Friday, September 30, 2011

JC in NY

On this feast of Saint Jerome, the patron saint of biblical scholarship--and recalling that even the devil himself has been known to quote the scriptures--it seemed exceedingly appropriate that my dear friend Ximena should send me this picture she took on a NYC subway:

Saint Jerome once famously wrote, "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ."  Clearly, Jesus was not a New Yorker...but neither can New Yorkers ignore him these days!  Ha!

Defend Us In Battle

I spent much of the feast of the holy Archangels on "pilgrimage" in the city of Montréal.  Traveling with Fr. Martin Cline, we spent some time in prayer at Saint Joseph's Oratory atop Mount Royal, visiting Brother André Bessette (whose canonization I was privileged to attend just over a year ago).  After a delicious dinner at Le Pois Penché, we reached the true goal of our journey: the Bell Centre, to watch the Montréal Canadiens take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game.

Not a bad view, eh?  It somehow seemed fitting to mark the memorial of mighty Saint Michael by watching strong men in helmets and pads swinging sticks in each other's general direction.  Of course, the Canadiens could have used a divine defender--maybe even a multitude of the heavenly host: they lost 4-0.

But we had a great time nonetheless, and recalled that we were keeping up a venerable tradition of priests from the Diocese of Ogdensburg rooting for the Habs.  It seems that one of them--a predecessor of Fr. Cline in his current post--was once treated by his parishioners to a mock funeral down main street, complete with a jersey-draped casket, when his beloved Canadiens narrowly lost the Stanley Cup.  Let's hope for a better ending this year.  Saint Michel, priez pour nous!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Out Loud

Yesterday's Confirmation Retreat for our 10th graders was simply stupendous, thanks in no small part to my dear friend, Michelle Watkins, who was presenter/facilitator.  What a great group of young people!  They were even given a chance to guide their blindfolded pastor through a sort of obstacle course...which included several raw eggs...and which had us all LOL.

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We had a retreat day yesterday for our Confirmation students.
I shared this story with them during the closing Mass
and—since it comes from their world—
I’m not surprised that they liked…
…but I suspect that you will too.

Some time ago I heard a true story about a father and son.
Luke was 12 or 13 and starting to spend a lot of time in his room,
a lot of time on his cell phone and on his computer.
Dad was beginning to feel a bit disconnected from his son,
so he asked Luke to teach him how to text,
figuring this might be a good way for the two of them to communicate.
Luke taught his father all of the mechanics,
and some of the many abbreviations that are part of texting,
like GTG, “got to go,” and BRB, “be right back.”
But there was one abbreviation Luke didn’t have to teach his Dad
since he thought it was so obvious: LOL—
obvious—Dad thought—that it means “lots of love.”
The father saw LOL often at the end Luke’s messages
and was quite touched.
For example, he’d send his son a somewhat stern text
about doing his homework or cleaning his room,
and Luke would reply, “OK, whatever you say Dad, LOL.”
“How sweet,” thought Dad. 
“Even when I discipline him he tells me that he loves me.”
And so, for about sixth months,
Luke father’s sent LOL not only to Luke,
but to nearly everybody he knew.
He thought of it as a virtual hug coming over your cell phone.
When his sister was going through a bitter divorce
on the other side of the country, he texted,
“We’re all here to support you!  LOL!”
When his own father lay sick in the hospital, he texted,
“Get well soon!  LOL!”
The last straw came when Dad was traveling for work—as he often did.
Feeling a bit guilty and homesick, he texted Luke from the airport:
“I really hate being away so often,
but I only work so hard to take care of you.  LOL.”
Which is when he got a reply from Luke entirely in capital letters:
“Lots of love, of course.”
“No Dad,” Luke answered.  “It means laughing out loud.”
And in that instant he realized:
I have six months of texts for which to apologize.
(This father has since gone on to reflect
that the whole mix-up is actually a lot like raising teenagers:
parents keep sending their kids lots of love,
while kids keep laughing out loud at their parents…
…who don’t generally even realize
that their kids are doing it.)  (cf. Adam Gopnik, The Moth Radio Hour, 2009, PRX)

In the gospel, Jesus tells the story of a father and his two sons.
In this case, however, it’s the father who communicates clearly,
but the sons who do not.
“No, I won’t do it,” says the first…
…and then he heads out to the vineyard anyway.
“Yes, I’ll get right to work, Dad,” says the second…
…but he doesn’t go.

