Sunday, September 15, 2013


Needless to say, I won't be posting anything here for a few weeks...
Pray for us!

   Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time    
I suspect most of you have seen the “Life is Good” shirts
which are so popular these days:
comfortable cotton T’s, each with a catchy, positive message.
In the past several years, three different people on three separate occasions 
have given me the same “Life is Good” shirt.
Oh, they’re different colors, some long sleeved, one short—
but the graphic is same:
a pair of hiking boots pictured over the phrase,
Not all those who wander are lost.
When three people give you the same shirt…
…maybe somebody’s trying to tell you something!

“Lost and found” is on my mind these days.
On Tuesday—as many of you know—
I begin my 10 day, 120 mile hike through the Adirondacks.
Map, compass, GPS, and an emergency transmitter
are all packed among the rest of our essential gear…
…but I still can’t help but be just a little bit nervous.
What if we lose our way?
What if we wander off the trail and get lost?

“Lost and found” is obviously on the Lord’s mind this Sunday, too,
as we hear the parables of a lost sheep,
of a lost coin, and of two lost sons. 
(Yes, two lost sons:
one lost because he wandered off into sin,
the other lost because he stayed
and wallowed in his self-righteousness.)

A couple points for our reflection…

Jesus makes it clear that salvation is all about finding.
Most of the time, we go on as if it’s all about us finding God.
As a matter of fact, exactly the opposite is the case.
Like the shepherd who leaves the 99,
like the woman who tears apart the entire house,
God is willing to drop everything
in a way that seems downright foolish—
even to give his own Son up to death—
in order to seek out and save us.

Can we honestly recognize and admit the ways
we’ve gotten off the trail?
Are we willing to let God find us
and—rejoicing—to lead us home?

while the terrifying experience of being lost—
whether in the woods or in this world of sin—
is an essentially personal one,
it is not at all unique.
If I can first acknowledge that I sometimes go astray,
and if I can also realize that I’m not the only one,
then I’m much more likely to be concerned
about others who’ve wandered from the fold.

Who’s missing when we get together here
to celebrate with a feast at our merciful Father’s table?
Who are the ones who have wandered 
away from the Church,
away from Mass and the sacraments,
away from the commands of God’s law?
If we never stop and take notice
of who else is here and who else is not,
we’ll never miss them—
and if we never miss them,
we’ll never go off in search of them.

As we celebrate our fifth annual 
Holy Harvest Festival this Sunday,
we need to consider the ways 
we can gather in a harvest far more precious 
than sweet, golden corn or juicy, ripe tomatoes.
There are so many souls just sitting there,
out in the fields of the Lord!
Knowing how living-changing and life-giving it is
for God to find us,
we must go out in his name and bring the wayward in.

I sure hope and pray we won’t wander off
and require the rangers to come to our rescue
while hiking in the Adirondacks 
these next couple of weeks.
But I’m so glad and forever grateful
that I have a patient and loving Father in heaven
who never tires of pursuing me, 
no matter how lost I’ve gotten—
happy to embrace me and welcome me back home!

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Interesting to note that an old-fashioned bottle opener is known as a "church key"...

   Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time    
Two guys go camping,
bringing along a cooler 
with sandwiches and beer.
After hiking all day, 
they arrive at the perfect campsite…
…only to realize 
they’ve forgotten a bottle opener.
The first guy says to the second,
“You’ve gotta go back for the opener 
or else we have no beer.”
“No way!” says the second. 
“By the time I get back, 
you’ll have eaten all the food.”
“I promise I won’t,” says the first guy.  
“Just hurry!”
48 hours pass 
and there’s still no sign of the second guy.
Desperate and starving, 
the first guy digs into the sandwiches.
Which is when the second guy 
jumps out from behind a nearby rock
and yells, “I knew you’d eat the food!
I’m not going for the opener!”

