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A Voice Crying Out in the Desert

Last week it was the situation in North Korea that was the headlines on the news.  Then came the white nationalist activity in Charlottesville, VA.  Yesterday brought a car driving through a crowd of people in Barcelona Spain.  Today (August 18th) there has been a stabbing in Turku Finland with two dad and six wounded.

What is it going to take to change all this?

Here I think of the ministry of John the Baptist as told in Matthew 3:1-3

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”

Fighting does little to solve problems.  What is needed is a voice of reason and truth to be that voice of “one crying out in the desert.”  There are too many people who are “hotheads.”  Trading jabs and threats doesn’t help.  We need to speak up for what our faith teaches.

We live in a world of diversity.  People come from different races and geography.  People hold different beliefs.  Trying to live in a pluralistic society with so many different beliefs, relativism is becoming the popular approach.  Relativism says you can believe whatever you want as long as no one gets hurt.  This leads to many people being silent on many issues.

The problem is that silence is often interrupted as either agreement or you don’t care.  If we want the world to change for the better, we must be willing to step out and be the voice of reason and God’s Truth.  At our Baptism, we are anointed as priest, prophet, and king.  Some are called to be prophets like John the Baptist but not all but we can all work to “prepare the way of the Lord.

“Preparing the way of the Lord” begins with telling people about Jesus and his love.  To tell them that Jesus died for our sins.  We can all do that much.  We can also pray for our bishops to be a voice for peace and for the dignity of all live.

I strive to help people know the Lord in the words I preach, offer in my presentations, or here on my blog.  I also take seriously my responsibility as a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help people know God’s forgiveness.  I try to speak when prompted by the spirit to issues in our world ranging from the situation in North Korea that I spoke about in my homily last Sunday to the issue of physician assisted suicide.  I’m sure there is more I need to speak of in the homily and here on my blog.  Pray that I always offer the words that the Holy Spirit calls me to speak.

Do you remain silent or do you offer the love of Christ to the world? You may not know or understand all church teaching but are you willing to say there is a right way and a wrong way and that God is the one that decides what is right and just?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Korea & the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus’ disciples found themselves a few miles offshore “being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.”  They faced a great storm.  I know that I might feel fear in such a situation.

In situations like this, we turn to Jesus in prayer.  We look for Jesus to give us consolation and protection.  Yet, when the disciples see Jesus coming towards them, they “cried out in fear.”  Why?  Because they thought it was a ghost walking on the water.

When Peter finds out it is Jesus he says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus does and Peter steps out of the boat and begins to walk on water.  But then he becomes “frightened” and begins to sink.  His faith is weak.

We shouldn’t judge Peter too harshly for this.  His faith is weak but is ours any different?  I’m not sure I would have ever even tried to step out of the boat in the middle of the storm.  In fact, I’m not sure I would have even been in the boat in the middle of the storm.  If I was, I might ask Jesus to calm the storm before I got out of the boat.

Isn’t that what we do when we face storms (challenges) in our lives?  If we receive the diagnosis of an illness, we ask God to cure us immediately.  If we lose our job, we ask God to give us another (and better) job right away.

We should always start our response to storms in our own lives by asking God to help us.  However, we shouldn’t just sit around and wait for a miracle.  We need to let Jesus lead us across the waters of the storm.

We can face storms in our own lives as individuals.  We can also face storms as a local community, a state, a national, or a storm that could affect the whole world.

I do not know about you but I have been doing a lot of thinking and praying about what is going on with North Korea.  Relations with North Korea had been difficult for a long time but it seems like a storm is really brewing now.

While some might feel like me, I’m sure there is a range of opinions out there from what difference does it make to me (Korea is on the other side of the world) to let’s bomb them and get rid of them.

As disciples of Jesus, we should care.  Why?  Because there are lives involved.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about “safeguarding peace” and “avoiding war” in paragraphs 2302-2317.  It’s all under the section in the Catechism about the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill.”

I hope it is obvious that our Catholic faith says “war” must always be a “last resort.”  We need to pray for the success of diplomatic efforts.  Please pray.

Knowing the history of conflict in the world and that war sometimes happens, our Catholic faith has what we call “Just War Theory” to help us know what must be considered before starting armed conflict.

One of the criteria is what I already mentioned about “last resort.”  Other criteria include a “just cause,” meaning there must be a serious evil to be corrected.  In evaluating action, one must examine how innocent lives might be affected.  Will more innocent people be affected than “un-innocent” people?

