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Saturday, April 30, 2011

White Sunday--Second Sunday of Easter--Divine Mercy

  We are coming upon the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday which in recent years has been called  Divine Mercy Sunday because of the devotion of the Polish St. Faustina, canonized by Pope John Paul II.  I struggle with this designation.  Now that may sound like I'm against mercy, as well as being against motherhood and apple pie.  Needless to say if anything helps someone who has strayed from God and the Church to find their way back I'm all for that, and the text of the Gospel includes Jesus' words to the apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you  forgive,  are forgiven them."  (Jn 20,23) This text is the basis for calling it Divine Mercy Sunday.

   My problem then is not with the idea of mercy, but because it sets aside the centuries old notion of Whitsun, or White Sunday, a day when the newly baptized from the Easter Vigil were presented to the community in their white baptismal robes.  In the bulletin from my summer parish, St. Peter the Fisherman in Eagle River, WI, Fr. Bob Koszarek, the pastor there,  points out that in Europe the day is often set aside for First Communion which like Baptism is also a Sacrament of Initiation.  St. Peter's will be celebrating First Communion on that day as well, a very nice way of keeping that tradition.

   White Sunday then  is to be about Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Reconciliation is, of course, a Sacrament, but a Sacrament that is emphasized all through Lent.  Our diocese here in St. Petersburg even has a wonderful program called The Light is On For You.  TV, radio and newspaper ads let folks know that on a certain evening every Catholic Church in the diocese will be open from 5 PM-8PM for confession,  especially to welcome back those who have been away for a while. Several other diocese in the US are doing the same. I think that is certainly a great expression of Divine Mercy.

   With the impending beatification of Pope John Paul II on the same day it is interesting to note than he was once asked what was the most significant day of his life.  His answer was not his becoming pope, or even his priestly ordination.  He said it was the day of his baptism.

   So on this White Sunday let us rejoice with the many new members of our Church who were baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist for the first time during the Easter Vigil.  And certainly let us keep open the doors of mercy and forgiveness to all who are in need of that great gift.

Friday, April 22, 2011

He Can't Stop Loving Us

  As I was taking a walk this morning here in Conway, SC, I heard music coming from the open window of someone's home.  As I got closer I realized that it was the popular ballad I can't stop loving you. During my walk I was thinking about Good Friday, the Lord's Passion and what finishing touches I might make on my homily at this evening's Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord.  At first I felt the music as a distraction but then realized that if I took those words, "I can't stop loving you" out of the context of that song it was a perfect summary of what today is all about.

  At last night's Mass of the Lord's supper the account of the washing of the feet was read. (Jn 13, 1-15).  At the beginning of that passage we are told, "He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end."  Those words, I believe, are the key to understanding the suffering and death of Jesus, an indeed to understanding His mission here on earth.

  Some strains of theology would have us believe that he came to be punished for our sins.  This thinking prompts the oft raised question, "How can a loving God allow his Son to come to be killed?"  While He certainly suffered for us, it was the suffering of love.  His mission was to come in love and proclaim the reign of God.  Because Love met sin the cross resulted.  In other words the mockery, the rejection, the scourging and finally the savage death on the cross happen because He in love freely gave Himself over to us.  He could not stop  loving us.  In His dying Jesus does not get punished vicariously for us.  Rather  in His overwhelming and infinite love He takes on our sin, our pain, our brokenness and destroys it.  (For in in depth look at this thought you might consult pages 229-232 of the second book of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict, as well as the theology of St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus in the Franciscan tradition.)

   And what might our response be to this.  With the first approach we often hear guilt as a response. To this latter approach I believe the response is a quiet, sorrowful, yet joyful,"Thank You"  In other words, Eucharist.

  May God give you peace!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Priest Forever

 I just returned from the Chrism Mass here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.  Some of you readers may not know what that is so a brief explanation is in order.  It is a Mass, celebrated by the bishop of a diocese, during Holy Week, when the sacred oils used in the various Sacraments are blessed.  There are three of them, The Oil of the Sick, used for anointing the sick, the oil of Catechumens used in the rite of Baptism, and Holy Chrism, used in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.  At the Mass the priests of the diocese also renew their commitment to priesthood.  This year's Mass was particularly special to me because I will be ordained for 40 years in a little over a month (May 22) and those of us celebrating 25, 50, 60 and even one for 70 years of ordination were recognized by Bishop Robert Lynch of our diocese.

   Because of this special anniversary I have given a lot of thought over the past few weeks as to what being a priest means to me.  A lot has happened during these 40 years and most of it has been wonderful.  A major turning point for me came in 1975 when I made a marriage encounter weekend. This 40 hour experience in February of that year made me into a different and better priest.  Some might wonder how an experience geared toward marriage speaks to a celibate priest.  It's really quite simple.  As the priest sees the married couple deepening their love for one another he realizes more deeply his call to love the Church, not merely the institution of the Church, but the people, the Body of Christ.  It made clear to me that the priesthood is not a mere function, but a call to an ever deepening relationship of love with God and God's people.  Interestingly I have been called upon a few times in recent years to preach retreats to priests and that is my major theme.

