Sunday, May 28, 2017


No homily for you this weekend: our deacon preached!

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   A 

All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with...Mary the mother of Jesus...
Acts 1:14

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If You Love Me...

This homily was for First Holy Communion today...which will explain the question & answer/outline format...

   Sixth Sunday of Easter   A 

Do your parents love you?  Yes.
How do you know?  Food, clothing, shelter, teaching…  They care for me.

Do you love your parents?  Yes.
How do they know?   I obey them.
Is it always easy to obey?  No.

But it is easier to obey when we know we are loved—when we can trust the person who asks us to obey, isn’t it?

Does Jesus love you?  Yes.
How do you know?  He gives me everything I need.  He cares for me.

And the greatest way Jesus shows his love for us is right here in front of us: his Cross.  That’s the biggest, best love the world has ever known: that Jesus was willing to die for us.  That’s what we are celebrating during this Easter time: that Jesus died and rose again to take away our sins so that we can live with him forever.

Do you love Jesus?  Yes.
How does he know?  I obey him.

Jesus says to us in the gospel today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Is it always easy to obey the commandments?  No.

But just like with mom and dad, it is easier to obey because we know that Jesus loves us.  We can trust him.  He knows what is best for us, and whatever he asks is meant to keep us safe and make us happy.

Jesus has given us many commandments to follow.  There are two I want us to think about today.

[1] After Jesus rose from the dead, on the day he’s returning to heaven, he tells his friends: “Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).  Jesus gives a commandment that those who believe in him be baptized.  You were baptized, right?  And your baptism comes with a mission: to tell other people about Jesus—to tell them about his love so that they can love him, too.  That job belongs to all of us.

[2] On the night before he died, when Jesus shared a Last Supper with his friends, he took bread and wine and said, “Do this in memory of me” (1Cor 11:23-25).  Jesus gives a commandment that those who believe in him should come together with others who love him.  And that’s what we do today, that’s what we do every Sunday, when we come together for Mass, when we celebrate the Eucharist, when we receive Holy Communion.

Telling others about Jesus and coming to church on Sunday are two very special, very important ways we keep the commandments of Jesus and show him that we love him.

But do you know what else?  These two Sacraments—Baptism and Eucharist—are also two ways that Jesus keeps showing his love for us.  They are two ways that Jesus has chosen to remain with us always.

[1] In Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to be with us.  Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth and show us the right way.  We cannot see him, but the Holy Spirit is with us always as our Helper.  He leads us to Jesus.

[2] In Holy Communion—which you are about to receive for the first time—Jesus comes to live within us.  We do as Jesus did: we take the bread, and it becomes his Body; we take the wine, and it becomes his Blood.  Regular food and drink goes to our stomach, but through his Body and Blood Jesus goes to stay in our heart.  The Eucharist is Jesus living within us, his love now found in our hearts.

Boys and girls, I know that your parents love you very, very much.  I know that because they brought you to be baptized years ago.  I know that because they prepared you for your first Holy Communion.

But I also know that Jesus loves you even more.  Remember that every time you see his Cross.

And make sure that Jesus knows you love him, too.  He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Remember the commandment he gave to you at your Baptism: your special mission to tell the whole world about his love.  And remember the commandment he gives us about the Eucharist: to come together again and again with him and with one another around his Body and Blood, so that Jesus may live in us now, and we may live with him forever.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Make Yourself Right at Home

   Fifth Sunday of Easter   A 
What’s the most important work in the world?  That, of course, depends on your criteria.  If we look at how much money people get paid, we’d have to say that movie stars, music makers, and professional athletes do the most important work in the world.  A better argument might be made for doctors, who cure and comfort the sick—who are among the very first and the very last people we see in life.  Having grown up on a farm, I could say that farmers do the most important work: if there were no farmers, there’d be no food, if there were no food, we wouldn’t be able to eat; if we couldn’t eat, we’d all be pretty cranky…and it would quickly go down hill from there.  One might also make the case that priests do the most important work, since without the priesthood we wouldn’t have the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist or our sins forgiven in Confession.

