17th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
Five loaves and two fish. The skeptical disciple Phillips says, "How in the world are we going to feed these people? Are you kidding me? Five thousand people." But that's what the little boy had and he offered it to Jesus. Five loaves and two fish. Kind of hard to believe what happened next. Jesus blesses those five loaves and two fish. He asks the 5000 people to sit down and he told his disciples, "Distribute the food to the people and feed the people." They did. So much so that after the people had eaten, Jesus had the disciples collect the leftovers and filled 12 baskets with the bread left over. The lesson is very simple with Jesus, a little becomes a lot.
On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, I took a trip to Scranton with Fr. Adam Kotas to meet with Prime Bishop and to Incardinate him into the PNCC. Thursday Fr. Adam came by for a quick instructional on our liturgy (2 hours) and I asked him to stay for dinner along with Fr. Matt. As it was a last-minute decision (that morning) we had pork chops in the freezer which were placed out to thaw. Normally I prepare the pork chops – I pride myself on making them --- they’re almost as good as Peggy’s (church caterer)
Fr. Adam Kotas’ vocation to be a priest started about 15 years ago, when he studied his theology at Orchard Lake Seminary – North of Detroit in Michigan. It was founded in 1885. He had come from Poland and that was where Polish Seminarians were sent to study. He shared that once he graduated he had to find a diocese who was willing to accept him to serve in parish ministry. His first assignment found him serving in the Diocese of Sacramento in California. He had known about our church prior however, as he lived in the Chicagoland area and had visited our Cathedral and then Diocesan – Bp Robert Nemkovich as a teenager. His parents and brother are still in Chicago. He continued to work in California, but suffered from a severe asthma condition due to the smog and unhealthy air in that state. He was allowed to serve the diocese of Las Vegas on LOAN for two years. There His health improved dramatically due to the hot, dry climate. When the two years expired – he asked to stay but was told he must return – and he did. While in Las Vegas he met one of our bingo players, Donna Kirsh who used to winter in Vegas. She truly enjoyed Fr. Adam and is now a close friend. She asked me a couple of years ago around thanksgiving if I would be willing to talk to a Roman priest who was thinking of leaving. Of course – I met with him over thanksgiving weekend and the relationship began. He said that he wished to stay until he had ten years of service in the RCC because he would then be vested in at least a partial pension. I certainly understood. His 10-year date was May of this year. Things began to heat up as they say and conversations became more frequent.
As I said – we welcomed this young priest into our diocese on Tuesday last. Fr. Adam is so happy to be a priest of the PNCC. He has no church building (at least until recently) but this grand idea that he would like to start a PNCC Parish in Las Vegas. He had met many Polish National Catholics who were sheep without a shepherd Only 36, this enthusiastic young man was willing to start a new church from scratch. Like the disciples who wondered how would they be able to feed such a large crowd with so little food. Fr. Adam trusted our Lord and with the help of his dad and some Polish people found an available building that once served as a church. But it was empty building, no stained glass windows, no statues of saints, no holy water fonts, no altar or candles. I told Fr. Adam that about two years ago – he could have taken the contents of St. Casimir in Rochester, but those items were gone. Then the miracle occurred, Bishop Bernie in New Jersey had a church that had closed in Linden NJ. Fr, Adam inquired if the church had anything he could take with him to fill his new church. Bishop Bernie agreed and a plan was set in motion.
The five loaves and two fish became a baptismal font, stations of the cross, statures of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, a paschal candle holder, a pulpit, holy water fonts, even a tabernacle that somehow, he would have to figure out how to pry out of the marble altar. So, our young priest changed his flight plans and instead of visiting his parents in Chicago, which was his original plan -- He rerouted his plane ticket to fly to New Jersy. A parishioner from Las Vegas (Eric) would join him in New Jersey.
Adam is somewhat slight of build – about 5’4” and about 120 pounds – soaking wet!! I ddin’t think he’s be much help for Eric --- not to worry. Eric knows people in Yonkers, NY who operate a moving service. Again – something out of nothing!! The two men planned to rent a U-Haul truck and bring their new-found church supplies to the empty building and create a scared space that Fr. Adam would call his new church “Divine Mercy.”
Fr. Adam plans to start celebrating Mass in September when the building officially becomes church property. He still needs to find an altar, a sound system, computer, copier, chairs for the congregations and what he would like is a painting of the image of Jesus as Divine Mercy.
Only God knows where the two fish and five loaves of bread will become. From an abandoned church, his could become a campus for medicine and healing, a hospice or hospital, or a school for physically challenged children or recovery center for people with various addictions. I shared with Fr. Adam that there are many hurting people in the world and his sacred space would be a sign of hope that God is in our midst to bring comfort and strength to his community in Las Vegas. He shared that he liked that vison. We might pray that the Lord will bless this young priest and his new community that from so little, many will come to join this faith community. Like the multitude who followed Jesus and grew hungry, people would be fed with the Bread of Life and find a home that will bring them to the heart of Christ.
You get the point. Jesus Christ lives in you. With you, he can do extraordinary things because all things are possible. The five loaves and two fish didn’t look like much – yet the young boy offered them to Jesus. Don’t ever think that God can’t use your gift – meager or large to work miracles --- Take the 1st step and be bold!!
You just might plant a church in the middle of a desert – that will grow and flourish!!
16th Sunday OrdinaryFr. Matt Kawiak
REFLECTION: Miserable Shepherds
It’s raining outside and I am shepherd of piece of land that I can best described as an enchanted forest. Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and St. Theresa I purchased an abandoned sugar maple forest that needed a shepherd.
I have trimmed thousands of grapevines to keep the trees from being strangled, Last Sunday afternoon while it was raining I decided to walk alongside a deer trail to pick up the litter and garbage from the past hundred years. You see if you are a shepherd of people or land, someone has to pick up the garbage. Along the path, I find rubber tubing, glass bottles, electric outlets and assorted pieces of plastic. The path is slanted, I need to be hugging the ground with a trash bag in one hand and my other hands grabbing onto a limb or tree truck to prevent from falling. As I follow the deer trail, it reminds me of Our Lord who as our Good Shepherd leads the way.
However, in the First Reading God thunders against the human shepherds who are failures at shepherding.
Every person has many of God’s children in their care.
Who are these miserable shepherds, these failures, with whom God is so indignant? Well, you can tell who they are by what God is angry at in them. They are the human beings who have not cared for the sheep, and those sheep are God’s people.
Well, what did the shepherds fail to do when they failed to care for the sheep?
They didn’t help the sheep get nurture; they drove the sheep away. They led the sheep in wrong directions. They scattered the sheep, so that instead of being one flock, the sheep were divided against each other into diverse small groups.
So, think about it this way.
Do you spend your time on foolish, frivolous things that help nobody? Do you babble about things in your family or church on Facebook that are not your business? Do you think you are caring for God’s people when you do this? Do you gossip and undermine the reputation of others? Do you sow discord in your neighborhood, in your church, in your family? Are you a divisive presence in your community? Do you think you are caring for God’s children when you are doing this stuff? This is like the trash that I was picking up in my enchanted forest. It had been here before I purchased the land put here by people who were not mindful that their actions would harm the land.
Surely no one of us is so stupid or ignorant as to suppose that God’s thundering against miserable shepherds is meant only for priests who aren’t good enough. We priestsread about our feet of clay everyday. However, that thundering is a warning for each one of us.