The group taking the action must have the authority to act.  With North Korea, can one government make the decision to respond (especially beyond immediate self-defense) or does the United Nations need to make the decision?  We need to ask what is our intention?  Self-defense?  Protection of life?  Power? Economic gain?

There is also the principle of “comparative justice.”  The response must be in proportion to the original action.  You can’t wipe out a country in response to an attack of a single missile.  Thinking specifically of the situation of North Korea, I am concerned about a very quick escalation where one side launches a few missiles, then the other side responds with even more missiles… and it keeps increasing to full war.

There is one more criteria of “Just War Theory” that I feel is very important here, the “Probability of Success.”  We must ask ourselves what “success” even is.  When we went into Iraq the second time in 2003, I think part of “success” was defined as getting Saddam Hussein out of power.  He was captured and executed.  Are things any better?  How stable is the region?

What would be gained by simply removing the President of Korea, Kim Jong Un from power?  Who would take over?  Would it lead to any stabilization in the region?  Honestly, I don’t know the answer to this but I do know it is a very important part of any decision. 

Might military action be necessary?  Perhaps.  We need to pray for those directly involved in all of this.  In the midst of all the rhetoric, I turn to today’s first reading.  How did the Lord make his presence known to Elijah?  Was it in the POWER of the wind, the earthquake, or the fire?  No, it was in the “tiny whispering sound.”

So, let us pray that everyone involved stop escalating the rhetoric and quiet themselves to listen to God’s guidance.  Let us pray that military action is not necessary but whatever happens we pray for the safety of all who defend the innocent.

For the complete list of “Just War” criteria see “Just War Theory”

Conflict and the “Joy of the Gospel”

I have been reading Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) for the last couple of weeks (I read slowly as I reflect over the text).  I just read paragraph 227 and was deeply struck by it.  I think it is very relevant today as we watch conflicts between individuals, political parties, nations, and religions.  So, I want to share it and some of my thoughts on it.

Before doing so, I think I need to set a context.  In paragraph 221 Pope Francis writes

Progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related constant tensions present in every social reality.

In paragraphs 222-225 he lays out the first principle, “Time is greater than space.”  I should be honest with you and tell you that I don’t quite understand this phrase.  The best way that I might explain here is that “time” is looking at the big picture (as Pope Francis writes “processes) as we deal with things.  “Place” is looking at only the here and now.  In paragraph he names the second principle as “Unity prevails over conflict.”

So, now I offer you the full text of paragraph 227

227. When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners; they lose their bearings, project onto institutions their own confusion and dissatisfaction and thus make unity impossible. But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9). (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html, access date August 8, 2017)

I see Pope Francis describing three approaches to dealing with conflict.  The first is found in the first sentence.  You could sum it up in the word “ignore” or “denial.”  Some people simply want to avoid conflict so they ignore the issue, hoping that it will go away on its own.  Even priests like to avoid conflict.  So, it can seem easier to ignore the problem.  Others might deny there is a problem or that it affects them.  There is conflict over health care in our nation.  Some might refuse to see the problem, thinking their own health care is fine or denying it affects them and people just need to work harder to get health care for themselves.  Here, some people try to deny that problems in other parts of the world like the Middle East, Korea, or Russia as having any effect on them because it is on the other side of the world.

The second approach Pope Francis describes to dealing with conflict refers to those who “embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners.”  Here’s where I want to refer back to Pope Francis’ phrase “Time is greater than space.”  I think the people Pope Francis is referring as becoming the ‘prisoners of conflict’ come from those who focus on only the here and now (“space”) as they focus on winning the specific conflict while losing touch with the big picture (“time”).  Here, I think of conflicts between political parties or national leaders.  These people are more concerned about “getting their way” or “proving themselves right” that they totally lose sight of the big picture.  In the Church, I see the two poles as “doctrine” and “pastoral” approaches.  In reality “doctrine” is very, very, important.  We need to know what our faith teaches but we also need to be “pastoral” in how we offer the teachings in a way that shows we want to help the people rather than judging them.

The third approach is to “face conflict head on.”  I number myself among those who do not like conflict.  At times I hope “problems” will “go away on their own.”  Sometimes it is better to just let the little things go.  We don’t want to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  However, especially when the conflict keeps returning, often the best thing we can do with is deal with the conflict.  We need to ask ourselves what is really important.  Are we truly looking at details where comprise is possible or are we facing differences in principle that we need to work on how to explain our beliefs better?  To “face conflict head on” we need to ask God to give us wisdom to know what to say and the strength and courage to actually say it.

