When Americans have taken American lives

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I would like to make a long comparison of two different rows of memorials to the departed that I saw this last holiday weekend. A photo above shows our parish 721 Cross Memorial in St. Edward’s field.
The other photo shows a row of markers at a national cemetery at Antietam Battlefield, which I visited (as you read in my recent blog). These are the rows for the departed that I will relate in this blog.

I just spent part of Memorial Day in the National Cemetery at the Antietam Civil War National Park. I walked past rows and rows of small chalk-white gravestones. Well over 100,000 men fought near Antietam Creek and Sharpsburg Maryland during a savage and intense 1862 day of North vs. South Civil War match. There it befell 23,000 soldiers who died or were serious casualties in this Maryland hillside and forest between the Potomac River and Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg. America has properly mourned the loss of life in this place, where Americans took other Americans lives. We grieve for the ones who died in this battle, as we do for others in other places on Memorial Day. As we look back at the
whole Civil War, we mourn for the 750,000 men and women (all fellow Americans) who died because of it.

On Memorial Day, we mourn for the official number of 1,321,612 Americans dead, due to all our wars involving U.S. citizens, fighting around the world under our flag.
From the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery…to a ceremony at a national cemetery or veterans’ cemeteries…to a moment of silence given even at a sports game on the holiday– we do give pause for the loss of life of fellow Americans– and we hope for all wars to cease someday.

On Memorial Day I can recall trips I have taken as the priest/chaplain for a burial of a victim of war. I have gone to Arlington and to other military/veterans cemeteries to do funerals of soldiers. I have personally known parishioners who have died in war. I am struck by the fact that these men and women of our nation have died. They are the victims of war and its slaughter. On Memorial Day I remember them.

In a related ministry, I have also counseled numbers of young adults over regret of their abortions (some older adults, too, who are finally dealing with this unresolved act of their past). Frequently, the peace comes when we acknowledge the child gone and have a memorial service. (Sometimes we also have a memorial site chosen.) Memorial days are important.

Abortion is not military war, yet it is another war on life, and since 1973 abortions of Americans (by Americans) are nearing 57 million it total! I was thinking this past week–if America was hurting from 750,000 lost in her Civil War, then think of how we must be hurting for even aborting already 450,000 this year alone in the USA (Jan 1 to May 30). It is staggering! With sometimes near a million persons aborted a year since 1973, the number gets numbing and hard to grasp.

The Abortion War versus our citizens is not the kind of war that our nation had such as ones like Vietnam, World War II, The War on Terror or The Gulf War. It is much more insideous and hidden and confusing. And it keeps going on. There really isn’t a great reason, either, for all the loss of life in the abortion war. It is just the stealing or taking of life without a battle or much resistance. It’s a slaughter. It’s slow destruction of our society. It’s within our borders. We are permitting its atrocity. Now take a read of the Gospel verse we proclaimed on Good Shepherd Sunday in this Easter time: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (from John 10)

As I walked along our crosses, put up on our side field by the parish church, I pondered how it only
represented those numbers who will be lost this very hour (by average, in peak hours, of American babies). And hardly anyone is screaming or crying about this American tragedy.

There are no plans by the government to stop it, and certainly no museums in DC to be put up (like the Holocaust Museum) to address what we are doing as a nation. There are no great social programs to assist in child birth in these crisis pregnancies. There is not a Tomb of the Unknown Child put up in Arlington Cemetery, but there ought to be by now, as we have lost the equivalent of four USA state populations since 1973, with names and faces lost on Americans. With 17 million of abortions being Black Americans, of that toll, it would equal the number of total NFL fans attending stadium games in 2013. All gone away. Yet it somehow is not an issue in America, not mostly even in churches of high Black American attendance. “The thief comes to steal and destroy…” America, our children our being stolen! Right within our borders. The thief is also a liar, and He is the devil, and he has much of America duped. While we can be very sensitive to news and facts of a missing child taken from a school or mall, or of innocent people shot by a mad person, or if we can get in a druthers over a senseless racist slur being made in the USA–how is it that somehow we can be put to sleep over the abortion issue– even with it being 2/7ths a heavy discrimination and elimination of one ethnic group in America? We have become mostly insensitive to millions of new American people being aborted.

I just don’t iknow if I’ll ever be able to sit comfortably knowing my nation is committing these acts of war on the child. Putting up some crosses to mourn this American holocoast is just one demonstration of alarm. It is not much, and it may not be the method that all are in favor of doing as a pro-life act, but it is something and it reminds us that we all must give some witness to the Gospel of Life. What is yours? We need to let the Lord see that we each are trying to tell America (as well as God’s people in it who say they are Christian) to re-consider our actions of abortion within this nation.

We believers in Christ and members of His Body need to say to one another that we must be a House of the Lord of Life. In 2nd Chronicles of the Bible, Solomon builds the Lord a house of worship, and this is what verses 11-14 says: “Solomon finished building the house of the LORD, the house of the king, and everything else he wanted to do in regard to the house of the LORD and his own house. The LORD appeared to Solomon during the night and said to him: I have heard your prayer, and I have chosen this place for my house of sacrifice. If I close heaven so that there is no rain, if I command the locust to devour the land, if I send pestilence among my people, if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.”

721 simple crosses on our lawn for two weeks is just one way to witness to the sacredness of life.
And they are not up in display to condemn or to judge or blame anyone. We pray for healing and love and good change to come to all of us. That’s the message of The Cross–it’s the mercy of Christ and the hope of Christ’ reign. Not the rule and slavery to sin and death. Christ offers freedom from that.

We rejoice, too, that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep (and for the little lambs who came so early to Him). Jesus, God’s Son, is our hero Who saves the children, and Who saves us of our sins. He sends us His Spirit to renew us and help us grow, which includes convicting us of our sins (see John 16).

The crosses on our lawn is to say: Abortion is going on, and has been taking many lives. While our own lives were spared, others were not. Four state populations worth! So let’s grieve. Let’s re-think what America is doing. Let’s embrace Life!

If one really wants to be hit hard by the true facts, then go to the web site
www. numberofabortions. com. That will blow you away, much more than our 721 crosses can do.

If there is a date of memorial for these babe Americans, then the Church presents the anniversary date of Roe V. Wade in January as a day to mourn. The Church also has All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2) and the Martrydom of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem (Dec. 28) to have memorial for these “other” fallen victims– the children. The feast of St. Joseph (March 19) also would be appropriate.
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We will have the Pro-Life Memorial of 721 Crosses and flags on the parish lawn from the morning of May 24th to June 7th. It is sponsored by the Maryland Right to Life and the Knights of Columbus. Every week across the state this display (and two other sets) are shown at Maryland church yards or school properties, in witness to the ongoing numbers of unhindered abortions in the land. The 721 crosses put up stand for the approximately 721 known abortions each (working) peak hour in America. It totals to be just short of a million Americans per year. Just last week a Detroit newspaper reported how 33% of its city’s children-on-the-way will be aborted this year, and story regarded it as an appalling figure. It truly IS appalling. What was RARE was that this story was even publicly reported in the news. So more frequently, America’s abortion atrocity is cloaked in secrecy and its damage and toll ignored. This story in the Detroit Press inspired my new look at our rows of flags and crosses on our parish lawn.

Meaningful Memorial Day

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Here above is a photo of Decoration Day 1879 in Antietam Battlefield in Maryland. It shows a photo of one of the earliest celebrations of what today is named Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the war-dead of our countrymen. This one was held on the 27th anniversary of the Sept. 17, 1862 battle– the war date of much blood and misery when the nation had lost its most soldiers ever in a day’s battle– when North and South forces fought each other in our America’s Civil War. In the old photo it doesn’t show the great numbers that came out that day. They came in the thousands to Antietam on this Decoration Day, to adorn (decorate) gravestones with flowers and flags, to collect together as people to remember those who perished and to say prayers for those fallen soldiers’ souls, and to hear a speech or poem or song for stirring up respect for our war dead– who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. They came to Antietam to pray for peace and accord in the nation (which had been torn asunder by the Civil War).
This is our pre-cursor to Memorial Day. At Decoration Day (and now Memorial Day) it is a time set aside to honor the war-dead, to remember the toll on human lives that war brings, and to pray for peace.

I went to Antietam National Park and Battlefield and Cemetery for my 2014 Memorial Day observance. It was meaningful. This year the numbers of holiday visitors in Antietam were fairly numerous–it was nice to see. In some recent years I have honored the day by attending parades or memorial wreath placings or a special concert or gone to watch the Rolling Thunder in the morning in DC and then walked along the national memorials. It feels right to do something meaningful for this holiday.