Every person has many of God’s children in his care. The people who collect your trash and recyclables on your street, the child in the row behind you who kicks your seat on the plane, the annoying non-stop talker at your dinner table, your grouchy parishioners who blame politicians for the Covid pandemic, your old and highly dependent mother-in-law, your very imperfect spouse—each of these is one of God’s children, and each of them is in your care—a little or maybe even a lot.
I had collected 40 pounds of trash when I came across a piece of wire on the ground, I pulled and another three feet came out of the ground. Next to this wire I spotted barbed wire wrapped around a tree trunk. I thought I had gotten rid of all the barbed wire. Yes, there always seems to be more trash that comes to the surface that needs to be removed. For this job, I would have to come back with some wire cutters to complete this cleanup.
I imagine that barbed wire is like all the people you are ask to shepherd especially, the ones that don’t bend and are hard to work with. But all things are possible with our Shepherd, whose grace we need to do it well.
Let us be more careful not to be miserable shepherds for him. You are welcomed to borrow my barbed wire cutters anytime if you need to remove some nasty habits and trash from your life. May Our Lord bless you with the humility to admit your weaknesses and may we be grateful for His mercy that inspires us to be the best of shepherds to those in our care and to one another in this cathedral.
15th Sunday Ordinary TimeFr. Matt Kawiak
REFLECTION: The Check is in the Mail
On the Fourth of July, my wife and I were invited to a picnic at my sister and brother’s in-laws’ home in Buffalo. Mary, my wife sister, brings out desserts and she is fantastic cookie baker. On the tray are a variety of cookies, so I reach for one and it was delicious. I ask what’s in the middle of the cookie and Mary responds “cinnamon.” Well, since I am in my “senior status” learning new hobbies, I asked for the recipe. Didn’t need rhubarb, but where does one find “cinnamon chips.” So off I search at TOPS in the baking section and wouldn’t you know it, they have chocolate chips, butterscotch and mint, but no cinnamon. Yes, there I go to Google and it says Wal Mart carries cinnamon chips, but once again I come up empty handed for they have a dozen variety of chips but no cinnamon. Lucky for me I know there’s a bakery supply store called Lori’s in the Rochester regional market. I ask the clerk and he immediately shows me a section with hundreds of jars that ontain all kinds if spices including to my delight cinnamon.
Today’s gospel is a challenge for some of Jesus closest friends, he tells his apostles, time to get going and spread the good news. Notice, he didn’t say advertise on TV, go on the internet, buy billboard space, organize a community fun festival to pack the synagogue. He simply sent his disciples to the villages and we learn that they are able to perform miracles.
Nice story you say, but what does that have to do with us. Don’t you know? Something that Jesus does in all his amazing miracle stories. He collaborates with humanity. He needs Mary to be born in her womb. He needs his disciples to pass around two fish and five loaves to feed five thousand hungry people. He sends his disciples out two by two to spread the good news of God’s love that comes through by their compassion for the sick and possessed.
You are being asked by God this morning to spread the good news and perform miracles. What is the miracle...to pack the pews with young faces who are lost, to bring families and their children to this place to find rest from their chaos of their lives. Believe me, just ask any young parent and they will tell you their life is a rat race.
But you have tried how many times in the past, and when you look around how do you feel? More like a failure. Sounds like Jesus from last week, he had performed amazing feats, brought a child back from the dead, healed the blind, forgave sinners and what’s the response of his neghbors in his own village. Rejection. Did he think he was a failure?
I had this idea that I would bake cinnamon cookies for all of you in church and hand them out after Mass. Following Mary’s recipe, I mixed the ingredients using the cinnamon chips, rolled them out into logs and placed them on the cookie tray into the oven. As I am making the second batch, Susan, my spouse, notices the chips and says are they the right kind for the recipe? So, the first batch of cookies are done and I pulled them out of the oven. I decide to taste one and sure enough, she is right. The clerk did not sell me cinnamon chips like chocolate chips, but these were hard like bark, the kind of you brew to make herbal tea. I never knew the difference and of course being a novice baker never checked. I had to throw out the whole batch of cookies and the ingredients and felt like a total failure. Maybe I need to give up baking anything. So what’s the lesson Jesus is trying to teach me this time.
What was Jesus response when he was not accepted by his neighbors, he simply left his village, told his disciples I need your help in spreading the good news, that’s collaboration. So, this morning, you are a disciple and Jesus is empowering you with the grace to invite people to come to our cathedral, despite the fact that we feel that we have tried and failed.
In the Second Reading, Paul says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing and chosen us to be holy and without blemish before him. These are wonderful words, aren’t they? And some spiritual blessing that come to mind are: love, joy, peace, patience, long-suffering. So, what does Paul mean by saying that God has blessed us with all these good things?
To see the answer, imagine that you are desperately poor, unable to pay the medical bills, worried about the mortgage, afraid the car will give out, anxious because your recipe did not turn out as expected. And then you get a phone call: you have won the lottery. No, no, the caller says, it’s really true! You have won millions in the lottery. The state administrators of the lottery are now doing the paperwork, and by the end of next month the check will be in the mail.
Now what? Well, you still can’t pay the medical bills this month, and all the other bills are going to be a big problem, too. You are still desperately poor—this month. The problems are all still exactly the same, except that you know you have won the lottery. Your problems are not going to last. The check is in the mail.
This is what Paul is talking about. We are what we are now, but we have won the lottery of life. God’s grace works its way slowly in our lives, but his blessings are promised and sure. And so, our struggle with our sins and failures is not desperate, but hope-filled.
Hope is one of God’s spiritual blessings to us.
Instead of feeling like a failure, I use the wrong kind of cinnamon chips, the spiritual blessing we receive when we are desperate about life is to go and find the right kind of cinnamon chips and start baking again. When we worry that our pews are empty, we are given the spiritual grace to collaborate with God and spread the good news.
How do you do that? Here’s the recipe. When you’re having breakfast at the restaurant, you tell the server you just came back from church and invite them next week to join us. Or, call your kids and tell them we have some fantastic fun days planned and they are invited to join us. Next time, you are talking with your neighbors and relatives you tell them it time to come back to church and pray with us.
The challenge for me in making cinnamon chip logs was finding the cinnamon chips. it meant to persevere and keep on searching for the right ingredients. This morning I have a surprise for each of you. I persevered and found the right kind of cinnamon chips. Don’t leave without taking home a tasty treat that I made specially for you.
The ingredients I want you to leave with this morning is hope, faith and collaboration. As Jesus sent out his disciples into the villages, he is sending you out this morning into your neighborhoods to get the word out that Holy Mother of the Rosary is a joyful community and we want our relatives, our children, grandchildren and neighbors to taste the sweet word of God that promises eternal life.
Tell them, we have won the lottery at Holy Mother of the Rosary and we want them to share in our riches. On July 31st you are hosting a wonderful gathering, don’t make the mistake, a flyer won’t pack the grounds, Rather, God needs your collaboration to personally invite all your friends and neighbors to come and play and pray with us. So when you get home this morning, pick up that phone and start calling everyone on your contact list.
14th Sunday in Ordinary TimeFr. Matt Kawiak
REFLECTION: Blood Pressure Off the Roof
My dear friends from Nashua came for a visit and left me some rhubarb from their garden. Well our retired or more preferred label “senior priest” looks up grandma’s recipe for rhubarb crumble. It said cheat and buy a pie crust but I decided to challenge myself and found a flaky pie crust recipe.
