Thursday, January 16, 2020

A POWERFUL THOUGHT




Gossip is an assassination attempt by a coward. 
Jules Feiffer, playwright

What would happen if we declared our homes, our relationships, our lives a gossip-free zone? 
Words have the power to destroy, but they also have the power to heal. Why not adopt the spiritual practice of good-mouthing people behind their backs to see what happens? 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

SENT AS AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST TO GO ABOUT DOING GOOD

Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord


He went about doing good and healing those oppressed
 by the devil, for God was with him.
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38


2020 is a very special year for me. I will be celebrating my 50th anniversary as a priest. I was ordained right here in this Cathedral at the hands of Archbishop McDonough fifty years ago this coming May 16. (Yes, we will have a celebration here at the Cathedral that weekend and you are invited.)

As important as that ordination is for me, it is not as important as this year’s 76th anniversary of my baptism at the hands of my country midwife grandmother, right there is the bed a few minutes after she helped me come into this world on April 28, 1944.  This year is also the 66th anniversary of my Confirmation at the hands of Bishop Maloney, down in my home parish in Rhodelia in 1956. Here, I am reminded of something Bishop Maloney used to say all the time. “My baptism was more important than my ordination as a bishop!”  

What is so special about my own special three days, is that they are the days when I committed myself to “going about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil,” as the Acts of the Apostles said about Jesus.  Let me be clear! These three anniversaries are not some personal sentimental nostalgic moments, they are days when I made serious commitments that I plan to keep, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do I part – the commitments to “go about doing good” as an ambassador of Christ! In the same sense, your baptisms are more important than your marriages!

In a few minutes, I will baptize another beautiful baby.  Today this baby will commit to be a partner with Jesus in “going about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil.” The baby’s parents and godparents will speak for this child and teach this child to honor this commitment until Confirmation when she will personally take over the responsibility to live out this commitment.

Why do we baptize infants? We baptize infants because the practice of infant baptism has been a consistent tradition in the Church, both in the East and in the West, since the very beginning. It was challenged, of course, during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century when the practice of adult or “believer baptism only” was adopted. That was  just 400 years ago. The practice of infant baptism precedes that by about 1500 years. 
  
The Scriptures, of course, say very little about infant baptism because the New Testament Scriptures were written at a time when adult Jews and Gentiles were being converted to Christianity. However, there are several passages in Scripture where we are told that “whole households” were baptized. The stories about Stephanas, Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian jailer are cases in point. The language of the New Testament was Greek and the word used when “whole households” were baptized is oikos which has traditionally included infants. There are no examples in secular or Biblical Greek of the word oikos being used which would restrict its meaning only to adults.  

Even more amazing are some of the extent writings outside the Scriptures. Hippolytus, in his manuscript “Tradition of the Apostles,” writing 1800 years ago, only about 100 years after the Gospel of John was written, describes, in detail, a typical baptism in 215 AD.  It is amazingly close in detail to what we will do here again today. Listen to his 1800 year old description of a baptism.

At dawn a prayer shall be offered over the water. Where there is no scarcity of water the stream shall flow through the baptismal font or pour into it from above. If water is scarce, then use whatever water is available. Baptize the children first; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them. Next baptize the men and last of all the women.

It goes on to describe the anointings, the rejection of Satan and the profession of the Creed.   Remember, he is describing the way baptisms were celebrated in the church 1800 years ago!

Writing a few years later, Origen wrote this:“The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants.” For the Apostles…knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.” 

What we do here today is not very much different from what was done at baptisms very, very early in the church: rejection of sin, profession of faith, the pouring of water, anointings for men, women and children in the presence of a congregation!

Let me point out a couple of things that are especially important in the baptismal ritual. (1) Even though parents and godparents “speak for the child” in infant baptisms, they are asked point blank, “Do you accept the responsibility of training the child in the practice of the faith?” The emphasis is on training the child in the practice of the faith! How sad it is when parents and godparents bring their children for baptism without themselves practicing the faith or being seriously committed to training the child they present for baptism in the practice of that faith! It can be a lie of sorts, especially when they stand there holding that baby while they publicly renew their own baptismal vows! (2) We do this baptism in public, in the presence of the whole community, because we are all responsible to be that supporting community where the Christian ideal is lived out and in which this child will be raised. In that sense, there is no such thing as a “private” baptism.

(3) When the child is anointed on the top of the head with the perfumed oil called chrism, the same oil used in the coronation of kings and queens of old and used even today to anoint the hands of priests when they are ordained, poured on the heads of bishops when they are consecrated and used to anoint the baptized at Confirmation, they are designated as royal children of God and royal heirs to his kingdom.  

