Sunday, August 19, 2018

Latest Scandals: How Could This Happen?

The following is the homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, which I gave this weekend. 

Bishop Robert Gruss has asked the priests and of his diocese (Rapid City, S.D.) to share with you a letter that he wrote to us in response to the latest round of scandals involving Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report which was released this week. 

In his letter he quotes Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said that the abuse and the ignoring or hiding of it "have caused great harm to people's lives."  Then Bishop Gruss agreed with the proposal of the Bishop of Albany, N.Y. that an independent panel of lay people should be created as "an important step forward in making lasting reforms in the Church in regard to the investigation of Bishops." 

He concluded his letter: "In the meantime, members of the Body of Christ are suffering.  The Church is suffering.  Let us all turn to prayer and sacrifice and ask the Lord Jesus, who gave his life for his Church, to lead her to holiness, true healing and conversion."

I'm sure the question on everyone's minds these days is "How?  How could priests and bishops do such things?"

In 2012, in a video message to the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI asked a similar question.  He asked: "How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord's Body ... have offended in this way?  It remains a mystery." 

Yes, it is the "mystery" of evil and sin.  But I think our readings today can be used to reflect a bit more on this "mystery" of evil.

Our first two readings (Proverbs 9: 1-6 and Ephesians 5: 15-20) speak of wisdom and foolishness.  What is "wisdom?"  It's not mere knowledge.  Not facts and data.  Computers can store vast amounts of data and facts--knowledge--but they do not have wisdom.  Wisdom is more than technology.  I'm reminded of something that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, who was once Bishop of Rapid City, wrote: "Fools with tools are still fools." 

Wisdom is something deeper that knowing a lot of information.  It is a deeper knowledge.  To have wisdom is to know the ultimate reason or purpose of a thing.  It is to know the ultimate reason or purpose of life and to choose accordingly. 

Our purpose or end in life is to know, love, and serve God.  It is, as Jesus said in response to a question about the greatest commandment, to love God and love our neighbor.  The choices we make in fulfilling this purpose of life lead us ultimately to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola helps us understand wisdom in the "First Principle and Foundation" of his "Spiritual Exercises."  It means holding on to whatever helps us fulfill our purpose and attain the goal for which God created us.  And it means rejecting whatever hinders us from fulfilling our purpose and attaining our goal. 

Those who committed the sins and crimes that we are hearing about these days, or who ignored or covered them up, were fools.  And by that I mean not simply stupid people who made mistakes.  They were fools in a deeper sense.  They did not keep both their own and the victims ultimate end in mind. They were fools who did not consider the brevity of earthly life and the eternity that follows it. 

Pope Benedict XVI, after asking how the scandalous and sinful crimes could have occurred and answering that it was a "mystery," went on to say: "Evidently their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit." 

In other words, they did not think of the sacrilege of celebrating Mass after what they had done, nor did they allow the transforming power of the Eucharist to change them.  They were simply going through the motions of celebrating Mass with little or no attention to what they were doing.

I think there are two important implications and challenges for us.

First, be wise!  This life will one day end.  Choose well.  Choose what leads to heaven and not what leads to that state of eternal alienation from God that we call hell. 

Second, pray the Mass.  Don't let your celebration of Mass "become merely a matter of habit."  It's not enough to simply be physically present at Mass, just as it's not enough for a lamp cord and plug to be physically in the presence of the outlet.  In order for the power to reach the bulb and light it up, the cord needs to be plugged in.  Just so, we need to "plug into" the transforming power of the Eucharist.  We need to allow the power that transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to transform us. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Today is the feast of the Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha.  At St. Francis Mission we have an outdoor statue of her and this morning, at St. Thomas church in Mission, S.D. we celebrated Mass in her honor.  Fr. Jacob Boddicker, S.J. serves this parish and here is the homily he gave. 

Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
July 14th, 2018
Is. 6:1-8 Mt. 10:24-33
Today we celebrate the life and witness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, and our sister in Jesus Christ. We see in her a beautiful testament to the truth that the Son of God came to save the people of all nations and to bring them together as one people, as brothers and sisters of our Father in Heaven.
There are some who see her as a sign of the conflict between the Church and the native people of this country; some worry that she can be used as a symbol to convince native people to abandon their traditions and culture. But even from the time of her death she was always known as a Mohawk, as a daughter of her people; even in the earliest image we have of her, painted ten years after her death, she is wearing the beaded moccasins of her people.
She kept much of the outward signs of her Mohawk heritage; but what of her Mohawk heart? Did she abandon the beliefs of her people in favor of Christianity? I would say no. Her conversion is not the conversion of a person who was convinced by an argument, but rather of someone who encountered the God in whom she already believed in an entirely new way: she came to know a God she could fall in love with, and realized that this same God already loved her more than she could ever have imagined. Kateri came to love God so much that her final words were, “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”
When she was four years old she lost her parents to smallpox, a disease that almost took her own life as well but instead left her scarred and mostly blind. Her uncle, the chief of a nearby clan, took her in and raised her. It wasn’t until she was nineteen that she was baptized, after years of her uncle forbidding her to study Christianity. Yet ever since she was eleven years old she was attracted to the faith; something about it spoke to her, and we might suspect that it had something to do with the scarred man on the wooden cross: a God that knew suffering and abandonment like she did.
Kateri watches over SFM dental clinic
Her family constantly pressured her to marry and to take on the traditional roles of a young Mohawk woman, but her heart wasn’t in it: she didn’t desire to marry, and this was before her conversion. A few years after her baptism, however, we see in her words the fruit of a relationship with God that had existed throughout her life, but had in recent years deepened and matured radically:
“I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made. I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for husband and He alone will take me for wife.”
She had always worshipped God, at least as she had understood God. She understood her place as a creation of a Creator, a creature in a world that was made with a sacred order. Kateri could never have guessed that this Creator could also one day become the Father she had lost in her childhood, that He had a Son who could satisfy the deepest longings of her heart and understand her suffering and loneliness in a way no one on earth could: she could never have guessed that His own Mother—the Blessed Virgin—would become her Mother. In God she had found everything she desired in her heart of hearts; she came to see a God that not only was to be worshipped and thanked, but loved and served.
This nearly-blind girl now saw God more clearly than she ever had, and with this new love filling her heart she began to live as a disciple of Jesus her Teacher, as a servant of her gentle Master. As Jesus demands of us in our Gospel today, she endeavored in all things to become more like Him, fearing not nothing in this world that might cause her harm or difficulty. She feared only what could kill her growing soul, what could turn her away from God, and so she lived a life of prayer and penance. The prayer practices of her people, such as piercing her flesh with thorns as a prayer sacrifice for those in need, or in thanksgiving to God for a favor she’d received, were not entirely abandoned, but given their fullest meaning. Even the meaning of her suffering was transformed as it drew her closer to Jesus who had suffered for her, the Jesus whose own Body, like hers, was covered in scars.
Through her words and deeds Kateri spoke in the light what God had spoken to her in the private darkness of her heart: she became a light to her people, and even to the Jesuits in her village. When she realized that she could no longer live among her people, as their frustration with her had become too great, she fearlessly journeyed through the wilderness to Canada to live with other native Christians, knowing that just as a sparrow does not fall to the ground without our Father’s knowledge, she, too, was looked after: every strand of her dark hair was counted.
Base of the statue
Because she acknowledged Jesus before others we know that Jesus acknowledged her before our heavenly Father: she would not be a saint of the Church if it were otherwise. Now she beholds the angels swarming about the throne of God and joins in singing their prayer-song—“Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Hosts…”—a song which we sing or recite with her at every Mass.
Kateri, the Mohawk girl who heard the call of God in her heart and said, “Here I am!” Kateri, who once covered her head with a blanket to hide her scars and now is more glorious than even the greatest angels because she is redeemed by the Son of God. Kateri, our blind sister who saw the path to God and invites us to follow her in the footsteps of Jesus. Kateri Tekakwitha: a daughter of her people, a daughter of God and of Mary, a daughter of the Catholic Church, our sister and our friend.
St. Kateri, pray for us.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Finding God on a Golf Course

For more than sixteen years, around the 4th of July, I've been going to a Jesuit vacation house near Waupaca, Wisconsin.  Every day, unless it rains or our bodies need a break, a group of us plays golf.  Recently I was on Relevant Radio and talked about finding God on vacation.  We all need a vacation,
Fr. Ed Mathie, S.J. 
but not a vacation from God who never takes a vacation from us.  In talking about finding God while on vacation I thought about all the ways that I encounter God on the golf course.

First, God is there in the beauty of Nature: the trees, the water, the sun, the bright blue skies the day after it rains, and the puffy clouds which my friends from Washington, DC tell me can't be found there.  All creation reveals something of the Creator's beauty.

