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.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C - 2016

I once heard a story about a very kind elderly woman who had one daughter.
She loved her daughter and always looked forward to seeing and being with her.

The daughter however was often busy and unable to come and visit.
Sometimes she could not even spare the time to talk  with her Mom on the phone.

There was always some pressing issue that needed attention or she just had so much on her plate.

When she did come to visit she often arrived late, stayed a short time and left early.

The mother never got angry, she never held a grudge,  she always forgave her daughter even though she longed for more time and attention from her.

As the mom got older and more dependent on her daughter the visits became even less and less.

Finally, the Mom died but sadly the daughter arrived late as usual and was unable to say goodbye.

The next day after her mother had died the daughter went to the funeral home to make the arrangements but to her surprise they had already been made by her Mom.

When the daughter tried to change some of the details but she was told that her mom had left that responsibility to someone else.

Leaving the Funeral Home the daughter drove to her Mom’s home.

To her surprise her key no longer worked in the door and she could not get into the house.

A neighbor saw the daughter trying to get and and came over.

Your Mom had us change the locks as soon as she passed away and she left me in charge of the house and the property.

The daughter was shocked and dismayed yet there was nothing she could do there was no way to make amends to her mom.

Obviously the elderly Mother in the story represents God and the busy self absorbed daughter is humanity.

The moral of the story and the first lesson that the Gospel teaches today us is simply this.

During our time on earth God will give us chance after chance after chance

He will forgive us over and over again.

Jesus is reminding us in this Gospel that once we die our choice is made and there are no more second chances.

God will judge us fairly and justly by the lives we have lived and the love we shared.

The second lesson is just as important as the first.

Jesus describes the path to salvation as a narrow door.
It’s a narrow door. He says “Some will try to enter but be not be strong enough”

The message is clear.

Being saved and living with God forever will require some effort some sacrifice on our part.

It will probably require letting go of some things we value.

Picture someone trying to carry all of the things they hold dear through a narrow gate or doorway. Possessions, Opinions, Desires, Prejudices, anger, resentments etc.

If we load ourselves down with lots of things during our life and we refuse to let go of them how will we ever fit through the narrow door to heaven that Jesus is talking about ?

How will we ever get through it ?

Salvation seems to demand that we put things down and let things go.

Over and over in the Gospel Jesus warns us to travel light as we journey through life and yet the world tells us take this and that you need this and you need that you have a right to this and don’t let anyone take that from you.

The world would have us take to ourselves as much as we possibly can and make it difficult for us to get to through the door.

Finally the third lesson about salvation is simply this.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time believed that  their salvation was assured simply because they were Jews .

They took God’s love
and God’s mercy
and God’s forgiveness for granted

You see it’s not enough to want to be good.
It’s not enough to have been good once upon a time.

Our salvation depends on loving God and loving our neighbor.
Jesus is warning us not to simply presume God’s love or forgiveness.

Remember what we just heard in the Gospel

He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.

And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.

Depart from me, all you evildoers!’

Today’s Gospel is not easy to hear but the message is clear Jesus was warning the religious leaders of his time and he is warning us

that even though Salvation is a free gift that God longs to give each of us,
we must live good holy lives which demonstrate that we are willing to accept God’s love and salvation.

Yes God loves us.
Yes God longs to be with us in heaven forever.
Yes God is good and merciful.
Yes to all these things.

But God is also just.
God is and must be as just as he is loving,
as just as he is merciful,
as just as he is forgiving.

And so good people it is  important for all of us to remember that what we do and how we live our lives matters.

One day when our time comes our merciful and loving and just God will do the loving thing and judge us justly by how we have lived and how we have loved.

Our consolation should be that only God knows our hearts
He knows us better than we know ourselves.

God understands all the challenges we faced and the love we have shared.
God loves us and longs to be with each of us forever.

God’s Judgement is final
Our salvation will demand some effort on our part
We should never simply presume God’s love

So Let us be attentive to God’s word today.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C - 2016

Many of us go through life asking questions like:
What do I need to do to be successful?
What do I need to do to be happy?
What should I do to be healthy ?

We ask ourselves over and over again..
What do I need to do to get ahead of the pack and stay there?
How much money do I need for my kids to go to college ?
How much money do I need so that I can retire comfortably ?

These are all valid questions and frankly many of us live with them day in and day out.
But...all of these questions are about our life here on earth,
which we need to remember  is so very short and fragile.

Every week before the start of Mass we read the names of people who have passed away and we have to wonder as they knocked on heaven’s door if they had wished they had spent more time worrying about eternal life.

Today’s gospel asks us, it is wise to spend so much energy only thinking about the here and now and not spend time thinking about forever?

Today’s Gospel and this question reminds us so poignantly  to raise our eyes and our thoughts and our worries beyond  the normal everyday challenges of this life.

There was a little old lady in my very first parish in a very poor violent neighborhood of Rome.  She had all kinds of challenges, she was desperately poor.

One day when I saw her she was so happy I would say she was ecstatic because a distant family member was coming to visit her.

People rarely came to our neighborhood because it was so violent and they were afraid.

If it wasn’t for the church the little lady would have been terribly alone.

She didn’t have money for any special food so she spent the whole day in a park picking mushrooms.

When  I passed her walking home she was so excited because she found some great mushrooms and she would be able to put them in the pasta she was going to serve her guests.

The next day when I saw her I asked how her visit went and how the pasta was.
For the briefest of brief moments she looked sad and then she said.
I put the mushrooms on my porch to dry and someone stole them
but then she quickly added but Father when you think about eternity what difference do those mushrooms make?