Following grandma’s recipe, we started chopping the rhubarb that called for three cups rhubarb but I had only 2 ¼. No problem I’ll just run down the street to TOPS in Attica and get a few more stalks. To my surprise, no rhubarb in the store. This means we have to drive into Batavia and check the TOPS produce. I see none in the veggie case so ask a young man if they have any rhubarb. With a look he says, I just started working, then I nudge him and said, “Could you go ask someone if there is any in the back.” Somewhat bewildered he walks off, several minutes later he appears and says there’s none in the back. You got to be kidding. Isn’t this rhubarb season. Back in my car, I google Batavia, NY farm markets and see several outside of town, so I call the first one and voicemail says’ Hi, this is Stan and Judy we’re not here right now.” Now the blood pressure is really hitting the roof. I’m short three quarters of a cup and no stalk to be found in Batavia. Then I realize what about Walmart grocery. Google again, rhubarb and Walmart and there’s a photo of the plant. So off I drive, walk into the veggie section, scan the aisle and none to be found. I see two Walmart produce ladies and “kindly” ask: “where’s the rhubarb, we don’t carry rhubarb in the store.
At that moment I wanted to show them my cell phone screen with a picture of the rhubarb in the Walmart store. I held my ground, but inside we are hitting the roof. Whose else might carry this plant. There’s BJ’s but to save me some time, I call and a young says, “what’s rhubarb?” No, I say rhubarb, it’s a vegetable.” Dead silence, can you ask if BJ’s carries rhubarb. Several minutes later and the voice says, sorry we don’t have rhubarb. Have a nice day. That’s it! I’m ready to explode when I turn to our maker and pray: Lord, what are trying to teach me here. I just need another cup to finish the darn recipe. The farm markets are closed on Wednesday, the groceries stores ran out and I am short. Not only in the recipe but I have a short fuse. I make a left hand turn to start out of town when out of the corner of my eye I spot a food stand along the street with the word printed on the sign:” RHUBARB.” Really, I say to myself, you guys have been hiding all the time.
I pull over, get out of the car and shout to this guy. Any rhubarb, he says, I just picked 5 baskets today. Lucky for me he had five stalks left. Now I wonder was there a moment Jesus blood pressure hit the roof.
You bet, like the time he started teaching in his own town and the response comes: Who is this kid? Who does he think he is teaching us anything about God. Isn't he Mary’s child down the street, didn’t his dad use to make table and chairs before he passed. Worse, it says, that outside of a few healings, Jesus could work no miracles in his own village. It’s like saying a priest came to Holy Mother of the Rosary and no one would give him a chance. You didn’t know him or he looked and sounded different so you tuned him off
How sad, when we put people in a box. We assume we know all about them and that they have nothing valuable to offer us so we close our eyes and hope they go away. Or worse, we hear and see them and our blood pressure goes off the roof because we fail to take a breath and see things we will work out in the end. Like I knew all the time, this guy would be selling rhubarb at 4 in the afternoon after checking out a half dozen other stores.
Lord when we hit the wall, our blood pressure boils over from stuff we can’t control or put people in a box, give us patience and the wisdom to slow down, and let go and allow your grace to relieve our stress and know good things will come if we just stop being so miserable and stubborn and allow your grace to take root in our hearts so that your spirit will grow in our hearts.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and know at this very moment I’m getting the rhubarb crumble ready to put in the oven. When it cooled out of the oven and we tasted rhubarb, it was very sweet and tasty. My soulmate said, now aren’t you glad I pushed you to make the rhubarb. Sometimes all our faith needs are a little courage and perservance. Sounds like the ingredients Jesus used when the religious leaders and his own people rejected him. Instead of getting upset and boiling over, in faith he persevered and continued to heal and spread the good news. Sounds like a good recipe to take home today. Don’t you think!
13th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
Little girl – I say to you arise. St. Mark 5
Do you ever pause to think about the fact that the readings and gospels we hear each week are over 2000 years old? This story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman who was hemorrhaging who sought out Jesus are ancient tales. And yet we sit here – thinking that we are sophisticated modern humans in 2021 – nothing new under the sun we might say – you can’t thrill me or confuse me with much of anything. But we do resonate with these two passages today – because most of us have been in that situation before. What’s the attraction in today’s readings. Well – basically – they are telling us why we are Christians. Christians believe in Christ and bear His Name. This story reveals why Jesus captured the attention of the people who first listened to Him and why He captures us today.
Let’s review the script. Jairus – the leader of the synagogue comes to Jesus in crisis. He asks Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agrees to come – but on the way there He is beset by an un-named unimportant woman. Yet the one thing she has is tenacity. There’s nothing that’s going to keep her from being noticed by Jesus the healer. I’m not sure what Jesus thought – but this woman was an intrusion – She was pushy –a real pain (well you know where!) She was irritatingly interuupting, grabbing at the hem of his garment. She wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. Couldn’t she see that Jesus was busy?? Preoccupied with getting to the home of Jairus – Jesus was in a hurry to save this little girl. But then he does the unexpected – He stops – He turns to his apostles and asks: “Who touched me” -- Who grabbed the hem of my robe??
Yet from His actions in this gospel – I learn the 5 things that tell me why I am a Christian.
First of all --- This Jesus not only has time for the unimportant – but a preference for them. Remember – Jesus was the synagogue leader – a high-powered man / and yet – He stops to encounter a marginalized woman. In the days of Jesus – women had no standing. She had probably spent her last sheckle on doctors who brought no relief. This is remarkable for Jesus to care for her. And yet – much to the contrary of what society would expect – Jesus showed a preferential option for the poor. Jairus – the important man – can wait while Jesus deals with the unimportant woman. We can take comfort in knowing that if Jesus stopped for her – He will pause for me as well.
Second – Jesus has time for losers. He who has a habit of seeing people on the margins senses that here is a woman with losses. Plural – not singular. She has lost a lot of blood, a lot of life. Down and out, having given up on her doctors and maybe by her doctors, she is a loser easily relegated to life’s sidelines. But not for Jesus. Precisely because she IS sidelined – she catches His attention. That raises the hope he will notice ME as well – that He, in fact HAS!
Third – Jesus has time for affirmation. So far, this woman has been identified only by her bleeding and her pain. But Jesus pauses, He wants to see a face and hear a name. He takes time so see her, not as an intrusion, a non-entity – but as a human being in need. So He speaks to her not as a patient – not as a recipient of the health care delivery system – but as an EQUAL. He calls her “Daughter.” That is – she is more than someone in pain. And furthermore – He affirms her by giving her credit. “Your faith has made you well” He says to her. This raises the hope that He will see me not as a face in the crowd but as who I am – and call ME by name. I like millions of others find this compelling.
Fourth – Jesus ignores the naysayers. I can hear the complaints of exasperation at His demand to know “who touched him.” I’m sure His apostles said: There’s hundreds of people pressing in on all sides – and you’re asking us “who touched you.” Come on Lord!! -- Let’s be reasonable here. Let’s get moving!! Then – when He reaches Jairus’ house –more negative voices – You’re too late / She’s dead! / Why bother? And when He did bother – they laughed. This raise the hope that the people who put others down or criticize you or me –Those who laugh and talk about people behind their backs / are WRONG! And that Jesus is right to deal with me and see me alive and NOT DEAD – as they think.