It’s not about winning the conflict.  It is about building up the Kingdom of God.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Feast of The Transfiguration – Homily, Year A

The Transfiguration of the Lord, Year A
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9-12
2 Peter 1:16-19
Matthew 17:1-9

There are times in the gospels when Jesus goes off alone to pray.  Generally, we are not told of what Jesus does in prayer.  Today is different.  We are giving a vivid description of what happens as Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on the mountain.

Why does Jesus pick this time to take them with him?  Well, we need to know what has just happened.  If you read the previous chapter before this passage, you see that Jesus has just told the disciples for the first time about his coming passion.  They are greatly troubled by this and need reassurance.

To give them reassurance, Jesus takes them with him so they can see what happens.  We are told that “he was transfigured before then; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” 

Peter, James, and John see Jesus in his glory.  It had to be a very powerful sight.  Yet, they might not have understood what they saw if it was something brand new.

Such an image for God was not brand new.  Our first reading from Daniel contains the description of the vision of God where “His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool.”  With this in mind, the image of Jesus transfigured helps Peter, James, and John understand who Jesus truly is, the Son of Man, the Son of God.

They had come to believe he was the Messiah but he is even more.  Moses’ presence signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Law really offers us.  Elijah’s presence signifies that Jesus is the fulfilment of what the prophets foretold.  Add to this, the divine voice that says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”

Wow!  Peter, James, and John were blessed to have been eyewitnesses to this.  We are blessed that, after ‘the Son of Man had been raised from the dead that they shared their experience.

Peter recognizes the grace of the moment when he says “Lord, it is good that we are here.”  Peter offers to make three tents.  I think this is a sign that he wants the experience to last.

One might say that the way Peter, James, and John looked at Jesus was forever changed (and hence “transfigured”) by what they saw.  It would be a life changing moment.  Peter was right to want to last.

I don’t know as anyone here has ever seen Jesus revealed in his glory like he was in the Transfiguration but perhaps we can think about a moment when we were acutely aware of God’s presence in our lives.

We know that God is present everywhere but it isn’t always easy to be aware of his presence.  We build our churches in ways to help us be aware of God’s presence.  The altar and the crucifix remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  The Stations of the Cross remind us of the suffering that Jesus went through for us.  The images of the saints in the windows and statues remind us of their quest to follow Jesus.

As Catholics we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  When we receive the consecrated host, we have God incarnate within us.

Before we get to the distribution of Communion, there is the point right after the Lamb of God where I as the priest hold up the consecrated elements and say, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  At that moment we can see Jesus but it is only a moment.

Recognizing the sacredness of that moment, our Catholic Church has a practice called “Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.”  We place the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated host, in a monstrance on the altar.

For those who don’t know what a monstrance is, I have put the two we have out here for you to see, one on other side in front of the ambo and the commentator stand.  You can see it as gold but the greatest value is what we put inside it.  Right now, both monstrances are empty.  If you come up after Mass, you can see the center is empty.  That is where we put the Blessed Sacrament.  During Exposition only a single monstrance is used and it is placed on the altar for us to gaze upon.

During our Year of the Eucharist we want to reintroduce the practice of Exposition.  Starting in September, on the third Wednesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. we will have a Holy Hour with Exposition.

To start with our holy hour will include some biblical readings, perhaps some music, a 10 or 15 minute talk by me relating to the Eucharist and some quiet time.

I encourage you to mark your calendars.  Come with an open mind.  I remember when I first starting going to Holy Hours.  I kept waiting for an experience like Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration.  I was disappointed because I came with the wrong expectation.  After a couple of times, I said, “Okay Lord, one more time.  I’m not going in expecting anything.”  I went in expecting nothing and I got “grace.”  I let go of my expectations and let God be God.

A Saint for the Eucharist

This week our calendar of saints has included saints who were founders of religious orders.  On Monday, July 31st, we celebrated the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Jesuit order (S.J., who run McQuaid high school in Rochester).  Tuesday, August 1st was the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori who founded the Redemptorists order (C.S.S.R, who run Notre Dame Retreat House in our diocese in Canandaigua).

Both St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Alphonsus Liguori are among the more commonly known saints and their feastdays are required memorials on the church calendar.

As we turn to today, I want to first say that the gospel reading for today (17th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1, Wednesday) is the same verses that began our gospel last Sunday.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

On Sunday, I spoke in my homily about how we should see the whole Mass, the Word of God, and the Eucharist as treasures.  In our diocese we are celebrating a Year of the Eucharist.  It is with this in my mind that I want to talk about a lesser known saint whose feastday is today as an optional memorial, St. Peter Julian Eymard.