Antietam National Battlefield Park is just about 1 1/2- 2 hours from Bowie. National Park Rangers were there to assist visitors and lead tours, other volunteers were on hand to share information, paid tour guides were available, and a self-directed car drive hand-out is given out for people to follow and travel the whole area of the 1862 battle. The area is preserved and kept up like it was as a century-and-a-half ago. Markers and monuments are placed where Civil War action was held. The State of Maryland, in cooperation with the U.S. National Parks, has done a good job here in keeping this as a place of remembrance. The picket fences and fields seem like they were back in Civil War times. I took a photo, and while it was a peaceful and balanced one, I realized how different the scene was in 1862, as it was in the deadliest trench of the battle. IMG_20140526_130232_450

At the Marylander’s memorial, just near the Dunker’s Church (a battle center), I saw some artistic reliefs put on for display. Two of them I include in the photos.

You will also see in one of the photos a plaque from the National Cemetery that contains lines from “Bivouac of the Dead” by T. O’Hara, a famous poem of the 19th century on war and loss. The tall statue with the Maryland flowers is from the center of that cemetery, which held lines and lines of small white markers with a flag placed next to each one.
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6th Sunday Homily “The Spirit Who Serves in the Trinity”

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I heard in Catholic school today that Jesus said He’d send “a pair of cleats” down to us. Does that mean that Jesus likes soccer? Because soccer players wear those sports shoes, right?!

Today’s Easter time Scriptures make mention a lot of the Holy Spirit.
So, let’s talk of Him. He serves an incredible role in the Life of the Trinity. We hear of Him mentioned in today’s Scriptures of Mass.

The references today in Scripture?
Reading 1. Peter and John lay hands on people in Samaria and “they received the Holy Spirit.” The Psalm “Come and see the works of the Lord.” 1st Peter 3: Jesus, leading us to God, was brought to life in the Spirit. “ and references in the John 14 Gospel passage: God will give you the Spirit of Truth… the Advocate.”

Those are a lot of references to the Holy Spirit in one Mass. It must be Easter time! We must be heading onto Pentecost soon!

You know the basic teachings of our Holy Spirit powered Catholic Faith.
The Spirit is the Third Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity, of which Catholics profess in our Creed to be true. The Holy Spirit is God.
The Spirit is a Divine Person. This makes us different from other religions, such as Islam, which speaks of the spirit as a creature, or like that of an Archangel, as Mohammed taught. That’s a reduced view that doesn’t match up with our Lord Jesus’ revelations, Who called The Spirit a Person, as Him, as “another Advocate” Who was also sent of the Father. John 14:15-21 today shows that relationship as a united one of the Divine Persons, or as Catholics define as The Blessed Trinity. Today’s gospel mentions all three persons in One God working together, as equals. The Son is Advocate. The Spirit is another Advocate. The Father is represented from On High by Them. He receives the Good They do, even as He inaugurates the Work they come to bring humanity.

The first epistle of Peter speaks of the related works of the Blessed Trinity. He says, so beautifully: “Beloved, sanctify Christ in your hearts…(your testimony should be) upholding that Christ suffered for sins (to purify people)… so that He might lead us, then, to God (the Father)… Christ was brought to life in The Spirit. (So, too, all his own may now be brought alive this way.) 1 Peter 3:15, 17-18.

Catholics and most other Christians believe that The Spirit is united with the Father and the Son. A Celtic prayer puts it thus:

“O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me.”
(The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination page 43 by Esther de Waal).

This short prayer expresses beautifully the different qualities of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father sought us. That reminds me of Psalm 139, a beautiful Psalm about God seeking us and being present with us at all times.

O Lord you search me and you know me, You know my resting and my rising,
You discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down, All my ways lie open to you.
Before ever a word is on my tongue You know it, O Lord through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me, Your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge, Too high, beyond my reach.

The Father was continually seeking us from the beginning. The Father called Abraham and called a people to himself out of all the peoples on earth. God called Moses and gave a covenant forming them into the Jewish people. The first reading (Prov 8:22-31) described the wisdom of God. Other passages in the Bible identify this wisdom with God’s Torah or Law or Commandments (Sir/Ecclus 24:23; Bar 4:1). God’s wisdom or his Commandments are one of the ways we see God seeking his people before Jesus. God’s commandments, his wisdom, is one way God reached out to his people to lead them to himself. The Father continued to seek his people by sending the prophets to call his people back to live according to the covenant when they were wandering away.

Unfortunately our spiritual ancestors, the Jews, did not listen, so then the Father revealed the great masterpiece of his plan to seek us; He sent his Son Jesus to buy us with His blood (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:24-25; 5:9; Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:20; Heb 9:12; Rev 5:9).
“O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me.”

The second reading today says the same using other words, “…through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace…” (Rom 5:1) Yes, our Catholic Faith teaches us that Jesus, the Son of the Father, bought us. That reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 6:20, “You are not your own property, you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God.”

How much are you worth? You are worth as much as the precious blood of Jesus because that is the price God paid for you, the blood of Jesus.

In Rev 5:9 there is a hymn to Jesus, these words are addressed to Jesus,
“Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.”

Yes we were purchased for the Father by the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is priceless so you are priceless.

The final part of God’s plan to save us is the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended. It is sort of like: Part 3-The Spirit’s work. We get taught and led by the Spirit to act as born-anew people.
“O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me.”
Jesus refers to the teaching quality of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel today,
“But when the Spirit of truth comes
He will lead you to the complete truth,
Since he will not be speaking as from himself
But will say only what he has learnt…” (John 16:13)

There are many ways in which we can see the Holy Spirit guiding the Church all down through the centuries. There is a very interesting example that I heard on Italian TV some years ago. Bishop Magee was being interviewed and mentioned that when he was secretary to Pope John Paul I, the Pope said to him one day that his successor was sitting opposite him during the conclave (first conclave of 1978). Bishop Magee did not think about it again until after the election of Pope John Paul II a short while afterwards and then he took out the map of the conclave that elected Pope John Paul I and saw that Cardinal Karol Woytyla who was to become Pope John Paul II was indeed sitting opposite Cardinal Luciani who became Pope John Paul I. How did Pope John Paul I know who his successor would be? I think we can say that somehow it was the Holy Spirit who had brought him to this conclusion.
“O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me.”

Can you see in your own life that the Father has sought you, Jesus the Son bought you, and the Holy Spirit taught you? Can you see events in your own life that show the Father seeking you? Sometimes you would hear people say they felt that God had protected them from an accident or protected during an accident or that what at first looked to be disaster later turned out to be for the best. Can you see Jesus the Son buying you? Those who have seen the movie The Passion of the Christ are very aware of Jesus buying them with his blood. Can you see the Holy Spirit working in your life perhaps to expand your heart to be compassionate to someone or to forgive someone or to help someone? The Father, Son and Spirit work in the lives of each of us if we are open. Can you open your heart to the Father, Son and Spirit?

“O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me.”

Homily and Extended Reflections 5th Sunday of Easter

This is the draft of the homily I gave last Sunday. Plus there is a Reflection extension. I had three Masses to preach, and I emphasized some different aspects at the three liturgies.

I have decided to just give you all the notes. It is longer than any of the homilies were. If you are reading for knowledge, review, insight, or checking in with your interpretation of the Gospel of John 14:1-12, then you can profit from taking a look-in here.

Homily and Extended Reflection 5th Sunday of Easter
GOSPEL JN 14:1-12
Highlights from the Gospel: Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me…….. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Homily
We just should not be troubled or afraid to go do the things the Lord is leading us to do, nor be hesitant to mature further into the full person we are meant to become. God has much to work out in us, we can faith that His plan is good!

