Letters From a Pastor to His People

  • 24 January 2021 | By

    Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 24, 2021

    Dear Parishioners,

    Have you ever had an epiphany about one of your behaviors?  I know the feast of the Epiphany was last month, but the theme of revelation or epiphany is pertinent, I think, to the readings today.  The town of Nineveh has a 'wake-up call' with Jonah's preaching and they change.  Jonah reveals to the people just how destructive their behaviors are, and they repent.  Jesus too speaks of repentance.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John receive a sort of revelation when Jesus calls them: they leave their old way of life and convert.

    So, back to the question.  Have you ever read something or seen something that has made you realize, Wow, that's me or Yikes, I'm doing that, and tried to change?  Or maybe had someone reveal something to you?  I had a recent example.

    As I mentioned in a homily a few weeks ago, some priest-friends and I are reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung.  It's a book on the Seven Deadly Sins.  The chapter on gluttony opened my eyes.

    OK, I'll make a public confession: I commit the sin of gluttony.  You might be surprised, thinking I'm pretty thin.  Sure, I talk a lot about Malnati's, but it doesn't appear like I overindulge. 

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Simply, Love One Another

Dear Parishioners,

George Washington's Farewell Address is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, second to Lincoln's address at Gettysburg.  It has been analyzed, referenced, and reenacted (the speech is read every year on the US Senate floor on February 22) countless times. 

Washington didn't actually deliver publicly the over-seven thousand word address.  It appeared in the newspapers on September 19, 1776.  The father of the nation indicated he would not seek a third term as President of the United States.  He would instead "retire" to his home in Mount Vernon.  This was truly his desire since the end of the Revolutionary War.  He simply wanted to tend his land.  He truly was a 'Cincinnatus'. 

Washington warns, in the address, against division: geographic, political, international. But he is also positive, attempting to guide the people and leave an American legacy. "The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity," he wrote, "must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local distinctions."

Washington wanted to form an American identity in the people.  They were no longer British colonists.  Nor were they citizens of a particular state, federalists, republicans, farmers, soldiers, whatever.  They were Americans.

We read from the Gospel of John this week part of Christ's 'farewell address.'  It's better than Washington's.  His 'command' to the people (just like Washington 'commanded' the people not to be divisive) was: "love one another" (John 13:34).

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We Survived!

Dear Parishioners,

When I first prayed over the second reading for this Sunday, in preparing for this letter, I had my own revelation.  Of course, this is John's revelation.  He sees a great multitude standing before the Lamb of God, wearing white robes with palms in their hands.  One of the saints leans over to John, during his vision, and explains to John that “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14). 

My vision was that this multitude in the white robes was you all, you faithful Catholics.  No, it wasn't an idea of throwing a toga party.  It was me seeing you all who have survived 'the time of great distress.'

Okay, what's the time of great distress?  Two things.  First, in the Catholic Church. It's been a rough year for the Church, with the scandals and so forth.  You are still coming to Church.  (If anyone thinks Catholicism has been weakened, I hope you saw the Church on Easter Sunday—it was an absolutely packed house.  And, talking with pastors elsewhere, they had similarly full congregations.)  You have persevered in your faith throughout the scandals.  Your robe has been washed white.

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Mothers Not Only Can Be Saints, They Can Make Saints.

On this Mother's Day it is worth examining several saintly women. 

Joan of Aza was the wife of Felix de Guzman, a Spanish official.  She had already borne two sons and was praying for a third. She had a vision, while praying in church, of St. Dominic of Silos.  He told Joan not only would she have a son, but that her son would be a source of enlightenment for the world.  Joan then had a dream of a black and white dog carrying a torch in its mouth.  Joan gave birth to a son, whom she named Dominic. Her son, the St. Dominic we all know, would go on to establish the Dominicans, or the domini canes, the watchdogs of God.  And Joan's other children? Two became priests, one of whom was also beatified (Blessed Mannes). And Joan's daughter sent two of her sons into the Dominic Order as priests to follow their uncle.

Elisabeth Leseur was an incredibly spiritual woman.  The great suffering in her life was her husband, Felix, whom she loved but who was also an atheist.  Elisabeth died in her atheistic husband's arms on May 3, 1914.  Less than a decade later Felix Leseur was ordained a Catholic priest. 