St. Peter Julian Eymard was born in 1811 in France.  It was a difficult time for the Catholic Church following the French Revolution.  The Church was suppressed for a number of years in France.  His family continued to practice the faith.  At the age of five he went missing.  His family found him in a church.  Responding to their question of what he was doing he said, “I am here listening to Jesus.”

As he grew, he felt a call to the priesthood.  At first his father resisted as Peter was his only surviving son.  Peter did enter seminary and was ordained for the Diocese of Grenoble.  Over time, he joined the Society of Mary (Marist) and grew in a strong devotion to the Eucharist.

In 1856 he founded the order of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (S.S.S.).  He, and the order, did much to foster devotion to the Eucharist.  The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament continues today, including serving in several cities here in the United States.  As we celebrate this Year of the Eucharist in our diocese, let us pray for the intercession of St. Peter Julian Eymard that we all grow in a strong devotion to the Eucharist.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

P.S. A full biograph of St. Peter Julian Eymard can be found on the website of the order he founded, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament at http://blessedsacrament.com/us/st-peter-julian-eymard

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
1 Kings 3:5:7-12
Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure” so valuable that one who finds it “sells all that he has” to be able to obtain the treasure.

What do you see as valuable?  It might be monetary value but let’s think beyond that.  What is important enough to you that you arrange your schedule around it?

Is it sports, plays, or music concerts?  Is it work?  Is it your fun time or being able to take a vacation?  Maybe you want to sleep in on Sunday morning?  How about your phone?  Can you go an hour without checking your phone?  How about fishing or a round of golf?

Would you give up all of these things (i.e. sell all that you have) to enter the kingdom of Heaven?

What could be more valuable to us than eternity in Heaven?

The challenge is that we like to think that Heaven is a ways off, and that we will live a long time before then.  Right now we have to live in this world.

God offers us treasures to help us in this world.  For example, when Solomon became king, God said, “Ask something of me and I will it to you.”  Solomon did not ask for a long life, riches, or revenge.  He asked for an “understanding heart”, hence the “wisdom of Solomon.”

Wisdom and understanding are gifts of the Holy Spirit that God offers us to help us know how to live in this world.

In our psalm response today we sang, “Lord, I love your commands.”  Do we really love God’s commands?  Do we see them as “more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces”?  Do we see God’s decrees as “wonderful”?

Again, God’s commands are his way of guiding us on how to live in this world.  We should not see his commands as burdens.  When we do not understand them or if we disagree with them we should not discard them.  If we love God and his commands, then we need to put some effort into learning more about them.

One of the ways we do this is to study God’s Word in the Bible.  That’s what we are doing right now!  We just heard readings from the Bible and now I seek to help you understand what they mean for us today.

This is why, as Bishop Matano wrote in his pastoral letter for our Year of the Eucharist, that we should seek to come to Mass every Sunday, to receive the treasure of God’s Word.  I know things like a football game (or practice), a round of golf, or just sleeping in might be more fun than coming to church but what do they do to help you know the “Kingdom of Heaven”?

As if God’s Word isn’t enough there is still more treasure to receive at Mass.  It is the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Jesus.  It gives us strength to live like Jesus.  It is not just bread and wine.  As the Body and Blood of Jesus, it is a treasure to be cherished.

That’s why we have “rules” about receiving Jesus.  We need to take it seriously, to do our best to follow Jesus.  It’s also why the “rules” say that non-Catholics are not to receive Communion.  To receive one needs to understand the Eucharist as a treasure.

The whole Mass is a treasure of receiving God’s blessing.  God blesses us with abundance.  That’s why we are called to come before it starts and not leave until it is completely over.  Yes, the greatest treasure comes in the Eucharist but after Communion comes a final blessing.  Every blessing is a gift from God to be treated as a treasure.  Even the recessional hymn is important as we give praise to God for the treasures He has given us.

Are you ready to sell all that you have to receive the Kingdom of Heaven?

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

Today Jesus speaks to us about weeding, a task common to many people.  We are fortunate to have a couple of dedicated parishioners who take care of the general gardening for our properties.  Just the other day, the lead parishioner was weeding and “offered” to let me help.  My response was that won’t be a good thing as I don’t know which are the weeds versus what’s supposed to be there.