Have you ever heard of C. S. Lewis?  He was an Irish-born writer—the author of the classic book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—who taught at Oxford University.  He was one of the keenest Christian minds of the 20th century.  One might have expected him to say that professors do the most important work in the world.  But when Mrs. Johnson sent him a letter in 1955 complaining that a housewife’s work was never-ending and felt like it was going absolutely nowhere, he gave a reply that was surprising then—and is even more surprising now, 60 years later: that the work of a housewife (or, as we’d say today, of a homemaker), “is surely in reality the most important work in the world.”

If Mr. Lewis were introduced to a woman and asked what she did for a living, and her reply was, “Oh, I’m just a stay-at-home-mom,” I have no doubt he’d be quite distressed.  He’d be distressed, not that her career options were limited, but that she didn’t recognize the great dignity and nobility of her lofty, God-given vocation.

In his letter, C. S. Lewis writes:
[Being a homemaker] is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.  (Letter to Mrs. Johnson, March 16, 1955)

That’s a different perspective than we’re used to, right?  Here’s another novel idea: that Jesus spoke of himself as a homemaker.  Did you catch it in this Sunday’s gospel?  Jesus says, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  Jesus makes a solemn promise—in the midst of his Last Supper—to make a home for us.

That gospel passage is one of those most commonly chosen to be read at Catholic Funerals—and for obvious reasons, given its very comforting message.  But when Jesus first spoke those words, his disciples wouldn’t have thought about death; they would have thought about a wedding.  In order to better understand what Jesus is saying, we need to know a little bit about the wedding customs of the day.

Nowadays—despite Church teaching and countless studies to the contrary—it’s most common for people to live together for a while before they get married.  In the time of Jesus, however, it was exactly the opposite: a couple would get married, and then it would be a while before they moved in together.  You see, a man and a woman would first be betrothed.  That was much more than a simple engagement: they exchanged vows, and were considered legally married.  (If the relationship broke up, they would have to get a divorce.)  Then the husband had up to a year to prepare a place for his new wife.  He’d return to his father’s house, and spend his time and resources to build or renovate a room for her—the very best he could provide.  And only when everything was ready would he come to take her home, to start their new life together and man and wife.  And only then would they have the wedding feast: their relatives and the whole community celebrating that a new family was making its home.

Knowing that, let’s listen again to the words of Jesus: “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  Do you now hear what he’s saying?  Jesus wants to be one with us just as husband and wife become one—just as he is one with the Father.  He wants to share his whole life with us!  He’s proven that by laying it down for us. He has vowed to love us freely, fruitfully, faithfully, and forever—and we have done the same in our baptismal promises, which we renewed at Easter.  Each time we come into this church, he is bringing us deeper and deeper into his Father’s house.  Each time we celebrate the Mass, it’s Christ’s wedding reception: the celebration that he is taking us into his home to be with him always.

That’s pretty amazing, right?  But what’s the practical import of all this? 

We need to make sure we make room for the Lord in our homes.  By and large, that means setting aside space for Jesus in our schedules and priorities—and not just some hidden corner that’s left over after everything else is taken care of, but the very best, most valuable spot we can provide.  We must make our relationship with Christ—as individuals and families—our main concern.  One way to help us do this is to actually make some physical room for God in our houses: to set aside a little space where we can hang a crucifix or holy picture, where we can enthrone our Bible or light a candle, that becomes a sacred space for us to pray—alone or together, in good times or bad.  As St. Peter reminds us in the second reading, we are to be living stones that are built up into a spiritual house.  We need to be sure we make a real home for Jesus in our lives.

