Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sinner and Called

On this day, the feast of St. Matthew, sixty-two years ago, a teenager walked out of the confessional, relieved and at peace. The profound experience of God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation planted a seed.  He felt moved to offer himself to God in a religious vocation, as a Jesuit.

Years later he was ordained a bishop and he chose, as his episcopal motto, "Miserando Atque Eligendo."  This phrase comes from a homily of St. Bede that is the second reading in the Breviary's Office of Readings today.  Jesus saw the tax collector (Matthew, the sinner) and "because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said 'Follow me.'"  

The Jesuit bishop, of course, was Jorge Bergoglio who is now known as Pope Francis.  At the age of seventeen in 1953 he experienced God's mercy in such a profound way that he, like Matthew, left the life he had planned and followed Jesus.  He saw himself as a sinner and called.  Not, "a sinner yet called," but "a sinner and called."

This is an important distinction.  Why?

First, as Jesus said in today's Gospel (Matthew 9: 9-13), he "did not come to call the righteous but sinners."  "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do."  Jesus is God's mercy in the flesh.  He reaches out precisely to sinners and calls them to freedom, health, new life.

Second, God tends to choose "the weak" and "the lowly" in order to make clear that it is divine power at work and not human power, "so that no human being might boast before God" (1 Corinthians 1: 27-29).  Sinners know where they have come from and so can more easily remain humble.

Third, sinners make great evangelizers.  Having experienced the good news of God's mercy, they want to share that news with others.  And their sharing is more convincing because "they've been there."  Others can see in these sinners-turned-evangelizers the possibility and hope of their own freedom.

Thus it is no surprise that right after he leaves his job to follow Jesus, Matthew throws a party at which there were many tax-collectors and sinners.  

In his homily, St. Bede writes that this wasn't the only banquet. Besides the banquet in Matthew's house, there was another that was even better:  "But far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love."  Matthew welcomed mercy into his heart which then opened to his fellow sinners.  And to Jesus.  Jesus, finding a merciful heart like his own, felt very comfortable there in Matthew's heart.

May he find such a welcome in our hearts as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Lady of Sorrows and Us

Jesus lived, died, and rose to save the world.  But just as God invites humanity to be co-creators, sharing in the work of caring for creation, so God calls each of us to share in the work of salvation. In one sense the work of salvation is complete because of what Jesus did.  But, in another sense, it is ongoing because not everyone knows Jesus, nor has everyone accepted the salvation he won for them.  This is where we come in.  We are called to do what St. Paul said he did in his Letter to the Colossians 1: 24: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...."

It almost sounds as though Paul is saying that what Jesus did was not sufficient, but he would never say that.  We ought to read this passage in light of St. Paul's other writings, in particular, what he says about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.  Christ is the Head of the Body.  We are members of the Body, joined to Christ.  What Christ has done, we the Body are now called to do.  When we join our sufferings to the perfect offering of Christ on the cross and at Mass, we play a role in the ongoing work of salvation.

Mary is our model in this.  "Lumen Gentium," the Vatican Council II document on the Church, quotes St. Ambrose and states that "the Mother of God is a type of the Church" (#63).  She stood under the cross of Jesus and did not scream or try to stop the soldiers from crucifying her own flesh and blood. She shared in her Son’s faith that this act of violence would not be the end, that somehow God would bring great good from it, that God was saving the world through it.  She had great faith, but it didn’t take away her own pain and sorrow.

We are called to have that same faith when it comes to our own sufferings.  In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote these encouraging words: "No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.  All of these encircle our world like a vital force" (#279).  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Angels and Saints

I celebrated Mass today with the Apostleship of Prayer staff.  I wore white instead of green, the color most people going to Mass today would have seen.  Today is what is known as a "ferial day" on which there is no feast, obligatory memorial, or optional memorial.  The presider is free to choose any saint from the calendar or a votive Mass of one king or another.

I could have worn white to celebrate St.
Raymond Nonnatus.  "Nonnatus" is Latin for "not born" and this name was given to Raymond because he came into the world in 1204 via cesarean section after his mother died during labor.  In time Raymond joined the recently founded Mercedarian order, a religious congregation whose mission was to ransom Christian slaves and going so far as to take their place until the ransom could be paid.  This is what Raymond did and while he was in prison he preached the Gospel so convincingly that some of his Muslim captors became Christian.  This so infuriated the governor that, according to tradition, he had a red-hot spike driven through Raymond's lips and a padlock inserted to prevent his preaching.  Eventually Raymond was ransomed, returned to Europe, and was made a cardinal adviser to the pope who had heard about his courageous witness.  He died on this day in 1240.