And who could forget the greatest mother saint of all (besides Mary)? St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine!  Monica was a devout Catholic married to a pagan.  Her son Augustine had fallen astray.  But Monica did not lose hope. She prayed and wept abundant tears.  Monica died in Augustine's arms and her son went on to be baptized, ordained a priest and then bishop, a doctor of the Church, and a saint. 

Mothers not only can be saints, they can make saints. 

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We Must Obey God Rather Than Men

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Peter's transformation is astounding.  He goes from denying Christ during the Passion in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin to proclaiming Christ without fear in that same locale after Pentecost.  That boldness is seen in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles.

Peter and the apostles had been warned not to preach in Jerusalem.  They saw what the Jewish leaders did to Jesus when Jesus did the same thing--they had him crucified.  But Peter is a different man now.  He does not back down, even when threatened.  "We must obey God rather than men," he says.

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St Thomas, Didymus - The Twin

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Thomas was called Didymus, which means 'the twin.'  Someone asked me about this recently.  Thomas did not have actually have a twin sibling.  He was called 'the twin' because of his split personalities, if you will.  He is a faithful apostle, yet he doubts. 

When Jesus decides to see Lazarus, though it will mean traveling into the lion's den, Thomas says, "let us go that we may die with him" (John 11:16).  When Jesus says at the Last Supper that he is going to the Father, Thomas asks what the way is, to which our Lord responds: "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:15).  When Jesus comes back to life, Thomas resists: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

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The Bunny Hops, Does It Not?

Dear Parishioners,

I came across a quote from Saint Gregory the Great, the Pope from the 6th Century.  It made me think of Easter.  But before unveiling the quote, a word or two about Gregory.

Gregory, born in 540 to a wealthy patrician family, was elected prefect of Rome in his late 20s, an incredible feat.  Dissatisfied with this life, he resigned and became a Benedictine monk.  Renowned for his holiness and his discipline, the clergy and people of Rome elected him Pope at age 50.  As Pope, he removed unworthy priests from office, lived in monastic simplicity, used funds from the papal treasury to care for victims of the plague, famine, and war, dealt with the Lombard king who was attacking Rome, converted Great Britain to Catholicism, introduced 'Gregorian chant' and other prayers into the Mass, and wrote a book, "On Pastoral Care," which is still read today. There is much more Gregory did. Paul the Deacon, who served with him in Rome and later wrote about his life, quipped, "He never rested."  There is a reason he is dubbed the Great. All popes, bishops, and priests should model themselves after this saint. 

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Ah, Holy Jesus

Dear Parishioners,

One of the highlights of my year as a priest is reading the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  It is a privilege to play the role of Christ in the narrative.  The part that always sends a chill down my spine is when the crowd (you all in the congregation) yells out: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"  It's amazing to hear the church roar.

I know you personally are not directing that at me personally. You don't want to crucify me. (Okay, well, maybe, some of you do.) And I know you don't want Christ to be crucified.  You're just playing the part assigned to you.

But why would the Church arrange it so?  Because there's some truth in our crucifixion of Jesus.  We do send Christ to the cross. 

I don't say this to make you feel bad.  I put myself in the same boat.  When we sin and when we do not live fulfilled lives, we crucify Jesus.  Our forsakenness harms Jesus.  Not because he can't handle himself, but because he loves us so much that he is pained when we struggle. 

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Grounded in Prayer on the Mount of Olives

Dear Parishioners,

There are many lessons we can take from Christ in this well-known scene of the woman caught in adultery from the Gospel of John.

First, leading up to this encounter, Jesus had spent the whole previous day teaching in the temple.  The day ends and our Lord's enemies "went each to his own house" (Jn 7:53).  Jesus, on the other hand, "went to the Mount of Olives" (Jn 8:1).  Jesus received his rest and his 'fuel', as it were, by praying.  Who knows how he would have reacted to this adversary had he not grounded himself the night before in prayer?

Second, Jesus does not respond immediately to the Scribes' and Pharisees' puzzle.  He writes on the ground.  This was a way of indicating, in the ancient world, one's disinterest in the topic.  It was Jesus' way of not engaging and saying, "just go away."  Our Lord is patient.  He does not act compulsively or judge hastily.

Third, our Lord does not objectify the woman.  The Pharisees don't truly care about the woman and her sin and the system of justice.  They are out to trap Jesus.  The woman is merely the opportunity; an object to use in their mission.  Our Lord respects the woman.  He merely offers a wise adage: "Let he who is without sin be the first to cast a stone." Like Jesus, we should never degrade people to satisfy ourselves.

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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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