We also need to be sure we never lose sight of the home Jesus has made for us.  This is more than a matter of mansions in the sky, awaiting us down the line in a far distant heaven.  The new life Jesus wants to share with us is meant to begin right here, right now.   He paid for it dearly—with the price of his own blood—sparing no expense.  Let us not neglect his gift!  Let us return to this house of the Lord regularly to receive the sacraments—the great tokens of his love.  Let grow in our intimacy with Jesus by speaking with him daily in prayer.  Let us make ourselves right at home in Christ.

The work of the homemaker is surely the most important in the world.  All other work exists for it.  The Son of God himself has made it his own.  Let’s be sure to make a home for Jesus in our families, in our daily lives.  And let’s be sure to fully move into the home Jesus has made for us, that we might enjoy the new life he longs to share with us—now and for all eternity.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Fishy Spot

Between weather conditions and my schedule, I didn't get out in the woods much this past winter--in fact, I haven't been out for an overnight since October (the longest I've gone since my whole backpacking craze started back in the fall of 2013).

I'd hoped to get out camping two weeks ago (remember that day when it reached 80 degrees?), but I didn't get out for the office early enough in the afternoon to safely embark, so I settled for a nice hike the next day to the lean-to on St. Regis Pond--one of my favorite spots:

It's about 3.5 miles in (the last half mile is a bushwhack, since it's really a canoe access lean-to...although I've never been there by boat myself).  It was a great place to sit for a spell with a good book and my lunch.

This past week, I was a bit more guarded with my scheduling, and did make it out overnight Wednesday-Thursday.  When I left the rectory, I had plans to get a good bit farther afield, but as I drove from Malone and watched the clock, I decided it would be best to get into the woods, and to some overnight accommodation, a little sooner.  So I headed right back to the St. Regis Canoe Area ("behind" the NYS fish hatchery in Lake Clear) with my sights set on the lean-to I'd revisited just one week before.  Four things we different on my return: the trail was a bit wetter (but not too muddy), the woods were a bit greener (with some flowers now coming up, too), the temperature was a bit lower (the forecast was down in the 20's overnight), and most crucially...the lean-to was already occupied.

This left me, at 5:30pm, with another half-mile/half-hour of bushwhacking to get back to the trail, and a serious decision to make about my campout: should I return to the car and head home, or push on to the lean-tos on Fish Pond (another 2+ miles) and hope that at least one was still empty?  If they were full (and I'd never before found them empty, mind you), that would me a long hike back out, which would certainly end in the dark.

Up for adventure (and making a firm Act of Faith), I continued on.  And I found Fish Pond #2 empty!  I arrived in time to take in a great sunset view with my late dinner...

...and enjoyed a great (if chilly) night in the woods at a new-to-me lean-to.

As far as a good portion of my prep and packing went, it was pretty much winter camping in May (albeit without the ice and snow) I guess I didn't miss out on the entire season, after all.

Little Lambs

   Fourth Sunday of Easter   A 

I received the following email from a parishioner last week:

Hi Fr. Joe! You may not believe this…but I say the rosary every morning and on May 1st, I was thinking about how May is Mary's month and how I'd like to make a crown for the Blessed Mother statue at our house.  And actually, quite often, I visualize myself giving the Blessed Mother a hug for all she suffered seeing her son suffer.  So, imagine my surprise when I arrived at work on May 1st and a colleague called me to go and see her for a minute.  When I went to see her she showed me this picture in an old St. Joseph's Academy yearbook.  

It's curious because this statue of Our Lady has her holding a rosary…and the little girl is me.  I almost fell over.  I couldn't believe it.  I was hugging her then and I'm still hugging her now.

Doesn’t that just warm your heart?  It certainly did mine!  And receiving this message and the photo from about 40 year ago got me thinking, too:  What are the chances, 40 years from now, that the pastor of Malone will receive a message like this?  It’s certainly a point to ponder…

I think we can agree that, in the last 40 years, things have certainly changed.  The world has changed so much.  Our country has changed a lot.  There has even been some notable change in our Church.  And family life sure a changed quite a bit in the last 40, 50, 60 years.

