Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treat

I hope it's not too late to say, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

(As you can see, FideliCat sends his greetings, too.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In Order

   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

It’s good to be back!
To answer everyone’s question at once:
Yes, we had a wonderful trip!
As most of you know,
last Sunday morning I was in Rome
as Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints for the Church.
I made the journey in particular for the one
who is most familiar to us here in the North Country,
but whose name was the most difficult of the bunch to pronounce:
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha,
or as her Mohawk people say it,
'gaderi degaˈgwit-ha.

I suspect you know 
the general lines of her life’s story.
She was born near Albany in 1656.
A smallpox outbreak when she was very young
killed her brother and both her parents,
leaving Kateri still alive 
but severely scarred and nearly blind.
She first encountered Jesuit missionaries 
in her late teens,
and was baptized at the age twenty.
Facing persecution for her newfound faith,
she moved to a settlement of Christian Mohawks outside of Montréal.
There she died in 1680 at the age of 24.

What’s in that unusual name?
Kateri—a shortened form of Catherine—
is the Christian name she was given at her baptism.
But Tekakwitha is another story.
It’s the Mohawk nickname she bore since childhood,
and it can mean several things.
It means, “one who feels her way ahead,”
or, “she who bumps into things”—
clear references to her impaired vision.
But it can also mean, “one who moves things before her,”
or, “she who puts thing in order.”

That tongue-twisting name—Tekakwitha—
sheds light on this Sunday’s gospel,
and on what it means for our lives.

A motorist with poor eyesight 
was driving through dense fog
and was trying desperately to stay within sight
of the taillights of the car ahead of him.  
As he squinted and worried his way along,
closely following those taillights 
on every twist and turn,
the car in front suddenly stopped,
and the man hit it from behind.  
He got out from his car 
and demanded to know why the other driver 
came to such an abrupt stop. 
“I had to,” he replied.  
“I pulled into my garage!”

We all have had the experience of trying to find our way in the dark.
Maybe it was because of a power outage.
Maybe it was a nighttime trip to the bathroom.
Maybe we were sneaking in after curfew.
Most of us can find our way OK in the dark…
…just as long as everything is in it’s proper place.
One toy or shoe or piece of furniture out of order,
and we pretty quickly start to stumble.
(That was the case
when making my way to the window early Friday morning
to find out what all the sirens in the neighborhood were about.
As if my jetlag wasn’t enough, a laundry basket nearly did me in!)

Figures like Bartimaeus in the gospel
and our new saint, Kateri,
remind us that there is a manner of seeing far more essential
than that of the two eyes in our heads.
Notice the movement of the blind beggar in the gospel.
We first find him seated by the roadside:
he’s immobile; he’s stuck; he cannot find his own way.
But as soon as he knows that Jesus is calling him,
he springs to his feet—even before his sight is restored.
Faith had saved his soul though it has yet to heal his eyes.
He begins to follow Jesus before he can see the way.
Likewise, while Tekakwitha may have tripped about the village,
shielding her sensitive eyes from the burning, bright sun,
she certainly wasn’t stumbling along the pathways of the spirit.
She had come to know the Lord
who makes sense of this often topsy-turvy world,
who alone can put our lives in proper order.

Many people today needlessly bump into things.
In these foggy, confusing times, they try to find their way alone.
But rather than making true progress,
they instead wander about in circles—
or end up stuck along the side of the road.
A recent survey confirmed
that the fastest growing religious group in the U.S.
is the “nones”—not the Grey Nuns or the Ursuline Nuns,
but those who have no religious affiliation at all.
How crucial, then, for us to make every effort to know our faith,
and to love our faith, and to live our faith in joy!
Yes, faith is an exercise of the mind.
If we’re going to live according to our creed,
then we must first be sure to understand it.
But even more: faith is the vision of the heart.
Faith is in-sight,
recognizing in Jesus the only one who can save us:
the high priest 
who alone can bridge the gap of sin
between God and man, 
between heaven and earth.
Following Jesus in faith
means staying close to him in the sacraments,
especially Eucharist and Penance—
coming to Mass and going to confession—
visible means by which he has promised
to remain close and present to us.
Following Jesus in faith
means living according to his teaching,
which is handed on in each new generation 
by his Church.
Along the twisting, turning pathways of life,
we must trustingly stay within sight 
of these taillights,
only stopping when the Lord has led us home.