It would be easy to conclude from this brief parable
that actions speak louder than words.
And—of course—we know that they do.
A promise isn’t good for very much
until one starts taking steps to bring it about.
But we can take the notion a bit too far
if we start to believe that only our actions really matter,
while our words matter little—or not at all.
In Jesus’ parable about the two sons,
neither son is being held up as a particularly positive example.
The first son may have done his father’s will…
…but only after being incredibly rude to him.
Both sons respond to their father imperfectly;
both sons show that they have some room for improvement.
The big difference is that the first son—
like the sinners who heard John the Baptist—
has begun to make a turn for the better.
He’s taken a crucial step in the right direction.
His change of mind and heart is showing in his deeds;
now he needs to start using words which back them up.

As Luke and his Dad prove so clearly: words matter.

We American Catholics
are spending a lot of time reflecting on words these days
as we prepare for the upcoming changes in the text of the Mass.
In the midst of all the brochures and new music
and bulletin inserts and educational programs being offered,
there’s one question that I keep hearing:
“Why?  Why are they making these changes?
All this trouble, for what?  They’re only words!”

Much of what we say in the liturgy,
we so easily take for granted.
We often speak our responses without a lot of thinking.
A priest was once having trouble with his microphone
at the very beginning of Mass and said,
“There’s something wrong with this mic,”
to which the congregation automatically responded,
“And also with you.”
We can go on for quite a long time
assuming we know what something means…
…only to discover that we don’t really know at all.
I had a friend who made it well into her twenties
thinking that a Christmas manger scene
was called an “activity set”…
…and it took quite a while to convince her otherwise.

The forthcoming changes in the English texts of the Mass
will force all of us—priests at the altar and people in the pews—
to stop and think about what we’re saying.
Even though there are many other good ones,
I think that would be reason enough to make the switch.
Words matter.
And the words we use in worship especially matter
because these words shape our faith,
and our faith shapes our actions,
and our actions shape the world.

In Christ Jesus,
our heavenly Father has sent us a message—
a message filled with lots of love;
a message repeated in every Mass
as Christ opens the scriptures for us
and breaks the bread.
May we be ready to make whatever changes are necessary
to respond wholeheartedly to that love—
both in word and in deed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The End

I spent this last day of summer enjoying the beauty of Lake Bonaparte (an hour-and-a-half away in northern Lewis County, on the edge of the Adirondacks).  I took a few pictures to share with you...but somehow managed to erase EVERY photo from my camera while connecting to my computer tonight.  Oh well...  I guess you'll have to take my word for it that it was truly lovely.

Happy Fall, y'all!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Get to Work

This is coming to you a few hours later than usual because I spent the afternoon working not in the vineyard, but in the harvest--our parishes' annual Harvest Festival, that is.  (I'd hoped to have some photos for you--and even brought my camera along with me--but never managed to take a single shot.)  Spectacular weather, top-notch volunteers, scrumptious food, playful kids, and dancing seniors all came together to make it a real treat.  And we'll all sleep pretty well tonight, too!

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

I want to see a show of hands:
How many of you think that’s the very best parable Jesus ever told?
Just as I suspected…
Now, why do you think this parable isn’t generally very popular?
Because it’s not fair.

I don’t know if I can improve this parable’s standing in the polls…
…but I certainly want to see if I can help you better understand
what Jesus was getting at.

To begin with, we need to realize that Jesus didn’t tell this story
to make a point about fair labor practices.
What’s he teaching his disciples about?
The kingdom of heaven—God’s rule, God’s reign,
God’s breaking-into our daily lives, on earth as it is in heaven.