If you’ve read your bulletin, 
then you already know:
I’m getting ready to go camping.
In just over a week, a friend and I will begin hiking
through the heart of the Adirondack wilderness.
The trip will last 10 or 11 days…
…but the planning has been going on for months.
I was never a Boy Scout,
but I’ve been living by their motto: Be prepared.
I’ve been studying maps, 
taking hikes to get better conditioned,
and assembling my gear—all kinds of gear.
(The last few days, Fr. Stitt’s been saying
that it looks like somebody’s camping 
right there in our living room.)
Everything we’ll need needs to be carried on our backs,
so we’re trying to keep things simple
and get right down to the essentials.
I never before realized
how expensive and complicated it is
to try and live simply!
But the stakes are too high to take too many chances.
Planning well is—literally—a matter of life and death.

Is that not the message of Jesus in the gospel this Sunday?

Yes, this gospel passage is one most of us
would rather just gloss over—
whether you’re sitting in the pew or standing in the pulpit.
These are demanding words,
and they pose a serious challenge to all that we hold dear.
If you do not hate parents, spouse, children, siblings, your own life—
if you do not renounce all of your possessions—
you cannot be my disciple.
I look out and know that you have families.
How can Jesus ask that you turn your backs
on the ones you love the most?
I know the heavy responsibilities you bear
to feed, clothe, educate, and otherwise care for them.
How could the Lord expect you
to renounce your necessary belongings?
We believe, of course, that this it the Word of God,
and we want to take it seriously,
How is this “being prepared?”
How is this wisely planning ahead?  (cf. F. Martin)

God well understands our many needs and obligations.
In fact, he sees them more clearly than we do.
What the Lord is asking is that we put him first—
ahead of all we possess and—yes—even ahead of family.
That’s because God wants to show us a more fruitful way
to make use of our money and other goods,
to teach us that all of our relationships will be more fulfilling
if only we live them within our primary relationship with him.
It’s not enough for us to come together here an hour each week,
and then manage these other aspects of life
by a different set of rules.
While it might seem that God is only jealous
of our attention and affections,
the truth is that God has a plan:
a plan God put into place when he made the world and all that’s in it.
God knows things will go better for us—much better!—
if we make his plan our plan, too.
That means putting God and his way first—no exceptions.

Can we trust God enough to do that?

We are now beginning the 2013 Bishop’s Fund Appeal.
In this Year of Faith, Bishop LaValley has chosen as its theme,
Faith Opens the Door.
The Bishop’s Fund opens doors in so many ways:
supporting religious education, Catholic schools,
and summer camp opportunities for our youth;
providing training for our seminarians and lay ministers,
for our priests and deacons;
offering guidance for couples preparing for marriage
and families trying to keep the faith;
supplying needed financial assistance to our neighbors
when facing illness, job loss, or other tragedies.
To keep doing such important work 
requires a strong commitment from us—and not from just a few!
We all benefit from the work of the Bishop’s Fund…
…therefore we all have a stake in its success.
So, make your plan!
If you haven’t given before, plan to give this year.
No gift is too small.
And if you’ve given one-time gifts in the past,
then consider making a pledge this year.
Pledging $25 four times a year
adds up to less than $2 a week in your household budget...
…but also adds up to something very big and powerful
when united with the sacrifices of thousands of others
who support the ministry and mission
of the Church in the North Country.
This week, registered parishioners will receive
a letter from Bishop LaValley in the mail.
Offering envelopes are also available now in your pew.
Take some time this week
to prayerfully consider your level of commitment,
and then bring your gift or pledge 
to drop in the collection next Sunday.

The Church possesses a treasure of faith
far more precious than a cooler full of beer;
let’s be sure not to leave her without a way to open it.
Many, many thanks for your generosity!

In a message on Twitter this past week,
Pope Francis said it well:
“There is no such thing as low-cost Christianity.”  (9/5/13)
I guess that’s why our symbol is the Cross.
In Jesus, God has suffered with us and for us,
paying the ultimate price.
Follow Christ, and we can expect hardships and struggle—
but with perseverance comes the ultimate pay-off:
a love which cannot die and life both new and everlasting.