Faith isn’t simply an intellectual experience:
to grasp a concept or to pass a test.
Faith grows out of a personal encounter—
out of meeting God face-to-face.
It is God’s stated desire to heal us.
“What do you want me to do for you?” the Lord asks.
Have we tripped and stumbled in the dark enough
to recognize our blindness, our weakness,
our inability to fix things for ourselves?
Only then can we acknowledge and state our need for healing.
(You can’t really believe in a Savior, after all,
unless you first believe that you need to be saved.)
With Bartimaeus, with Saint Kateri Tekakwitha,
let us respond to the Lord’s call:
Master, increase my faith!
Master, put my world in order!
Master, I want to see!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rome Sweet Rome

I made it back safe-and-sound on Thursday evening, and had hoped to get a little something out yesterday...but jet lag intervened.  So here are a few photos and a brief summary of our pilgrimage.

Friday, October 19, we made a "pre-pilgrimage" pilgrimage to St. Francis Xavier Mission at Kahnawake, the Mohawk territory just outside of Montréal, Québec.  It is there that Kateri Tekakwitha is buried.  We prayed at her tomb (and bought souvenirs in the gift shop) before making our way to the airport.

Saturday, October 20, after a rather rushed connection in Paris, we landed in Rome--some of us without our luggage.  It was kind of a mixed-up day.  We ended it with Mass at the San Lorenzo Youth Center (just outside of the Vatican) where I worked for a time as a volunteer during my seminary days, and where I preached my first homily the day after being ordained a deacon.

Sunday, October 21, was the "main event": the canonization.  The crowd was huge--clearly larger than expected, since I (like many other folks who had tickets) couldn't get a seat.  Despite the inconveniences, it was a real celebration: one filled with much joy.  Among the throngs of people, I did however manage to find Sr. Mary Christine Taylor, SSJ--a friend going back to seminary days--who was traveling with the Mohawks of Akwesasne, among whom she has worked so faithfully for decades.  We wrapped up the day with a visit to my alma mater, the Pontifical North American College, where we toured about, joined the community for Vespers, and then enjoyed a light supper as guests of another dear friend, Sr. Rebecca Abel, the College's librarian.

Monday, October 22, began with a beautiful Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  (This was the "official" Canadian celebration; there was a separate American one at St. Peter's later that day.  It's kind of unfortunate they didn't bring both groups together.)  Afterwards, we visited the Coliseum and Roman Forum, and then the church of San Clemente, with its beautiful mosaics and fascinating excavations.

Tuesday, October 23, started out at St. Peter's Basilica where out little group celebrated Mass at the altar of St. Basil the Great, beneath which are preserved the relics of St. Josaphat, Ruthenian bishop and martyr.  We then enjoyed a private tour of the Vatican Gardens and the barracks of the papal Swiss Guard, both led by a former member of the guard who's a longtime friend of one in our group.  (I didn't get any shots of inside the barracks--sorry!--so you'll just have to take my word for it that all those uniforms, swords, and armored helmets were really, really cool.)

Wednesday, October 24, included the weekly Papal Audience out in St. Peter's Square.  (As you can see, I had a seat this time...and a pretty good one, at that.)  Another large crowd gathered to hear the Holy Father's address, part of a continuing series on the Year of Faith.  He also made the surprise announcement of a Consistory next month for the creation of six new Cardinals.  (No, I wasn't on the list.)  In the afternoon, I made my way back to St. Peter's for a prayerful visit among the many folks who were visiting the place.