Now, since this is a parable,
we have to reckon who the characters really are.
The landowner is…God.
His vineyard is…as we just said, the kingdom.
And all those workers?  They’re us—disciples trying to follow Jesus.
But which workers are we?
Those hired at dawn? at noon? at five o’clock?
Oh…that makes a difference, doesn’t it?
If I think of myself as a laborer who’s worked all the day long,
then what’s my gut feeling toward that landowner?
You cheated me!
But if I was hired just before quitting time
and still got a full day’s wage?
Wow!  This is the best boss ever!

So as we take this parable apart,
we see that it’s going to tell us something important
about ourselves.

Who am I?
First: I’m not God.
That landowner asks his grumbling employees,
“Am I not free to do as I wish with my money?”
Am I gonna tell God what to do?
No, we workers—no matter when we were put on the job—
don’t get to call the shots in this vineyard.
Right off the bat, I can tell I’m not in charge
because I need to be hired.
I’m not the boss.  I don’t own the company.
I don’t have what it takes to get by all on my own.
I lack the necessary resources to make my way through this life,
leave alone find my way to the next.
And so the landowner comes out in search of me
and brings me into his vineyard.

So we’re hired workers.
Now—to be honest—are we all putting in a full day’s work?
Oh, I may faithfully show up every Sunday to punch my timecard,
but what about all those days and hours in between?
There are very few people in this world—leave alone in this church—
who can march up to God and demand overtime pay!
Most of us try to squeak by, don’t we?
What’s the least I need to do?  What are the minimum requirements?
When will this homily, this Mass be over with?
Give my full day—every day—to God?  Well…um…uh…

But even if I’m now working full days in the vineyard,
shouldn’t I be able to remember how things were
when I didn’t have the job?
I don’t have to imagine what it was like to be in those shoes.
I’ve been there!  I might even end up there again.
Can’t I at least muster a little sympathy for those hired late?
“There but for the grace of God go I.”

And that’s the secret right there, isn’t it?
That’s the key to understanding this parable: grace!
Our gut—in one sense—is right: God’s way is not fair.
And thank God it’s not fair!
If God gave me just what I deserve,
then I’d be in mighty big trouble.
I once found these three fundamental Christian concepts—
justice, mercy, and grace—defined in this clever way:
   1.   justice: when you get what you deserve;
   2.   mercy: when you don’t get what you deserve;
   3.   grace: when you get what you don’t deserve.
We’re not being cheated at all, are we?
In fact, God is being much more than just, more than fair.
God has put us all on equal footing,
making no distinctions whatsoever,
loving us in a way that’s perfectly unconditional.

Which brings us to another piece of the parable:
the paycheck at the end of the day.
It isn’t really a wage, is it?
It’s only a wage if we think we can earn it.
No, what God wants to give us isn’t the salary of the laborer,
but the inheritance prepared for his sons and daughters.
And by inheritance, I don’t just mean some distant, future heaven;
God’s offering us the free gift of his grace
to get us through each and every day here on earth.

So, who are we?
We’re hired workers, who don’t always get their work done,
and who get so, so much that they don’t deserve.

But this parable doesn’t only tell us something
pretty important about ourselves;
it tells us something pretty important about God.

Who is God?
God is generous beyond measure.
He’ll never run out of capital to invest in his workforce.
There’s no corporate ladder to climb in the kingdom,
no need to fight your way to the top.
Unlike the human economy, where there’s only so much to go around,
in the divine economy, there is no scarcity of resources.

Let’s consider again those workers who get hired at five o’clock.
Why were they still hanging around in the marketplace?
Because no one hired them.
If they were just lazy,
I suspect that they would’ve gone home by then.
But even so late in the day, they’re out looking for work.
They needed the job—to pay the rent, to put food on the table.
So, what if they’d only been paid for an hour or two?
Would’ve hardly been worth it, right?
But God doesn’t tease us like that.
The landowner gives every laborer
enough to provide for himself and his family for another day.
Those who were hired first worked longer and harder, it’s true…
…but they’ve had the security of a just wage all day.
Those who were hired last didn’t know until the eleventh hour
how they were simply going to survive.
Instead of envy, what joy there ought to be
when all the workers realize that each of them
is given exactly what he needs!