Second, God is present in my friends whom I haven't seen in a year.  In the time we have together--a  chance to catch up on what we have been doing and to support one another, and in good-natured joking,  and in the generosity we share allowing one another "gimme" putts (which one guy says are putts "within the circle of friends") or the inevitable "mulligans" (on the first tee and tenth, or travelling, or when one really needs one), and in the praise we have for one another's good shots--God is present supporting, joking, being generous and forgiving, and giving compliments.

But I think the most important way that God is present to me on the golf course is in the lesson that I need for every shot.  When I golf my temptation is to think that I can control the outcome: that if I just put a little more "oomph" into the shot or direct it, then I'll have a good shot.  That never works. With every shot I try to practice the lesson of letting go of control, just taking an easy swing, and allowing the club to do the work. 

I need that lesson away from the golf course.  I can't control the outcomes of my prayer, my work, my life.  I can only take an easy "swing" and leave the outcome to God.

Golf is another way that I practice the popular saying, "Let go. Let God."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Birthday, John!

Usually the Church celebrates a feast on the death date of a saint.  That is their "birthday" into heaven.  But for three people we also celebrate their earthly births--Jesus (on Christmas Day), the Blessed Virgin Mary (on September 8, nine months after a celebration of her Immaculate Conception), and John the Baptist (today, June 24).  Three months ago we celebrated the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive and that her kinswoman Elizabeth was sixth months pregnant with a son, the one who has come to be known as St. John the Baptist.

You and I celebrate the days on which we were born and we also, at the end of our lives, are remembered and prayed for by our friends and relatives.  In between those dates--our birth and our death--we live our earthly lives.  John the Baptist is a great example for how to live those days.

What is the most important lesson that we can learn from John?  Humility.  In the second reading at Mass today (Acts 13: 22-26), in a speech of St. Paul, we hear how John told the many people who had come to follow him that he was not the Messiah, the Anointed One.  In fact, he said, he was even lower than the Messiah's servant: "Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet."

Yet our first reading (Isaiah 49: 1-6), in words that the Church applies to John the Baptist, says that "it is too little for you to be my servant.... I will make you a light to the nations...."  That sounds pretty glorious.  However, light is humble.  We don't turn a light on and then focus our attention on it.  Light is not there to be stared at. It does not draw attention to itself.  Rather, it humbly enlightens a place so that one can find one's way in the dark.

We too are called to be light for others, not to draw attention to ourselves but to help others find their way through the darkness of the world.

There is an expression: "to make a name for oneself."  Those who try to make a name for themselves want to become famous so that many people will recognize their name.  They want to draw attention to themselves.

John the Baptist did not try to make a name for himself.  He was given a name by God.  He should have been called "Zechariah," after his father.  But on the day of his circumcision, his parents made it clear that in obedience to God's will, which came to them through the Angel Gabriel, their son was to be named "John."  It's a name that means "God is gracious."  John's identity was to show the graciousness of God who sent the Son to live our life, suffer with and for us, and even share in our death so that we could share in his resurrection.  John prepared the way for the One who embodied the graciousness of God, the goodness and generosity of God.  John pointed to Jesus, the Incarnation of God's graciousness.

You and I were also given a name by God.  It wasn't the name our parents chose for us but the name that we received when we were baptized and joined to the Body of Christ.  We were named "Christian."  We became "other Christs."  The name "Christ" means "Anointed One."  At baptism we were anointed with the Sacred Chrism which is used to consecrate the altar and four walls of new churches, setting that space apart for the sacred purpose of worship.  When I was ordained, the bishop anointed my hands with Sacred Chrism, consecrating them for the sacred purpose of offering worship to God.  And when we were baptized and then confirmed, our foreheads were anointed with that same Sacred Chrism, consecrating each of us for the sacred purpose of offering worship to God.

We do that when we celebrate Mass and offer the perfect worship, joining ourselves to the perfect offering of Jesus as he renews his greatest act of love for the Father and for us.  But our worship doesn't end there.  We go forth and continue our worship in our daily lives, offering every thought, word, and deed, every prayer, work, joy, and suffering to God as an act of love and for the salvation of souls.  Our Daily Offering prayer helps us remember to offer the worship of daily life for which we have been anointed.

