Sunday, September 15, 2019

WELCOME TO THE LOST AND FOUND DEPARTMENT



Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 14

In the religious establishment of his day, Jesus had a terrible reputation!  He talked so much about eating and drinking and accepted so many dinner invitations, even from public sinners and religious outcasts, that he earned the nicknames of “glutton,” “drunkard” and “friend of sinners!” As the gospels put it, the religious leaders were so shocked by the huge number of rejects and sinners who were hanging around Jesus that they “murmured” out loud, “This man welcomes sinners and  even eats with them!”

In the scriptures, heaven is compared more to a fabulous banquet than any thing else! How better to describe an idea like “heaven” to a bunch of people who were always on the edge of starvation than an “all you can eat buffet!” Not just a Denny’s buffet, but a “gourmet, all you can eat, cordon bleu buffet!”  Isaiah compares heaven to a “feast of rich food and  choice wines,” then he adds, “juicy rich food and  pure choice wines!”

Jesus started his ministry talking about this feast that awaits us in heaven! The very first miracle that Jesus worked, at the marriage feast of Cana, was not the multiplication of bread, the basics of life, but the multiplication of wine, the celebratory part of life! The last thing Jesus did was to establish the Eucharist so that we could dine, not only with him, but on him, as often as we want,  until he comes again to take us to his table in heaven!

By dining with so-called “sinners” and “outcasts,” Jesus sent the message that all of us, no matter how flawed we are, are created in the image and likeness of God and are loved by him! Because Jesus accepted them, enough to eat with them, the message these “sinners” and “outcasts” received from Jesus was that they too were acceptable to God!  One of my favorite parables puts it very clearly, the parable of the wedding feast.  In that parable, Jesus compares heaven to a royal wedding feast to which “the good and bad alike” are invited!  Being invited is not about our goodness, but about God’s generosity!

But nowhere in the gospel is this idea driven home more, than in today's parables! (1) In one parable, God is compared to a shepherd who is so eaten up with love for his sheep that he does something remarkable. Instead of being happy with 99 out of 100, he leaves the 99 obedient sheep out in the wasteland to go looking for the one lost sheep! Finding it, he calls in his friends and neighbors holds a party! (2) In another parable, God is compared to a woman. You heard me! God is compared to a woman! This woman has a headpiece made of 10 silver coins. It was probably her dowry for marriage! She loses one in the dust of her dimly-lit, mud-floored house! In a panic, she lights a lamp and scours the floor until she finds it! Finding it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and holds a party! (3) In another parable, God is compared to a father with two sons. One son gets lost, leaves homes and gets down with the pigs. The other son stays home, follows all the rules and does all that is expected of him. Even before the lost son comes home, even before he has time to give his well-rehearsed apology, the father runs down the road to met him, puts a gold ring and a fabulous robe on him and throws a party. (4) In another gospel parable, God is compared to a vineyard owner who pays all his workers a full days pay, no matter when they started or how long they worked! The point of all these parables is this: God loves us no matter what we do or fail to do  and God has a special place in his heart for the hurting! This message caused rejects, sinners and outcasts to flock to Jesus likes bees to flowers on one hand, and angered the religious establishment to the point of frenzy on the other!  Because they believed God’s love was conditional, these religious authorities plotted and finally put Jesus to death for this revolutionary and dangerous new message!

If it is preached with clarity and conviction, this “good news” of  God’s unconditional love for all people, especially the lost and hurting, is just as powerful today as it was back then! When I was pastor of this Cathedral of the Assumption, I and the priests who worked with me, preached this message to the outcasts and rejects of our day: street people, divorcees, gays, minorities of all kinds and people who have been judged, hurt and condemned by the church and society!  This message caused great numbers to flock here to hear it - and many of you are still here to hear it!   

I could not have preached that message if I had not needed to hear it myself.  I preached it because I needed to hear it!  I have learned one thing in my almost fifty years as a priest: no matter how smart, materially blessed, talented, religiously orthodox or well-connected we are, there is a wounded part of all of us that needs to be healed and needs to be loved. That is just as true of the Pope as it is of the saddest street person!  

