Letters From a Pastor to His People

  • 25 October 2020 | By

    Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 25, 2020

    Dear Parishioners,

    Picture the most serious love you have.  I'm not thinking about love for the Bears or for White Castle (ok, maybe that's just me), but love for your spouse or for your child or for your parents or siblings.  Do we love God that way?  We have to.  Jesus says so.  We are commanded to love.

    But how can love be a commandment?  You can't be forced to love.  No one forced you to love your husband or wife, and if they did, it probably wouldn't have been love. 

    The way we can be commanded to love is by the part of love that involves the will.  For love is not simply a feeling.  It is an act of the will.  You cannot force feelings.  You can, however, force or command your will.

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28 Jul

Pin Cushion Priest

Someone once told me the large colorful robe I was wearing at Mass, called the chasuble, made me look like a giant silk pin cushion.  One of the nicest compliments I have been paid, I must admit.  It is part of our lives as priests to be tools, and dispensable ones at that. 

First, a tool.  The priest at Mass offers up sacrifice through Jesus to the Father.  When I offer those prayers, you stick your prayers and intentions to me, the pin cushion.  That sacrifice becomes more plentiful and pleasing the more pins, or prayers, you stick in me.  It is not James Wallace's sacrifice, but the parish’s sacrifice in Christ. 

Which leads me to my second characteristic: dispensability.  The Sacramentary, or the book that contains the Eucharist Prayer from which the priest recites, reads, “we pray for Pope N. and Bishop N.”  'N' is an indication to insert the current names.  As important as the pope and the cardinal are, they come and go, hence their names are not written permanently.  If the Archbishop of Chicago and the Holy Father are spare parts that can be replaced, then even more so with me!  Eventually, another pin cushion will come after me and offer your sacrifice to God Almighty.  I will go to another parish and do the same.  It is your offerings that make the sacrifice unique and pleasing to the Father, an authentic Catholic Mass at Saint Juliana Parish. 

So, please, have intentions and throw them at me when you see the pin cushion raise his hands behind the altar.  It is a great privilege to be a “pin-cushion priest.”

28 Jul

Ask and you shall receive

Father James with his two nephews: Luke (age 4) and Sebastian (age 2) 

Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 28, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

I have mentioned my nephews and niece in homilies before.  They are ages four, two, and one.  In addition to simply the joy I receive spending time with them, there is always some lesson or message I also take away by our encounters. 

Swimming with them is one of those insightful experiences.  My nephews, Sebastian and Luke, in particular love going in the water.  When it is time for them to go out of the pool and dry off they cry, yearning to get back in.  They stand on the deck and hold their arms out, indicating for me to grab them and pull them in.

Now, I'm not their father (I guess I'm their uncle-father?), but our interaction made me think of my relationship with God, whom Jesus tells us to call our Father and to ask him for things. 

28 Jul

Gospel July 28, 2019

On seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first reading is from the Book of Genesis (18:20-32). Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people and Muslims alike, had a great relationship with the Lord Himself. Abraham was not asking for personal favors but for the life of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah where his nephew, Lot, and his family lived. These two cities had become synonymous with evil and depravity of every kind. In the reading, Abraham questions God six times about the parameters of divine justice, and six times God appears to adjust them. God heard and responded to Abraham's plea. The key ingredients in this story are Abraham's faith and persistence.

21 Jul

God is a Fan of Us

Fans, a few years back, voted as the most memorable moment in Major League Baseball history Cal Ripken Jr. on September 6, 1995 breaking Lou Gehrig's streak with his 2,131st consecutive game played.  In the age of SportsCenter where the only highlights seem to be of the mammoth home run or a winning play from Game 7, this vote is a fascinating one indeed.  Fans appreciated endurance more than entertainment.

Forgive me for the trite connection, but God is a fan of us.  If he were to vote for the most memorable moment(s) in our spiritual life, I bet it would be us going to Mass week in and week out.  Whether we were busy or feeling ready, we went.  And we may have had a great experience during Mass or we may have fallen asleep, just like Ripken had great and horrible games during the streak.  But, like the Iron Man, we returned next Sunday.  God appreciates our commitment to him more than the results.  Commitment, achieved through the will, is a reflection of love.  The beauty of the spiritual life is that love for God need not be flashy.  In fact, it can be rather dull.  Commitment to the ordinary is extraordinary.

Fans, perhaps subconsciously, acknowledged Ripken's willpower because they were awed by his genuine love for a game.  I cannot think of a better occasion to make a memorable moment, an act of profound love, than routinely attending Mass in Ordinary Time.  I hope our streak never ends.