And Thursday, October 25, found us a little weary and making the long, long trip home.

It was good to go.  It's good to be back.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow, I'm headed here . . .

. . . because of her . . .

I'll be leaving in the morning (by way of Montréal and Paris) for Rome to take part in Sunday's canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.  Together with six others (including another "local," Saint Marianne Cope, with roots in Utica/Syracuse) the holy life and witness of the Lily of the Mohawks will be recognized far beyond the rivers, mountains, and valleys of our region which she long ago called home.  I'll be on pilgrimage along with a few of my brother priests from the Diocese of Ogdensburg and a few of my parishioners from here in Malone.  We'll return next Thursday.  I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to blog from Rome, but I'll try to fill you in at least a bit after I get back.

Please pray for a safe journey and the grace of a holy pilgrimage.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Give it Away

Happy New Year (of Faith), everybody!

   Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

On Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the rectory,
there’s a question we priests ask each other often enough:
What are you preaching about this Sunday?
My homily this week wasn’t coming together the way I wanted,
and I found myself asking that question
over lunch just yesterday.

And as soon as I had asked it,
I knew that question held the key
to the message I’m supposed to deliver to you now.
(And—no—that’s not because
I pilfered some extraordinary insight from Fr. Tom or Fr. Stitt!)

You see, when someone else asks me that question,
I’m usually a little hesitant about giving an answer.
I may know full well what I’m preaching about…
…and it may be a very, very good idea…
…but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to share it.
That’s my good idea! 
I’ve worked hard on it, and why should I just give it away?

Now, it’s not like I’m being asked
for my top-secret design for a life-changing invention,
and that sharing it will cost me a chance to make millions.
And if it’s going from one preacher to another,
aren’t we all about accomplishing the same goal?
Really, I have absolutely nothing to lose
and—from the perspective of why we preach in the first place—
there’s only something to be gained.

In the gospel,
we’re given quite a lesson 
on riches and poverty.
A wealthy man comes up to Jesus 
very eager and earnest,
but walks away from him rather sad:
he finds it easier 
to let go of his hopes for eternal life
than to let go of his many possessions.
How sad that must have left Jesus, too!
He knows that the riches of this world
can’t begin to compare 
to the treasures of heaven.

You see, with earthly goods,
there’s only so much to go around.
Whether it’s food or clothing or shelter—
or the money we use to buy all three—
it necessarily comes in a limited supply.
Oh, there are plenty of resources available to make sure
that no one goes hungry or naked or homeless…
…but the problem is we don’t want to share.
That’s mine! 
I worked hard for that, and why should I just give it away?
Deep down, I think, we’re afraid that there won’t be enough—
that we’ll go without, too.

If Jesus challenges this sort of thinking about earthly goods,
how much more so about spiritual ones!
This past Thursday,
the Catholic Church around the world began a Year of Faith,
which continues until the end of November 2013.
When announcing it,
Pope Benedict XVI described this special year
as a time for Catholics to rediscover the joy of believing
and their enthusiasm for sharing the faith.
Faith is not a limited resource,
because it is not an achievement of human effort—
a theory to be proven or a riddle to be solved—
but is a gift from God himself.
We should have no fear of sharing our faith with others…
…because there is no chance of it running out.
In fact, it’s when we try to keep it to ourselves
that we risk losing the most;
it’s when we give it away that faith multiplies.

Some of you are familiar
with the Catholic publication, Magnificat
a monthly booklet that contains the daily readings for Mass
as well as other prayers and reflections.
Magnificat has published a Year of Faith Companion,
with something for every day of this special year.
This little book has done so well
that it’s already in its third printing…
…which is why I don’t have any of them for you yet.
We’ll be receiving ours in a couple of weeks.
And not just a few of them, either; I’ve order 1,000 copies.