This fact reminds me of the movie, ON GOLDEN POND.  In that movie, Henry Fonda is an old man, frustrated with getting old and dependent. Filled with anger about his situation, he is demanding, hard-headed and mean-spirited. One day, after attacking his daughter, Jane Fonda, and leaving her in tears, her mother played by Catherine Hepburn, tries to console her by asking her to put it in perspective. She makes this beautiful insight into humanity, “My dear, if you care enough, you can look deeply and closely at him and behind all that, you will realize that he is doing the best he can!” 

My, friends, if God can see beyond our sins and weaknesses and see that person created in the image and likeness of God, surely we can do the same for each other! The real monsters make the news every night, but most good people like you, I believe, are simply going about doing the best you can! We see externals. God sees into the heart.  The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect to be good enough for God!  



          

Friday, September 13, 2019

SCHWELLENANGST


The Germans really do have a word for everything. Schwellenangst describes the fear of embarking on a new adventure, trying something new, or crossing a threshold. If you've ever nervously stood at the door of a building you've never been in before — like a gym, train station, airplane or anywhere else containing a new experience — you too have felt it. 

A good number of us are scared of change or simply find it uncomfortable. We like routine and we enjoy the predictability built into our lives. It's human nature. However, there will always be times we are required to make adjustments and face the fear that resides within each new journey. 

We all have things we dream of achieving, and with each new step there is a slight anxiety that holds some excitement as it dances through us: the first day of college, graduation, first job, marriage. We fear the never ending ‘what ifs’ and the fleeting thoughts of never being able to accomplish it. All this is part of the allure our dreams have on us.


FACE YOUR FEARS AND LIVE FULLY




Wednesday, September 11, 2019

PRIESTS! PRIESTS AND MORE PRIESTS!


My Priest Convocation Season Has Begun

DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE 
(ILLINOIS)





Saint Peter Cathedral in Belleville

Priest Convocation
September 9-11, 2019

   

To be held in Saint Louis across the Mississippi River. I'll be driving to this one.  



We will be staying a the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch 













Father Eusebius from Nigeria and myself.



A very good week with some very welcoming priests and a few seminarians. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

COUNTING THE COST AND PAYING THE PRICE





Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not
sit down and calculate the cost. Otherwise, after
the foundation, may find himself unable to finish the work.
Luke 14

Over the last twenty years, I have led over 150 priest assemblies in 10 countries. This coming week, I'll be in Saint Louis with the Bishop and priests of the Diocese of Belleville. After that I will be with the bishop and priests of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan and after that the bishop and priests of the Diocese of Pembroke in Canada. In recent years, I have looked out at, and lectured, thousands of priests, hundreds of bishops and archbishops and a dozen or so Cardinals - something I never ever imagined I would do when I was a young priest.  

One of those priest assemblies took place a few years back in the Archdiocese of Tuam in Ireland. On my way from the Shannon Airport to the Shrine at Knock, where our meeting was held, the road was littered with hundreds of half-finished houses that had been abandoned during the burst of the housing bubble. So many people thought they could make a fortune borrowing money to build new houses on their farmland. It looked like a war zone. People simple misjudged whether the money would be there to complete their projects! It was sad on many fronts. 

In my last semester of seminary, one of our professors asked us to write a paper about what we expected in our priesthood. To the person, my classmates wrote idealistic papers as if we were all about to enter the “promised land.” I wrote that I expected to be a priest in one of the most tumultuous times of recent church history. My paper was ridiculed as being “too negative.” My classmates may have been a bit like Peter when he told Jesus “God forbid” when Jesus insisted on talking about the suffering to come. Disappointed with the complexities of priesthood and shocked by the reality of it, over half of my ordination class has left and are no longer serving as priests. Instead of being “too negative,” I may have been “prophetic.”  I am, of course, no better a person than those who left, but I believe I have survived and thrived these last fifty years as a priest because I expected to have problems and I took that into consideration from the beginning and made plans on how to handle them.

