young people will show up.

You don’t have to consider them for very long
to recognize a rather major difference
between these two international convergences of humanity.

In Québec, you see,
we all just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
Even when we were forced into close quarters on a crowded elevator,
there was no bond, no real connection between us.
Oh, we were polite, and we smiled.
But we remained separate:
tourists each going about their business.

In Paris, however, I encountered something quite different.
Next Saturday night and Sunday morning,
hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth
will gather out on an airfield in Madrid
to adore the Blessed Sacrament, to celebrate Mass,  
and to listen to the words of the Pope.
If it’s anything at all like Paris,
despite the unusual setting,
despite the immensity of the young crowd,
the atmosphere will be as sacred as that found
in any of the world’s most revered cathedrals.
Regardless of cultural differences and language barriers,
these young people are brought together by a common faith,
and so they very quickly become one.

Friday was the eleventh anniversary of my ordination as a priest.
It’s a major part of my priestly ministry
to bring people together, to make the many into one:
by baptizing new members into the Body of Christ;
by helping the sick and the sinner know that they’re not alone;
by uniting husbands and wives in holy marriage;
by preaching a message of hope intended for everybody;
above all, by gathering the one family of God
around one altar for Eucharist,
offering one sacrifice of praise.

This priesthood is quite a calling.
For it, I remain both very grateful and rather unworthy.
And I can’t ever urge the young men among us strongly enough
to personally consider priesthood
as they discern their life’s vocation!

But this important work of unity is not the priest’s alone:
I can’t be everywhere, and I can’t reach everyone.

Now, next to places like Québec or Paris or Madrid,
Malone isn’t exactly what you’d call a “diverse” town.
We’re pretty homogenous culturally, racially, and ethnically.
And while we do have visitors
(and the Chamber of Commerce is always trying to attract more),
we’re not quite a tourist Mecca.
Nevertheless, Malone has its divisions.
Some are based on politics—who you know.
Some are based on social status—where you work or where you live.
Some are based on how long you or your family have been in town.
The ones that sadden me most
are those within our own Catholic community—
emphasizing historical lines between our four parishes.
Such lines are fading, it’s true…but they’re still with us.

Here in this house of prayer, here in this house of God,
is the place—above every other—
where all should feel welcome,
where all can come together as one.

Do we try to get to know the other people
who come to church with us?
Do we connect with one another as Catholics
outside our time spent in this building?
Or is our church involvement limited to one hour a week?
Do we hear God calling us to be united as one family—
one with him and one with each other?
Or have we become “spiritual tourists,”
each of us going about our own business?

As a Catholic community,
we must make sure that our doors are wide open.
Even more, we must go out from this place
to invite other people in.
As I’ve mentioned before:
we have 4,500 registered parishioners here in Malone
that we’re not seeing at Mass on a regular basis—
not to mention all the folks in the area
who claim no allegiance to any particular faith.
Can we rest content in our pews
knowing that they’re all still outside?

In speaking with the Canaanite woman,
Jesus betrayed the prejudices of his own people.
I don’t think this is because he shared their bias against foreigners,
but in order to draw attention to it—
and to blow it right out of the water.
True faith can know no human boundaries.
God and God’s mercy will not be limited
by the lines we draw in the sand.
So we must not allow ourselves to be limited
to old notions of belonging
or accepting things as they happen to be now.
If Randy Travis could draw something like 10,000 people
to the Franklin County Fairgrounds on Friday night,
what sort of crowd should we be packing in
with a visit by the only Son of God every Sunday?
Our world—like the Canaanite woman’s daughter—
is deeply troubled and in need of much healing.
If our faith is real,
it can’t be satisfied with the status quo;
we need to get out there and spread it around.

May the peoples praise you, O God!
From Québec to Paris, from Madrid to Malone,
may all the peoples praise you!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eleven & Counting...

Memories from way back on August 12, 2000...when, as you can see, I was still just a kid...