I could have celebrated Mass in his honor, but instead I chose white as I celebrated a Mass in honor of the Angels.  When Monday is a ferial day, I like to remember the Angels who, from time to time, have certainly remembered me.  The latest such incident occurred a week ago.

I was in the St. Louis airport on my way back to Milwaukee after a retreat for 78 men at White House Jesuit Retreat Center.  I had plenty of time to catch my 8:25 flight to Milwaukee but had misread the gate information.  Settling myself down to wait at Gate E4, I checked email and then began reading a book when suddenly, I heard a name over the loud speaker.  It sounded vaguely familiar and it was repeated a second time announcing the immediate departure of his flight for Milwaukee at Gate E20.  Sometimes people have trouble pronouncing my last name ("Kubicki," which I don't think is that difficult) and such was the case this time.  Realizing I was at the wrong gate, I got up and raced through the terminal, arriving at the correct gate just in time to board my plane before the doors closed.

I'm convinced that my Guardian Angel opened my ears to hear my mispronounced name being paged and then gave my legs some extra wings as I raced through the terminal.

And that is one of the many reasons why I like to honor the Angels in a votive Mass from time to time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Priesthood of the Baptized

Today is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop and doctor of the Church whose preaching was so inspired that he was called "Golden Word." He only lived about fifty years, but the 183 sermons of his that we have continue to speak to us over 1500 years after his death. In one of them, he reflects on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 12: 1: “I urge you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  These words are at the heart of what we strive to do in the Apostleship of Prayer: to live a Eucharistic life, a life in which we offer ourselves one day at a time with Jesus who offers himself to the Father for the salvation of the world.  The following is from Homily 108 of St. Peter Chrysologus:

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering.  He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself.  The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same.  Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill.  Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

Paul says: “I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy.”  The prophet said the same thing: “Sacrifices and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me.”  Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest.  Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you.  Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity.  Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection.  Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you.  Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer.  Take up the sword of the Spirit.  Let your heart be an altar.  Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice.  God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Called and Chosen

The readings at Mass today (15th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B) are about vocation. In the first reading (Amos 7: 12-15) we hear about the call of a prophet who never planned on being one. In the Gospel (Mark 6: 7-13) we see how Jesus "summoned" the apostles and sent them out on a mission trip to confront evil and sickness head-on.  But I want to focus on the second reading from the first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians.

It says that God chose us.  We are called to be children of God, followers of Jesus, members of the Body of Christ.  Or, as Paul puts it, "to be holy and without blemish."  We are made for union with God, to be holy as God is holy.  To be children of God and part of the Body of Christ means to be holy.

When did God call you?  When did God choose you?  Paul's answer may be surprising.  He writes that God chose us "before the foundation of the world."  In other words, before this world was created, God had you in mind. Shortly after his election as pope, Benedict XVI told the cardinals that "each of us is the result of a thought of God." And since those thoughts are eternal, God had you in mind from all eternity.

Why?  Why did God choose to create you and call you?  Pope St. John Paul II said that "each person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable."  There never was, never will, and isn't another "you" among the billions of human beings.  You give God a joy and pleasure that no other human being can.

You were chosen to be holy, like God. For that to happen a transformation is required.  This is where another word that Paul uses comes into play: "In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ."  Through baptism we became adopted children of God. However, when we say that we're speaking of something deeper than human adoption.  Human adoption is beautiful.  Parents give a child their name and their love, food and shelter and education. But parents cannot give an adopted child their own genetic makeup, their blood.  With God it's different. An interior transformation takes place. Through baptism a real change occurs.  God gives us grace to transform us into true children of God.  This is our deepest identity.   A person at baptism is flooded with sanctifying grace and is "holy and without blemish."

Now we are called to live out of our deepest identity: to be and to act what we truly are--children of God, joined to Christ, members of his Body.

All Christians have this most basic vocation and it is within this context that other calls are heard, other vocations arise.

Today is the wedding anniversary of a very special couple. They had nine children, four of whom died early. Four of the surviving children became Discalced Carmelite Sisters and one became a Visitation Sister.  The cause for the beatification of the latter, Leonie, has just been opened.  Of the four other daughters, one has been canonized--St. Therese of Lisieux. And the parents, who celebrate their anniversary today in heaven--Louis and Zelie Martin--will soon become the first married couple in the history of the Church to be canonized together.

You can find out more about this beautiful family at the following websites:

Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway
Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the Parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux
Leonie Martin, Disciple and Sister of St. Therese of Lisieux

Monday, June 22, 2015

Prayer in the Storms of Life

In the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (Mark 4: 35-41), we see quite a contrast.  The violence of a storm contrasts with the inner calm of Jesus, asleep in the stern of the boat that is being swamped.  The terror of the disciples contrasts with the peace of Jesus.  As Jesus addresses their fear and cry for help, his inner peace calms the storm.