But something that hasn’t changed much during that time is the way we’ve approached the religious education of our children.  We’re still using an essentially classroom-based model: teachers and students, lessons and books.  And since it hasn’t changed, while just about everything else connected to it has, it’s no longer working.  It’s sad to say, but for many of our youngsters, the parish “Sunday school” program is their only contact with the Church—with God and the things of God—and that means they associate the Catholic faith with sitting at a desk.  Kids are bored, parents are frustrated, and recruiting volunteers to serve as catechists gets more difficult every year.  Add to that the fact that Catherine Suprenant, our Director of Christian Formation, who’s done such a great job since she arrived last August, is leaving us on Tuesday, and it becomes pretty clear: it’s high time for us to make a change.

The traditional model of religious education still does a fairly good job of getting our kids to learn various Catholic doctrines.  There’s no question: that’s rather important.  If they stick with it a few years, most of them can tell you there are 7 sacraments and 10 commandments.  Borrowing the language of this Sunday’s gospel, they’ve learned a few things about the Shepherd.  But do they really know the Shepherd?  Can they recognize his voice?  Being able to repeat some of the Shepherd’s words is a matter of basic memorization, but knowing the Shepherd’s voice is a matter of a relationship.  Teaching our kids by rote puts religion in league with reading, writing, and ’rithmetic; but forming them is a matter of faith, hope, and love.  One touches the mind only; the other involves the heart.

This “Good Shepherd Sunday” is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  We’re all keenly aware of the notable decrease in recent years of young Catholics answering the call to give their lives in service to Christ and his Church.  But how can we expect them to even consider a life as a priest or deacon or consecrated religious—or, for that matter, as Christian husbands, wives, and parents—if we haven’t succeeded in making genuine Christians out of them in the first place?  No one gives their life for anything unless they’ve first fallen in love with it.

To keep getting emails like the one I shared with you today, we have to help our kids fall in love with Jesus, Mary, and the Church—in a away that begins in youth, but lasts for a lifetime.  It’s so important that we help the littlest lambs in the Lord’s flock to get close enough to him that they recognize their Shepherd’s voice!  There are the voices of so many strangers—all of them thieves and robbers—insistently calling out to our young people to lead them in other, dangerous directions.  But the voice of Jesus is the only one that leads to a new and more abundant life.

Considering the lengths to which we’ll go to get our young people on the team or into a good college, shouldn’t we devote even more effort and energy into getting them into heaven?

As I consider that cute photo, my thoughts turn not only to the little girl whose has now grown into a woman of faith, but to whoever it was that stood on the other side of the camera.  Her mother?  Her father?  Or maybe a grandparent?  It’s fairly possible that they posed the shot…but even if they didn’t, they surely planted the seeds of faith which inspired that child.  And that’s something which has not changed: the fostering of children’s relationship with our Lord, our Lady, and the Church happens best when it takes place within the context of their primary human relationship, which is their family.  Nothing that happens in a parish program can substitute for what can only happen at home! 

While no final decisions have yet been made, the new approach we’re seriously considering starting next fall is much more focused on teaching parents and grandparents and parishioners than it is on directly teaching our children (since we can’t pass on that which we do not have for ourselves).  More than ever, our focus needs to be on the entire family.  Watch for details as they become available in the weeks and months ahead, and start considering now what you personally can do to help pass on our precious Catholic faith to future generations. 

Here’s the rest of that email:

Which leads me to my question…out of sheer curiosity, do you have any idea where this statue may be?  This picture was taken behind St. Joseph's Academy about 40 years ago.  In this month of Mary, I'd just love to give her another hug, for old times' sake. 

I’m very happy to report that we know right where that statue is: it was moved to St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Fort Covington Street some years ago.  And I’m fairly confident our Blessed Mother will be receiving a crown of flowers there real soon—if she hasn’t already—and that she’ll being getting a hug.

Let us commit ourselves anew to doing all that we possibly can to foster such life-long faith and devotion in the young lambs of Jesus’ flock.