Five-year old Joey is in the kitchen with his mother, as they are cleaning up after his happy and great birthday night party. It has finished and all have left. Joey is assisting Mom. As they have filled the waste basket to its brim, Mom has pulled out the liner, tied it, and gone placed it outside, and as she comes in she asks Joey to put in a new liner to fill in the basket. He sees the supply is gone from the kitchen cabinet, and tells Mom. She says: “Then go down into the basement, and get a new box of liners from the shelf, right by the bottom of the stairs. Ok?” But Joey replies: “Remember, Mom, the light bulb over the stairs is out, so it’s dark in there and I’m scared.” The mother tries to convince him how it is safe to go alone into the basement, and that the trash liners are literally on the familiar shelf right at the stair’s bottom, and he has been up and down those stairs a thousand times. Joey’s says that “I will be careful as always, but I am just afraid of the dark.” Joey had just turned five and Mom saw how he could receive another birthday present right now, to be treated as a “big boy” now, and be able to be trusted with new tasks. This task was safe for Joey, she knew. She’d walk him through it by her voice, if necessary, and help him exercise a little faith, too.” Joey, said Mom, “I have myself busy with washing these dishes, so let me appeal to you this way, big guy–(she paused, and then spoke heart-fully)– “It’s all right, son, Jesus will be in there with you. Also, just keep the door open and it will give some kitchen light for you, plus at anytime you can shout up to me if you need me to call back down to you and encourage you step by step.” Joey walks hesitantly to the basement door, slowly opens it and peeps inside, sees that it looks pretty dark at the stairs bottom, but he does start walking down each step. Then, suddenly, half way, he gets an idea. He calls out loud: “Jesus, since you’re down there, would you toss up to me the box of trash liners, please?!”

Joey’s fear is similar to the fear of the disciples as the time drew near for Jesus to physically not be with them anymore. Our gospel reading from John 14 today is from the talks by Jesus that He gives before that will be their reality at His Ascension. Most of John chapters 14 through 17 are the ones the evangelist has put in his account, so to encourage the Church in her sixth decade going (90ad or so), that God has supplied to them (as He supplied to the apostles), the Gift of Confidence in His ongoing “new” Presence among them. Jesus will be with them, only in a new way, but a powerfully new way. It just will require some faith and inner recognition from them.

So, John takes what Jesus had said before His departure in Ascension, which had strengthened the first apostles and first community of disciples. So, now, John writes to the Church to give them Jesus’ same words. Jesus says “He is with you. His works are going on through you. (A little further in John 14, He’ll add: “His Spirit of Truth is poured out to you.”)

Therefore, He has told us already: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1a). The Greek text translation indicates how the disciples were already afraid of the Son of God Jesus going back to Heaven from them, so Jesus is asking them here to master their fears. What reason does Jesus give them? It is both simple and profound: “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” … Believes in Me and so do the works that I do, because, in fact, I am going to the Father” (verses 1 and 12).

It may be easier to believe in God, a spiritual being that we cannot see, that He cares for us. Many people on earth say they believe in God. Yet, Jesus is stage two of the life of faith. Jesus states:. “Believe also in Me.” Or maybe, let’s put it this way: ‘Trust Me, too, that I am God in the world as a person and as The Savior to the world, and your way back to Heavenly life. God has come to the world uniquely through Me, your Jesus, God’s Son.’ The challenge is harder here, to accept and believe all that Jesus did and taught and to allow Him to be your foundation for living. (Ref: 2nd reading today.) To believe Jesus is God among us. Well, not as many believe that. But in this short text, He has named Himself as the I Am, a title for God, no less than six times in these short 14 verses, and He has said “have faith” twice to us and He has asked us to “believe” four times at the close of the text.

It sounds important that we exercise our spiritual abilities to pick up on the identity of Jesus as God’s gift of salvation to us. This stage two of “believing” in so crucial. John chapter 14 is point blank is asking us: Do we believe in God? Do we believe in Jesus and trust our lives into this Savior and Lord?

There is a third stage in this short text of John. It’s real important too. Jesus says that the Father has done His works through His Son. Those who have seen the great love of Jesus and His miracles and actions and heard His teaching—they were experiencing the Father through those works in the Son. This he addresses particularly to Philip. Do you not know it, Philip? As we, the 2014 Catholic hear this gospel, we can say: Yes, Philip, you were experiencing the works of God in Jesus, He was a man but also the Divine Son.

Now hear comes the kicker. Jesus says: ‘As the works of God the Father were manifested in Me, that the Gospel will attest to, then I want you to be those who manifest the Son’s works in the world. You do the works of God!’ Amen, Amen (alert: third stage of belief!) whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do.! How so?! Because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12) Because I am sending you The Spirit of Truth. (John 14:16 –we’ll hear it in next week’s Gospel) and my plan is for the works of God to be alive in you!

It was God’s plan to live in our souls, and anoint us, mind, body, soul, spirit, strength as to take residence in us. We are to live in accord with the Spirit of the Lord and to show it forth by His working in us. Or, His works. Stage Three, here, is the Catholic/Christian Way. Christ in us.
So, when Jesus led off His teaching (with “Do not let your hearts be troubled!”), this is to where He is taking us. To be as Ephesians 2:10 says so well—His workmanship: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to live in the works of God, which He has prepared (designed) beforehand that we may walk in His goodness with Him.”

If we will not be troubled, then we can get away from any spirit of timidity or fear. Hear another great verse that urges us to participate in the works of God, rather than try being a passive believer. ”For the Spirit God gave us is not one of fear or timidity, but that of love and power and sound judgment in living in the Way of The Lord.” That’s 2nd Timothy 1:7. A great verse.
So, in stage three, in the works of God, are we indeed living in the Way of the Lord? Or are we in the way of the Lord, putting up defense or obstacles to God’s fully working in us?0
When Jesus made that amazing claim at the end of today’s text: of “greater works will you do, greater than these (so far)” they had to wonder—but only Jesus is Jesus, no one is greater than the Son of God?—which is correct, but you see, Jesus is Alive and He plans to keep working in the world, multiplied into the billions of people who will love God, love Him, and let Him in to work in their lives and be Christ’ possession and servant.

Tall order. But do-able, due to the Holy Spirit. Whom we highlight in next week’s gospel in John 14: 15-21.

To conclude the three fold point of Jesus: ‘You believe in God and Heaven? ‘You believe in God’s Son on earth as man/God? ‘You believe in God living and loving and working through you to complete His plan for humanity?

Like Joey, we may be hesitant to take our next “big boy” steps as a Church, but our Mother the Church, and the Blessed Mary, have asked us to consider our task to do? And Jesus is indeed waiting to toss us something in our step-way, the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and responsibility.

Next week: Participants in the Kingdom of God will show some Fire works (Spirit works).

Homily draft cuts (where I took the message in one of the homilies)
Another line of thought today…

Joey’s Story here

In today’s Church—we get fall into some fears. We doubt some of Jesus’ Presence, and feel sometimes like we are facing the world alone. We are afraid of the dark, somewhat. Or of extending ourselves out. Asking ourselves in thought: Is Jesus with us as we take these steps? Why can’t the Lord be more obvious to us and make it easy?”

Think of Joey. Saying: “Jesus, if you’re down there, can you pass up the liners?”I think we all have had moments when we wished Jesus would be so kind as to toss up the easy solutions. He answers, I AM here. Yet He wants to see you live the anointing and experience some works that only come by faith, not by sight or human strength. That won’t be so easy. It’ll need your trust!

I don’t know what all your recent challenges have been, fellow people of St. Edward’s. I know of some of them, and many feel like they have been a test of faith to you. Some people in former membership or practice faced some trials but thought that God was going to bail them out of their troubles, didn’t want to practice the faith, and said “Where are you, God?” But He said: I am in the courage I put in you to use right now. I am in the relationships that you are meant to depend on in your brothers and sisters of faith with you in The Church, My Body. I am in the decision you have to make to not live for worldliness but to own the Kingdom of God for yourself. Be responsible to God and to the truth of who you are. I am there in that choice that you begin practicing more of your identity as a child of God. Remember my Scripture to you: ”For the Spirit God gave us is not one of fear or timidity, but that of love and power and sound judgment in living in the Way of The Lord.” 2 Tim. 1.7.

In the gospel reading, Jesus does pretty much what Joey’s mother tried to do, namely, to say: You can walk by faith, and not to live so simply as just by sight. You rely on sight, but the kingdom of God relies of the inner sight of faith, with trust in God, hope in Him, and willingness to serve and go forth. You know the Way, Church! You know Me, right? Says Jesus. The Father has an operation going on through the earth through Me. Do you realize that? You have been called into it. I, Jesus, AM God incarnate, engaged and enfleshed with the human race all over the place wherever My Spirit goes, where The Father leads. The Spirit is given in anointing to go do goodness through you and to bless the world into the new Kingdom come.

That is our Easter meditation. Jesus is Risen. Jesus is Lord. He sends us out in His love and power. We should go. We are the body that serves Christ the Head.