Here’s the deal:
If you want to take a copy for yourself,
then you’re going to have to take two—
and the second one, you’re going to have to give away.
I want you to give it away to a Catholic in our community
who’s on the fence or has stopped practicing their faith;
or I want you to give it away to someone who isn’t Catholic
and who has no spiritual home.
The book will come with a short letter from me,
and a very brief questionnaire which you can bring back to church
if the person to whom you give that second copy
chooses to fill it out.

So while we wait for them to arrive,
I ask you to give some serious thought
to whom you could give your second book.
That shouldn’t be too hard!
We all know folks—at work, in the neighborhood,
even members of our own families—
whose relationship with Christ and his Church
isn’t what it could or should be.
The numbers tell me that for every one of you at Mass right now,
there are four or five more Catholics here in Malone
that we do not see on a regular basis.
That’s not a state of affairs we should be comfortable with!
And the best way to turn things around
is through one-on-one contact—
by making a personal invitation.
So as we wait for our shipment of books,
think about who you will approach,
and begin to pray for that person
and their openness to its message.

Jesus says—quite stunningly—
that it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle
than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
If you’ve ever even tried to thread a needle the regular way,
you know that’s difficult enough!
It’s not something that happens by accident,
not something that comes together all on its own.
So, too, with faith.
We mustn’t get complacent about it.

Here in the Diocese of Ogdensburg,
we’ve got a special slogan for the Year of Faith:
“Taste again for the first time.”
It refers to our taste for the living and effective Word of God;
it refers to our taste for the Holy Eucharist
and the grace offered us in the other sacraments;
it refers to our taste for reaching out in love
to meet the needs of the poor in body and the poor in spirit.
May this new Year of Faith increase our appetite for believing!
In the months ahead
may we rediscover the Catholic faith with such joy and enthusiasm
that we could never keep it to ourselves!
We have absolutely nothing to lose;
there’s only something—everything—to be gained.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

50 and Counting

Found this neat resource for the Year of Faith: Conciliaria...

Posted here are articles, video clips, and the like from 50 years ago--day-by-day--as the Second Vatican Council was underway.  Worth a look when you've got a minute...

Place at the Table

At last month's Holy Harvest Festival, the second prize for our raffle was a dinner for four prepared by the priests of the Malone Catholic Parishes.  Last night, we made good on that prize.

Monica and Randy, Barb and Mark seemed to have a really good time--as did the three of us.  But while FideliCat loved meeting our company, he seemed a little put out when he didn't find his supper dish set out on the table...

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Year

FideliCat is just purring with complete delight that the YEAR OF FAITH is now officially underway!

Here he is helping out in the sacristy before our parish Holy Hour to mark its beginning...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Silent Treatment

   Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

A married couple
drove down a long country road
in complete silence;
they’d been in a heated argument,
and neither one of them was willing to budge.
As they passed a barnyard 
full of mules, goats, and pigs,
the husband asked sarcastically, 
“Relatives of yours?”
“Yep,” the wife replied.  “In-laws.”

When I have the opportunity to counsel couples
who are either prepping for their wedding day
or experiencing a rough patch in their marriage,
the “silent treatment” is something 
I always urge them to avoid.
A breakdown of genuine communication
is often one of the chief problems 
underlying marital spats,
so how can cutting it off fix anything?
Sure—there are times when things get so tense
that it’s only prudent
 to step quietly aside for a short spell…
…but just for a short spell.

If the “silent treatment” 
is bad policy within a marriage,
then we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s also a bad policy
when applied to the Sacrament of Marriage in general.

The Catholic Church has a rather vast body of teaching
on sex and marriage.
Oh, I’ve heard about that, Father, you might be thinking.
You hear about that stuff all the time.
It’s a long, long list of things you shouldn’t do.
There’s no silent treatment!
Lots and lots of people express their opinions
about the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage.