When I worked over at Saint Meinrad Seminary, after I left here, and would tell too much truth about priesthood to the seminarians, Father Jonathan used to tease me with “Not in front of the kids!” Father Patrick, quoting of Canon Law, on the other hand, would tell me that “Seminarians are to be told the truth about the priesthood while they are in the seminary.” In any regard, to anyone making the transition from seminary, I would simply say this: getting to ordination is easy compared to staying in and staying healthy and effective as a priest. If anyone “promises you a rose garden,” do not listen to them. Like marriage, priesthood can be difficult. The sooner you embrace that fact, the sooner you can call up the personal, emotional and spiritual resources you will need to deal with the difficulties of ministry as a priest in today’s church. As scripture puts it, “My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for a battle.” (Sirach 2:1) As I say on the first page of my book From Seminarian to Diocesan Priest: Managing a Successful Transition, “It’s one thing to pledge oneself to a high purpose, but it’s another to carry through.”

My commitment to priesthood was tested a mere two week after ordination. I had a very short “honeymoon” indeed!  I had my heart set on being an associate pastor in a nice large suburban parish. When the call came telling me that I was being sent to the “home missions” of our diocese, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, every bone in my body wanted to quit. After several futile attempts to change the minds of the powers-to-be, I angrily loaded my car, bought a map and headed to my new parish in the most remote corner of our diocese. Halfway there, I had a conversion experience, one that would serve me well in the years to come. I changed my mind. I decided to embrace what was ahead of me and to open my mind and heart to the experience at hand. Since I didn’t get what I wanted, I decided to want what I got. What I got was a time of unprecedented personal and spiritual growth, more than I could have ever dreamed of for myself.

On my twenty-fifth anniversary, while I was still pastor here, I chose the reading about Peter’s walk on water. I, like Peter, have managed to keep going when I have “kept my eyes fixed on Jesus,” rather than on how deep the water is or how high the winds are!

In the end, priesthood is not for cowards nor the faint of heart. One needs the heart of a missionary, the courage of a martyr, the patience of Job and the concentration of a tight-rope walker. The commitment to be ordained is not necessarily the same as a commitment to priesthood. Like marriage, true commitment begins when the honeymoon is over. Like the would-be follower of Jesus, who naively bragged about his willingness to “follow him wherever he went,” one needs to know that there are crosses to be carried. That is to be expected, but that need not be a source of discouragement. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in God whose commandments you faithfully follow; freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.”

Anyone who thinks about priesthood, marriage or religious life, should be good at calculating the cost beforehand and be willing to pay the price afterwards. As for me, after fifty years of walking on water, I couldn’t be happier - and I have people like you to thank! 











Saturday, September 7, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF SAINT VINCENT ARE ALWAYS ON MY MIND

 LOOKING OUT FROM THE DECK OF THE PASTORAL CENTRE

Diocese of Kingstown
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

  

Looking out from the island of Saint Vincent to the island of Bequia in the gray-blue haze. They are only two islands of the total thirty-two islands that make up the country.  


A MARINER'S PRAYER


O God, I ask you to take me into your care and protection along with all those who sail ships.


Make me alert and wise in my duties. Make me faithful in the time of routine, and prompt to decide and courageous to act in any time of crisis.



Protect me in the dangers and perils of the sea; and even in the storm, grant that there may be peace and calm within my heart.



When I am far from home and far from loved ones and far from the country that I know, help me to be quite sure that, wherever I am, I can never drift beyond your love and care.


Take care of my loved ones in the days and weeks and months when I am separated from them, sometimes with half the world between them and me.

Keep me true to them and keep them true to me, and every time that we have to part, bring us together in safety and in loyalty again.

This I ask for your love’s sake.

Amen







  

Thursday, September 5, 2019

IS IT CLIMATE CHANGE OR ARE THEY JUST LAZY?

      They Just Won't Go Home Any More

          
Even though I lived in the country, I can remember seeing migrating geese flying overhead only a couple of times in my childhood years. I don't remember ever seeing one on a pond or up close. 

Now, they won't go home. They stay year-round because the winter weather is not as harsh here as it used to be. 

I complained to some priests in Canada when I led one of their convocations. "Your Canadian geese will not go home any more and their numbers are growing at an alarming rate!" I was corrected. "They are called Canada geese, not Canadian geese!" I'm not sure I understood the difference, but they sounded like they knew what they were saying so I let it go. 

I counted thirty-six of them at one time the other day on the pond in front of my condo! I like to look at them, but I avoid walking on the grass. They are very dirty animals and they can be brutal to each other when the free food is about to run out!