Fifth - This story when all is said and done – reminds us of a deep truth. Too often we feel that in order to be a good Christian we have to try hard and believe this or that ---whether we in fact, actually believe it or not; We think that we have to get our act together – straighten out all our problems before Jesus will even bother with us. But that’s not true with Jesus. Listen again to the story – Jairus and the hemorrhaging women do nothing more than to cry out – in the face of sickness and death. No one went through a twelve-step program to get ready to come to Jesus. The only qualification for the gift of the gospel is to be dead. Jesus came to raise the dead – this could mean emotionally, spiritually, relationally – and many other ways.
Jesus sets forth no requirements – you don’t have to be smart / you don’t have to be good / you don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be Anything for that matter. It doesn’t matter to him. You just have to be DEAD!! That’s it! It would seem that the more “dead” I am, the more He cares.
What do I learn from this story? I learn why I am a Christian and believe in Jesus and why I am here. I’ve never met anyone so open and accepting – so ready to have mercy on my nothingness and my bleeding. I learn that deep down even though the world will try to knock me down and kick me in the ribs –I know that deep down inside I am a winner with Jesus. To him – I am NOT -- HEY YOU! be He calls me a son or daughter. He knows me by name. I learn that if NO ONE EVER praises me, never notices by strivings, rewards my efforts, pats me on the back, makes me feel that I count! Jesus will be there to affirm me and to say:
“Your faith in me will make you well.”
So many people in the world – when assailed and attacked turn to false friends / false Gods / to the bottle / to drugs to sensual pleasures to drown out their sorrow – at least for a short while.
Jesus stands there with his nail-scarred hands – and a heart that was pierced – pouring out not ony blood and water – but pouring out acceptance / forgiveness / compassion / and most importantly HIS LOVE ---
I’m not sure about you – but in times of trouble, sorrow and death – when all seems lost I’m putting my money on Jesus!! I hope that you will too!
Solemnity - Trinity SundayBy Bishop John Mack
Go, and Make Disciples of All Nations - Matt 28
In 1939 the poet T. S. Elliot wrote a book of poems called the Old Possums Book of Practical Cats. His poems were taken word for word and transformed by Andrew Lloyd Weber into a musical play which first appeared in London, then became a hit in New York, where it ran for nineteen years. You are probably familiar with the musical: Cats
In his poems, T.S. Elliot says that all cats have three names. The first name is the name that the people the cat lives with give it. You will notice I did not say the people who own the cat. No one owns their cat, they just find a way to live with the cat the best they can. Anyway, the guests in the cat's home give the cat a name Like Fluffy or Bitsy or Garfield. According to T.S. Elliott, the cat has a name that other cats know. The cat might be called by the others, McCavity the thieving cat, or Mephistopholes, the magical cat, or Old Deuteronomy, the wise old cat. But, Elliott says, the cat also has a third name. This is a secret name that reflects all that the cat really is. In the poetry, the cat spends all his life contemplating his real name before God.
T. S. Elliott was not writing about cats. He was writing about people. In some ways we all can be thought of as having three names. There is the formal name we receive from our parents. There is the name our friends use. And then, there is that special name which we receive from God that reflects who we really are. For example, I have a formal name, Bp John Mack. My second name is the one my friends call me, Bp John. I have another name, a third name, that I do not thoroughly know. That is the name that states who I am in my relationship with God. I received this name from God at my baptism. It expresses my deepest intimacy with God. This name states in a simple voice the unique reflection of God I was created to bring to the world. I was given this name at my baptism. I don’t thoroughly know this name. I will have to spend the rest of my life coming to a deeper and deeper knowledge of who I am before God. I will have to spend the rest of my life learning what my name is. You also have three names. The first is your formal name. The second is the one that those who know you use. The third is the name that proclaims to the world your unique relationship with God. Today - on Trinity Sunday we consider the name of God, Father Son and Spirit.
This is more than a theological dogma about God. It is also a doctrine about us. It is an expression of who we are. We are baptized in the name of God.
The goal of our lives is to find the particular, unique expression of God's love that we have been empowered to make present in the world. The goal of our lives is to reveal our most profound name. All who are baptized in the name of the Trinity are called to the Father in Christ though the Holy Spirit. We are called to the Father. The journey of our lives is a journey to God. This journey may follow the paths of marriage and parenthood, as many of you have taken. This journey may follow the path of the committed single Christian. The path might be that of religious life or holy orders. We just had a deacon follow that path and he became a priest. All journeys derive their meaning from their final destination. The journey of our lives is full of minor chores and major events. Even our routine chores derive their meaning from their final destination. Changing your baby's diaper, telling your child for the hundredth time to clean up his or her room, putting up with your spouse's moods, giving up going out with your friends so you can spend some extra time with your children, going to work and all that entails, going to school and completing all its tasks, all take their meaning as part of our journey to the Father. We are called to the Father in Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of God Become Flesh. Our Christmas celebration is a celebration of His Presence not just among us but as one of us. He teaches us who the Father is and how we can best serve Him. Jesus teaches us with His life what love really is. Love, true love, is sacrificial, even to death on a cross. When we journey to the Father through Jesus, we are united to the Tremendous Lover in His eternal sacrifice of himself to the Father. The greatest steps we take in our journey to God are the steps we take away from our own selfishness. Christian is our name and our claim. We seek God not through the loss of personality like so many cults, or through attaining a clear state of consciousness like Scientology, or even through a loss of all thoughts. We don't look for God in some sort of inner energy. We seek God through sacrificial love. We are called to the Father through Jesus Christ, the Tremendous Lover.
We are called to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. We are given the power and the grace to love as God loves so others might experience the presence of God working in us. We are the vehicles of the Holy Spirit. Our journey to God is not merely a matter of our individual relationship with God.
We journey to God so that others might join us in the journey that gives meaning to life. We journey to God so others can see Him in us and also be led to His presence.
The intimate name we have received is the name that best reflects our unique sharing in the Blessed Trinity. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are called to allow our lives to have meaning by being faithful to our name. A hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, ten thousand years from now, our participation in all the petty wants and desires and ambitions the world has decreed are the marks of a successful person will be forgotten. No one will recall if we owned a Rolls and a yacht, or a Hyundai and a canoe. But a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, ten thousand years from now, the world will still enjoy the impact of our lives if we have illuminated the world with our own unique reflection of God. The world will be a better place if we make the journey, approaching the Father through the Son with the power of the Holy Spirit.
SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST SUNDAYBy Bishop John Mack
All of us have been given to drink of the one spirit - I Cor 12
The feast of Pentecost is oftentimes called the “Birthday of the church.” That’s a pretty good description but again – maybe it isn’t. Why not?? Because it carries a certain distortion – When we say Pentecost is the birthday of the church – we unconsciously think of the church as we know it today. When Pentecost happened --- and the church was born – there was no church as we know it today. There weren’t any buildings, church structures, large headquarters (like the Vatican) or bureaucracy to go along with it. There weren’t 1000 Christian denominations or even the PNCC for that matter. That’s how people think of the church today; as a Christian institution/ corporation. All that existed was a rag-tag group of 12 apostles (after Judas had been replaced by Matthias) and those remaining followers who hadn’t scattered after the crucifixion. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit didn’t fall on a structure, or a building or the externals – because as I just said: there were none of these things! The Holy Spirit fell on: unwashed stinky fishermen, peasant carpenters, ordinary housewives, suspect tax collectors and seedy marginal people. Some would call them the dregs of society. Outcasts, lepers & sinners; all these were the intended target of the Spirit of God. And yet the Holy Spirit glued them together by three things:
1 - Baptism into Jesus 2 – The breaking of the Bread in Eucharist 3 - witness by ordinary people. These were the basics of being church. The presumption was that each one upon whom the Spirit fell had gifts to use to spread the gospel. What a remarkable concept. Everyone is equipped to be an evangelist – a witness to Christ! Young and old / rich and poor / educated and un-educated / everyone has a role and a purpose in the body of Christ. This is the attitude or the norm in the early church. A poet joining fishermen and tax collectors; simple people with a variety of gifts. That’s what St. Paul was writing about when he penned the words: “There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are a variety of services, but the same Lord.”
That is church when you come right down to it. The miracle of Pentecost was not that people could understand what the disciples said on that first Pentecost. Remember all those different countries and people from the first reading? Medes, Parthians & Elamites and others?? No, the miracle was that they had the boldness and conviction to say it in the first place! The miracle was that ordinary people who recently had been hiding and fearing for their lives suddenly were church and were making bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.
I share with you a story about a church conference held in Leipzig, Germany in 1964. The custom at the conference was to have a high-ranking city official to bring greetings to the assembly.
A communist magistrate was invited and he accepted. The magistrate, an avowed communist, spoke of his own experience of being imprisoned under the Hitler regime because of his party. Remember, the memory of this was only about 20 years prior. He spoke of another prisoner who had been given some work and limited freedom as a “Trustee.” For his work, the man was given a few bits of extra food or an old shirt and other things which he could well have kept for himself. It wasn’t much – but it was a bit of favor shown to him.
That man the magistrate said was a Christian –and shared what he got with other prisoners. He’d toss a bit of biscuit or tobacco into other prisoner’s cells. Whatever he got to make the life of other prisoner a bit more bearable he would give them. It was against the rules and he was at great risk to do so. He would have been killed if he was caught. The magistrate then concluded his story by saying: “This was the first time I ever thought the church might be worthwhile.” Notice that he didn’t say it was the first time he thought that all the church buildings, land holdings and bank accounts might be worthwhile. No – he said that when he saw the witness of this man that “church” might be worthwhile. And that’s why people convert and become Christians. Not because of lofty doctrine or loftier buildings but because they see the church in action in the lives of people who are church.
For many years while teaching 1st communion classes I would ask the kids: If a tornado hit and blew the church down tomorrow would we still have a church. Kind of a “trick question” because even at age 8-9 their innocence of thinking is being changed. Think of it this way: If we could “time-warp” out of this building and be set down in the middle of a desert, would we still be church. The answer is yes, we would! If we would gather in prison cells to celebrate a secret Eucharist, if we would hide in a barn to baptize our babies or meet in the catacombs as did the first believers would we still be church?? If we would bear witness at work in our offices, or in our neighborhoods or in our schools would we still be church? Most definitely! in the truest sense.
We have been baptized all of us. We celebrate Eucharist. And when we witness that makes us church! Baptism, Eucharist and Witness are still our defining identities as they were on that 1st Pentecost when the church was born. Everything else is just fluff. It might be “pretty fluff – but it’s non-essential to the work of Jesus. The people are the primal identity of the church of Jesus Christ.
I have one more question for you “If someone should ask you, “tell me what Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral is like” you might be tempted to describe the lovely building, the beautiful religious artwork carved by Fr. Sr. Walter Madaj or the beautiful grounds. But of course you would be wrong! The building is merely where the church meets to worship, just as the office and school are where the church meets to witness, or the home where the church gathers to grow or the neighborhood where the church helps its neighbors.
The proper response, therefore, would be: Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral is warm, caring and gifted. And then you might throw in for good measure: “Oh Yes, it’s buildings and grounds are nice, too!” On this PENTECOST SUNDAY I pray that through the action and power of the Holy Spirit it may always be so for those who walk through these doors.
Happy Birthday -- amen
Sixth Sunday of EasterBy Bishop John Mack
Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. --- 1 John 4:7-10
This Sunday’s second reading and the Gospel reading speak about the command to Love. If you notice the reading from 1 John reminds us that God has first loved us. He has showered His Mercy on us. He has chosen us to be the recipients of his love. In the Gospel reading we hear that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us, with a selfless love, a love willing to give His Life for us. We are called to sacrificial love. Those of you who are married know that sacrificial love is the only love that keeps a marriage together. It is the way that a marriage grows. You know that you will always care for your spouse and that your spouse will always care for you. You know that you have something in your marriage that can better be described than defined. Maybe it is better to say that you have Someone, not something. You have the sacrificial love of the Lord. You have Someone. You have the Lord.
But there are some people who profess a deep love for their spouse and who even shower him or her with expensive gifts, but whose marriage is built on a foundation of selfishness. These are the people who are concerned with what they are getting out of the marriage. Their marriage will crumble when they realize that it takes more sacrifice than they are willing to make. The most horrific example I have come upon was a young husband who deserted his wife when she entered into the last stages of cancer. She pleaded for him to come and see her in the hospital. She even had a priest call him and ask him to go with him to the hospital. He responded that he had moved on. The marriage from his side was built on selfishness.
Most of the priests that I have met over the years take their ministry extremely seriously. They know that they have to deal with stress, from the routine stress such as preparing homilies and dealing with all sorts of different personalities, to the extraordinary stress such as presiding over the funeral of a child. Most of the priests that I have met embrace their stress as their way of giving themselves to God through their people. However I have come upon a few priests who treat their ministry as a job with set hours. They act as though they are only priests during office hours and are not available when their people need them the most. There is a definite selfishness in the ways that they are viewing their vocations. Certainly, they are not loving their people as God called them to love.
Most parents put the greatest amount of their energy into leading their children to become good and decent Christian men and women. They are raising children for the Lord.
This takes sacrifice after sacrifice. Over the years, I’ve seen some of our parents come to Church in the morning a bit worse for the wear after a few battles with their kids in the early hours. I had one mother ask me to do a better job in blessing her children this week because last week’s blessing didn’t stick. I have also come upon a few parents who have decided that the work of bringing up a child takes too much effort. As their children get older and really need their parents the most, these parents are absent emotionally, psychologically or even physically.
None of us here are as extremely selfish as the examples I presented, but there are times that each of us is more concerned with ourselves than we are with those we are called upon to love. There are also those times that we haven’t loved like Jesus loves. And then the married here might reflect, “Perhaps our marriage would be stronger if I wasn’t selfish so often.” Today – on the “official” day that we honor our mothers we men might reflect on what we do the other 364 days of the year as a husband and father. Do we go beyond traditional roles (if there is even such a thing today) to make our spouse’s life a little easier to live. Are we active and attentive fathers to the needs of our children – or are we just a “bread-winner” who does no more. In today’s world it can be rightfully said that most women have two full-time jobs: the 40-hour a week job outside the home and the 40-hour a week job within the home. Reflecting on Jesus’ command of love and self-giving –I am convinced that there would be so many more children growing into warriors for the Kingdom of God if we were all more determined to guide them through adolescence and the Teen years rather than giving up on them.