The Scholar’s said the way to heaven was
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

So the next time we find ourselves worrying about
What this person or that person said,
or how much money we have,
or what color we have to paint the living room,
or whatever...

Let us ask ourselves
When you think about eternity what difference does this really make.

And if we really want to live in God’s Kingdom
Let us occupy ourselves with things that really matter.

Let us Love God,
And Love our neighbor especially those in need whoever they may be.

That’s  what the samaritan did in the Gospel and that’s what we have to do.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

St. Maximilian Kolbe

This week the Relic of Maximilian Kolbe is in our parish so we will speaking at all the masses a little bit about his life and his heroic witness.

Maximilian Kolbe grew up in challenging times.
For much of his life it must have seemed like the world was falling apart.

When Maximilian was born, Poland was partitioned between it’s powerful neighbors.

Poland was a battleground during WWI because it was situated in the middle of the powerful countries that had partitioned it.

When he was a young man The Tsar of Russia was overthrown by a the communist revolution and Russia became a Godless socialist state. That must have been terrifying for a pious simple family of faith from Poland

In all this confusion, social turmoil and violence, Maximillian’s family turned to God for consolation and hope. They never stopped trusting God.

When he was 12 while at prayer he asked the Blessed Mother what should do with his life.

He later recounted that she appeared to him and offered him a choice between two crowns, the red crown of martyrdom and the white crown of purity. He with his passionate young faith he told her he would accept both of crowns.

A few years later he and his brothers entered the Conventual Franciscans. By the age of 20 he had distinguished himself as a friar and had earned a doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome.

As a young seminarian and priest was very charismatic and natural leader and soon many friars wanted to join him in his ministry.

He always lived very simply but wanted to use any modern means he could to share the gospel.

So after his priestly formation he returned to Poland determined to start a printing publishing house. He had no money but one day in church while prayer at the Blessed Mother statue he found an envelope with the exact amount of money he needed to begin the publishing house.

His life was full of successes.
Eventually he published several Catholic publications.

So manywanted to work with him that he had built a huge Franciscan Friary to hold them all. It was so large that it was called “city” of the Immaculate.

He started missions in Japan and India and everything he touched seemed to thrive.

But we all know that worldly success, even when it is for God is not always an indication of holiness.

When World War II came he started a hospital at the city of the Immaculate treated anyone who would come no questions asked and He and the brothers who remained continued his publications.

Eventually, he was arrested by the Nazi who saw his devotional publications as a threat and he was sent to Auschwitz.

While there he ministered to the other prisoners regularly heard their confessions, helped them face the challenges of life in Auschwits and prepared many for death.

He was revered by fellow prisoners who did whatever they could to protect him from of the Nazis who had a special hatred for Priests.

Then one day three prisoners escaped and the Nazi decided to execute 10 in their place as they were being chosen one of the men spontaneously yelled out “my wife and my children.”

In a moment without hesitation  Maximilian stepped forward and offered himself in the man’s place saying “take me instead he said I am a priest and have no family. “ The Nazi were only too happy to comply.

He and the others were confined to a death bunker where they were denied  food and water for the rest of their short lives. In many of the other death bunkers those condemned went insane as they suffered.

From Fr. Maximillian’s bunker  only prayer and hymns could be heard. He prepared and comforted each man for death and finally when he was the only one left because he did not die quickly enough he was executed by a lethal injection.

Fr. Maximilian had huge successes for God throughout his life but it was that singular moment that moment of self surrender that moment when he offered his life which proved that his faith was real and authentic.

I’m sure he had human weaknesses and idiocracies remember being declared a saint does not mean that someone is perfect. It means that in the end they somehow chose God.

By his self surrender in that one spontaneous moment it became clear to all that Maximilian Kolbe had given his life to God.

We live in challenging and difficult times. Sometimes it seems like our world is falling apart. Sadly our church seem to be emptying out rather than filling up as we face our challenges.

The first thing we have to ask ourselves is in this time of confusion where are we going to place our trust.

With all that was happening around them Maximilian and his family did not surrender to cynicism,
they did not become angry like everyone else,
they did not lose hope. They placed their trust in God.

As confused as things have become of late their example should inspire us to do the same.

It is clear that even at the age of twelve young Maximilian understood that life was not only about him. Even at that early age he was willing to dedicate himself for the good of others.

We need to do a better job at teaching our children that they are not the center of the universe, we need to help them understand that everything does not revolve around what they need and what they want.

We need to plant in their hearts a desire to work for the common good and not only think of themselves.

Thoughtout his life Maximilian took the time to properly discern God’s will.
He never did anything without taking it to prayer and discerning if what he hoped to do was for the good of God’s Kingdom.

We need to ask ourselves how often do I seek to understand God’s will rather than our own will. How often do I place the good of God’s Kingdom, the spiritual lives of our famllies before my needs and my wants. Or is it vice versa.

Finally there will come a moment in our lives or several moments in our lives when love will call us to make a special sacrifice.

Someday God is going to call us to step out of our ordinary lives and do something heroic just like he called Maximillian.

Maybe it will be taking care of our elderly parent or infirm spouse or child.
Maybe it will be bringing someone in need into our home
Maybe it will be forgiving someone we love for the hundredth time
Maybe it will sharing something we need for ourselves with a person in need rather than just giving for our leftovers

Maybe we will even be called in someway to give our lives to someone out of love

When God calls, will we be willing to step out of our everyday life and say yes take me. Here I am take me.

Maximilian did and that moment proved his faith was real.  Amen