I have the same issue at my dad’s.  I do yard work like mowing but it’s my dad’s job to do the weeding.  I do the pruning of the trees and bushes but even there I’m not a tree or bush specialist.  I decide what to prune on the trees by the “hit my head method,” meaning if I hit my head on a branch when I mow, I cut the branch off.  I consider that branch “undesirable.”

Isn’t that basically what “weeding” is, removing the plants that aren’t what we are trying to grow?  If you are growing a vegetable garden and a tree starts to grow in the middle, you pull it because it isn’t what you want there.

In this sense, weeding can seem necessary or, at the very least, beneficial.  So why does Jesus tell us that the master says not to pull the weeds?

Of course Jesus’ purpose in the parable goes beyond regular gardening.  He’s using this parable to talk about how we look at sinners.  Should all sinners be cast out?  Remember, the Jews in Jesus’ day didn’t eat with sinners.  We might think of the words in an act of contrition prayer where we promise to avoid what leads us to sin.

Does this mean that we should get rid of all sinners?  If we define “weeds” as sins and we pull all the weeds would any of us remain?

So the fact that Jesus says not to pull the weeds might be a very good thing for us sinners.  Does that mean that we don’t have to ever worry about our sins?  No.

The Book of Wisdom speaks of God as master “over all things” and that God’s “might is the source of justice.”  God has every right to punish us for our sins.  He could treat us like weeds and ripe us out of his field which would lead to our death but God doesn’t.  Instead God chooses to be “lenient to all.”

Does this mean we never face judgment?  No.  Jesus tells us that at the harvest, the end of the ages, the weeds will be collected and burned (Hell).  We need to repent.  We need to admit our sins and allow God to forgive us.  To do this Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to allow him to cleanse us of our sins before the harvest comes.

Who is Your God?

Today’s first reading continues the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush.  God told Moses that he would send him to rescue the Israelites from Egypt.  Moses asked whom should he tell them sent him.  For us the answer might seem obvious, God, but we must remember that it was polytheistic culture, meaning they believed in many gods.

We use “God” with a capital “G” to signify the name of the “god” that we believe in.  In Moses’ time many believed that there were various gods.  Sometimes, the ‘god’ you prayed to might depend on your need.  Do you pray to the god of the harvest or the god of the sea?  People also thoughts of “gods” as being territorial, meaning the power of the god was limited to a geographic area.  This would have been very important to the Israelites as Moses led them from Egypt to another land.  Did the ‘god’ that was rescuing them have any power in Egypt?  Or was he a god in Midian where Moses was?  Was he a god of the land there were going to?

As Moses led the Israelites out from Egypt towards the promised land, they would learn what it means to be God’s people.  Here I use “God” with a capital “G” again referring to our God’s name.  Our belief is founded in monotheism meaning there is only one god.  Even today not all cultures are monotheistic.

Our own country was founded on monotheistic, and largely Christian, principles.  As the place of faith in our culture diminishes, I wonder if it is becoming “polytheistic” is a different way than what I spoke of before.  Today there is not a “god of the harvest” or a “god of the sea” in our culture but people have made earthly things into gods.  For instance, there is “money”, “power”, and “government.”

By “money”, I refer to people who think that all they need to be happy and safe is enough money.  They make their whole life about getting more money and forget God.  I refer to “power” in a similar way that some people think if they just rise to a high enough status they can fix everything themselves.

I also included “government” because some people think that all we need is more “government programs” to address everyone’s needs.  I agree that government programs that help the needy are good and needed today but the government is not our “savior.”  Government exists to serve the needs of its people but we need to look at the way we live our lives and change to follow God’s ways.  If we believe in money, power we think we have all the answers.  If we make the ‘government’ our ‘god’, we think it has all the answers.  God is the one who brings “Truth.”

Who or what is your god?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Some Thoughts on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog might notice that the title of this article is “Some Thoughts on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A” as compared to the normal title including the word “homily.”  That’s because I’m not preaching this weekend.  We have a visiting priest from the Archdiocese of Tamale in Ghana seeking support for ministries in his diocese.

While I am not preaching this weekend, and, in fact, am away for a mini-vacation that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent time reflecting on the readings.  It is the Word of God and it deserves regular attention for as we hear in the first reading, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  So, even when I am not preaching, I still spend some time (albeit not as much as when I preach) reflecting on the readings for my own spiritual growth.  It also helps me keep my thoughts from the readings continuous from week to week.