And the Mercy of God is always available for us. God does not give up on us even when we have not loved as He has called us to love. God does not tire from extending his mercy to us; we are the ones who get tired of asking for His mercy.” If you need someone to emulate think about someone who has influenced your life in a positive and wonderful way. For many of us it will be our own mothers or grandmothers. Think of the Most Holy of all mothers the Blessed Virgin Mary. Think about her love for God, and for Jesus. Think about how she allowed herself to be used by God – to accomplish the salvation of mankind. There are two very similar words in the English language that describe completely opposite ways of life.
One is selfishness – I pointed out examples earlier in the sermon. The other is similar: selflessness --- Excellent examples of this are: The Blessed Virgin Mary; Mother Theresa and other saints and common folk through the course of history. There are many examples living and moving amongst us as well today.
We come before God’s mercy today and we ask him to forgive us for our selfishness and help us start anew. We can’t give up. We won’t give up. The Mercy of God wipes out our past selfishness and leads us to respond to the Lord’s command to love others as He has loved us.
The first and best lesson in love that we learned most likely came at the knee of our own mothers. May we honor them this day and every day for their great love. They are the closest thing to the love of Jesus itself that we have and can live out in our lives. And for those of you whose mothers are now with Jesus. Know that they continue to look down upon us, to care for us, pray for us, and most importantly to love us!
God’s Blessings of peace, patience, joy and love be with all mothers both living and deceased on this Mother’s Day.
The Fourth Sunday of EasterBy Bishop John Mack
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the Sheep - John 10
In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the good shepherd to a mere hired hand. A good shepherd cares about his sheep. The hired one cares about his salary and maybe when he gets off work. What is wrong with working for hire, and doing your job even if you do not like the sheep you are tending? I imagine that a lot of us are like this about our jobs, out of necessity. We ask, why can’t we work simply for gain? Look at it this way. Imagine that there are “handles” on things, imaginary handles. Everything I own—honors that come to me, possessions, all of these have “handles” that someone could grab in order to wrestle it away. Home, car, looks, reputation, career, money saved up for the children’s education, respect from others. pleasure, youth, you name it. We want to keep what we have. We grab the handles tight. Who can blame us? But an ominous power comes into play at that point. The forces of greed and evil tell our hearts that everything in the whole world is there just to be grabbed for myself and kept. “Greed is a virtue,” these forces say, in fact the only true virtue. The first decades of this century presented an economic crisis that seemed a perfect result of this way of thinking.
But there is an alternate way of life. It has to do with love, the kind that the good shepherd shows us. Love says, “the real value in life is to receive, not to grab and possess.” All that you have and all that you are is a gift from God. You can open your hands and let God pour into them whatever you really need. And if you keep those hands open, you can easily let what you have pass on to others, those who are in need. Two ways of life: on one side, “Grab and Keep.” On the other, “Receive and Let Go.” The hired hand says the first, the good shepherd the second. Do you understand, thus far? Good, because the story continues.
There comes an epic battle between these two ways of life. It is waged on the cross. Evil applies its weapons: it seizes and tears away from Jesus everything with “handles” on it—friends, followers, career, respect, relation to God, His clothes, the ability to breathe, and then life itseblf. It takes everything. Evil wins. Except. There is a fatal flaw in the grab-and-keep philosophy. Since this viewpoint thinks that everything whatsoever has handles on it, there is an important reality that it cannot recognize at all. Love. Love lets go, receiving humbly, giving humbly. The devil has no way to perceive love since there are no handles on unselfishness. The devil has to misinterpret what he sees, as just another form of self-interest. So he burrows down to the innermost sanctum of Jesus’ soul, greedy to seize the ultimate prize itself, the reality of God. Salivating for it, ravenous, unable to hold back, he throws open the tabernacle doors of Jesus’ soul. He finds that this sacred space is empty. Completely empty! Present are the quiet stillness of receiving gratefully and lightly letting go, but they are without handles. The devil gives up and goes on his way, confident that everything is now his. But it isn't. Love wins because it has given everything away.
I would like to close by sharing with you a real situation of care, compassion & love. It is a story of a Good Shepherd. Our parish of Sts. Martin & Rose in San Antonio TX has been shepherded by Fr. Sr. Gus Sicard since they came into the PNCC over 25 years ago. Fr. Sr. Gus has been there through baptisms, first communions, confirmations weddings and funerals. Although in his mid-70’s, Fr. Sr. Gus has the spirit of someone much younger. This past summer in August, he had a medical emergency. He was hospitalized for a long time, entered specialized re-hab for additional months but then was to be discharged just before Christmas. He wasn’t strong enough to return home. Faced with entering long-term care, one of the parishioners, whose children were already grown had two empty bedrooms in his home. He decided to take care of the “Good Shepherd” they had known and loved for so long. He offered to care for Fr. Sr. Gus in his home. Some might say that the Spanish community is known for that; caring for the elderly. Household oftentimes consist of parents and grandparents , aunts and uncles who are elderly, but that certainly cheapens this offer of care and support. Remember the words I spoke earlier? And if you keep those hands open, you can easily let what you have pass on to others, those who are in need. This is not a special chromosome – knitted into the DNA of a certain ethnic group. It is a condition of the heart that has been taught and learned across 2000 years. The condition is called “living out your Christianity.” I would venture to guess many people and some Christians are not afflicted with this condition. As the story continues – this situation did not work out for the long-term. I know that Fr. Sr. Gus felt like he was imposing on the family. After another short hospitalization and re-hab – Fr. Gus wanted to return to live in the surroundings at the church. I want to let you know – his living space is not elaborate surroundings. It’s actually in what used to be the choir loft of the church – somewhat tiny and cramped – but this is all he required. Because steps were involved – and he couldn’t climb them now – the parish instead remodeled a room near the downstairs bathrooms for his bedroom. Additionally – they have contracted with an older couple to provide him the oversight and care that he now needs. I also want to let you know that the parish is by no means affluent. I’m sure that at times, Fr. Sr. Gus spearheaded their renovation projects, special celebrations with Mariachi bands and other occasions with his personal funds. As he was so generous with them – now in turn they are doing their best to care for him. What I want you to understand is that Good Shepherd Sunday is not about only about the clergy or the ordained.
What would happen if all of us cared, really cared, about our brothers and sisters who are hungry, homeless, helpless, mistreated, victimized, suffering, unemployed, impoverished, threatened, rejected? What would happen if all of us became good shepherds and cared? Wouldn’t the consequences be monumental if everyone in the Christian community became a good shepherd?? I think that you know the correct answer!
Shall we try it with what remains of this Easter season? We aren’t doing it alone, we have the support and the help of the Original Good Shepherd --- The Risen and Victorious Son of God, Jesus Christ. What better company could we be in? Amen
Third Sunday of EasterBy Bishop John Mack
“A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.”
Peter claims, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the servant Jesus has been glorified. Among other things, such a claim might be referring to the testimonies, recounting about the risen Lord, that the third Gospel drew upon. While the disciples who had returned from the road to Emmaus were explaining how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. Frightened, they thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus told them to look at his wounds and even touch him. He knew they were having trouble believing what was before them. As if to convince them that he was somehow, albeit strangely, flesh and blood, he asked for something to eat in their presence.
