Sunday, October 17, 2021

FROM THE LEAST, THE LOST AND THE LOSER, HE MAKES A LEADER

 GIVEN TODAY AT BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY
Our Lady of the Woods Chapel 


James and John came to Jesus and said to him,"
Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your
right and the other at your left." When the ten
heard this, they became indignant at James and
John. Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"It shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever
wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the
slave of all.

Mark 10: 35-45


If Jesus were to have been born in our day, instead of 2,000 years ago, he might have graduated from Bellarmine University’s W. Fielding Rubel School of Business. As a graduate, Jesus might have used a management consultant to help him get his new ministry off the ground and to help him choose his staff of twelve apostles. If so, he may have submitted the resumes of his would-be apostles to that consultant for feedback. Here is how that feedback might have sounded. (I have referred to this funny consultant report several times over the years and it fits again today.)


To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
% Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop
Nazareth
From: Jerusalem Management Consultants

Dear Jesus:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have recruited for management positions in the new church you want to found. All twelve of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologists and vocational aptitude consultants.

We regret to inform you that it is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no leadership qualities. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been black-listed by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, son of Alpheus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of your candidates, however, shows great potential - Judas Iscariot. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend this man as your controller and right-hand man.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,

Hugh Mann, President
Jerusalem Management Consultants


This little fictitious "consultant report," in which Judas is picked as showing the "most potential" as an apostle makes a very important point. One of the most interesting things about God is that "God does not see as we see. We see people's externals, but God sees into their hearts." The more familiar you are with the Scriptures, the more you realize that God is always picking the weak, the incompetent, the unqualified, the least, the lost and the loser - and then making them strong in carrying out his work. These choices are not isolated events. They happen, over and over, again in Scripture. In today's gospel, we have two of these "least likely to succeed personalities" – James and his brother John. There are many, many more!

First, there is Isaiah. One day, while in the Temple of the Lord, Isaiah is overcome by an awareness of God's greatness and his own unworthiness! He is so overcome with his own unworthiness that he cries out, "Woe is me! Not only do I have a foul mouth, I come from a bunch of foul-mouthed people! I am surely doomed!" God's response was to send an angel, with a hot coal, to wash his mouth out and to clean up his lips for the preaching ministry he had in mind for him! What a choice!

Second, there is Paul! For years, Paul had been the lead bounty-hunter in tracking down Christians for execution. Smug with righteousness, he felt as if he was doing God a favor by ridding the world of these heretics who had no respect for the old-time religion. Paul had even held the coats of those who stoned Saint Stephen to death. One day, on his way to round up some more Christians for execution, God knocked Paul off his proverbial "high-horse" and called him to make a complete u-turn in his thinking. Instead of persecuting Christianity, God called Paul to be its biggest promoter! What a choice!

Third, there is Peter! Peter was an uneducated, red-neckish, bumbling blow-hard fisherman with a big heart! He was a thick-headed, hard-headed and empty-headed clod who meant well, but would brag one minute and fall on his face the next! When the chips were down, Peter pretended that he didn't even know Jesus and had never heard of him - not once, not twice, but three times. However, this is the very one that Jesus left in charge of his church after his death. What a choice!

Fourth, there is James and his brother John that we read about today. Like Peter and Andrew, James and John were fisherman. They were men of the sea. In the Gospel of Mark that we read today, James and John ask Jesus for the best seats in his new kingdom. As time went by, the writers of the Gospels could not bring themselves to have such tacky and self-serving words coming out of the mouths of these exalted apostles, so Matthew changes the story and has their misguided request coming out of their mother’s mouth. Blaming women has been a favorite technique of men since Adam blamed Eve!

We see James and John at their worst in today’s gospel. They are climbers, ambitious self-seekers and sneaks. Again, we see in their lives that yet again “God choses the weak and makes them strong.” Jesus evidently saw something in them because they end up in the inner circle. Along with Peter, they witnesses the Transfiguration, some of the miracles including the raising of Jarius’ daughter and the agony in the garden. Beheaded, James was the first the apostles to give his life. His death is the only biblical record we have of the death of one of the Apostles.

The list goes on and on! Moses, who was charged with convincing the Israelites to leave Egypt and making a forty-year desert crossing, actually had some kind of speech impediment. Either he stuttered badly or he had forgotten much of the language of his childhood. They could still be in Egypt if Moses had not gotten Aaron to do his public speaking for him. What a choice!

Mary, when she was chosen by God to be the mother of the world's Savior, was a dirt-poor, unknown teenager from a podunk town called Nazareth! What a choice!

The list goes on and on, throughout Scripture and Church history, to this day! It seems that "God is always choosing the weak and making them strong in bearing witness to him!" My friend and former associate pastor, Father Bill Medley, was consecrated the new bishop of Owensboro several years ago. He was shocked, and many of us were pleasantly surprised at this choice, because, in many ways, he is not the "type" to be selected. He is not a canon lawyer. He is not a career chancery official from Philadelphia or Detroit. He did not study in Rome. He is simply a good pastor from a small rural Kentucky town and yet it was he who was chosen for this important ministry! What a choice!

