God is Fire

Dear Parishioners,

I'm like a Neanderthal when it comes to fire.  I'm mesmerized by it.  Now, I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac.  All you firefighters in the parish, don't give me the evil eye when you next see me.  I'm just saying there is something so primeval and fascinating to me about a burning fire.  Am I that crazy? I'm sure you all enjoy sitting in front of and staring at a fire in your fireplace.  I know the Boy Scouts enjoy making fires--they did so at their Webelos Crossover Event (when Cub Scouts enter Boy Scouts) last week. 

I don't think I'm in horrible company with this fascination with fire.  Moses liked it too. See the burning bush from the first reading (cf. Exodus 3).  This theophany ('appearance of God') had to be incredibly fascinating. Not only is God fire, which is intriguing in itself, he is fire that does not consume. 

This is more than just a fake fireplace (I hate fake fireplaces by the way...I want to build my own fire!).  This is something 'remarkable', as Moses himself commented. 

God is fire.  He is mesmerizing, appealing, and heartening.  And he does not consume.  There is nothing we lose when God comes more fully into our hearts.  We only gain. 

Firefighters should love this image of God.  Think of a fire that does not destroy.  What more could you want!

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The Contemplative Life

Dear Parishioners,

There are some who think there is no place for the contemplative life in Christianity.  Quiet, interior prayer is an aberration.  To be a Christian, they would say, means to serve our brothers and sisters.  Jesus did remark, after all, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  When we are just praying like monks, we are not serving anyone.  Hence, there is no room for recollected prayer.  That takes us away from the mission of Christ.  Such is the claim.

I brought up this argument in my first talk on prayer a couple weeks ago.  There are many flaws in that argument; many ways to rebut it.  The Transfiguration, which we read about this weekend, is one such way.

Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with his apostles, Peter, James and John (the three whom he will take apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane). He is elevated and experiences a mystical encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Yes, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, but they also both represent interior, contemplative prayer.  Moses for 40 days was on Mount Sinai, communing silently with God.  He was immersed in a sort of luminous cloud, which the Hebrews called the shekinah.  When Moses comes down the mountain after 40 days, his countenance is changed.

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Accept Your Discipline in Life

Dear Parishioners,

A 12th-Century Cistercian spiritual writer, William of St. Thierry, wrote this of us:

O image of God, recognize your dignity,

allow the imprint of your Maker to shine out from you.

To yourself you may appear mean

but in fact you are precious.

To the extent that you have fallen short

of him whose image you are

you have become stamped with foreign images.

But if only you begin to breathe again

to live as you were created,

if only you accept a discipline of life,

then you will quickly shed and part company with

those adulterous images

which are like stains clinging to the surface.

I read this recently and find it to be a fitting reflection as we begin the season of Lent.         

The first two lines: we are made in the image of God and have inherent and invaluable dignity.  Pause on that truth.  We've heard it before, but let it sink in.  We are made in the image of God.  God is good.  We are good.  Yes, we may sin and do things that are ungodly, but that does not change our fundamental identity.

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Be Aware

Dear Parishioners,

"For every tree is known by its own fruit" (Lk 6:44).  A simple, but powerful statement from our Lord from today's Gospel!

This is so important to help with our discernment.  We can judge a tree by its fruits.  That is, we can judge an activity by the resulting experiences.  I tell this to the children all the time.  How do you feel after playing video games for a long period of time?  Are you irritable, impatient, disobedient, quarrelsome, edgy until you can get back to playing?  If so, those would be "bad fruits" and the "tree", then (playing video games excessively) is probably bad as well.

This applies for adults equally.  TV shows, use of the phone, some other addictive behavior leaving you with an empty feeling or not putting you in a place of love and peace?  Then that would be a bad tree and we should probably limit our interaction with it.

The key to utilizing this little discernment trick from our Lord is being aware.  We have to be attuned to our inner state.  We need to catch ourselves when we're in a bad mood.  Only then can we determine what perhaps is the source of that bad mood and take steps to correct it.  Remember, Jesus doesn't want us to feel bad, but fulfilled.  He knows what is best for us.

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Love Your Enemies

Dear Parishioners,

This, to me, is our Lord's hardest teaching, or at least one of the hardest.  "Love your enemies...turn the other cheek...stop judging." 

I once heard a priest say, "We love God as much as we love our least favorite person."  Ouch!

Yes, it's a hard saying, but "with God all things are possible."  That could be a simple prayer of yours this week.  Think of a person with whom you struggle and simply offer a Hail Mary (or some other prayer) for that person each day this week.  How powerful that could be!

This is the Commitment Weekend for the 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal. We are called to answer Jesus' call to follow Him and share the word by providing the necessary contribution to fund ministries and services to share God's love with many others in our parish and our Archdiocese.  The Archdiocese of Chicago does so much for the City of Chicago and for the universal Church, and we all know how important St. Juliana is to the lives of so many. Your contribution to the ACA allows us to continue to function and make a difference.  Please remember that the ACA is not a one-time special collection, but rather a pledge campaign where you can make a more generous gift payable in installments.  Cardinal Cupich and I are deeply grateful for your generosity. 