Our first brothers and sisters in faith experienced Christ in his body so gloriously that even his wounds were lovely invitations to faith. This, like other accounts of the risen Jesus, is amazingly wonderful. And despite the efforts of countless commentators and interpreters over the centuries to reduce these narratives to something neither quite so strange nor nearly so wonderful, one fact remains: The resurrection community that had experienced Jesus’ dying now experienced his risen presence. And it was, quite insistently, an embodied one.
This is a Jesus of sight and sound, of memories and relationships, of love and tenderness. He would take food and allow himself to be touched. Even his wounds could be examined. It was a recognizable and identifiable Jesus, a realization of his bodied existence. And yet he seemed to transcend the conditions of sheer organic materiality. He would appear out of nowhere, supposedly pass through walls and closed doors, walk on water, and reveal wounds startlingly different from the open sores of earthly trauma.
Often enough, we have come across claims that this cannot be literally true. But what if it were true? Either this is all speculation or there is some kind of bodied existence that is not the same as our sheer physical limitedness. It is a kind of existence that enters our world yet is not cramped by it. Human destiny after death appears to have fascinated every human community. In fact, some of our most ancient encounters with our forebears are through their artifacts that portray the transition of death. Earliest oral traditions, sagas, and myths speak of the journey beyond our body’s door. From very basic artwork on the walls of cave dwellers to the magnificent pyramids of Egypt where kings and queens were placed for the afterlife, mankind has always had a fascination and preoccupation with death. Philosophers, even the early Greeks, seemed preoccupied with questions of immortality.
Plato, not very friendly to the body in any case, thought that on some purely psychic or intellectual level we not only outlasted our bodies—we predated them too. After all, we are not just souls or psyches or minds. We—our identities, our selves—are living, breathing, embodied spirits, laced together with memories, sensations, commitments, gender, relationships, and intelligence.
Thomas Aquinas saw this problem in his own time, the thirteenth century. There is no way we could talk of personal immortality or our destiny if our bodies were not somehow part of the picture. If a disembodied soul survived our deaths, that might be nice, but it certainly would not be us. We are ensouled bodies. A separated soul may live on—but it would be drastically incomplete. Perhaps a good example of this would be children who were separated and given up for adoption at birth. Due to the availability of records today – and the wish to know their birth parents and families – people search and search for that lost brother, sister or mother. At first – all they have is a name or a last address. They spend hours and hours seeking that important connection. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the tearful reunions that usually occur at an airport or in someone’s home – when they finally meet. After years of searching the name in a book, the phone number, where your sister lived and what she had done for the past 30 or 50 or 70 years all become real. The name finally becomes real because they are standing in front of you. That’s how it is with the immortal soul and resurrected bodies.
This is why Thomas Aquinas loved to dwell on the resurrection narratives. It suggested to him that we, like Jesus, would have a new bodied existence, truly related to our bodies in this world, but nonetheless freed from their organic disabilities. He writes excitedly about the kind of bodies we might have in the next life: While the immortality of the soul was a proposition Aquinas held on the evidence of reason, the immortality of the body he affirmed on faith—faith in the Resurrection. We Christians believe in glorified bodies, resurrected bodies. These days we are receiving many confirmations of such beliefs by the numerous accounts of near-death and out-of-body experiences. But our convictions go back to the testimony of our first brothers and sisters in faith, those who experienced Christ in his body, but so gloriously that even his wounds were lovely invitations to faith. You can have your hunches about robbed tombs, passover plots, mass hysteria, and other conspiracy stories.
As for me, the famous writer Dante Alighieri touches the mystery of the gospel witness as well as he does our own longing. In his book, the Paradiso, he writes of our bodies’ destiny embraced by heaven. Every promise of the body, the splendor of our organic life, shall be lustrous and strong. Nothing good of this wondrous world of sense and sentiment shall be lost. All will be gloriously preserved as Christ’s own body was: “Long as shall last the feast of Paradise, Even so long,” it said, “Our love shall lace This radiance round us for our festal guise.“And when we put completeness on afresh, All the more gracious shall our person be, Re-clothed in the holy and glorious flesh.”
Perhaps in our traditional Easter greeting – we should have an alternative response: When someone says: Christ is Risen we should reply: And one day, so shall I: in body, soul and spirit. What a beautiful promise to look forward to - Amen
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTERBy Bishop John Mack
My Lord and My God !!
I’d like to begin with a story today – because the Easter season is truly about stories – the first of which is of course, the miracle of the Resurrection. This story takes place in the backwoods of Kentucky – way back in the mountains. Old Clem decided it was time to purchase a new saw to help clear his heavily timbered property. Now it had been quite a while since he shopped last but he had heard some neighbors exclaiming about the productivity of the “new saws.” Well the salesman showed him the latest chainsaw model and assured him that it could easily cut three or four cords of wood every day. Clem bought one and began the next day. But – he only cut 1 cord of wood. The next day he arose an hour earlier and managed to cut a little over one cord. The third day he got up even earlier but only managed a total of 1 1/2 cords of wood. Clem, in utter disbelief of the salesman claims returned the saw to the store the next day. And explained the situation. The salesman undaunted, said “Let’s see what’s the matter.” He then pulled the cord and the chainsaw sprang into action!! Clem leapt back – having been startled by the salesman and exclaimed, What the heck is that noise!
A number of years ago NBC’s Brain Williams commented that it was a rough week for Christians: On the front page of the New York Times there appeared a story that Jesus really didn’t walk on water. A scientist claims that there was a freak storm that turned the lake into ice and so Jesus walked on ice. No miracle there. Then a fish was discovered having opposite fins – indicating they were to be used for walking and so we have proof of evolution. The major news magazines likewise seem to publish like clockwork religious themes every Christmas and Easter. It is a well-worn pattern: Three quarters of the articles raise new theories that debunk traditional Christianity along with glorious artwork, boxed quotes to catch the eye, attractive layouts, and lots of coverage of new ideas, new wave jargon, and the viewpoints of self-proclaimed enlightened “modern-day” prophets. At the very end – hidden where you’ll never find it is a line that reads: Of course, some noted theologians and Scripture Scholars disagree. We are barraged by challenges to our faith and belief-system each and every day of our lives. From books like the DaVinci code a number of years ago. How about the “left-behind” series of books? Many people read these books or watch the movie and they are taken in by them. They actually half-believe what they are peddling.
And that becomes the issue – the big, big issue: Who can contest them? Sadly, very few can. Most Catholic suffer from what we might call the “Thomas Syndrome.” What’s that you ask? It’s what we find in today’s gospel. Thomas, one of the 12 was not with them when Jesus came.”
That’s it: The Thomas Syndrome means the Thomas Absence. He was absent when the risen Jesus came and so did not get to see Him or hear Him and His message. And so not knowing he had do defense against false information or false rumors about Jesus and so his faith wavered. And there we are as well. That’s us: Absent Thomases. Not seeing nor Hearing Jesus or learning about him we see and hear everyone else and have no way of knowing whether what they’re saying is true or not. Not having seen and touched Jesus and the church tradition about Him not knowing His mission and message we have no comeback. Nothing to draw on to critique what is being said. We have in short no tools to measure the absurd or ridiculous, the false from the true. No wonder what we are bombarded with today sounds so plausible.
What I am saying is that we are absent from sufficient knowledge about our faith the we have to admit we are religiously illiterate. That’s a tough word to admit to but is it true for you?