Last week, we heard that Jesus wants to shepherd Him people into sheepfolds. (Jn.10) Sheepfolds were in each town, for shepherds to bring in the sheep. It sounds like an analogy to the parish to me. We have room here for more hungry sheep here and hungry lambs. One example: Our religious education program needs more numbers for next year; we don’t sufficiently reach the local schools and its families so well in these neighborhoods, like Pointer Ridge, Devonshire, Tall Oaks, Amber Meadows, Northview (etc.).

There are many “un-churched” in these neighborhoods. There are works to be found in all of us to find and gather them into the Joy of the Lord.

Today, many of us are like Philip; our prayer is, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (verse 8). Show us that God is with us in the church. Show us that God is alive and actively involved in events in our world today. What does Jesus answer? “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (verse 9) when God has been so deeply involved in the events and crises of the church and of the world. You see, the incarnation (God becoming flesh) has removed the wall of division between the divine and the human. The history of God and the history of humanity have become inextricably intertwined. The story of the kingdom of God, which I, Jesus, came to inaugurate, cannot be told apart from the story of My Church in the world. I, the Lord, took a risk when deciding to become human and save you through human provision.
I chose to make it so that I could live in you, and offer great works now come through you, by My power, but that all lies in your hands, now. Hence, it is God’s risk. Will you participate in Me? Will you get what My ongoing ministry is to the world, that indeed I continue My outreach to the world, choosing and using you in My love and saving Hand?

Our Answer: I believe in this family of God, with You, Christ as the Head. Help any of my unbelief or reluctance to participate. Help me to know how there IS a mission of God going on, and help me in love and power and discernment of a sound mind to partake in it.

Listing of Blogs (recent)

mid-May to early April

Comedic Stylings II and a Half
Comedic Stylings II
Good Shepherd (4th “A”) Sunday Homily
Comedic Stylings 2013
First Communion
Confirmation Here and There
Short Poem
Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter
Homily Easter Octave
Resurrection Day and The Joy of the Gospel: Pt. 2
Passing on a nice Easter reflection
Easter is a Season
Resurrection Day and The Joy of the Gospel: Pt. 1
Homily Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday
Homily Good Friday
Spring is Springing
Winning Weekends
The Joy of the Gospel and Reform
A Self-Exam with St. Hildegard

Comedic Stylings II and a half

I have collected a few humorous comments on things. I can’t say they are “funny” but perhaps rather they could be called “Comedic Stylings.” That is something, on the edge, of almost being funny. (If you read my blog last Wednesday, then you’ll know what I mean there.)

You probably know how The Church is trying to wake up its members into a more enthusiastic faith in this 2014. Now, we do hear about the megachurches and how they have added coffee shops and food stations into many of their facilities, even allowing church members to bring in their cup of joe and scones into the worship space. This is all permissable now, just to get people interested in sitting in church. But an evangelism spokesman for the United States Catholic Conference said: “Well, we’re not talking about waking up our members with caffeine inside the church, but more about waking up the inside of our members to the Holy Spirit’s presence there! We know that Folgers works, but the best part of waking up, in church, is not Folgers in your cup, but the Spirit of the Lord a perkin’ in your soul!” Right on.

Megachurches are popular, though, so said a Pew Research Poll, with a proposed reason in their results. “People like that they don’t have wooden pews, but soft cushioned theatre seats instead. Plus, they don’t have kneelers like they do have in many Catholic churches. The new megachurches are designed for comfort.” However, a Gold’s Gym spokesman, who is Catholic, said in counter to that: “Comfortable, lounging Christians is not the image I think the Lord’s Church needs to show. Plus, I think Catholics get a better workout at Mass, with standing, sitting, kneeling, making signs of the cross, signs of peace, and holy water dipping, and walking up for Communion. So perhaps we need to better market ourselves as a better well-rounded church option.”

A non-Catholic Christian wondered why “do Catholic Mass-goers do all their kneeling and genuflecting business?” They added to their point by asking: “That’s not how Heaven will be, will it?” A Catholic answered them with a Scripture: “St. Paul, in Romans 14:11 says of Heaven that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess there that Jesus is Lord. We practicing Catholics are definitely practicing for that future!”

(I like that the above account was an answer given with humor, while also conveying a Scriptural truth to which we hold.)

Catholics are being encouraged today to share their faith more frequently with their neighbors, as it becomes true that more of their neighbors will be non-believers now. A new survey found that atheists are the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. Some atheists heard those results about themselves, but said: “We find that very hard to believe.” A handwritten letter written by Albert Einstein suggesting that there is no God went on sale on eBay starting at $3 million. When the owner heard how much the letter was worth, he said, “Thank you, Lord.”

A sports team with almost a ‘religious following’ is the New York Yankees. Yet, even with their hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on ballplayers, they are often losing games to cheaper division rivals this year, such as to the Tampa Rays. When trying to explain their recent road loss in Tampa, the Yankees manager said (while forgetting what he also exactly said the previous week in the Colorado Rockies series in Denver). “I think the high altitude affected us.” (The reporters said— in Tampa?!) The manager realized his mistake in using last week’s excuse: “What I mean is that they players, er’, are playing to such high expectations, that we are getting less air in that high altitude, and it affects our performance.”) What?!? Don’t you just love all the excuses people dream up?! Not liking the Yankees much, I hope Manager Girardi needs many excuses this year.

Fans for the San Francisco Giants team were asked if they thought the pope might be a fan of their baseball team, since he too is named for St. Francis. One Catholic fan quickly retorted: Well, the pope IS always wearing giant hats, right?
(It’s called a mitre!)

The Washington Nationals had to play home baseball games during Holy Week and Easter week in 2014’s April schedule. Some MLB scheduler must have had a sense of humor with it. The consecutive teams the Nats really played in that stretch were the Cardinals, the Angels and the Padres. Hmmm….
True account.

A new religious pastor had won many new people into Christianity in his city with what he has dubbed as the “Dancing Church.” Most of their church service consists of his leading some happy dancing to the tunes of praise-pentecostal-style music, and the congregants mostly dance the worship hour away! Then the service ends with a 3 minute happy thought sermon by him, and a benediction. He and his church have become quickly popular! However, the church is closing, it is announced today, since the pastor has to leave to compete in this season’s “So You Think You Can Dance?” on Fox Tv.

EWTN, the traditional Catholic tv cable station, is looking to start new tv shows to rival these reality shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. EWTN’s best ideas so far: “So You Think You Can Pray the Rosary?” “Dancing with the Bishops.” And “The Biggest Faster.”
In Rome, the pope and papal curia have suggested starting their own tv reality show, called “The Vatican’s Got Talent.” (I don’t know about that one!)

Here are a few parting comedic comments on the papacy, meant only in jest:

“When the papacy had a retired pope and a new pope at the first time, they had to find a way to refer to each one. Someone comically said: Remember when Coca Cola had its new Coke and Coke Classic? We could use that formula: New Pope (Francis) and Pope Classic (Benedict)…
Actually, Pope Emeritus is the title they had ready to use.

The two popes recently came together in a canonization at the Vatican recently, and one would wonder what the two might discuss, if they had a moment: Perhaps the interpretation of a Sacred Canon or a Scripture verse? Or what new ideas might work for the New Evangelization? Here’s one that probably won’t be discussed: Why has the Marshmallow Peep Phenomena has so swept the world for decades now at Easter time?!”

The current pope gets around faster than the prior pontiff. This is mostly because the popemobile now has added an E-Z Pass.

There are Vatican media discussions on the first papal visit to the USA probably occuring in 2015. President Obama will be interested in returning the favor of hosting the pontiff at the White House, since Pope Francis had welcomed President Obama to the Vatican earlier this year. People described their meeting as cordial and casual. A Late Night comedian said: ‘Maybe Obama can host a casual time with the pope, too. How about taking him out to the Cheesecake Factory in Pentagon City?’

People have wondered about the pope’s security team. Who does he have protecting him? Well, I would say that the woman that leads his protective team is quite special in her work. That person? Our Lady, Mary!

Smile. It’s good for your appearance!
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What–you want some more?!