Like John, we are now called to live up to our name--Christian.  We are called to be true to the anointing and name that we received at baptism.  We are called not to make a name for ourselves but to make the Name of Jesus known and glorified.  For it is in this Name alone that the world has come to know salvation.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Planting Seeds of Faith, Hope, and Love

At our grade school--Sapa Un Catholic Academy
It's over a year since my last post and 10 and a half months since I left the Apostleship of Prayer (the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network) to become director of St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota (www.sfmission.org).  It feels as though I actually have three jobs--chief administrator, fund-raiser, pastor of the reservation--and as a result I haven't taken the time to blog.  Plus, I wondered whether it was appropriate to use this blog which was so closely connected to the Apostleship of Prayer.  However, those who make a daily offering and strive to live the spirituality of the AoP are always members.  And I've had a lot to "offer up" this past year.  That being said, I want to return to blogging and to begin with my homily for this weekend, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Last week I was in Omaha and I sure found Google Maps on my cell phone to be very helpful for getting around to see various people.  But this app would have been no help at all if I didn't know the destinations.  Without a destination there would be no directions on how to get there.

Each of us has an internal GPS that tells us something about our destination.  It's called "conscience."  It's an innate sense of right and wrong that doesn't need to be taught.  Just think of the following situation: A teacher tells his or her first graders that at the end of the day all the boys will get a chocolate bar and all the girls will have to stay after school.  There would be an outcry: "That's not fair!"  Who told them that it wasn't fair?  Children have an innate sense of "fairness" that doesn't need to be taught.  Of course, as time goes by this moral GPS or conscience needs further development, updates as it were, that help it grow and stay on track.

This is where knowing our destination is essential.  What's our goal or destination in life?  In our second reading (2 Corinthians 5: 6-10), St. Paul writes about his and our "home," our true home.  Earth is not our true home.  Life on earth is a journey.  Our true home or "haven" is heaven.  We are here on earth to learn how to breathe the atmosphere of heaven, to get ready to go to our true home.

But we don't go there alone.  A good friend of mine, Deacon Pat Coy of Custer, South Dakota, says that when we enter the pearly gates Jesus will be there to ask us "How many did you bring with you?"

In our Gospel (Mark 4: 26-34) Jesus presents another way of looking at this.  He uses the image of farming.  We are here on earth to scatter seeds--seeds of faith, hope, and love.  We can till the soil and get rid of the weeds, but we cannot make those seeds grow.  Only God can.  Thus we do the best we can but leave the results to God.  This is where faith and trust come into play.

Pope Francis put it well in his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel."  He wrote in sections 278 and 279:

Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree....  Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.... This certainty ... involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit, without claiming to know how, or where, or when.  We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others.  ... The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results.  We know only that our commitment is necessary.  Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Transition


On the second Tuesday of every month, a group of volunteers come to the national offices of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network to stuff envelopes with our monthly leaflets.  Today a larger group than gathered.  It was a chance to say farewell.  

On July 17 Fr. William Blazek, S.J. will become the new director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network in the U.S. and on July 29 I'll be moving to begin a new assignment.  The last fourteen years have been filled with many blessings, one of which is the group of volunteers who came once a month to pray together, to get the monthly leaflets ready to send out around the country and even across the English-speaking world, and to have fun together.

Everyone brought treats which we enjoyed after we celebrated Mass and before the work began.  One person brought a beautiful farewell cake and seven year old Quinn entertained us with his violin.

My blogging has been so sporadic lately because I find myself living in three worlds: current commitments, getting things ready for the new director, and getting ready to move and take over my new mission.  What is it?

Starting July 31 I will be the next director of St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in western South Dakota.  Though I've never lived and worked there, this is a ministry with which I am familiar.  From 1977-80 I taught at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation, just west of the Rosebud.  From 1989-95 I worked at the Sioux Spiritual Center, a retreat house for Native people that served the five reservations that are part of the Rapid City Diocese.  With Fr. John Hatcher, S.J., whose place I will be taking at St. Francis, we coordinated the deacon and lay ministry formation program of the diocese.  And from 1995-9 I was the Wisconsin Province Assistant to the Provincial for Native Ministry.

In 1886, shortly after the Lakota people were forced to live on reservations, Jesuits founded St. Francis Mission and began serving their pastoral, social, and educational needs.  Here is the website for St. Francis--an old mission that has become a new mission with its innovative programs.  