I hope this scratch beneath the surface
has softened your feelings just a bit
toward this rather unpopular parable of Jesus.
Maybe I haven’t quite been able to move it
from last place to first.
But that doesn’t matter one lick
as long as I know that God’s generous grace can do so
for a late-hired laborer like me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Those who know me well know that I'm a long-time dévoté of Henry David Thoreau.  But I didn't really expect to run into him (at least, not like this) over my breakfast this morning...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Go West

I heard Christopher West speak to a group of priests, deacons and their wives, and religious from our diocese in Massena today on Blessed John Paul II's "Theology of the Body."  I know Mr. West has his critics...but you won't find me among them, at least not based on the very fine four-hour presentation to which I was privileged to listen today.  Most folks who speak about the Church's vision of human sexuality somehow manage to make sex... well... boring.  Not Christopher!  His blend of learning, reverence, humor, and hope--in my opinion--strike just the right chord for our times.

Among the many points to ponder with which I came home this evening was this gem: "We are only bitter toward the law when we desire to break it."  Think about that a bit...

Thanks a bunch, Christopher!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In My Place

I little loving vocational smack down from my morning meditation...
God, indeed, has no need of any of us. Preacher, priest, worker, rich and poor, old and young may try to do their best; but all that they achieve their whole life through, God could have effected by the single act of His decree. Yet He has allowed me the high privilege of partaking with Him in the continuance of the world’s history. He has allowed me to become a partner, a member of His firm, a helper in His voluntary aid society.

Perhaps I long to be this or that, to feel powers within me that are clamorous for expression, yet find no opportunity to put them to their full advantage. I become miserable, discontented, perhaps bitter. Can I never learn that to wherever God calls me, the road must always lie open? If I cannot do what I would like, it is because what I would like is not what He likes. There may be obstacles that I must endeavor to surmount, but do not let me become impatient of them. Perhaps my vocation is only to struggle, never to achieve. As a model husband, citizen, parishioner, nay, as a model Catholic, I have a vocation sacred and unique. I can imagine a higher vocation than I have, but, for myself, it is certain that there is not a holier one. 
--Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P. (1881-1934)
Thanks.  I needed that.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Perhaps someone will say: "Had [Mary] not known before that [Jesus] would die?" Undoubtedly.  "Did she not expect him to rise again at once?"  Surely.  "And still she grieved over her crucified Son?"  Intensely...

...He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known.  She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.

--St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: Do not be afraid.  This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death.  These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me.  I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart.  My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love.

--Saint Peter Chrysologus (400-450)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And Another Thing

This just in from my morning meditation!  A great follow up to Chrysostom (see last post)... detect the defects of people and systems is a very rudimentary--the very lowest--form of criticism.  It must always be a function of criticism to discover error, and I must train myself to possess it, lest I follow, in blind hero-worship, some wayward but forceful leader. 
But it is much more necessary for me to be able to detect beauty, half-hidden or ill-expressed.  That is the highest, because it is the most creative, form of criticism and will be of most intense help to me in the spiritual life.... 
...The critic in this sense is the most noble and magnanimous and helpful of men, for his gift of finding fault is balanced by his gift of finding value. 
--Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P.
So I'm off in search of beauty and value...

St. John Chrysostom

Though he may have been golden-mouthed (the meaning of his Greek nickname, Chysosotomos), St. John (born around the year 349) would never be accused of soft-pedaling the issues.  In his ongoing and very public conflict with Eudoxia (the emperor's wife), he once declared, "Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John [the Baptist's] head on a platter."

John Chrysostom and Aelia Eudoxia
John-Paul Laurens, c. 1880

Ouch!  Such pronouncements from the pulpit just might have had something to do with his being deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople (on trumped up charges) and sent off into exile.  It was in exile that he died in 407.

This Doctor of the Church's facility with fire and brimstone when speaking truth to power is certainly not my own personal style.  And yet--as a preacher, in particular--Chrysostom reminds me of the urgent need to speak up.  As St. John once said, "He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins.  Unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices; it fosters negligence and incites not only the wicked but also the good to do wrong."

I'm so glad to not have the concern (as some Protestant pastors do) that I am hired and fired by those who hear my sermons.  But the challenge remains to "say the hard things" when necessary--to always speak the truth, and always speak it with love (Eph 4:15).