There are waiters in our hometown Bowie who might think they are working in some 4-5 star NYC restaurant. But it’s just a chain restaurant along the highway here. I order the ordinary steak-medium, with the mashed potatoes and a garden salad with honey mustard, and sweetened iced tea– and they say: “Excellent choice, sir.” (What?! I think. Excellent choice? It’s just the main regular $20 fare! It’s not like I ordered the Organic Colorado Lamb in fresh peppermint with aligote potatoes with Porcini Flan and Chilled Rhubharb Soup, sided with a bottle of aged Bordeaux Pessac Leognan, at Bouley’s on West Broadway!
Ok. So, it seems I might be over-reacting to the waiter’s presentation! But the waiters here don’t write down the orders (since they think or their managers think themselves so talented and special) and you can almost guarantee that they’ll get the orders wrong. For two visits-in-a-row to this place, with the same quartet of friends, the waiter has brought out our orders wrong, nor did they bring the orders out together. My own order is wrong, and I am tempted to rant: “Wait a second! Where’s the excellent choice I ordered?” but I keep that to myself. I just say to them: “I think I ordered the mashed potatoes, though these onion rings don’t look bad.” ….Then, some time later, into the meal, before our group has finished our main courses, the waiter is back asking us for what we might like for dessert! (Another mistake on the waiter.) Perhaps in these waiters’ training they need go see what a real waiter does in a good restaurant. I think that might help. Or I can just go remind the manager that all the pretense of high end waiters doesn’t work, anyway, when your restaurant window view is of 18 wheelers rolling by. 🙂

There was a food joint where the waiter came over, and barked: “What’ll it be, Mack?” The customer said: “How are the hamburgers here?” The waiter turned and yelled back towards the kitchen, screaming: “Burger!” The customer was alarmed and taken aback, but the waiter said: “‘Cooked how?” They replied: “Well done.” The waiter turned away again, adding in a yell. “And torture it!”

If I could just have this ordinary restaurant in Bowie just live up to ordinary expectations, then I and my friends would be happy. If they could be so novel as to write down the order and tone their act all down, then it would be nice.

A man and his wife were out to dinner one night. The waiter tells them the night’s specials are Chicken Almondine with a choice of potato, and Baked Rockfish with a choice of potato. “The chicken sounds good; I’ll have that,” the woman says. The waiter nods. “And the starch?” the waiter asks. “Oh, he’ll have the fish,” she replies. Ba-dah-dum!

Check, please! Out.

Comedic Stylings II

+ + + +

When I deal with people in the Church or preach to them, I try to do it with a serious commitment to the service of Our Lord. My commitment is serious to Him, but my approach to people is to try to be a little on the lighter side of faith. It was part of my calling. If there are 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit or 8 Beatitudes, then I think if God would add an additional Gift to the offical list it might be the gift of humor, and if He were to point out an additional beatitude for Christians today he might make it as “blessed are the flexible– who don’t get too bent out of shape– because they can have a sense of humor blended into a hoped-for sense of humility. The Happiness of Heaven will be theirs”

I am so happy for the new pontiff we have, as he communicates the balance of a serious commitment to God and The Truth and the Body of Christ, the Church—while being Joyful in the Gospel, light and down-to-earth, and earnestly trying to be humble, following the Lord Jesus Whom he knows was the same.

There is a connection between being light-hearted and having a comedic, or happy, or accepting way with others. I see it in the New York Archbishop, Cardinal Dolan. While a few in the Catholic fold think he laughs too much, I don’t mind his happiness. He certainly knows his faith, and tries to be pastoral and reachable, and his kind and open demeanor convey a welcome to people. I like that about him.

He has a good practicing Catholic friend that is a comedian. At a fundraising banquet, Dolan allowed some teasing and fun poked at him by his friend Stephen Colbert. So at the Children’s Charities dinner, in his opening remarks, Colbert jokingly declared himself “America’s most famous Catholic.” Then he grinned and turned to look at Archbishop Dolan, and said: “I know what the cardinal is thinking: ‘Stephen, pride is a sin.’ Well, Cardinal, so is envy, so we’re even!” This little tease got a good laugh, so Colbert further joked on, telling everyone that Dolan had a chance to be elected pope in the last election, “but he blew it in the swimsuit competition.” Dolan had a chuckle at that one, too, appearing to take everything in good humor. The fundraiser brought in $3 million for NYC children. So the laughs were well worth it. Colbert, who will be permanently hosting the CBS Late Show in a few months, had an added joke focused on Pope Francis, bringing up the humble and modest nature of our new Roman Catholic leader. He joked that if the pope had planned the evening’s fundraiser (which had attracted generous Wall Street attendees to the dinner), “we wouldn’t be in white-tie at the Waldorf – we’d be in sweat pants at the corner booth of the IHOP… His Humbleness would be out washing the feet of the coat-check guy or something,” Colbert continued. “We get it, you’re modest (Holy Father)!” Colbert also poked fun at the dressed-up men in tuxes attending the event, saying:”(Look at us!) It’s like we (guys) all showed up at the same Halloween party dressed as the Monopoly guy!” (which I thought was an appropriate reference, as many attendees had residences at Park Place, er Park Avenue nearby…)

Colbert does take some daring chances for a laugh. Yet he is fairly discerning about it, especially in concern about religion. Comedy in religion is a sensitive balance. Sometimes people are very serious about their religion, and don’t want any lack of propriety. You can understand why they find it hard to fathom a smiling or comedic Savior, since His Mission in the end did involve the agony of The Cross. Thus, it is hard to see past His suffering.

Yet I think there also is more to Jesus. In His Resurrection to Glory, there was the balance to the Cross, in the Joy of His Rising and Victory for humankind. In the Resurrection account of Jesus awaiting on Galilee’s shore for His apostle’s recognition, there was some humor in His humbly sitting on the shoreline cooking up a fish and awaiting Peter’s catching on to His Master’s presence. There was something gleefully interesting in His letting those fishing apostles arrive to shore with a cash of 153 great and different fish. And, in another Resurrection account, it is with irony that the two persons who appeared like that of angels at the Tomb to greet Peter and John were Moses and Elijah (again), who say: He is not here! Why seek the Living One among the dead?!” Irony can often factor in humor. God’s punch line was something like: “You thought you could end Love and Life? Here is the Risen Son of Glory! What make you of it?”

I see humor at the start of Jesus’ ministry too. I can imagine it was a little bit funny to Jesus and Mary when the Lord had returned home to His mother, to introduce His choice of apostles and closest disciples. She sees that it’s four common fisherman, with one kinda clumsy and big one, in Simon Peter. Then another choice is a reformed but once despised tax collector, in Matthew, first called Levi. That’s a surprise! Then, there are a few key women followers, another surprise, especially in the woman with a “past” in Mary of Magdala. There also is an apostle who’s a very young man, in John… and a quite innocent, maybe naive apostle, in Nathaniel… not to miss, also, is the former zealot/terrorist Simon. Jesus introduces them to His Mother. There were such surprising choices, that you almost have to think that Mary thought it interesting, maybe puzzling and funny, too. ‘Here they are, Mother. We will turn Israel around.’

Ah, come on. There was some humor in that. The choice of apostles and other early chosen disciples had to seem like— well, like the Bad News Bears team, or something! Now–Mary didn’t doubt Jesus. She could be amused AND still totally believe Jesus. I, however, might have said in that moment of meeting Jesus’ key chosen followers: “‘Yikes, that’s your team?!”

Jesus used some illustrations that would have at least drawn a laugh, such as “a camel going through the eye of a needle.” Or a teaching about “A man getting born-again,” which Nicodemus did take literally, and asking about how to head backwards to his mother’s womb. Or Jesus looking at a situation and commenting: “It’s the blind leading the blind.” There was some humor in our Lord!

I use this perspective when I am in ministry as His priest. I regularly look for the comedic lining to many things I go through, just to help me handle the crazy and many things that life in the Church throws at me. It’s helpful.

In my Comedic Stylings II and a Half, I will write some jokes or humorous perspectives for you. That will follow this general view I take of comedy, humor and light-heartedness.

In last Wednesday’s Comedic Stylings 1 blog, you read of my account of trying to be a little funny before my fellow clergy (at last May’s priest-anniversary dinner). It was a hard thing to do. It usually calls to be serious at those functions, but I wanted to communicate to them how I thought a sense of humor could partly be the reason for the making a 25th anniversary. Most of the clergy at that dinner seemed to accept the comedic routine I gave, but I also thought I saw a few of them give out facial messages such as to suggest “Get the hook and pull him off the podium!”). They weren’t smiling. I was reminded of a quote by Steve Martin: “Yes, life is hard but comedy is really difficult.” (And, I think he was wearing a cowboy hat with eight arrows run through its top when he said it!) Of course, there also is the quote by W.C. Fields: “Not everybody abides in a person in amusement.”