In April of 1945, French poet and diplomat Paul Claudel wrote the following in a letter to a young "country priest":
The Mass which you say each morning pours out a torrent of inestimable, incommensurable blessings not only on your village but on all humanity. It empties purgatory. And then each morning, as you awake, you can tell yourself that these men, women, children, have been specially entrusted to you by God himself. To others he gave cows or horses; to you these immortal souls. You are their Christ, able to give them life, fully invested with a power of vivification, illumination, resurrection. You immolate yourself for them each day on the altar. You have an inside knowledge of them--and of what is unknown to them--but what makes them who they are. You are the agent of their guardian angels. You stand in for them. In this sublime role, what do human contretemps and contradictions count? Were you promised a paper cross? Or a good honest heavy cross, which is just your size, precisely because it appears overwhelming? Besides the immense divine joy reserved for you, and whose dispenser you are, how simply ridiculous these little pebbles in your shoes appear. 
Believe me, the vocation of a priest, and I would add of a country priest (our Lord was a country priest) is the sublimest of all.

I thank you, Lord God, for the call of which I remain so unworthy.  
I ask you, Lord God, for the grace to answer it each day.

Au Revoir!

Well, the time has come to say good-bye to Québec as we head back "south of the border" this morning.

À bientôt, j'espère!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Island Life

A day of alternating sun and brief showers sent us out of the city for a driving tour around the Isle d'Orléans, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River just a few miles northeast of Québec City.

In spots, it seems like Canada's answer to Martha's Vineyard, with cafés, artsy boutiques, and antique shops interspersed among quaint cottages, all surrounded by blooming garden flowers...

...but it also appears to be a regional breadbasket, with dairy farms, orchards, fresh produce available at roadside stands, and lush vineyards.

(That's a huge waterfall on the mainland, by the way, that you can see off in the distance.)

And then each of the six small towns on the island has it's own parish church (all six--we learned--served by just one priest)...

...among them, a structure (St-Laurent) designed by an architect named Raphaël Giroux (1860)...

...and another (St-Pierre), that is the oldest standing church structure (1717-1719) in the province of Québec.  (Sadly, this church is no longer in use.)

Island life does have its charms.

And now, one last night in this lovely land of my ancestors...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the St. Lawrence

On this cloudy and rainy feast of St. Lawrence, we followed the river which bears his name a little farther north to visit the shrine of St-Anne-de-Beaupré, it's roots going all the way back to 1658.

(Look carefully, and you can see the St. Lawrence in the first photo through the mist behind the basilica.)

Heading back toward our home base, we stopped in at the Old City's Farmers' Market on the river banks to pick up some local fare for a simple supper in the hotel.

So, a fresh baguette, some regional cheeses and sausage, fruit and veggies, wine and pastries are on our grand buffet tonight.  If you're in the neighborhood, stop by--there's plenty to go around!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bonjour, Mes Amis

Greetings from Québec City!

After sleeping in and enjoying a late breakfast at the rotating rooftop restaurant of our hotel, we began our walking tour.  We first took a stroll around Québec's Parliament building.

And then it was through the gate and into the old city.


We visited the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Québec, where we were able to pray at the tomb of Blessed François de Laval (1623-1708), the first archbishop of Québec.

We then headed down to the "lower city" neighborhood known as Petit-Champlain, were we stopped at the church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, built (1687-1723) on the site of Samuel de Champlain's first settlement (1608).

It's hard to see them in the shadows, but those are my partners in crime coming out of the church: Fr. Scott Seymour and Fr. Mike Monette.

After a little snack by the St. Lawrence, it was back up the hill where we visited the chapel of the Ursuline Sisters, who were among the first missionaries here in New France.  There, I prayed at the tomb of Blessed Marie de l'Incarnation (1599-1672), the foundress of the Ursulines in Québec--remembering, of course, the dear Ursuline Sisters who continue to serve so faithfully in Malone.


(Now, before the Grey Nuns of Malone get jealous...we were going to visit the tomb of their foundress, St. Marguerite D'Youville, on our trip north yesterday...but a wrong term landed us in Montréal instead of Varennes, and so we paid our respects to Br. André instead!)

And now, off for some dinner...