Today’s gospel tells the familiar Parable of the Sower and includes Jesus’ explanation of the parable and why he speaks in parables.  Jesus refers to a prophecy delivered by Isaiah

You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.  Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.

It is not enough just to hear God’s Word nor it is it enough to say we have seen (read) it.  We need to hear God’s Word at Mass with open ears.  We need to read it with an open heart.  Only then we open ourselves to the fullness of grace in the Bible.

Here I want to turn to a concept presented in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and used in numerous writings since.  The concept I speak of is “active participation.”

When many people hear “active participation”, they think of how, before the Second Vatican Council, the priest did more of the Mass himself but that “active participation” calls people to be lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  The participation of the laity has indeed increased since the council but we should realize that even before the council, the laity were involved in the roles of altar servers, musicians, and ushers at Mass.

It is good to have the laity more involved in Mass, while maintaining the priest’s role as unique, but “active participation” is not just about serving in a role “up front.”  Everyone is called to “active participation” in the Mass.  Here active refers to attentively listening to the words that are spoken at Mass and opening our hearts and souls to know how we are called live out our faith.

How often might we be at Mass but not doing our best to pay attention to what is going on?  Some of you might be old enough to remember the days when Mass was in Latin and, while the priest said Mass, many people would be praying the rosary during Mass.  Now, the rosary is certainly an important devotion of the Church but it should not pull away our attention from what is going on in the Mass.  When the Mass was in Latin, many people couldn’t follow along, so they prayed the rosary.  With Mass now in the vernacular (local language) we can understand the words and so we need to pray attention to what is going on in the Mass. So, one should not be praying the rosary during Mass.

During the Year of the Eucharist in our diocese, I encourage you to think about your attentiveness at Mass.  During this year we are called to come to a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and Mass so that we have a deeper appreciation of what it means for us and receive the graces offered.  I hope to help you develop your understanding through homilies and presentations throughout this year.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Giving praise to God is a recurring theme in today’s readings.  Our reading from Zechariah calls us to “shout for joy.”  The psalm speaks of praising (extolling) the Lord’s name for ever.  In the gospel, Jesus himself gives praise to the Father.

To praise God is speak and act in a way that shows we recognize and value all that God has given us.  Sometimes we think about Mass in terms of how it makes us feel.  We think of the prayers as asking God for what we need.  Both of these are important but at the center of the Mass is our action of “praising the Lord.”  Even when we do pray for our own needs, we can do so with trust and gratitude based on all that God has done for us in the past.

God does marvelous deeds for us.  Hopefully we recognize these deeds as God does them but sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we are so centered on what we think we want that we miss what God does give us.

Sometimes praising God is hard because we labor and feel a great burden upon us.  When we feel labored and burdened we might even question if God is out there and does He really care?

I’ll begin my response to this question by saying Jesus never said we won’t struggle or face suffering.  He says, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  The terms “easy” and “light” do not say there will be no struggle or sufferings.  They do tell us that it is easier with deal with the sufferings and struggles when we let God be part of our lives.  Sometimes when we want it “our way” we don’t let God in.  When we do let Jesus in, he can help us see as he sees and that changes how we perceive our burdens in a way that makes them a whole lot easier to bear.

With that in mind I want to turn to how we might perceive the burdens we face.  The phrase “don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill” comes to mind here.  Do we make our problems bigger than they really are?

In my own life I think about what it takes for me to be a priest.  One might think it should be easy.  What could be easier than working for God?  But it doesn’t always seem easy to me.  In fact, I will say that for me being an engineer was easier (but not better) than being a priest.  This is not to say that I don’t enjoy being a priest.  I enjoy being a priest and believe this is what God is calling me to do but there are challenges.  For instance, I like to have everything done now or at least know when it will be done.  In engineering it was easy to know when a project was done.  As a priest, it isn’t so clear.

I can also overanalyze tasks in a way that causing unnecessary stress.  For instance, once Pat Albrecht announced her retirement and knew June would take over as our Pastoral Associate, I began to “worry” about finding a new Catechetical Leader to be in charge of our children’s and youth faith formation.  I wondered if anyone would apply.  If someone did apply, would they be any good.  So I worried.

I didn’t need to.  We had seven people apply, interviewed four and then narrowed it down until we selected our new person who I think is a great candidate and I see a lot of potential for the future.

Did I have reason to be concerned?  Yes but I didn’t need to feel burdened.  I didn’t need to “worry.”  God had it all figured out.

What burden do you face right now?  Are you making it bigger than it is?  How is God calling you to respond?  How do you need God to help you through it?