I was happy to hear this week that a priest jubilarian in the 2014 honors also had some humorous anecdotes to share with his fellow clergy. Good! I have some company of priests who get by on keeping humor in the hearts.
An American Catholic bishop this past week was speaking to a person identifying themselves as atheist, and the person was complaining to his excellency that “atheists don’t get equal time in public affairs that have opening prayers for the government session to be blessed, while, though Catholics often are given such invitations.” The bishop asked the complaintant: “But, if given equal share, what would you say? Who would you pray to–to ask a blessing or goodness on everyone there–as you don’t believe in anyone or anything that offers a blessing, right? There is noone for you to call on! You’d only be able to offer a moment of silence, I do think.” The complaintant admitted: “Well, you are right about that. We’d only be able to not pray and ask only that people not be blessed, and just say: Everybody, you are on your own today!” The exchange ended with a smile.

5th Sunday of Easter Homily (Good Shepherd Sunday, Mother’s Day)

Sunday of Easter Homily May 11, 2014

There is a Good Shepherd Who is using the work and love of motherhood for His wonderful purposes, and Who also is using the work and love of Holy Mother Church for His Good for all. That’s our two-fold look at how the Good Shepherd works in our midst today.

Let’s start first with this Bible verse of John 10:10 and its theme. Jesus said: I AM the Good Shepherd…. ‘While others have come as robbers and thieves of your soul, who have misled you, taken from you, harmed you–all trying to avert the Truth and go around it’, I came that you might have life, and that you might have life abundantly. That’s our key verse of today’s gospel, with a little paraphrasing in the middle. We need to really trust in it and live it.

Every Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church takes us to this Good Shepherd chapter of John’s Gospel. It is meant to give us reassurance each mid-Easter of how Jesus has given His Word to be our Life, our Guide, and our Help in this life: He has come as Our Good Shepherd. The reassurance also is in His promise that He alone is the One that can eventually take us through the Gates of Eternity, one great day, yes—they we might have life in that supreme abundance ever after. If we will let Him shepherd us there. If indeed so, then Jesus says that He knows the Gate Opener, the Divine Father, who will let into Glory all who follow in behind Him. It’s a wonderful reassurance for our remaining with the Lord and following Him –meaningful life is found there and eternal life is invested there.

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Today’s Good Shepherd Sunday falls on our American holiday of Mother’s Day, so we should use “motherhood” in our theme for the homily, and see how that ties into shepherding. The Son of God came up with motherhood in the Beginning, at Creation, and He is happy to use mothers in his shepherding the world. Oh, yes, I should say: It’s one of the interesting things about the Lord Jesus’ ministry, He could do all the shepherding Himself, if wanted, but He chooses to share the shepherding work. He gets many involved with Him to make it a group effort under Him. He picks moms for a lot of His work to be done.

First, some words about shepherding and mothering. There are many similarities. They both are hard-working occupations, with 24-7 schedules, with due attention required to those under their care, with serious protection and defense of the unit involved. They both make sacrifices for the needs of the others. They both need to be reliable. Shepherds and mothers are alike. God can use them.

Shepherds. King David was first a shepherd and he wrote our psalm 23 of this liturgy. This most famous sheep man brought his lessons to the throne, and one was that God was a Shepherd in the Heavens, the God of Israel Who wanted to care for His chosen Israel as a Good Shepherd would his flock. David’s prayer as King for each Israelite to plead was “shepherd me, O God…. to even walk through the dark but to fear no evil… so to head on to the green pastures and the restful waters beyond, where the just can dwell together.” David’s spiritual hunch that the Lord of Israel was a Shepherd King came to be true when Israel received her Messiah and Chief Shepherd of souls, born as Jesus in the shepherd’s town of Bethlehem, in David’s lineage and David’s city. At Jesus’ Birth, even the shepherds of Bethlehem were shown His arrival, as we know from the Christmas story. Jesus was the great “I AM” Who came to us. In His ministry life, He revealed it: “I AM the Good Shepherd.”

Mothers. Jesus has used moms for shepherd work. They are the key component to family life. They have a key role in teaching children to love and be loved, and to understand God is to be loved by and One to be loved. Motherhood is so important to God that Jesus, our God incarnate, chose to arrive via a mother. He was born in her, and took her facial characteristics, and as a babe learned to mature and grow by her. The Son of God fed upon Mary’s breast in the beginning of his human visitation. That is showing high respect and dignity to motherhood.
There’s an old Yiddish (Jewish) proverb of humor that bridges the theme of God’s shepherding and moms. It goes: “God could not be everywhere, and, therefore, He made mothers. God, actually, can be everywhere, but you get the meaning, God uses Moms everywhere. Probably for you, sometimes, you might have wondered, “How does mom know everything?” “Does Mom have superpowers? Can she see through doors or behind her without turning her head? An Italian proverb is similar to the Yiddish one “Two things in life will never abandon you: The eyes of God that looks over you. The mother’s heart that follows you always.” And, I add to great American quotes on the subject: Abraham Lincoln said: “The greatest lessons I ever learned were learned at my mother’s knee.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “People are what their mothers make them.”

God has chosen to work and ministry of Moms to shepherd the Church in a multitude of ways. We want to thank our moms for when they were open channels for God to do His thing through you. We get a sense of Who God is through you. For mothers will often look out for their own, discipline them, or guide them. We’ve needed that. Many times, we know how you have your hearts invested in our own good. You will rejoice in our successes; you will grieve or have compassionate concern over our troubles or failures. That gives us an understanding of the Good Shepherd Jesus’ Heart for us.
In one other comparison, moms like to do things involving meals. It seems Jesus had the same plan.

Let us move to the second area of this homily: Shepherding and Holy Mother Church.

Jesus did not have a solo ministry act. He gathered disciples and a few key ones called apostles and He did nearly everything with them, and then imparted His mission to them, and asked them for full cooperation in His Work to be done. He had a good core group to agree to do so. Jesus founded a Church from that. It is still going to today. I like the related title that 1st Peter gives of Jesus. In 1st Peter 2:25 he says how Jesus is “the Shepherd and Guardian of Souls,” and in 1st Peter 5:4 that He is “The Chief Shepherd Who is revealed.” In calling Him, “Chief Shepherd”, we understand from the first Church how Jesus has wanted to inspire people to cooperate in His shepherding. He will be the Chief Shepherd and Lord, but He wants us assisting Him. He can use us in leading humankind to the true life, and for the ultimate abundant life.

In the beginning of “Church,” He named one to be the leader/servant. It was Peter. We heard about him acting in the lead in the Acts of the Apostles reading today. Peter was reminding everyone was Jesus core message was at the start, of “repent and be baptized for forgiveness of your sins.” Turn from sin and be immersed into a community of people who love God and are begun anew in His Kingdom.

Shepherding and the apostles are linked today intricately, as we call our bishops as our shepherds. They even carry the symbolic staffs. More importantly, they carry the authentic, faithful, authoritative Word of Christ, given to them. This helps the Church to shepherd people into Jesus’ Flock.

On the church walls are poster photos of the new pope saints, John the Twenty-Third and John Paul the Second. The Catholic Church honors these men for how much God used them to shepherd souls. Again, Jesus could do it all alone, but He set up a ministry, and these two men were extraordinary in that ministry (we call the papacy). Using authority given to Him by the Chief Shepherd Jesus, St. John the 23rd helped shepherd us into the modern times. I think of his inspiration for the Church to engage better with the Bible, and to suit the liturgy more to be an exchange of clergy and laity unto the Lord, and for the Church to work confidently in ecumenism because we had been given ministry to do so at Pentecost (when we were inaugurated). All this, in just a few short years under John the 23rd ministry, did the shepherding of the Church get so much assistance from the Holy Spirit.

Under St. John Paul II, likewise, this pope put so much emphasis on pastoral ministry and getting out and seeing the Flock around the world, or by reaching them via modern communication better. God did much shepherding via His Vicar. John Paul II emphasised family life a whole lot, and the catechism (he had a modern one written), and called people to a holiness of the body understanding, to counter a time of great disrespect to the body via sins. He was amazing. For priests and vocations he wrote a very insightful encyclical called “I will give you shepherds.” “Pastores Dabo Vobis.” Read it sometime. It is pretty revealing about what is our vocations difficulty these days, and how we can do better to receive the vocations that God is still sending to us. It is not a crisis of God and His priesthood, it is a turn from God’s elect to less want to be served by them, but in turn, it is turn from Christ Jesus. John Paul II is being used to shepherd the Church aright. It is very interesting. God has shepherded a Church by him. God safeguarded the Church by him. God comforted the Church by him. God led His people anew by him for those years of Karol Woltija among us, Pope and St. John Paul II.