But if that’s all you’ve heard…then you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

Following the sexual revolution 
of the 1960’s and ’70’s,
many things once taken for granted 
were suddenly called into question.
Nonetheless, the Church continued—
as she had for 2,000 years—
to stand by her understanding 
of the sacred nature of matrimony,
holding up—
as Jesus did when tested by the Pharisees—
a high ideal before the world:
the way God had envisioned marriage
from the first days of creation,
where man and wife 
are inseparably joined as suitable partners,
not just because their personalities are compatible,
not just because it feels good when they cuddle,
but because, by God’s design,
they compliment and complete each other—
are meant to be “rejoined at the rib,” you might say.

At least, that’s what happened on an official level.

But what’s happened here on the ground level?
In Catholic parishes and homes, at high schools and colleges—
if we’ve heard anything said at all—
we’ve been told by priests and parents and professors
(mostly off the record and in quiet whispers),
You’ve got a pretty good idea
of what the Church has to say about sex and marriage…
…but you’ve really just got to follow your heart.
So be careful, be safe, and do your best to see no one gets hurt.

The result of this long “silent treatment”?
Lots and lots of people have gotten hurt.
The number of Catholics getting married continues to decline—
and the majority of those have lived together beforehand,
which study after study has shown to put marriages at greater risk.
Divorce has become culturally acceptable and rather common—
although the divorce rate is now dropping…
…but only because fewer couples
bother with a wedding in the first place.
This steady weakening of marriage
endangers our children, even before they’re born,
as we’re sadly reminded during this Respect Life Month.
Life and love, after all, are intimately tied together.
As we learn from Jesus’ own example,
it’s only when the sanctity of marriage is upheld
that children will be unconditionally loved and embraced.

So…what to do?
A good first step is to follow the lead of the Pharisees
and ask, What is lawful?
We need to educate ourselves
on what the Church really has to say
about human sexuality and the vocation of marriage.
We can’t be satisfied with the characterizations made by those
who have a very different agenda
from the one Christ articulates in the gospel.
There’s never been a time in our history
when more books—and very good books, at that—
were being published on the subject…
…not to mention websites, DVDs, and the like.
Check some of these out—
and I’d be happy to make recommendations—
and you’ll quickly discover that the message
isn’t a long list of heavy-handed don’ts,
but is instead marvelously good news.
Catholic teaching on sex and marriage is based
both on a longstanding tradition,
and a wealth of accumulated experience—
and exists, not to place harsh burdens upon us,
but to protect us from danger in body and soul.
If God invented marriage,
then who better to tell us how to best make it work?

Painful but unavoidable in all of this is the realization
that divorce is clearly contrary to God’s original plan…
…and no one understands that better
than those whose lives have been directly affected by it.

Once you’ve made the effort and learned a thing or two,
the next step is to spread it around.
It’s high time to end the silent treatment!
Way too many people have already been hurt!
There’s a method to this, however,
which can only help our cause—
and it’s one we learn from Jesus himself.
Notice how, out in the crowd,
Jesus boldly proclaims God’s plan for marriage
as good news, a positive vision, one which is attractive.
It’s only when he’s gone inside the house
that he then puts forth his instruction on divorce—
a more challenging teaching, which even his disciples question.
We do well to do likewise!
Getting in somebody’s face and announcing
why cohabitation or contraception, why adultery or abortion are sinful
rarely—if ever—coverts someone to a new way of life.
But sharing the beauty of God’s design
and the joy which cooperating with it brings
is a far, far better way to begin.
Then later, away from the clamor of competing voices,
the nitty-gritty implications of this healthy and holy perspective 
can be better heard and questioned—
ultimately, understood and accepted.
Remember that what makes this all a bit complicated
are not so much the intricacies of Catholic doctrine and discipline,
but the twisting pathways of the human heart.

Our faith tells us that,
in sexuality and marriage as in all other things,
we are so much more than well-domesticated animals.
Our relatives are not out in the barnyard!
By nature, God has made us in his own image and likeness—
with inalienable rights, duties, and dignity.
And by grace, we have been adopted as “brothers” of God’s beloved Son—
children of God whom he longs to bring to glory.
So let’s end the silent treatment
and share the good news!