In my own experience, all throughout the years that led up to my priesthood, I always felt like the "least likely to succeed." Looking back, I am amazed as I have seen this scrawny little boy from the tiny country town of Rhodelia, painfully bashful, labeled a "hopeless case" by seminary officials, being led over the years by the hand of God through a wide variety of ministry experiences in ten countries that I never could have imagined being involved in when I first started this journey in the fall of 1958! I can still remember an experience I had in Chicago when I was about to deliver a lengthy address to close to 900 priests, a Cardinal and six bishops. As I was mounting the high platform with several TV cameras pointed at me, I was trying to talk myself out of a panic attack by repeating, "They don't know I am from Rhodelia! They don't know I am from Rhodelia!" What a choice!

In 2016, at the December graduation, Bellarmine University awarded me an honorary Doctorate and I was invited to address the graduates, their families, the faculty and the staff that day. The title of my commencement address was "A Hopeless Case." I spoke directly to the graduates who struggled to get there that day. Yes, I admired the winners of awards and scholarships and I congratulated them, but those who really struggled were my kind of graduates and I wanted to share a bit of what I had learned, especially with them!

Let me speak directly to those of you who struggle with your self-image, with feelings of unworthiness, with thoughts of never being good enough and with being labeled, rejected or discriminated against. The world may be dealing you a bad hand today, you may have been passed over and put upon in the past, you may feel that you will never be good enough or can never measure up, but also know this: God may have his eye on you right now, he may have a mission for you that he is about to reveal! He may be ready to take you to places you cannot even imagine. Your pain and suffering could be part of some grand plan! You may have been learning what you need to know for the amazing job that God has always had in store for you.

When you leave here today, remember James and John. Think how God took them, in their weakness, and tuned them into powerful witnesses. Just as God took them, fragile clay pots as they were and filled them with his great treasure, God can do the same with you. When God calls you, don’t be afraid of your weaknesses, just be ready to answer with Isaiah, "Here I am, Lord, send me!" Last of all, don't forget this! God has a reputation for choosing the weak and then making them strong!




















Friday, October 15, 2021

HAPPY FEAST OF SAINT THERESA OF AVILA TODAY

 


Please pray today for the success of our project down in my home parish of Saint Theresa of Avila in Rhodelia, Kentucky! I believe these words of Saint Theresa - "that God will help us accomplish what we have set out to do for His sake." For more information on "what we have set out to do," click on the links at the top of this page and read all about it. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

OLD WORDS, BUT STILL GOOD ADVICE


MORE THAN FEELINGS

For a century before the 1960s, and perhaps even longer than that, every bride and groom about to exchange their marriage vows in a Catholic wedding heard the following words:

Beloved of Christ. You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because it was established by God Himself. By it, He gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way He sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under His fatherly care.

Because God himself is thus its author marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe His own love for His Church, that is for the people of God whom He redeemed by His own blood. And so He gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self-sacrificing love like His own. It is for this reason that His apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern. This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are, nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the life-long support of His graces in the holy sacrament which you are now going to receive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A CURIOUS WAY TO FRY CHICKEN AT A PARISH FUND-RAISER

 IS PARISH FUND-RAISING THIS DESPERATE DOWN IN NELSON COUNTY? 

I found this photo on the the internet. It came up one day when I was looking for some images for my blog.  I didn't know if an actual "satanic exorcism" had been scheduled or "Satanic Exorcism" was just the name of a country music band booked for the picnic. When it comes to chicken, I have heard of "deep fried," "air fried," but never "deviled fried!" 

My first question was, "Do they recommend the "regular" or the "hot and crispy" fried chicken? Either way, for an inexpensive meal and scary entertainment, this sounded like more fun than BINGO any day!

My second question was,  "Are those people onto something there as far as new ways to raise funds for the parish or is this just another sad case of "animal cruelty" that needed to be reported to the Archbishop?

My third question was, "Why hadn't The Record covered this event?"

After I did some more research, I was relieved to find out that it was just an old 1942 photograph that had been "photo shopped" recently as a joke. It just goes to show you that you cannot trust a lot you see on the internet! However, I will probably think twice about going to a chicken dinner at a local parish, especially if they only charge .50 cents for "all you can eat!"  That in itself is a devilishly suspicious temptation!


Sunday, October 10, 2021

EVERY SNOWFLAKE IN AN AVALANCHE PLEADS NOT GUILTY


                                           Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.

Mark 10:17-27


When I was a new pastor here back in the 1980s and before Catholics stopped going to weekly confession in great numbers, we used to hear confessions at the Cathedral for at least an hour every day. Downtown churches are traditionally places where people go to Confession to be anonymous - be it parishioners coming downtown from around the city or conventioneers and vacationers staying in the downtown hotels from across the country.