We all experience storms in our lives. Our first response is usually to try to handle them on our own. Only when we feel our helplessness do we turn to God in prayer.

Then we pray and pray and nothing happens. The desired result of our prayers doesn't come.  Last year I prayed and prayed for Fr. Will Prospero, S.J.--a personal friend and strong supporter of the Apostleship of Prayer--and he died of cancer at the age of forty-nine.  (Here is a video tribute that friends of his put together after his death.)

The response to situations like this is often, "God doesn't hear my prayers." No.  God is not hearing impaired.  Or we say, "God doesn't answer my prayers."  No. God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is not the one we want. Sometimes the answer is "no."

Behind these responses is the question of the disciples in the Gospel: "Teacher, do you not care...?"

Yes, God cares. Do we believe that? Jesus asked the disciples (and us): "Do you not yet have faith?"

Faith is a virtue.  I like to say that the virtues are spiritual muscles which require exercise in order to grow and remain healthy.  We can pray "Lord, give me faith," or "Lord, increase my faith," but get ready.  Faith won't come out of the blue, just as physical muscles don't.  God answers this prayer with storms and challenges that require us to exercise faith.

We don't like the stress and hard work that this exercise requires.  I once saw a cartoon that showed a jogger running past a park bench. On his T-shirt was the slogan: "No pain, no gain."  On the bench sat an overweight man with a can of beer wearing a T-shirt that said; "No pain, no pain."  We don't like the pain that goes with exercising the virtue of faith in the midst of life's storms.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said: "People say that God will never give you more than you can handle. I just wish God didn't trust me so much."

God trusts us.  God wants more for us than we can imagine.  God trusts that we can handle the storms that can lead us to exercise faith and grow in holiness.

In his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" (#275-9), Pope Francis has some challenging and consoling words about faith and the prayers and sacrifices we make:

"Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope and he will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us.  Christ's resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. ... Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty.

"Faith ... means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. ... 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 big tree.... Christ's resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world....

"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.... We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.  All of these encircle our world like a vital force."

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Corpus Christi Homily

At the Last Supper, Jesus faced three dilemmas and offered one solution.  The dilemmas were the result of his love.

The greatest act of love for another is to die for that person.  At the Last Supper Jesus told his apostles, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15: 13). Yet Jesus laid down his life not only for his friends but for his enemies. As St. Paul put it: "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 6-8).

Jesus wanted to prove his love for all people of all time and he wanted everyone to experience that love.  But he could only die once. How could he make that act of sacrificial love present everywhere and always?

He said: "This is my body, which will be given up for you; do this in memory of me" (Luke 22: 19).

He created a New Passover to go with the New Covenant.  This Memorial Meal makes present the very event it commemorates.  Now people of all time, and not just those who stood under the cross at Good Friday, can be present as Jesus offers himself up for their salvation.  He does not die again but he makes his life-giving death and resurrection present through the the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The second dilemma of love is this: when you love someone you want to be always near that person.  But Jesus had to go. He said: "I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16: 7). Jesus must leave this world in order to send the Holy Spirit.  But he wants to stay close to his followers and he even promised that he would not leave them orphans, that he would return (see John 14: 18). He promised "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28: 20). How can he go and also stay?

"This is my body."  He remains close to us in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament.

Thirdly, love desires not only to be close but to be one with the beloved. Love desires union.  How can Jesus unite himself to the apostles and then to Christians of all time?

"This is my body. Take and eat."  Jesus comes to us in a form in which we can receive him. He unites himself to us in Holy Communion where the two become one.

That is the gift which we celebrate today.

This has two very practical implications.

First, we who receive the Eucharist are one with Christ and are transformed by our union. In his homily at the closing Mass for World Youth Day 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said: "The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood."  Through a Holy Communion we are parts of the Body of Christ, "his own Flesh and Blood" in the world today.  This confirms Jesus' teaching in a parable about the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. Whatever we do to or for one of his least brothers or sisters, we do to or for Jesus.  Whatever we fail to do for one of his and our least brothers and sisters, we fail to do for Jesus.

Second, the sacrificial offering of Jesus replaced all the animal and grain offerings that preceded him. His was the one perfect sacrifice that took away the sins of the world and reconciled humanity with God and one another.  Now we, as members of his Body, join him in making that perfect offering as we celebrate Mass.  Then we go forth from Mass to live the offering we have made with Christ.  In the words of St. Paul, we offer our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1).

We thank God for the gift of the Body and Blood of his Son Jesus. We adore Jesus present in the Eucharist. We open ourselves to the grace of the loving union in which the two become one flesh. And we return love for love by offering ourselves every day as we pray the Daily Offering.

The Daily Offering, prayed and lived, is the best response to Jesus' gift of himself to and for us.