   I have been a high school religion teacher, a director of formation, a parish priest, a foreign missionary, and for the last 24 years a traveling preacher, or if you will, a wandering friar, thus the title of this blog. The real joy of these years is the continuing stream of people who become woven into the fabric of my life.  I have no children but I have two wonderful nieces and many people whom I met as youngsters and have now had the privilege of marrying them and baptizing their children.  I have friends with whom I can be real, down to earth, and yet respected as a priest.  Likewise I have had countless people whom I met only once, but who were moved by the Sacraments we shared together, or by a word spoken in a homily.  I take no credit for these moments, but see them as privileged moments when the Lord works through me.  Also as much as it is a joy and privilege to celebrate the Eucharist some of the most special moments for me come in the confessional. In these days when so much has happened to cause mistrust of the clergy, it is amazing that so many trust God and the priesthood enough to bare the darkest recesses of their soul in the hope of encountering the merciful God who takes away their sin.  To hear a good confession is a humbling moment for me and for any priest, yet a rewarding one.  In another blog entry in the near future I hope to say more about the Sacrament of Reconciliation which has been going through growing pains over the last 40 years.

  We priests are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the Church, and we re indeed that, yet any priest will tell you that the faith we encounter in the laity so often puts us to shame. That is certainly true in my life. There are so many who have been an inspiration to me.

  I am already beyond the length I like to give in a blog entry but I will close by quoting some key phrases from the rite of renewal of priestly commitment that we observed to day. The bishop asks:
   ". . .Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasures and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters? We answer. I AM
   "Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical serices with sincere devotion?   We anser. I AM.
   Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith solyfor the well being of the people you serve?  We answer. I AM.

   I will paste these words to my mirror so that I am reminded every morning of what I am to be about.

   Our bishop gave a wonderful homily at the Mass. You can check it on his blog, just click:  Bishop Lynch's Homily

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Donkeys, Palms and Hosannas

 I went to open my mail a few weeks ago after returning from a mission and was happily surprised to see that Bishop Robert Lynch of our diocese of St. Petersburg, had sent me and every priest residing in the diocese a copy of Pope Benedict's second volume of his work Jesus of Nazareth. This particular volume deals with the Scriptures related to Holy Week.  His holiness is not presenting this material as official teaching of the Church, but as personal writing and scholarship.  It is meant to use scholarship in such a way as to not only enlighten the mind, but to bring the heart closer to the Lord Jesus.  I think it does that.

  I am not however writing this entry as a book review.  I will leave that to others.  With Palm Sunday upon us I thought I might simply reflect here on a few of the points that the Pope makes regarding this wonderul day.  the first thing he calls attention to is the proclamation of the kingship of Jesus who in each of the Gospels is the fulfillment of the promise of a new David.  We see this in gestures such as the requisitioning of a donkey which is not His.  This was the prerogative of kings.  Likewise garments are placed on the donkey and in the path of Jesus, another gesture reserved for kings.  The real curve ball is that this king, "humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt,  the foal of a donkey." (Mt. 2:5,cf. Zech 9:9; Jn 12:15)  (from page 4 of Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 2) There was an expectation of a political and military king about at the time and the language  and imagery of such a king is used, but this One come in humility, on a donkey.  Donkey were once the choice of kings but at the time of Jesus the horse was the animal of the powerful, the donkey having been relegated to use by peasants and the lowly.
   
   A second point made by the Holy Father is the fact that the crowds shouting Hosanna were the followers of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, not the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  The latter did not know Him, they had merely heard of Him.  They had not come to "see" as Bartimaeus, the blind man had come to "see" Jesus in the account which takes place just before the entry into Jerusalem.  It was they who later shouted "crucify Him." I know that over the years I had assumed that the same people who cried Hosanna had called for the crucifixion, but not so.   The little people then cry Hosanna, the religious establishment and the powerful call for His crucifixion.

   A third point made in this part of the book is the connection with the Liturgy.  We are told that very early on the Church began praying at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, in words borrowed directly from the Palm Sunday Gospel accounts,  "Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." as a welcoming acclamation to the One who is the Messiah king and who comes to us in the Eucharist.

    And what might we learn from this?  Jesus is a King, but One who comes in humble love.  Certainly those of us who are leaders in the Church ought to remember this when we are tempted to be pompous and authoritarian.   We need to hear this message loud and clear in today's Church.  Also to receive Jesus, the humble one, we need to be little and receptive, like the crowds that followed Jesus from "outside the walls." So much of what's going on today calls us to identify with the immigrant, the marginalized, the poor and to stand with them if we are to truly welcome Jesus into our lives. I truly believe that focusing ourselves on growing in our relationship with Jesus, rather than on fighting over who is conservative and who is liberal, is the key to renewal in the Church today.

  To conclude I ask "Are you marching into Jerusalem as a follower of  Jesus and shouting Hosanna?  Or are you asking, "Is this the one from Galilee?" and looking on Him with suspicious eye?  The truth is that there is a little of each in all of us. Our conversion lies in acknowledging this and moving more towards the first position. Happy Palm Sunday everyone.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Church on Board with bloggers, social networks

 I just thought that I would keep my blog followers up to date on one area where I think Church leaders are trying to keep up with the times.  I will be going to Rome five days after this conference takes place. Wish I could be there for it. I have sent an e-mail to them expressing my interest

Vatican Conference for bloggers

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent--Lazarus come Forth

Once again I am offering a video reflection on the Lenten Gospel texts. This Sunday's Gospel reading is from John 11:1-45, the raising of Lazarus.  This will be the last of my Lenten video clips which some followers requested.  I will periodically put up other video material.  I hope that you might go to my YouTube channel and look at the Holy Week material that I did for last year.  Just click on Fr. John's YouTube channel

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent--Can You See?



 This week's Gospel text is the entire ninth chapter of John's Gospel, the story of the encounter of Jesus with the man born blind.  John is rich in meaning. Practically every line has layers of meaning.  I touch on a few of them in this reflection, but ones that I believe get to the heart of the matter.