Sunday, December 04, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A - 2016

I’m not sure if you know this but before I came to St. Paul I spent a month living and praying in a trappist Monastery.

Trappists are a very strict religious community dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation and work

They don't’ talk.
They don’t eat meat,
and they get up at 2 AM pray and study.

Some of you are probably wondering to yourselves…
Fr. Robert what were you thinking ?

It was a wonderful experience but I have to admit I was not perfect at it.

Beside talking when I wasn’t supposed to,
after three weeks of vegetables one day I got into my car drove into town and bought a double cheeseburger with bacon.

Of course I felt bad I told the Abbot what I had done he smiled and said I guess you were made to be a Franciscan not a Trappist.

Along a pond at the monastery there was this very long beautiful row of trees they were in a perfect row equally spaced all the same size. It was very impressive.

One day I asked the guest master about the trees and he responded

A shoot shall blossom from the stump of Jesse

I didn’t understand what he was talking about so he went on to explain.

Many years ago that was a beautiful big old tree which the monks enjoyed.

It was very large and gave lots of shade. There was a bench underneath it and it was a great place sit in the shade and look over the valley and pray.

Then one year after an ice storm severely damaged it they had to cut it down.
Everyone of them was sad because they loved the tree and they loved that spot..

After it was cut down one of the monk cut several of the branches and placed them in the ground as fence posts.

To their surprise after a few months everyone of the posts began to sprout and with a lot of trimming and care that whole row of trees grew from the fence posts cut from the old tree.

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse

Everyone of us has had dark  moments, moments when hope or even the possibility of hope seems far away.

Maybe you've endured the pain of a broken marriage or the death of a loved one.

Maybe you’ve run into financial troubles or lost your home a lot of people have.

Maybe you’ve become estranged with a family member or your kid is really struggling and can’t seem to find happiness.

Maybe your family has moved away and you live alone and are lonely waiting for someone to call..
Maybe you just can’t forgive someone and move on.

The list goes on and on and on…

Yes sometimes life seems like a dead stump.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah is describing the terrible time in which he lived.

During his youth Israel was affluent but then fell to the Assyrians.
In other words Israel went from a flourishing tree to what appeared to be a dead stump.

Judah the northern kingdom later became the pawn of foreign powers.
And even with all the compromises they had made with their neighbors
they too had fallen on very hard times.

All appeared lost there seemed to be no reason to hope.

Yet the prophet Isaiah refused to give up and under God’s inspiration he dared to proclaim that even though the stump of King David's Dynasty, seemed dead a shoot would sprout  and life would return.

Many say this simple phrase was prophecy of the Messiah which would be fulfilled in Jesus That Jesus would be the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse

Isaiah’s prophecy called his contemporaries to hope, hope in God and God’s love

Pope Benedict once wrote

Hope is more than just the belief that things will get better.
Hope is the conviction that we are loved and cherished by God

And If we  understand that we are  loved and cherished by God even for one moment, our lives will never be the same.

No matter what challenge we face no matter how dead our tree seems.

The readings on this second Sunday of Advent call us to hope
Hope without ceasing

Dear Friends
If we are loved by God..
What can touch us ?
If we are loved by God
What can harm us ?
If we are loved by God
What should we fear ?
If we are loved by God
What can we fear ?

Even in the darkest moments  of our lives let us dare to hope that shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent - Year C - 2016

This Thanksgiving as usual I invited my whole family from Poughkeepsie and their friends to the Friary for Thanksgiving Dinner. They told me 20 were coming but as usual with the Schlageters things got mixed up and 14 showed up.

To get ready for Turkey Day I spent Sunday afternoon and Tuesday shopping and I ran into half the parish in stop and shop.

On Wednesday I peeled potatoes and made all the side dishes,
at night I prepped the Turkeys and collapsed in my chair.

Thursday everything went in the oven and I set dining room in the Church Hallt.

Ladies I don’t know you do it.
I don’t know how you face Thanksgiving day year after year and make it seem so simple and effortless.

Suffice it to say when Friday morning rolled around and my 5:00 am alarm went off I hit the snooze button, then I hit it again, and again and again

To be honest  I really don’t know how many times I hit that snooze button but and when I finally when I looked at the clock I was almost late for the 8:00 AM Mass at Sacred Heart.

