Tuesday, September 24, 2013
There is a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called the generosity prayer. In the light of Jim's 'pay it forward' attitude it seems appropriate to share it now-" O God, teach me to be generous; to serve as you deserve to be served; to give without counting the cost; to fight without fear of being wounded; to work without seeking rest; and to spend myself without expecting any reward, but the knowledge that I am doing your holy will." In the shock, grief and sadness of losing someone as special as Jim we are at a loss for words. As I said at the wake last night if there were a special prayer I could say to bring him back I would. "Stay with us" the disciples say in today's Gospel when they discover their best friend is walking with them. Of course we say "Stay with us!" Who wouldn't? Jim was so full of life and was taken with so much more to live. Questions abound...where was God...How could a good God...a loving God allow such a thing to happen? There are no easy answers to these questions but we shouldn't be afraid to ask them. It is also ok to be angry with God. He has broad shoulders. In the Gospel of John it says " I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his Master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from the Father." "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jim laid down his life for his family, his friends, his co-workers, and in so doing imitated the generous love of our Heavenly Father. Jesus uses the analogy of childbirth to explain the transition from death to life. He says "you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when he has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So also you are now in anguish. But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you." As Christians we place our hope in the risen Jesus Christ. Just as the disciples rejoiced on seeing Jesus on the road to Emmaus, so too, you will rejoice when you see Jim again. This is what we place our hope in. We have to. St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy that "there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for many. Hence we can say that it is the will of the Father that all of us be reunited in Our Father's house. The thing that will keep you going in days/weeks/years ahead is the virtue of Hope. St. Paul tells us-"eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has waiting for those who love him." Kyle and Matthew, your dad introduced you to some of the marvels in God's classroom-nature. I pray that you continue to find in nature some spark of the divine. If there is an artist, there must be a super-artist. Consider this....Green Sea Turtles return each year to the place where they were hatched and in the process swim 2,800 miles! California Grey whales each year migrate 26,000 miles to their breeding grounds and then back to their feeding grounds. Arctic terns fly up to 20,000 miles each year. Monarch butterflies depart from a plateau in Central Mexico to summer as far north as Canada where they mate and lay eggs. The Peregrine Falcon can spot a pigeon from more than five miles. Why do I say all this? These marvels all point to a Creator, God, who holds everything in a delicate balance. This is why St. Paul has that marvelous hymn of confidence in Romans 8: "If God is for us, who can be against us? What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who first loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord." Each of you has experienced a tremendous loss but we can take comfort in the promises of Jesus. How to honor Jim? Be awake and alive to beauty, keep your eyes open for what I call the "winks of God", and dedicate your life to one of generosity. Pay it forward. Light a candle and be the one to make a difference in someone else's life. Jim...your family and friends miss you dearly and they await the promise of the Book of Revelation where "God will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning or wailing or pain for the old order has passed away."
Friday, September 20, 2013
There is a story of a family that was driving home from dinner at a restaurant one night when all of a sudden flashing lights and a police car pulled up behind them. The father of the family pulled over and the police officer approached. The father meant to say, "Is there a problem?" What he said, instead, was "Do you have a problem?" Not the question you want to ask an officer when you have been caught speeding. Fortunately, for this family, the driver was given a warning and told to be more careful next time. What the driver experienced was mercy. St. Paul says in today's second reading: "I have been mercifully treated." The image of the Father of the parable of the prodigal son has been reproduced in some famous paintings. Rembrandt's painting is one of the most famous-it was the subject of a book by Henry Nouwen. Jewish scholar Montefiore holds that this parable (the parable of the Prodigal Son), the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost sheep all highlight the fact that Jesus' message is something new. "Behold I make all things new" it says in the Book of Revelation. In Montefiore's words: "The idea of a God who will invite the sinner back is not new; but the idea of a God who will go and seek for the sinner, and who wants men to do the same, is something completely new." Two themes are common to all three parables. First, in each one, Jesus emphasizes that he not only welcomes the penitent sinner back-He actively goes out and seeks the sinner until he finds him. God is the hound of heaven, so to speak. This comes out most clearly in the parable of the lost sheep: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them 'Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance." Blessed John Paul II was a strong advocate of the God of mercy. He died on the vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy and there is speculation that he may be canonized on the Feast of Divine Mercy. On May 13, 1981 while travelling around St. Peter's Square the pope was shot point blank by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish Assassin. The pope's first words when he