"Do not say: It is impossible for me to influence others. If you are a Christian, it is impossible for this not to happen."

--Saint John Chrysostom

Monday, September 12, 2011


Those Jesuits Are Into Everything

"If you surf on the Internet, it is thanks to him. If you jump from one site to another, clicking on links highlighted in blue, it is thanks to him. If you use a PC to write emails and documents, it is thanks to him. And if you can read this article, it is thanks to him."


Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Are

About a week ago I tried to embed this video...and I've finally figured out how.  Worth waiting for, in my opinion.  Enjoy...

How to Destroy Your Enemies

Dona nobis pacem.  Grant us peace.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A small town boy from middle America
enlisted in the Navy during World War II.
And though he’d never even been in a rowboat,
his gifts for leadership were soon recognized
and he found himself commanding an entire ship in the South Pacific.
When Japan’s surrender was announced,
he and his men were sent to pacify a few small islands
where some of the Japanese forces remained.
The Japanese expected the worst at the hands of the victors
and mustered as much courage as they could
while watching the Americans come in to shore.
How surprised they were when these same Americans
shook their hands, offered them food and clothing,
and treated them with the utmost respect.
Attributing this to the integrity of the young U.S. Naval commander,
the head of the Japanese forces,
as a gesture of gratitude and honor,
presented him with a samurai sword--
a treasured heirloom that had been in his family for many generations.
The American took the sword home as a souvenir--
one of the trophies which conquerors
tend to claim from those they’ve defeated.
But he was unable to forget the look in the Japanese officer’s eyes,
and promised himself that he’d return the sword some day.

Years passed, and the sailor made a few inquiries
about his Japanese counterpart--but to no avail.
It was decades later when his own son was studying in Japan
that he began to think again about handing back the antique sword.
It took several months and the help of a number of Japanese officials, 
but the now-elderly officer was located and the sword returned.
He received it as if a long-lost son, presumed to be dead,
had suddenly walked through the front door.

The two men then began a most unlikely correspondence,
writing to one another about their lives and their families,
about their memories of the past and their hopes for the future.
By this time, the retired U.S. commander was much too ill to travel,
but he dreamed of meeting the Japanese officer again, face-to-face.
And so, as a surprise, not long before he died,
his family arranged a visit from the man
to whom the samurai sword had been returned.
Thus these two men, who first met as avowed enemies
now embraced each other as the dearest of friends.  (cf. K. Nerburn)

How often must I forgive my brother?
The answer lies in how often
I want to be forgiven by my heavenly Father.

You see, God’s forgiveness does not mean
that my evil deeds are undone.
I did them, and the past cannot be changed.
God’s forgiveness does not mean that my sins weren’t so bad after all.
They were bad--God knows it, and I know it.
And God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that he’s willing
to cover up my wrongdoing and look the other way.
What good would that really do?
No--God’s forgiveness runs much, much deeper than any of these.
God’s forgiveness means that, in his eyes,
I am no longer seen as a sinner.
And God’s forgiveness means that, in the depths of my soul,
I am no longer guilty.
Because he is all-Good and all-Just,
God rejects sin and God condemns sin.
But because he is also Almighty and all-Merciful,
God is more powerful than sin
and God’s love has the ability to wipe it completely away.  (cf. R. Guardini)

One translation of the Lord’s Prayer reads,
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
It vividly calls to mind the parable of the two servants
which we hear this Sunday morning.
The challenge set before us, then, is to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Seventy-seven times may refer to the repetition required
for mending relationships after minor hurts and slights.
But when we’re dealing with deeper, more painful wounds,
seventy-seven times points to the fact that true reconciliation
calls for more than simply saying, “Apology accepted.”
As he hangs upon the cross, Jesus prays, Father, forgive them.
Christ’s prayer does not remove the nails which hold him fast,
but it does offer freedom to those who put them there.
We need to find within ourselves a love like God’s own
which may not undo or overlook the past,
but which alone has the power to eliminate
the blame and the bitterness, the disgrace and the shame.