That is a story of Holy Mother Church and shepherding.

Lest one would think that shepherding is only from “the top,” I add that the church, as John Paul II said, is only as strong as its family and parish unit. As people step up to serve the Lord–
then He can lead His members through them, like through good holy mentors, and religious educators in parish programs and in Catholic schools who will support the Catholic family values and her foundation.

You, as the “parishioner” and “parish family” are part of the Lord’s shepherding His flock. You have a part to play, just as anyone, even your daily loving and praying can set the world in following Jesus. As you practice your faith—you serve the Shepherd of Souls in the most wonderful way. I mentioned mothers, but Holy Mother Church is all of us, in the end. You will notice the banners and posters that are up of the First Holy Communion class and of the Confirmation class, who received Sacraments anew this past week here. So many were a part of that blessing to our youth and of our boys and girls. Their formation was by the hands of many, and remains in many hands.

It was a blessed week to be a part of here at St. Edward the Confessor parish. We saw new participation in the Sacraments, in the Saving life of Jesus Christ, and isn’t that what it’s all about? It was a week of love. That’s what a parish should be known for. She gathers, she feeds, she protects and defends, she comforts, she loves. She is constantly at work, and hard at it, while also being the place of sanctuary and rest and where those who desire to be just can gather, and be under One Shepherd, Jesus Christ, Head of the Body, the Church.

Photo of one of our parish moms (left end of photo) with daughter (in Confirmation robe), along with pastor, bishop, godparent and her brother at last Monday’s Confirmation.
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Comedic Stylings 2013

Comedic Silver Anniversary Stylings (2013) This is the text of a speech I gave last May 14. As you read it, it will make sense of what I will write in Comedic Stylings II (in my blog on this upcoming May 14th).

I think a good introduction is needed before you read the speech.

Intro
There is a comedian named Kathy Griffin who says that she promotes herself as doing “comedic stylings,” because (as she says) “comedy and being funny is a hard job, and I only want my audience to have the lowest expectation of me.” Clever. It is “comedic stylings” she wants you to expect, not actual laugh-out-loud comedy, so that, in the event you do find her funny, she will have exceeded expectations (and everyone goes home happy). Thus, an audience member might expect only to give some grins and a chuckle or too and a smile here and there through her show. And, if that’s all they do give her routine, it’s still a-o-k.

Last year at this time, I tried to do a comedic speech in front of many of my priest peers (and bishops) at a clergy dinner. Invited to make an after-dinner speech before about 150 Washington clergy (at our Jubilarians’ Recognition Dinner), I wanted to speak in a light and amusing manner to them. Yet I found it pretty hard to write funny lines that would ‘land right’ in that select audience. No Stephen Colbert am I. Still, I boldly went on with a comedic approach to the speech. I took Kathy’s comedic stylings approach with my clergy audience, opening up with this line: “I hope to give you a grin and a chuckle in my review of my silver anniversary story as a priest in this prebyterate… So welcome to my comedic stylings of 25 years in priesthood.”

I was told to get up and speak to my brother priests as soon as dessert was served. Two other jubilarians also would give their reflections and memories of their time in ministry, yet theirs were brief and to be not too descriptive. I was a bit nervous. I had a full 7-minute speech (of my “comedic stylings”) to offer. Would they really accept it? Could I risk them thinking that I was not serious and thankful for this clergy anniversary mark? Would I be misunderstood as just being goofy or carefree?

I wondered at the last minute if I should just rip up my speech and proceed immediately to a short and safe impromptu 40-second “Thank you, it’s been a nice, first twenty-five years in ministry. All is good. Peace to you. My parish assignments over the years were A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Thank you very much.”

And sit down.

But something moved me to keep to the light-hearted approach I had prepared. It was indeed the “real me” that found humor as a valuable asset for survival in the ministry. I crossed my fingers. I would give the comedic stylings speech!

This Clergy Jubiliarian Dinner/Banquet was held on May 14th last year. May 14th is the Feast of St. Matthias, the day to honor the apostle who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. I decided to start to use a comment around the day’s saint to base my whole speech, that Matthias’ job of replacing Judas was one of the guaranteed times in Church History when a new priest would be fantastically received and favored over the one he replaced. That would be my line of trying to be funny, er, that is, comedic in style, as I would relate all the popular priests I had to replace, in parishes who had really liked them.
I can say that the speech was not a home run, or even a double, but just a clean single (baseball terms for a nice hit, but not a big hit). It remained in the grin and chuckle category and hardly at all in laugh out loud. But that’s all right. I think!

SpeechParking Fine in Cathedral Drop-Off-Only Zone.” Well, I thought fine meant “fine” but he said “no, fine means bad.” Anyway, I moved my car to a parking garage… and no, that’s not a true story!”

But I would like to take a humorous approach to this speech. I hope to give you a grin and a chuckle in my review of my silver anniversary story as a priest in this prebyterate. I will share true stories of my assignments but from a light-hearted angle. Not laugh-out-funny but rather a grin and share manner of sharing: So welcome to my comedic stylings of 25 years in priesthood. I have been in 7 assignments and 8 rectories since ordained a priest at St. Matthew’s by Cardinal Hickey on May 21st of 1988. Thus, I relate to today’s saint of the day, Matthias, as he might be the patron saint of the new priest in the parish, or patron of the newly assigned priest. His new assignment, as told in the first chapter of Acts, is well known. Matthias was the newly assigned clergyman. Much of what anyone knows about him is that he’s famous for replacing a priest named Judas. Now, I must say, it was an ideal assignment, not like one I ever had. Matthias was replacing someone that even Jesus wished “had never been born.” Judas had betrayed The Lord, and now was gone. A replacement was needed to take the assigned twelfth place. Excuse me for the joking approach, but has any priest has ever had a more win-win situation for replacing the previous guy than Matthias did for filling Judas Iscariot’s spot? They were going to love Matthias! All he had to do was not be Judas Iscariot! I can hear Simon Peter tell the newly arrived Matthias. ‘Just smile and be nice and you’ll be beloved. We are so relieved to get you in here. Welcome, welcome!

Now, for myself, I’ve had to replace priests in parishes who were “beloved.” Seven times. I wasn’t replacing any Judas Iscariot, but only a successive number of beloved John types.

In my first parish, I had to replace the great Fr. Mark Hughes. He had been there numerous years and quite happy in that long first assignment, and everybody liked him a lot there at St. Mary’s. When I got to the Rockville parish to replace him, I heard from people there about how sad it was that “the wonderful Fr. Mark had to go, with his sporty homilies, his friendly ways, and his involvement in many things.” Well, there you go, I had it harder than Matthias. My first assignment was replacing a legend. Like trying to replace Brooks Robinson at third base.

So I go on to other assignments over the years, like to St. John the Baptist Silver Spring, and again, I replace a very popular person in Fr. Jack Hurley. He had been there for a long time, too. The people said: “Oh, we just loved his Calvin and Hobbes homilies, and Fr. Jack was so nice. Why’d he have to go?!…” (smile) Great! Thanks, Jack, for they all loved you, and here I come to push you out! ‘Who’s this new priest(?)’, I bet they wondered… (smile) So you see, new and re-assignments aren’t easy! Not when you’re following great priests.

When I was first made a pastor in another assignment, one of the parish council members came up to me and said: “You may be alright, but you’ll never be another Fr. Vinnie Donovan. God rest his soul. He was fabulously great here for a long time. We miss him. They’ll never be another like him either!” (smile)

Wonderful (!) This being re-assigned onto new parishes wasn’t any easy thing. (smile) Are you getting the picture?!

I remember replacing Msgr. Brady, too. He was 10 years at Holy Angels as pastor. Very happy there, but heading into retirement. John was doing all sorts of things there, saving the frugal parish lots of money, as he was full-time maintenance man and plumber, as well as the wise sage to many people, the fundraiser to the school, skipper to the Sea Scouts, chaplain to Boy Scouts, and much more, all the while covering all parish Masses 365 days a year. The people realized, as I replaced him, that I really couldn’t replace him. Not as well. I was not all of the above. So, once again, I had it much harder than today’s saint Matthias. (All kidding, St. Matthias!) But Brady was not easy to replace with Barry! Ah, but I managed somehow to get by with just being me! (smile) And I handled the challenge with the gift of humor. Had to.