left the hospital were, "I forgive him." In a remarkable meeting the was captured on video Pope John Paul II met with Ali Agca in person and embraced him. Agca went to confession and in the Pope's words "he seemed very interested in Our Lady of Fatima-he did not understand how the bullet did not kill him." We believe that the hands of Our Lady guided the bullet past a major artery and the Pope's heart. Our Lord told St. Faustina these words which she recorded in her Diary: "My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from Heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let my sacred heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust to draw graces from this fountain." A second theme common to all three parables is the great joy Our Lord manifests whenever he is able to rescue lost sinners and bring them home to his heart. Here is the parable of the lost coin: " or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost. In just the same way, I tell you there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. In our own family we got to experience this. Our dog Mozart was brought to Colchester Veterinary hospital with an issue regarding his back leg. The technician came out to assist and Mozart, with the bad leg, mind you, leaps out of his hands and runs for the hills. We had the state police, the radio, everyone was on alert for Mozart. We would get reports that he was on someone's front lawn, only to have him take off again. I had everyone in the seminary praying for him (I did not tell them what they were praying for). At the end of the second day we were beginning to give up hope. My dad was in a wooded area near a golf course when suddenly he heard a rustling sound. It was Mozart! Mozart wiggled and came over and my dad was overjoyed. You can imagine how much God, who is infinite, rejoices when someone who is lost returns! Our Lord tells St. Faustina: "With my mercy I pursue sinners along all their paths, and My heart rejoices when they return to me. I forget all the bitterness with which they fed my heart and rejoice in their return....what joy fills my heart when you return to me. Because you are weak, I take you in my arms and carry you to the home of my Father." And how does the Father rejoice? It says in the prophet Zephaniah: "The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love." In his encyclical on mercy John Paul II states: " Mercy, as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son- has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and that he has returned to life." I think this is part of the appeal of the book and musical Les Miserables. Valjean, imprisoned for years for stealing a loaf of bread is finally released. He returns to his town but he is shunned. A bishop takes him in , feeds him, and gives him a room for the night.Tempted, Valjean steals silverware from the Bishop. The Bishop, touched by mercy, when Valjean is captured and brought back to his residence, replies: "You forgot to take these candlesticks as well." Valjean goes to a church and vows to change his life. One act of mercy and his life is changed. This is the prodigal love of the God we have. A Father who takes the initiative in calling His children back. A son who dies on a cross and allows his heart to be pierced by a sword. A God who searches for the lost sheep and carries it back on his shoulders. A God who throws a feast for the prodigal son who returns. A God who rejoices over a lost coin being found. As the prophet Hosea says: " When Israel was a child I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my Son....Yet it was I who took them in my arms; but they did not know that I cared for them. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks; I bent down to feed them." A God of mercy who initiates. A God of mercy who rejoices. What an awesome God!
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
At World youth day this past summer Pope Francis spoke about the "wisdom" of grandparents-the elderly. He noted that in an era where the family unit is breaking down it was all the more important to consult our elders. In a day and age where everything has to be "new" and "faster" and "better" the readings this weekend focus on some age-old truths. In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear "who ever knew your counsel. except you had given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight." Wisdom, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit-it helps us to choose the right path. If you have ever been skiing you know the importance of choosing the right trail. If you are a beginner you don't want to go down a double-black diamond full of moguls. I remember once skiing at Killington and my friends goggles were all fogged up. We took what seemed to be a fairly safe trail only to find it full of moguls. I heard "bleep" I can't believe you "bleep...bleep...bleep" all the way down. GPS is now a tool that many of us use for navigation. It helps us to choose the right roads. So, too, in life, we need a trail map, a GPS. Jeremiah 6:16 says "Thus says the Lord: stand by the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old,'which is the way to good', and walk it; thus you will find rest for yourselves." In ancient Israel it was important for a shepherd to stay on the right path-the choice could be one of life or death. One such trail, a famous one, The Appalachian Trail, is here on the East Coast. From Georgia to Maine the trail passes through six national parks and eight national forests. It is a 2,176 mile trip through 14 states. Every year people undertake the journey. Why? Most people are looking for peace, for answers, for understanding. The earliest roads, the pathways of old provide the answer. Paul Stutzman is one person who managed to hike the trail. In his book Hiking Through he describes some of the perils of undertaking the hike. In one poignant paragraph he describes the emptiness of possessions, something that Jesus warns about in today's Gospel. Stutzman had lost his wife to Breast Cancer and the hike was a chance to find healing and peace. Here are his words in a chapter titled "My new life." "Lion King, not the man's real name, had set his sights on Maine and I wondered why he was on the trail. His answer was one I would hear numerous times during the hike. 