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Inconveniences Are Good

Dear Parishioners,

This is a beautiful Gospel scene.  There is a lot to unpack, a lot upon which to reflect.  One thing immediately comes to my mind is inconvenience.  Jesus does not mind inconveniencing people. 

First, the crowd.  The crowd is "pressing in on Jesus." They obviously want to be close to Jesus—to hear him more clearly and perhaps even touch him.  Jesus leaves the throng and continues his lessons from a boat in the lake.  'Where are you going, Lord? Don't leave us!'

Second, the fishermen.  They had just finished their long day of labor.  They had secured their boats, were washing their nets, and ready to go home for the day.  They must have thought, when Jesus chose their two boats, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" The day's not over yet, fisherman.  They drag back the clean nets, unhinge the boat, and set off into the lake, as if it was morning already for the next day of work.

Third, the fishermen, part 2.  Not only are the workers back out on the lake when they thought they were finished for the day, they are now instructed to throw the nets back in to resume their fishing.  Not only was this laborious, it was emotionally draining.  They were already demoralized, having caught nothing for the day.  Being told to try fishing again must have been hard to swallow.  It's like a father insisting to his boy to continue hitting the golf ball when he just can't get it right.  'Can't we just try again another day?' No!

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God Has a Plan For Each One Of Us...

Dear Parishioners,

Jeremiah's opening, in our first reading, is perhaps one of the most heart-warming lines in all of Scripture:  "The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:4-5).

I don't know about you, but I find this very consoling.  Pray on that line.  God knows exactly who we are.  He formed us in our mother's womb.  He designed us and is with us always.

It's easy when we're discouraged about our failures to think we're alone.  If we do see God (and the temptation is just not to think about him at all--he's ignored us when we're in darkness, we think), we feel God sees us as a failure, a disappointment.

But it's not true. God is with us, knows what's going on, and has a plan for us. 

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Ezra, Man of Law

Dear Parishioners,

I have to mention Ezra from our first reading, being the canon lawyer that I am.  Because, you see, Ezra is connected to the law and quite significant when it comes to establishing the foundation for church law.

Ezra lives about 450 BC during the Diaspora, or when the Jews were dispersed throughout the Middle East.  Jerusalem had been destroyed and many of the Jews taken into captivity in Babylon.  He is a scribe and priest (remember how Jesus confronts the scribes?).  He is sent by Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, who has conquered the area, back to Jerusalem to reestablish the Torah or the law to the Jews who were now living back in Israel. 

Ezra was commissioned for this project because he was a man of the law.  He had introduced to Jewish communities living outside of Israel to the customs of the faith.  These weren't just haphazard practices created by Ezra, but practices outlined in the law.  Following the law, therefore, connected these scattered Jewish peoples to the true faith.  They couldn't physically worship in Jerusalem.  But this didn't mean they still couldn't be Hebrews.  If they followed the law, their identity was established.  So, it wasn't political nationality, ethnic background, or even regular participation in the Jerusalem temple cult, but following the law that made them God's chosen people. 

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A Thousand Bottles of Wine

Dear Parishioners,

There is so much to reflect upon with the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This is our Gospel reading this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Yes, we are officially back in Ordinary Time.  We will climb all the way up to the 8th week in Ordinary Time before switching to Lent at the beginning of March.

The water is symbolic of the Old Covenant.  Notice the water is specifically mentioned to be in "six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings." The relationship of the Jews to God in the Old Testament was not as vibrant as it could be.  Jesus transforms the water into wine; he transforms the faith.  Our relationship with God in the New Covenant is now something totally exhilarating and fulfilling.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice our second reading is a description of all the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

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With God, All Things Are Possible Even Time Travel

In discussing the Eucharist, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, "This sacrament has a threefold significance: with regard to the past...with regard to the present...with regard to the future..." (ST III, 73.4). The movie Back to the Future comes to mind.

If you have never seen the 1980s cult classic movie trilogy, time travel is the subject.  A high school student travels to the 1950s and interferes with the events, thus altering the future.  When he returns back to the present, it is no longer the present as he left it.  Some terrible events have also happened in the future, and so the main character and his sidekick must travel back to the past and then back to the future to correct the situation.  It is easier to watch than describe.

"With God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26) and God makes 'time travel', in a sense, possible with the Eucharist (not the flux capacitor).  When we celebrate Mass on Sunday, three time periods are being invoked and affected.  With regard to the past, Mass is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary 2,000 years ago.  His sacrifice that led to our redemption is placed anew upon the altar at Catholic parishes around the world.  With regard to the present, Mass is communion.  We are united to Jesus right now and to the church, both members here on earth and those in Heaven. With regard to the future, the Mass is the participation in a banquet occurring in Heaven.  It will draw us to Heaven, which is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as viaticum

When we go to Mass we are, as theologian Peter Kreeft puts it, "bilocating, not just in space but in time."  I hope you enjoy the presentation.

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