Near the end of the Civil War,
Abraham Lincoln made a speech
in which he referred sympathetically to the rebels.
A woman in the crowd dressed him down
for speaking kindly of his enemies
when he ought to be thinking of destroying them.
“Why, madam,” President Lincoln replied,
“am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
Indeed, the greatest victory we can hope to achieve
over those who have hurt us
comes not from seeking vengeance,
but by seeking understanding;
not from brooding over injuries,
but by working for healing;
not from nursing our wrath and anger,
but by nurturing forgiveness in our hearts.

Ten years ago today,
acts of senseless violence left us all quite afraid.
Let us pray that the legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear,
but one of hope:
hope for a world made new;
a hope founded on the courage to forgive.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We Remember...

"O God of love, compassion and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain. 

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here - the heroic first responders: our firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001. 

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness.

Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the Earth.

Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI at “Ground Zero,” April 20, 2008

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

What's in a name?  Traditionally--though there's apparently not much hard data to back it up--the name of Mary (Miryam in Hebrew, Maria in Latin) has been said to mean, "star of the sea."  Reflecting on that understanding, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) movingly writes:
"Take not your eyes from the light of this star if you would not be overwhelmed by the waves; if the storms of temptation arise, if you are thrown upon the rocks of affliction, look to the star, invoke Mary. Are you confounded at the enormity of your sins, are you ashamed at the defilement of your conscience, are you terrified on account of the dreadful judgment, so that you begin to be overpowered by sadness, or even to sink into the abyss of despair, then turn your thoughts to Mary. In dangers, in distress, in doubt, call on Mary. She will not be far from your mouth, or your heart; and that you may obtain her intercession omit not to imitate her conduct. When you follow her, you will not go astray; when you invoke her, you will no longer be in doubt; when she supports you, you will not fall; when she leads you, you will surely come to eternal life, and will find by your own experience that she is justly called Maria--that is, Star of the Sea."

On a side note...I'll always recall that Our Lady kindly shared her birthday with another alma mater of mine: Wadhams Hall Seminary-College in Ogdensburg, NY.  Following a diocesan-wide novena for vocations, Bishop Joseph Conroy opened Wadhams Hall with its first nine students on September 8, 1924.  After nearly 80 proud years, the seminary closed its doors in May 2002.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Counting On You

This Labor Day marks two whole months since I embarked on this little blogging adventure.  As I commemorate this milestone, I guess there are two things I'd like to ask of you good folks who so kindly keep stopping by to check things out:

1.  Send along your feedback.  Sure, I'm having some fun just putting things together...but if a blog isn't also providing something for its readers, then it's little more than a diary purposely left open for the curiosity of passersby.  I've gotten very few comments so far...but then again, maybe only shy people are reading and you're afraid to speak up.  (There's not much real chance of that, since I know who some of your are.)

2.  Spread the word around.  From the stats which Blogger provides me, I've apparently got a small but steady stream of regulars visiting here.  (In fact, somebody from Germany keeps dropping by...and I can't help but wonder who that might be.)  But I'd love to increase the traffic in these parts, and I don't have much of a budget for advertising.  If you like what you're seeing, please consider sharing my link with a friend, or two, or three...

Thanks for your help!  And enjoy the holiday!

--Fr. Joe

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is Something Burning?

I first read this story years and years ago. When I went in search of it online a few days back, I was amused to find not only the Jewish version (with which I was first acquainted), but several Christian and Islamic versions as well. So I can't be sure of this story's origins...but its application is quite clearly pretty wide.

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

There’s an old Jewish story
about a man who attended synagogue regularly:
Sabbath after Sabbath, year after year, always in the same seat.
Then, one winter, he simply stopped going.
“I can pray just as well at home,” he thought.
Now, in the Jewish tradition,
a quorum of ten is required to hold the Sabbath service;
without this one member, the synagogue often had only nine.
After a few weeks, the rabbi decided to pay him a visit.
When the man saw it was the rabbi at his door that chilly evening,
he was pretty sure he knew what this would be about.
The man welcomed his distinguished guest
and gave him a seat right next to the roaring fire.
The rabbi did not say a single word.
When the two men had sat in silence a while, both gazing at the fire,
the rabbi took the fireplace tongs 
and picked up a single, glowing ember,
placing it apart from the others, all alone on the hearth.
As the rest of the fire continued to blaze,
the lonely coal slowly faded
until--with a final flicker--it went completely out.
Still having said nothing, the rabbi made ready to leave
but first took up the tongs again
and placed the cold, black ember in the middle of the others.
Immediately it began to glow once more.
The man understood the rabbi’s message.
The very next Sabbath, he returned to the synagogue,
taking his usual seat among the rest
and completing the number needed for prayer.