Fr. Kosty at Medley’s Neck was not easy to replace either, having nine years of his best priesthood there. Driving the Dale Earnhardt Chevy Malibu car around the county in popular recognition, and gathering bikers and blessing their motorcycles annually, and giving great weddings, and more. And being so liked by the staff there. Ah yes! Once again, I was replacing someone popular. Thanks Bob for being so popular!
Now, as you know, I am kidding. I wasn’t envious or trying to compete or anything. I was happy they had liked my predecessors. Plus, I managed to do alright with the folks at each place, as at Our Lady’s parish, too… and I look back with a smile and grin. God would help me fit in wherever I would go. People would like me. Even really grow to accept me. Like at Our Lady’s.
Then, boom! I was transferred. I was visiting another parish and its pastor in the county, where the Cardinal was visiting, and he met me there, and said: Oh, by the way, I’d like you to move to another parish this Summer. So I would only be there at OLMN for three years. Par for the course!

So, move forward to my last transfer— before it happened, I was talking to a family member, and they said that their St. Edward’s parish had some great pastors in its days, but that a “favorite one was Fr. Bill Foley. He was terrific.” Ok, I think you know what happens next: The favorite Fr. Foley gets moved, and I become the replacement to the possibly best pastor my own family member says they ever had there at St. Edward–Bowie. (Smile.) Sorry, but here I come! Thanks Fr. Bill for being so wonderful, right before I get to St. Edward’s parish as their newest and fifth pastor.

Yes the Holy Spirit and his work through the local Church has led me to laugh at these repeat situations. And, so today, in having to give a speech on priesthood on St. Matthias’ feast, I was amused to think: Oh, St. Matthias, did you know how easy you had it in being someone’s replacement?! It was easy when you first were chosen to replace, well, you-know-who!

But, then, it is good to have Matthias as an intercessor today. My named patron for the newly assigned priest. Perhaps if it a feast of St. Paul, I could have related better, he being the priest and pastor of some many churches, as in Thessanolika, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, the Galatian territory, Colossae, Lystra, and (you know) those other many places? Compared to Paul I have had it easy with the fewer number, or compared to my fellow jubilarian, John McKay, who has been in 14 assignments in 40 years, faithfully, I have had it easy. John, for your ministry of flexibility to the local Church, they ought to build you a monument for such service, maybe one right outside here in the outside courtyard by the chapel. For it is not easy to move around from place to place. You are blessed for your compliance.

Now as I teased St. Matthias as having an “easy first assignment,” I’d like to finish by saying that I know his true story. He had a challenging life from that AD 33 start to his death in 80 AD. We wore red garments for the Mass tonight, the colors of martyrdom, for Matthias was stoned to death for preaching the gospel in where modern day Georgia is located, up near Russia into the Caucacus region. St. Matthias was amazing for his priestly service in the First Church. All salute to you, Matthias.

God bless, too, the priests of eight parishes (one in residence) who lived with me, preceded me, or followed me later— as we each have tried to give good service to these communities of faith. I pray that there will always be a good supply of happy and well-liked priests in our Washington Archdiocese parishes and Church. I pray that the people of God will be well-served by us. God bless our Archbishops and bishops here in the Church of Washington, present and past, who have served as apostles among us.

I also give a short out to the Bowie pipeline of recent vocations. I am proud of being of that crew, and of the St. Pius the Tenth contribution of many clergy, priests and deacons to the Archdiocese. I can kid the other vocations hub of Sacred Heart parish in Bowie, who almost have as many recent vocations as SPX has had. But I think that we’ve had more from St. Pius, and we have a bishop among our vocations! (There!) Bishop Barry Knesthout came from my neighborhood, we went to the parochial school, and I was in his oldest sister’s class in high school and in a youth group in his house through high school under his Deacon dad Tom, who helped inspire my dad to also become a Rev. Mr. Barry. The first modern priest vocation in our neighborhood came a few years prior to our own ones in 1988 and 1989, when Fr. Richard Welch became a Redemptorist in 1980. (Currently, Bowie’s first modern priestly vocation serves as a Redemptorist in New York Archdiocese’s Tribunal.) Then in 1988 you served at my first Mass at St. Pius, then later that Summer Fr. Paul Breslin of our parish and neighborhood was ordained a Franciscan, now serving in Peruvian missions, then in 1989 I con-celebrated your first Mass. We all grew up a mile from one another. Then more vocations came following along. From our parish, and over at Sacred Heart.

It is with joy that we can celebrate the vocations God has given to us, and “Lord, we pray for more priest and deacon vocations from Bowie, including from my assignment at St. Edward the Confessor. Amen.”

First Communion at St. Edward’s

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Above: Child prepares for First Communion Mass. Children sing their First Communion Day Song in Mass. A First Communicant poses at the altar after Mass, with me, and his sister. (More pics at end of this blog.)

Homily

God shares and so we share.

God shares life, by making the world and putting ourselves in it. So we live in this world in a sharing way. God asks us to be sharers (or stewards). We have all the things in this world to share, (such as things colorfully decorated on the your nice posters you made for church) like putting up the felt grapes for wine and felt wheat cut-outs for showing the grain that is made to bread so to eat, and those real things will be coming up the aisle soon for our sharing in the Mass.

God is life and we share with Him when our heart is beating, or our lungs are breathing, or our eyes are seeing, or our hands are working, or our feet are walking. We share life with God in all of that.

But God wanted to share even more with us. God in Heaven wanted to come among us, as the Son of God- Jesus did. He said: I want to be near you. I want to be with you always. He shared His very self to us.

God lived in a perfect Heaven, but people have wondered: “Just how far is Heaven?! Pretty far, I imagine! And what would God look like if one of us? And what would God give to us from Heaven? God answered those wonders, and said: I will bring Someone and something of Heaven close to you. Jesus came. God shared His Son. Jesus said: I have come down from Heaven, and I have seen the Almighty Father, since I have been with Him. The Holy Spirit, too. But I will come to share my company and then my gifts to you, right here on earth. At the end of his earthly life among us, Jesus of Nazareth showed how He was leaving gifts with us so we could remain with Him in that way.

He said: Since I have given myself as Body to you believers, and Savior, now I can pass along gifts with that. Such as Baptism and Holy Communion.

Jesus said: Baptize people, because then I can remain and be with people inside of them, with My holiness.
He also said: Have Holy Communion. Take this Bread, it is My Body given up for you. When you share it with Me, you will be with Me and I in you. It is my Holy Communion with you. (The word Communion means “common union” or being together as one, in common, sharing in common). That is why I want you to remember this word today of SHARING. Holy Communion is Jesus sharing Himself with you, and you and the other people here in church sharing ourselves with Jesus.
‘Got it?

Jesus shares with us this Way of being together with Him all through our lives on earth: Communion.
He shared this Gift on His very last day with his apostles. He had a Mass, made them priests to keep the Mass as a gift we could share in history, and He broke the bread, gave it out to them in a sharing way, and said: “Take this all of you, This is My Body, which is given up and shared with you.” (Those are like the words we use in every Mass, do you recognize them?)

Today, people go to the priests, and gather at a Mass around them, and Jesus again is there to share Himself with us: “Take this holy bread, and share it: This is My Body.” Today, you will be able, as New First Communicant boys and girls, to take this Holy Bread, this Eucharist, this Gift of Jesus to be with you. That is exciting. I am glad for you. All of us here are glad for you.

Raffi read the words of the apostles from the first churches to do this Eucharist in memory and obedience and sharing with Jesus. We heard in that reading how the people came together for church (way back then) and they had Holy Communion. Like we are still doing as Catholics today.

Gabrielle read the words of the early Church doing this, from the Acts of the Apostles, and it says that they shared everything with one another, they shared in coming together in their time to pray, they shared prayers and songs, and they Holy Communion, and then later they shared things with one another, being sure that people had what they needed. So, being the Holy Church IS about sharing.

Right in this Holy Catholic Mass, it is about the Lord sharing Holy Communion to you for the first time.
God is great. He shares, so we share.

I enjoy being one who distributes Holy Communion to people, sharing the miracle Bread of Jesus to people who have gathered together, like yourselves. Then, when all of us have received Communion at a Mass, we are told by Jesus to go in peace and out to the world to share and care for others with His help.
We are the Body of Christ, broken and shared, so that Jesus can show that God cares and shares in this world, and if people want to receive His Heavenly Grace, it is being shared out.
Amen.
Below: Pics of some First Communicants
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