It takes a lot of careful planning
for a long camping trip through the woods.
It’s costly and complex,
but the stakes are too high to take too many chances.
Likewise, we must—
individually and as a wider Church community—
lay aside our own plans and give ourselves completely to God’s.
No question about it:
the cost of being a disciple of Jesus is high…
…but the cost of not being one is even higher.

Make your battle plan.
Be prepared.
Put God first.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Really Great

The chalice I used for Mass today belonged to my grandmother's cousin, Fr. Raymond Bedard, who died in 2007.  While he was a student at Montréal's Grand Séminaire, that chalice was consecrated by Cardinal Léger.

   Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time    
Paul-Émile Léger became the Archbishop of Montréal in 1950,
and was made a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in 1953.
He was one of the most powerful men in Canada
and a distinguished figure at the Second Vatican Council.
Rather suddenly, on April 20, 1968, he resigned his office,
leaving behind his red robes as a Cardinal,
the miter he wore and the crosier he carried as an Archbishop—
basically disappearing from public life.
A few years later, a Canadian journalist tracked him down
and went to interview him:
in Africa, living in a trailer, 
among lepers and the disabled
on the outskirts of a small village in Cameroon.
The journalist’s main question: “Why?”
Cardinal Léger answered:
            It will be the great scandal of the history of our century
            that 600 million people are eating well and living luxuriously
            and three billion people starve,
            and every year millions of children are dying of hunger.
            I am too old to change all that.
            The only thing I can do which makes sense is to be present.
            I must simply be in the midst of them.
            So, just tell people in Canada that you met an old priest.
            I am a priest who is happy to be old and still a priest
            and among those who suffer.
            I am happy to be here and to take them into my heart
The Cardinal died in 1991 at the age of 87.

Genuine humility is about knowing who you are and who you aren’t:
acknowledging, yes, your faults and weaknesses,
but also recognizing your true gifts and strengths.
(We don’t do anybody any favors
when we attempt to hide our abilities…
and certainly fail to show proper gratitude to the One who gave them.)

But while humility is a matter of recognizing who I really am,
it is also a matter of recognizing who God really is.
On the most basic level,
it means accepting the fact that I am not God—
that I am not the real center of things,
not the one who gets to call all the shots.
But it also means being able to distinguish
just how God operates:
the Creator of all coming down from the heights of heaven
to share our life here on earth;
the mighty Lord who is undying,
willingly descending to the cold, dark depths of the grave.
The humble Christian believes that his God—
who took human flesh in Jesus—
was not afraid to get his hands dirty;
not afraid to hang around with sinners, the sick, and the poor;
not afraid to take the last place.
This is not a god who dwells in fire and stormcloud
to keep his people at a fearful distance;
instead, our God has made himself as approachable
as a baby lying in a manger; 
as a scrap of bread and a sip of wine
set out on the table for guests.
We Christians believe that God humbles himself, time and again—
bending low to draw us close and lift us higher.

And we who call ourselves Christians are to do likewise.

In the days of Jesus, poor, backwater Galilee
was clearly full of very important people—
or, at least, folks who thought themselves to be pretty special.
Things aren’t so different here in twenty-first century Malone.
Whatever our social standing might be;
regardless of our résumé, our bank account, or political connections—
we all have those moments when we crave to be noticed,
when we long to show others how it’s done,
or when we expect an exception be made to the rule just for us.

How very different all that is from the way of Christ!

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind—Jesus tells us;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.

As we see in the life of Cardinal Léger,
the secret to real greatness
is not in proving that you’re somebody;
rather, it’s in acknowledging that all of those around you—
rich or poor, weak or strong, friend or foe—
are in fact somebody:
they’re somebody who matters to you
because they’re somebody who matters even more to God.
The humble way of Jesus
is being present to our least brothers and sisters
and taking them into our hearts;
about bending low to draw them close
and so lift them higher.

We do not heed Christ’s command and take the last place
because we’re quietly hoping he’ll move us up later on.
Actually, being in the lowest place is already to be exalted,
because it’s precisely there 
that we find ourselves in the place of honor, 
right next to Jesus:
it’s among the humble and the lowly
that God has chosen to dwell.