21 Jul

Contemplative prayer

Father James with his five friends from seminary: Fr. Pat (Mobile). Fr. Adam (Kansas City), Fr. Victor (Mobile), Fr. Alex (Scranton), Fr. Anthony (Harrisburg).

Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 21, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

A wise person once told me that true love doesn't consist in saying 'I love you'.  Think about when you're with your spouse, or your brother or sister, or your best friend.  When you're watching TV together, or fishing together, or having dinner, you may be sitting in silence, but love is being expressed.  Love is a reception of the other person's presence.  That is the ultimate goal for prayer.  That is what we call contemplation, and that's the point I want to make from the Martha-Mary Gospel.

21 Jul

Gospel July 21, 2019

On this sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time, the first reading comes from the Book of Genesis. The Yahwistic author mentioned Abraham addressed “three men,” as one person, “Sir.” Abraham offered his visitors the best of his household. The quality of his hospitality was rewarded with the annunciation of Isaac’s birth. The divine visitation to Abraham portrays a God who fulfills the promise that Abraham will be the father of a multitude. Abraham’s welcoming faith had been rewarded with an experience of the transcendent God.

14 Jul

The House of Gold

California has the fifth largest economy in the world, a prosperity that can be traced back to the gold rush of 1848.  Prior to the discovery of golf, California was a barely populated territory annexed by the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War.  Thousands would migrate to the area, towns founded, a transcontinental railroad built, and a new society established.  The influx of the metal aided the dormant American economy and many professions, beyond that of mining, profited.  The admission of California as a state, shortly thereafter, was part of the 1850 Compromise that hastened the Civil War.

All this because of gold.

Gold is the most precious, beautiful, prized, sought after, incorruptible, durable metal there is.  When Solomon built the temple to God in Jerusalem in 953 BC, it was considered the most precious edifice in the world.  We read that "there was nothing in the temple that was not covered with gold" (1 Kings 6:22).  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provides this inventory: twenty thousand golden tables, a hundred thousand golden vials, eighty thousand golden dishes and twenty thousand golden censers.  Only was this splendor worthy of God.

It is fitting, thus, that Mary should be called "the House of Gold." She is the most precious, highly sought after, standard-setting, durable person there is, after her son.  Her soul, like gold, is refined, pure, and incorruptible (see the connection to the Assumption).  The way Solomon's temple was filled with gold objects, so is Mary's soul filled with graces.  The way the 49ers sacrificed everything to mine for gold, saints have labored for Mary.  And the way gold led to the transformation of America, so too has Mary, the House of Gold, transformed the Church and countless souls.

 

14 Jul

Preoccupation

Father James with an employee of Wrigley Field after he said Mass for the Chicago Cubs

Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 14, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

Preoccupation.  That, to me, is one of the themes of the parable of the Good Samaritan from today's Gospel.

The priest passes by the victim because the priest is on his way to the temple to worship. The priest will be delayed and, furthermore, if he comes into contact with a potential non-Jew (remember, the man has been beaten and stripped, so there's no way to identify him as a Jew or Gentile), the priest will be impure and have to go through ritual washings, delaying him even more.  The priest is too preoccupied.  He needs to serve God by getting to the temple.  He passes the beaten man by.

14 Jul

Gospel July 14, 2019

The First Reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. This Book was written by a group of faithful Jews in the northern kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BC and means a “second law” that sums up the significance of the Exodus. Moses urges the people to heed the voice of God and to keep God’s commandments with all their heart and soul. After listening and acknowledging the one God, the people are to love the Lord their God with their whole being.

07 Jul

The Concord Hymn

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered all American soldiers to attend religious services and decreed "a public whipping" for any man who disturbed services.  It is said that on the eve of the Battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775 that the Minutemen kept themselves occupied and calm by singing and chanting the psalms from the Old Testament.  In fact, half a century later, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would famously rhyme about the role of God in the battle in his "Concord Hymn" (1837):  

O Thou, that made these heroes dare

To die, and leave their children free

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Washington was a great believer in both God and his providence.  He once said this, in response to New England ministers who had complained that there was no explicit reference to Jesus Christ in the Constitution: "The path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction."

Washington's Secretary of State and drafter of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, had a bit more complicated religious background.  Nevertheless, when Congress was attempting to design the official "Seal of the United States", Jefferson offered a suggestion.  His drawing depicted the Israelites wandering in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt.  Somehow Jefferson saw God's hand in guiding the American people.  Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin also offered a religious design: the scene of Moses leading the Israelites through the parted Red Sea waters.  Neither of these submissions were chosen and, ultimately, the eagle, pyramid, and eye were used for the great seal, as seen on the one dollar bill.  The eye did, however, represent God's providence and the motto, "In God We Trust" is on our currency still to this day.