I hope to continue blogging and working with Catholic radio stations around the country.  I'll also always continue to offer up each day, returning love for the great love Jesus has shown us and praying with and for the intentions of the Holy Father and of all Apostles of Prayer.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Doing Greater Works as We Climb

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A (John 14: 1-12), we see Jesus at the Last Supper getting impatient with his apostles.  He has been with them for several years.  He is giving them his final discourse and they clearly do not know him.  In response to Philip who asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus says: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

Right before this Jesus had declared: “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.”

Jesus, fully divine, is the truth about who God is.  God is love, a love that is willing to give all for the good of humanity.  Jesus, fully human, is also the truth about what humanity is meant to be.  Jesus is the way to live.  Following Jesus and the trail to heaven that he has blazed, we will come to the eternal life for which we were made.

In his Ascension Day homily in 2013, Pope Francis compared Jesus to a mountain-climbing guide: “In Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior, of our Advocate.”

Jesus is not only ahead of us on our journey through life, having arrived at life’s goal, he is with us.  He is present in the Eucharist.  He is present in his Body, in our brothers and sisters.

This latter presence is what some of the early Christians missed.  The first reading (Acts 6: 1-7) shows that the early Church wasn’t always the idyllic picture of harmony that is painted in earlier chapters of Acts (see 2: 42-47 and 4: 32-35).  There was racism and division.  The Greek-speaking Christians were being neglected by the Jewish Christians.  In response, a new ministry developed to care for the poor. 

But without a change of heart that leads one to see in every person a brother or sister in Christ, new ministries are not enough.  A deeper vision of unity is required.

The second reading (1 Peter 2: 4-9) provides that.  The Church is a “spiritual house” that has Jesus as its cornerstone.  Members of the Body of Christ are “living stones.”  We are “a holy priesthood,” “a royal priesthood.”  Through baptism we share in the priesthood of Jesus who replaced the old animal and grain sacrifices before him with his one perfect offering of himself on the cross.  This offering is made present every time we celebrate Mass.  There we offer the “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.”  We offer ourselves with Christ for the salvation of the world.  Then we go forth from Mass to live the “spiritual sacrifices” in our daily lives.  

This is the spirituality of offering that is at the heart of the Apostleship of Prayer.  We begin each day offering ourselves—all our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings; all our thoughts, words, and deeds; every breath and every heartbeat.  This offering of our day to God with Jesus is very important and can work wonders.

Jesus promised this when he said in the Gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones that these, because I am going to the Father.” 

Really?  Do I believe that we can do greater works than the ones Jesus did during his earthly life?

Three events of the last one hundred years should convince us that our faith-filled prayers can work wonders.  All three are connected with the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

First, there is the story of Jesuit Father Hubert Schiffer about whom I wrote August6, 2016.  He and several other Jesuits, living near the epicenter of the first atomic bomb, survived and lived for several more decades.  A Defense Department expert could not find any physical reason for their survival.  He concluded that a power greater than that of an atomic bomb protected them from harm.  According to Father Schiffer, “we believe that we survived because we were living the Message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.”

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and I’m convinced that prayer was behind its destruction.  See my blog post of October 3, 2016 for a photo of a section of the wall that can be seen at Fatima.

Lastly, on October 13, 1991, a movie about Fatima was shown on Soviet television.  The movie was repeated on November 7, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  On Christmas Day, the flag of the U.S.S.R. at the Kremlin was lowered for the last time.  The Soviet Union broke apart and Communism ended its stranglehold on that part of the world.  Since then, 29,000 churches have been built or reopened, the number of monasteries has grown from 15 to 788, the 500 theological seminaries are full, and the Russian government spends over $100 million a year for the restoration of churches. 

I believe these are miracles wrought by prayer. 

But wars and conflicts continue.  The threat of nuclear war remains and has perhaps intensified.  The Message of Fatima is as essential as ever—prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners.  When he visited Fatima a year after the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II said: “In the light of a mother’s love we understand the whole message of the Lady of Fatima. The greatest obstacle to man’s journey towards God is sin, perseverance in sin, and, finally denial of God.  The deliberate blotting out of God from the world of human thought. The detachment from him of the whole of man’s earthly activity. The rejection of God by man.  Can the Mother, who with all the power of her love nurtured in the Holy Spirit, who desires everyone’s salvation, keep silence about what undermines the very basis of their salvation?  No, she cannot.”

Nor can we keep silence.  We pray and we offer our lives, one day at a time, for peace in the world and the salvation of all.