If  by chance make an illegal right turn on red from Main Street to Farmington Ave, and then hit the 6 signals just right, you can make it to Sacred Heart in 7 minutes. That was my Black Friday lesson this year. It’s possible.

On the first Sunday of Advent the Church always calls on us to reflect on the end times or our final judgement.

All of human beings, all of us will one day stand before God and be judged.
We will be judged by how we lived and how we loved.

Today’s readings invite us to focus on the final judgement,
not to frighten us Or to make us feel vulnerable,
but rather to remind us that this life is not all there is and our destiny is to be with God forever.

In the first reading that’s what the prophet Isaiah paints a picture what life in convenant with God is supposed to be and then he begs them to forsake their worldly, unfaithful ways, and walk in the light of the Lord

Lest one day they be judged for their infidelity

Paul in the second reading echoed Isaiah’s words with his own wake-up call to the Romans and to each one of us when he says….

Brothers and sisters:
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is at hand;
the night is far spent, the day draws near.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.

In the Gospels Jesus continues the same theme and reminds us over and over again that there will be a final judgement.

In the passage we heard from Matthew today he practically begs us to be ready for that moment when we will stand before God.

We never really know when death will knock on our door.
We never know when our hour of judgement will come.
You see that’s the essential tension for everyone who follows Christ:
We are all called to live the present moment to provide for our families and be contribute to common good.

But at the same time we are also called to prepare for our final destiny in heaven.

One of the greatest temptations in life is to keep hitting the snooze button over and over again and never really making an effort
to address our faults and to grow in holiness.

All of us, every single one of us are sinners and all of us  have something that needs to be changed in order to be ready for the final judgement that all we will face.

And so good people this Advent encourages us to reflect on our lives.
stop hitting the snooze button, and change what we need to change in ourselves.

Sadly experience has shown that we just never know how many more tomorrows we will really have.

Let us take to heart the words of Jesus who said in the Gospel

You too must also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”


Saturday, October 22, 2016

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C - 2016

May the Peace of Christ Reign in our Hearts

The Gospel today is not difficult to understand

The storyline is simple
There are two men both in the Synagogue
Both recognize that there is a God
Both realize that God is important in their lives
Both of them have come to pray.
That’s where the similarities end

The Pharisee prays in the front of the synagogue
He likes to be noticed.
He want’s to be heard by God but he also wants to be heard by everyone else.

He is not a bad person
He follows all the rules
He tithes
He lives well  He prays regularly

His downfall is his pride
His pride makes him self righteous
And tragically his pride blinds him to his faults

If you don’t realize your own faults you have no way of ever fixing them.

His love of God is not free he wants something out of it.
He wants to be recognized and praise for his good deeds
And even though he has some grave faults

He is quick to point out the faults of others…
“Like that tax collector over there”

The Tax collector…..
Is not a holy man
He is working for the Roman occupiers
He probably has done his fair share of extortion
He has probably done some pretty horrible things.
He knows he’s a sinner and a big sinner at that
and he knows he has to change.
That’s why he is praying

He is humble and his humility permits him to see his own faults desire to be a better person and that’s why his sin is forgiven.

This parable should give us pause
It should cause us to stop and think.

How often do we allow prideful thoughts to harden our hearts?
How aware are we of our own faults and failings?
How often we we concentrate on the faults of others rather than our own?

We should never be quick to condemn.
We should always always always remember that people are better than their worst moments and we are better than our worst moments

We should be quick to welcome both  sinners and saints.
We should concentrate on our own faults rather than the sins of others.

The Pharisee was a prideful soul indeed
The practice of his faith was hollow and fake
Tragically his prayers were not answered

The tax collector’s prayers were answered because he was humble and sorry for what he had done.
His example challenges us to be repentant and humble


Sunday, September 04, 2016

23st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C - 2016

May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts

Today’s Gospel speaks truthfully, but also starkly, about the cost of authentic discipleship and about the cost of love.

It reminds us us so clearly that there is a big difference between being a follower of Jesus Christ and a Disciple of Jesus.

I’m sure none of us are surprised that Mother Teresa was canonized a saint today in St. Peter's Square by Pope Francis. I mean it’s Mother Teresa

We all know that Mother dedicated her life to caring for the poorest of the poor.