'My wife passed away recently and I'm trying to find peace and healing.' Although this man owned several homes in Hawaii and was quite wealthy, his possessions and money mattered little now. In search of contentment, he had travelled across America, living out of his car. finally the call of the trail brought him here, where he sought the healing that was so elusive. He carried a palpable sadness and loneliness, and I felt a kinship to his sorrow. His story was a reminder that the message I carried held universal truth. We spend a lifetime working hard to accumulate homes and possessions that we believe are vital for comfort and security, only to discover those material accumulations are quite meaningless in our darkest hour of sadness and need." Paul even met up with a Catholic priest along the way. He called him Padre. When he asked the priest about heaven & hell, Padre replied 'many years ago St. Catherine of Siena said, all the way to heaven is heaven because Christ is the way. In my faith we now say Heaven all the way to heaven; hell all the way to hell." Paul says 'I was a seeker. I wanted to know who God was. For most of my life, I knew I wanted to follow the right path, but it always seemed so difficult-almost impossible. I'd been taught the rights and wrongs of living, but I knew little about the heart of God." Paul found his peace in reading scripture. A turning point was the funeral of an uncle of his. His uncle had read the bible many times and showed great peace up until his death. As he says "Little by little the heart of God came into focus. His patience and mercy amazed me as I read of His love toward so many flawed individuals in the bible." On Aug 30, 2008, Paul finished his hike. He approached Thoreau spring-named after Henry David Thoreau who explored Mt Katahdin in 1846 and wrote a book called The Maine Woods. Thoreau spring was 1 mile from the summit. As he approached the end he overheard someone say: Guys that hiker over there has walked close to 2,200 miles from Georgia to finish here. Let's let him have the sign to himself for a few minutes. The other hikers stepped aside, applauding as I approached, I dropped my backpack and laid my poles across it, then grabbed the sign and sobbed. I fell to my knees still holding the base of the sign, tears falling, and thanked God for safety and healing." What did Paul learn on his journey? He learned that God had honored his promise to be with him. "The narrow pathway had been my way to freedom" Paul said. He also heard God speak. "I am coming soon" the Lord said. In a moment much like Job shaking his fist at God in anger, Paul heard the words he needed to hear. Four words that changed his life. He now knew that God wanted to use him as an Apostle. Isn't that the call of all of us-to Go be a disciple to all nations. "I will use you to reach the scoundrels" the Lord said. Looking for freedom, looking for peace? You do not need to hike the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps you have lost a job or lost a loved one, maybe there is a crisis in your life.. Follow the ancient path, the old road, consult your elders, the wisdom of Grandparents, and follow Jesus Christ-the way, the truth, and the life.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
The readings today are about humility. The first reading from Sirach says "My child, conduct your affairs with humility." The gospel shows us that it is the last who will be first. The humble are those who, in today's second reading who are part of "the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven." How blessed we are to have a Pope who is truly humble. In the days to come as our nation debates war, know that you can trust the voice of our Pope. His voice is truly the voice of Christ. He lived as a young pastor in the slums of Argentina so he knows the "cry of the poor." He is also very humble. He has chosen not to live in the Vatican Palace but rather the guest house and just days ago broke all Papal protocol by bowing to the Queen of Jordan, acknowledging her presence. If you saw pictures recently from the Vatican there was a stunning picture of a dove landing on his finger. Francis, as his namesake suggests, is a man of peace. So how are we to interpret the readings today in the light of events of the past week? In a world full of violence and war is it possible to be a person of peace? As you know, I love the saints. They are role models for us all. There is a saint whose life I have been reading about recently who captivates me. His name if Don Carlo Gnocchi (Fr Carlo Gnocchi). Don Carlo was a gifted teacher and charismatic preacher in Italy in the early 1900's. His gifts were noted by his superiors who assigned him to teach at the Gonzaga Institute in Milan, Italy. Fr Carlo's dream was to be a military chaplain. He conveyed this dream to his students. He felt that serving one's country was a great way to develop virtue, defend the weak, and learn how to sacrifice oneself for others. His dream was soon realized and he was sent to the Alps as part of a prestigious military unit as their chaplain. In the story of his life, Father of Mercy, there is an amazing scene where he is elevating the chalice and the chalice deflects the bullet of a sniper. He tells his soldiers "you haven't seen anything yet." He later admits there was a lot of pride in those words. As his service continued he did, indeed, see heroic behavior by the soldiers, but he soon became dismayed at the unjust behavior of their superiors. When he returned to Milan he realized he had been successful in recruiting his students for the war effort, too successful. 