Most of those confessions would put you to sleep, some would move you to tears and a few would curl the hair on your head! You never knew what might be coming at you when you took your chair inside those confessionals. As a penitent who was yelled at by a priest as a child, I am very patient with those who come to confession, especially those who have not been to confession for a very long time. I think his exact words when he yelled were “You did what?” I was convinced that everyone in the confession line heard him! Because of that experience, I try to be very patient with those who come to me for confession. I still remember one scared old lady telling me, as she was leaving the confessional, “I have never had anybody to talk that nice to me!” I was so touched that I recorded her words in one of my journals. When I read it today, I am reminded of the power of compassion in the confessional.

The only penitents, that I would have to bite my lip over, were not those who returned week after week having done the same old things, but the ones who confessed this way, “Bless me, Father, I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t take the name of the Lord in vain. I didn’t gossip. I didn’t miss Sunday mass. I didn’t commit adultery. My parents are dead, so I didn’t disobey or disrespect them.” I didn’t do this! I didn’t do that!” Frankly, it bordered on bragging! I would never actually do it, but I have always secretly wanted to say, “Well, goody for you! This is a confessional, a place to confess your sins, not a bragging booth about your presumed sanctity! Now go out and do something before you come back in here!” I emphasize that I have never actually said it! It's just that I really wanted to!

Thinking back, what was so curious about those “I-didn’t-do-anything-wrong confessions” was the person’s obvious belief that sin is only about doing bad things. People who look at sin that way, reduce their discipleship to simply avoiding bad things. For one who is a serious disciple, avoiding bad things is where you start, not where you should end up! disciples.

When we focus our discipleship simply on avoiding doing bad things, we ask way too little of ourselves and we do way too little for God. Christianity is not just about avoiding evil, its even more so about doing good - about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When we focus just on avoiding evil, we are like the rich young man in the gospel that was just read. He was a good kid, who was able to say to Jesus, “I have observed all these commandments since my youth. I never did this! I never did that! I never did such and such!” But neither had he done anything great, anything heroic or anything wholeheartedly for God with the blessings he was given in life! Remember the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, much will be required?” They were spoken to people like him, and people like us, who have been given much in this life.

Jesus did not get irritated at this young man’s proud confidence in his ability not to break the commandments. In fact, it says that Jesus “looked at him with love.” Jesus was obviously pleased with his basic goodness, but after his affirming smile, Jesus hit this young man right between the eyes with a challenge. “Yes, you have avoided evil and that is good, but now do something great, do something positive, do something heroic. You are rich and satisfied, yes, but I believe that you are now ready for greatness. Let go of the trust you have in your financial security and transfer that trust to me. Use the “much” that you have been given to help others! Keep you basic goodness, but now do something great for God! "Go big or go home," as we say today. 

Let me be clear! For this young man, it was not about having or not having money, it was about what he was giving his heart to! He kept God’s commandments, yes, but his heart was with his money! It says that the young man’s “face fell” and he “went away sad” because he couldn’t “let go” of all his things. He could avoid bad things, but he couldn’t do the great things, the heroic things! He couldn’t make the leap from spiritual mediocrity to spiritual greatness. God did not say, “Love me with part of your heart, part of your soul and part of your mind,” but “love me with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind.”

Brothers and sisters, the “Confiteor” is part of an ancient penitential rite in the Mass. Most of us grew up on it. The “Confiteor” is still one of the options for the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass. You use it here quite often! It is regaining popularity, especially among the young. I like it because, in it, we confess “what we have done ” and “what we have failed to do.” It clearly reminds us that there are two ways to sin: doing bad things, as well as failing to do good things.

Today, through the story of the rich young man in the gospel we just read, Jesus is asking us to look at sin in a new way. Instead of looking at sin in the old way of “doing bad things,” we need to look at sin also as a “failure to do good things, ” especially when we obviously have the opportunity to do so! We should not just regret the bad things we have said to each other. We should also regret what we didn’t say when we had the chance. Sometimes, withholding an encouraging word from people who could use it is worse than cursing them!

I very much believe in this kind of spirituality. The whole purpose of my fifteen year weekly column in our diocesan paper, The Record, entitled An Encouraging Word was to train myself to look around for ordinary people I could affirm and honor right here in our city and in our diocese - people who needed celebrating or situations that were in need of some tender loving care and assistance. Even when I stopped my weekly column in The Record, I started a blog by the same name - An Encouraging Word. I try to look for goodness to affirm, not evil to condemn! Maybe our biggest sins are not those things we do to hurt each other, but those hundreds of small things we fail to do to encourage and build each other up. Just as "every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty," hundreds of "what I have failed to dos" is what makes the world a mean place for so many people. When it comes to discipleship, its always a matter of "Go big or go home!"