Her witness was so powerful that it inspired a whole community of women to desire be like her.

Her ministry and her love for the poor is recognized all over the world by both believers and nonbelievers.

So none of are surprised that Mother has been declared a saint and that all of us are encouraged to imitate her virtuous life.

What may come as a surprise is that despite her smiles and gentle faithful love of the poor, for most of her public life Mother Teresa endured what the saints have called a dark night of the soul.

Only when her letters were published did the world get a glimpse of the struggle and pain and doubt she carried and many of the saints have carried In one of her letters Saint Teresa of Calcutta wrote

“I am told God lives in me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

She also wrote

“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God — of God not existing.”

Only her spiritual directors knew of mother's heavy burden.

Even her closest sisters never saw an inkling of the doubt and loneliness that mother carried.  

She never wanted her loneliness to become the loneliness of others and her doubt become the doubt of others.

This pain, this darkness, this loneliness and doubt lasted until her death in 1997 but it was a heavy cross but she was resolved to carry.

We heard in the Gospel today Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

We don’t know why God asked Mother and many saints to carry the cross of doubt and loneliness and darkness, we don’t know why God was so resolute in hiding his face and love from her soul, but with all the pain and doubt that she was given Mother Teresa like Jesus she carried the cross till the end

She did not lament, did not give up, she did not grow bitter or resentful, up but rather she remained faithful to God’s call continued to inspire and give hope.

Mother Teresa was more than a follower of Jesus she was a disciple of Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor during the rise of the Nazis in Germany. From the very beginning of their reign of terror until he was executed 3 months before the end of the war.

He resisted Nazis and Hitler in a very public way.

Over and over again his friends and church leaders and even some Nazis themselves begged him to escape and begged him to quiet his public dissent yet he refused.

A prison Guard was even willing to help him escape from prison but he refused.

In his book the Cost of Discipleship he wrote

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

He also wrote...
“So many people come to church with a genuine desire to hear what we have to say, yet, they always go back home with the uncomfortable feeling that we are making it too difficult for them to come to Jesus.”

Even though his family, his fiancee his closest friends everyone dear to him begged him Pastor Bonhoeffer refused to flee Germany, and refused be silent He wrote.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil:
God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Remember what we heard in the Gospel.
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

The word “hate” in that sentence is jarring. And when I was hiking this Friday I spoke about it with a scripture scholar

He explained that Jesus was not asking us to wish harm on our families and our loved ones rather, in the context Jesus was saying that our first love must be God. To the consternation of many that’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer did.

Pastor Bonhoeffer was not just a follower of Christ.he was a true disciple who carried his cross right to the gallows of a nazi prison.

Think about it just a minute.
The best way for me to be a good priest for you is to be a holy priest to love God first and then be inspired by God to love you.

The best way for a Mom and Dad to be great parents to their children is to be holy parents.

If you want to be worthy of your wife or your husband
You have to love God first and then love your spouse like God loves them.

I was hesitant to share the examples of Mother Teresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with you lest you think that discipleship is out of reach for a normal person.

I assure you all of us can be disciples.
I run into true disciples all the time.

I know a tiny little skinny mom who walks into abandoned buildings in the worst parts of Hartford to find her Son who has been a heroin addict for 10 years.

He has lied to her, stolen from her, and yelled at her and even threatened her yet she can look a person right in the eye and say.

He is my Son and I am his mother and I will always love him.

She is a disciple

There is the 84 year old man who came into the office the other day. The 86 year old love of his life was with him she has faded into the haze of alzheimer's yet he cares for her and speaks with her with such tender love. He is a disciple.

There are the many many people I meet who carry the cross of illness without resentment or bitterness.

They go from doctor to doctor and from test to test.
You never hear a word of complaint from their mouths
They are true disciples

There is the Dad who gave up the promotion of his dreams and the fast track in their company  because he know that to say yes meant less time for his family and especially his son who was a little high maintenance at the moment.

The list of modern day true disciples goes on and on and on.

Discipleship true discipleship heroic discipleship is not out of our reach we have everything we need.

And so good people the Gospel  today is calling us to ask ourselves are we simply followers of Jersus Christ or are we disciples.