608 boys signed up for military service. They were sent to the front line in Russia. Of the 68,000 troops who were deployed only 7,000 returned. Some were lost to the fighting but most were lost to the extreme cold. Don Carlo also succumbed to the cold. His almost frozen body was picked up by the grandson of the Prada family and was placed on a train back to Italy. When Don Carlo returned, he realized the real war was beginning. He personally visited the families of those men who gave their lives and delivered trinkets or personal items of the men to the family. It was then that he realized the horror of war. There was a generation of children that would never have a father-worse, Mussolini had placed land mines throughout the Italian countryside and there were thousands upon thousands of children with amputated legs and arms due to the landmines. They were known as the "mutilati." With no money and only trust in God, Don Carol knew he must do something. Initially he welcomed the children into his rectory. Soon the undertaking grew and benefactors stepped up. Centers opened to care for the children with amputated limbs. He also opened a center for those afflicted by polio. What was unique about Don Carol is that he taught these innocent victims to unite their sufferings to the passion of cross. He taught them the meaning of Redemptive suffering-taught them that their suffering, although seemingly useless, did have meaning when united to Jesus. He died at the age of 53 in 1956. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed him Blessed. Through his suffering the once proud soldier "You haven't seen anything yet" became the servant of those most affected by the horrors of war. Another well known person who came to wisdom through humility is the famous Russian author Solzhenitzen. Imprisoned because he called Stalin "whisker face", Solzhenitzen went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Here are his own words regarding his imprisonment: " It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: How a human being becomes evil and How a human being becomes good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only while I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties-but right through every human heart and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, bless you prison!" Solzhenitzen became a Christian in prison through the influence of a Jewish man. It was humility....the acknowledgement of his own capacity to commit evil, that led him to the forgiveness of Jesus. In this knowledge of the forgiveness of Jesus he learned an important lesson about redemptive suffering-he, like Fr. Gnocchi taught the children, learned to find meaning in his suffering. He learned that it was only through humility that he could forgive those who inflicted so much pain. We now come to a book in the bible called Maccabees. It is not well known by Catholics but is an important book. There was a Jewish Priest called Mattathias whose third son was believed by many to be the Messiah. His name was Judah Maccabeus. Judah led a successful gorilla warfare against the Greeks. His rule soon turned out to be a disappointment because he made a pact with the Romans and their rule turned out to be as oppressive as the Greeks. What is interesting from our perspective, however, is that the name Maccabeus means hammer. Listen to the following passage from the book Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd: " Jesus' revolutionary manifesto was not the stirring war speech of Mattathias but the deeply counterintuitive Sermon on the Mount.. But many, quite frankly, were disappointed in this 'weak' version of Messiah. Even among Jesus' own disciples the disappointment was evident. Perhaps this is why Peter denied knowing Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsamane. He was ready to fight to the death, and he drew his sword and cut the ear of the soldier arresting Jesus. He must have been bitterly disappointed and disillusioned when Jesus told him to put away the sword and allowed himself to be taken without a fight. It was only after the Resurrection that the disciples changed their opinion and recognized that God had vindicated this weak Messiah and made him King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Judah Maccabeus was the Hammer of God. Jesus of Nazareth was the Lamb of God. They are competing visions of the Messiah. One is an avenging messiah bring the hammer down on Israel's enemies. The other is a suffering servant laying his life down as a lamb to be slaughtered. One perpetuates the cycle of revenge with his hammer. The other ends the cycle of revenge with his cross. We must choose which version of the Messiah we will embrace. Heaven issues its verdict when it declares, 'Worthy is the Lamb.' If Jesus had satisfied the lust for vengeance present in Israel's nationalistic agenda by becoming a militant Messiah like Judah Maccabeus, nothing really would have changed. No doubt Jesus could have led Israel to a military victory over its Roman oppressors, but that would have only perpetuated the bloody cycle of vengeance. Instead of Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome being the monstrous oppressor, Israel would have had its turn at ruling the rule with the sword. But what would have changed? Nothing really-just the name of the latest ruling party.....Jesus didn't come to conquer the world with a sword; he came to save the world with a cross. Jesus didn't come to perpetuate the cycle of revenge; he came to end the bloody and vicious cycle of paybacks by absorbing the blows and forgiving his enemies. He came to reconcile Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity, a new humanity formed at the cross." Do you want peace in the world? First, begin with yourself and your own heart. As Solzhenitzen said, it is not states, classes, or political parties that are good and evil; it is the human heart. Are Jesus' words just friendly suggestions or are they meant to be lived- Blessed are the Peacemakers-is that just a nice saying to put on a pillow or did he meant it? The call to follow Jesus is radical. It begins with humility. The life of Blessed Carlo Gnocchi shows us the folly of youth and the wisdom of old age. He realized the horrors of war, he realized that it is always the innocent who suffer. Humility is strength. It shows much greater character to "turn the other cheek" than to resort to violence. So what shall it be....Is Jesus the Hammer of God, or is he the Lamb of God? Go and be peacemakers in your sphere of influence and trust that your prayers can stop wars, hurricanes, and move mountains!