How could we possibly evaluate The DaVinci Code or TV shows or magazine and newspaper articles if we don’t know the basics about scripture the church’s teaching on various moral and ethical issues and many others. The answer is that we can’t! How can we speak intelligently about it if we are still trying to live an adult Christian life based on spotty grade-school religious knowledge? For those of you still working imagine being illiterate in our work. Imagine we’re a mechanic still using the tools and knowledge when we worked on Model T’s in 1900 and now we’re working on a highbred “cross-over” vehicle. We wouldn’t know where to begin. Imagine if we are a doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher or tax accountant who hasn’t kept up with changes in our field. We’d be out of a job very quickly. The point is, we keep up with everything but our faith. Of course we can tell anyone who ask s about the latest Hollywood scandal, who’s moving on to another round on American Idol, which immoral hussy got a rose on The Bachelor or who are the best prospects in the off-season for the Bills. In the way of the world in entertainment, in media, in professional sports we are masters. When it comes to our faith, however, we are afflicted with Thomas Syndrome. Maybe that sounds kind of harsh, but it seems to be largely true in many cases. Hopefully you get the point.
All the stuff avalanching out of the secular media is overwhelming. It sows doubt and confusion because, Like Thomas, we were not with the disciples when Jesus came. We really don’t know who He is or What He Said or What He wants of us. We can’t evangelize because we don’t know what to say. We can’t combat anyone’s objections or excuses. We’re very similar to Clem in my opening story. Nothing in his experience prepared him for a gas-powered chain saw. Even if we had the right tool in our hands, we don’t know how to utilize it properly.
Today’s gospel about Thomas is, in its way a wake-up call. It’s time for us who are absent from knowledge about our faith to learn why we are Catholic. Why we believe what we believe and do what we do. We need to invest the time to gain sufficient knowledge to discern the true from the false to be able to refute the nonsense and affirms and explain our faith. We should subscribe to good magazines and books, join the bible study group here or elsewhere. We can prepare ourselves by going on line and reading religious articles, reflections. Papers and meditations. The Internet is a great tool for that. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the Thomas Syndrome is a timely affliction one that we can’t afford to ignore. It all boils down to priorities and your personal relationship with Jesus. We can simply ignore this Syndrome and continue to suffer from the symptoms it causes such as: weak faith, anxiety, hopelessness, disbelief, personal and relational issues, bad marriages and family life. Or we can choose fix the problem by being an active, informed, educated and vital Christian. If we invest in our faith – our knowledge and our relationship with Jesus, no matter what “dis-information” the world throws at us; no matter what doubt non-believers hurl at us, we will be able to say with conviction, “My Lord and My God!”
What a great and joyous feeling and way of life that would be for US! Don’t put it off Start today and build on it every day! And God will bless it abundantly! AMEN
Easter GreetingsBy Bishop John Mack
“In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!”
The words above are taken from a hymn entitled, “Hymn of Promise” written by Natalie Sleeth a number of year ago. It speaks, of course, of the process by which a caterpillar forms a cocoon or chrysalis and transforms itself into a beautiful butterfly that emerges from the cocoon when the time is right. The emergence of the butterfly is one of the many symbols that we associate with Easter. Other include: Easter eggs, beautiful spring flowers, pussy willows and many more. To me, the cocoon is so very significant to relate to the last twelve months of what all of us have been experiencing.
All of us have been placed into a cocoon of fear, of anxiety, of doubt and spiritual loss by forces from outside of us and forces that are beyond our control this past year. It has been absolutely bewildering, frustrating, and mind-boggling dealing with issues of employment, relationships, schooling, personal and community health just to name a few. Even as I sit at my computer, I am aware of yet another parishioner who needs sacraments of the sick and Holy Eucharist because she is failing and yet, I cannot gain access to the Nursing Facility so that I could bring her the very things, as a faithful Catholic, she needs to receive. This, because of guidelines that are said to protect the health of all and yet in reality restrict and remove the rights (especially spiritual ones) of so many. It is certainly a travesty of epic proportions. Just ask loved ones who have been denied access to husbands, wives, aging parents and grandparents, many of whom die alone and afraid. They have been shattered and had their hearts broken by the experience.
Our local ministerium is just now concluding a series of Lenten services entitled, “Places of the Passion.” One of the weeks highlighted the Garden of Gethsemane. The homilist for that week related how he felt as if he and many others around Him had gone through a year-long Garden of Gethsemane. On the fateful night in that garden Jesus prayed intensely, seeking the strength, the obedience and the power to faithfully fulfill His Father’s plan for mankind’s salvation. Jesus’s prayer was so intense that he experienced hematidrosis; drops of blood dripping from his pores. So many people have experienced intense prayer in their own lives these past few months. We have prayed for family, friends, our local communities and our faith communities. We have faithfully prayed for first responders, medical personnel and those who have lost loved ones. In our sufferings, we have shared in the sufferings of Christ.
Even though Jesus knew His fate would bring Him to Calvary the next day, He pressed on. Even as He walked to Calvary, enduring the jeers and taunts of the angry crowd He remained faithful. Even as He hung on the cross, He forgave those who persecuted Him and offered up salvation to the two criminals hanging with Him. Why? Because He trusted in the will of His Heavenly Father. He trusted God’s plan. He knew that beyond the pain, agony and degradation of Calvary, the Father would raise Him on the Third Day and He would stake His claim of victory over death. This promise was not only for Christ, but for all who live and believe in His promise of Eternal Life.
Why has most of the world been so consumed with fear over the preponderance of death this past year? Numbers and fatalities were the focus of most every newscast and plastered on every front page. Could it be that the reason is because of an absence of faith in our society? For so many there exists a lack of intrinsic belief that there is something more beyond this life. Perhaps the person’s only recognition of a “god” comes when they softly speak the phrase: “Thank God is wasn’t me this time” as they view the tragedy of life. Ultimately, it is because most of our modern world fails to see anything spiritual, but dwells only in the physical. This is certainly not to negate any of the loss that so many people have experienced in the death of loved ones this past year. Ask Jesus. He knows human death firsthand, yet He is the One, the Only One who can break for us the shackles of death. He is the Only One who can offer us eternity with the Father.
Returning to our chrysalis and emerging butterfly, the fact remains: The caterpillar’s old body dies inside the chrysalis; it literally disintegrates. What emerges is a new body with beautiful wings appearing in about two weeks. If you see a partially-opened cocoon, naturalists advise us that we mustn’t touch that cocoon; we “cannot help the butterfly emerge.” The butterfly must struggle and emerge on its own. My prayer for you my dear ones, is that you emerge this spring from your cocoon. Most certainly, it has been a struggle for all. Nonetheless, spread your newly-formed colorful wings and fly as does the beautiful butterfly. Have belief and faith in all the promises of the Father, but especially in the Easter Promise of Eternal Life. Let us not reserve our joyous Easter greeting of “Christ is Risen, He is Indeed, Risen – Alleluia” for only fifty days until Pentecost, but joyously proclaim these words to the world every day. Christ’s presence in the world will only enter in, when it is brought there by faithful followers of our Risen Lord.
I close with a few stanzas of the Hymn of Promise: most appropriate for this festive Feast Day,
“In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. . . . In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity, in our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity. In our death a resurrection, at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. May your Easter be Blessed with every promise of Our Risen and Victorious Lord!