Jesus’ words to us this Sunday
are about the importance of community--
about the particular community we call the Church.

The wise preacher, Billy Graham, once said,
“If you find a perfect church, by all means join it! 
Then it will no longer be perfect.”
The Church is a society of sinners.
Jesus may indeed be present in our midst, as he promised,
but church people are still people:
we lie and we lust; we covet and we steal; we fail in loving; we sin.
The sin of any one member necessarily affects all the rest,
and so Jesus gives us direction
on how to deal with this sad side-effect of our fallen human nature.
The purpose of the process Jesus lays for us out this Sunday
is not about pointing out another’s failures--
whether in public or in private.
Neither is it about assigning blame or taking revenge.
It’s ultimate purpose is reconciliation:
to save our sinful brother or sister, not to send them away;
to put the pieces back together again.
The difficult part, of course,
is that sin must be acknowledged for it to be forgiven.
Thus we’re told that when there’s resistance,
when we encounter a hardened heart,
we are to treat the offender as “a Gentile or tax collector”…
…but aren’t those some of the very folks
to whom Jesus reached out most consistently and compassionately?
We’re not allowed to give up on those who seem lost…
…even (especially!) if they seem to have given up on themselves.
In the community of believers, in the family of God,
I am my brother’s keeper.
We are accountable to each other.  
We are responsible for one another.
As Pope John XXIII wrote,
“We humans are saved and sanctified in clusters, like grapes.”
I must love my neighbor
because my salvation, my holiness, is intertwined with his.

Now, Jesus makes some pretty incredible promises
to those who will form a community in his name:
what they bind or loose on earth
will be bound or loosed in heaven;
that for which they agree to ask in prayer
will be granted by the Father;
whenever and wherever they gather together,
Jesus himself will be right there among them.
And yet we know that this being in community--this being Church--
isn’t all warm and fuzzy, isn’t all coffee and donuts.
Sometimes it means correcting;
sometimes it means being corrected.
Sometimes it means pursuing one who has wandered;
sometimes it means cutting off what holds us back and keeps us down.
But this hard and constant work of reconciliation is so important
because we need one another.
Christianity--by Christ’s design--is a communal religion,
not simply a matter of individual belief.
We need each other for effectiveness in our prayer.
We need each other to experience the presence of Jesus.
We need each other to bear our burdens and share our joys.
In the face of America’s rugged individualism
and our increasingly secular culture,
we need each other to keep the faith alive,
burning bright and warm in our hearts.
We need the Church, and the Church needs us.

Although it seems like strange advice
on this warm Labor Day Weekend--
always sit close to the fire!
There’s just too much to lose by trying to go it alone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Also Online

Just want to share a couple of Internet finds from the last few days...

First is Bad Catholic, a just now 1-year-old blog (Happy Birthday!) by an 18-year-old young man from Virginia who likes to wash dishes, just got back from World Youth Day, and is a VERY gifted communicator of the Catholic faith.

Besides--how could I resist a banner like that?

In a recent post cleverly called, Y'All Suck At Sinning, he wrote:
Think on this. 200 years ago, if a young man and woman were filled with passionate love-lust for each other, and said 'to hell with morality, we're making love', they were doing what they knew they shouldn't. They were tasting the forbidden fruit. And, in all likelihood, they were very happy doing it. I hold that the modern world has no idea what it's like to taste forbidden fruit - not for any lack of eating it - but because it is fed to them from kindergarten.
That's pretty sharp, I tells ya.

And then I came across this little video clip called, We Are Catholic.  (I tried to embed it here, but I'm still getting the hang of this new-fangled blogging stuff and I couldn't get it to let me.)  A fresh and positive presentation of--well--who we are.