(4) The words used when a lighted candle, taken from the big Christ candle, is handed to the parents is quite pointed. “Your child has been enlighted by Christ. He or she is to walk always as a child of light. This light is temporarily entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. We pray that, someday, he or she will still be carrying that light when they go out to meet Christ along with all the saints.”

Finally, my fellow baptized members of the church, as we bring yet another member into the church through baptism, please pay attention to the questions I asked the parents and godparents. Think of your own baptisms. Think of the times you have served as godparents. Was it just a cute ceremony or was it a real commitment to “go about doing good” and “heal those oppressed by evil” as our second reading today put it? Let’s use this day, and this occasion, to recommit ourselves to “go about doing good” and “healing those oppressed by evil” realizing that in Baptism “God is with us!”























Friday, January 10, 2020

DUCK BEHAVIOR


There is a pond in front of my condo that always seems to have geese, ducks, cranes, turtles and a few small fish doing their living. They supply endless entertainment and a good outlet for all my stale bread and old cereal. 

Geese are dirty, aggravating animals mostly - especially when they "do their business" everywhere they walk and begin honking at sunrise. I tend to forgive them in the spring when their goslings are born. These babies, usually five to seven of them, follow their geese parents everywhere they go. In turn, their parents never let their little goslings out of their sights. It is a beautiful sight to see every spring. As it is with all parents, it's amazing how fast the little ones grow up! 

Ducks, on the other hand, seem to me to be more interested in breeding or playing-hard-to-get. It is not uncommon to see a female duck trying her best to avoid the unwanted advances of male ducks. I don't know a whole lot about "duck love," but it sometimes appears that ducks "mate for life." This seemed to be validated recently when I looked out to see these two (husband-wife or girlfriend-boyfriend) ducks swimming together in the pouring rain, touching one minute and avoiding each other the next. It was a ballet of "can't live with you and can't live without you" movements!  

As I watched them, out there in the pouring rain, I was reminded of something my mother used to say to us kids when we seemed oblivious and clueless. Reaching the peak of her frustration, she would shout, "You kids haven't got sense enough to come in out of the rain!" As I watched the ducks that day, I stood there wondering if "duck love" doesn't do that to ducks? 


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

MY NEW PATRON SAINT FOR MY WORK IN THE ISLANDS MISSIONS

SAINT MARTIN de PORRES

Since retiring five years ago, I have worked in the Caribbean Missions as a volunteer, fund raiser, collector and distributor of goods to the poor, procurer of surplus medical supplies, supporter of orphans and abandoned children, whether Catholic or not. In the Caribbean Missions, where I volunteer, there are many poor people of mixed race backgrounds. 



The other day, I was reading about the life and work of Saint Martin de Porres. I decided, then and there, that he would be the Patron Saint of my Catholic Second Wind Guild. 




Juan Martin de Porres Velázquez was born in the city of Lima, Peru on 11 December 1579. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres, and Ana Velázquez, a freed slave from African Native American descent. He had a sister named Juana de Porres, born two years later in 1581. After the birth of his sister, the father abandoned the family. Ana Velázquez supported her children by taking in laundry. He grew up in poverty and, when his mother could not support him, Martin was sent to a primary school for two years, and then placed with a barber/surgeon to learn the medical arts. He spent hours of the night in prayer, a practice which increased as he grew older.



Under Peruvian law, descendants of Africans and Native Americans were barred from becoming full members of religious orders. The only route open to Martin was to ask the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to accept him as a donado, a volunteer who performed menial tasks in the monastery in return for the privilege of wearing the habit and living with the religious community. At the age of 15 he asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was received first as a servant boy, and as his duties grew he was promoted to almoner.



Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and was said to have performed many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. After eight years at Holy Rosary, the Prior Juan de Lorenzana, decided to turn a blind eye to the law and permit Martin to take his vows as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic Holy Rosary was home to 300 men, not all of whom accepted the decision of De Lorenzana: one of the novices called Martin a "mullato dog", while one of the priests mocked him for being illegitimate and descended from slaves.



When Martin was 24, he was allowed to profess religious vows as a Dominican lay brother in 1603. He is said to have several times refused this elevation in status, which may have come about due to his father's intervention, and he never became a priest. It is said that when his convent was in debt, he implored them: "I am only a poor mulatto, sell me." Martin was deeply attached to the Blessed Sacrament and he was praying in front of it one night when the step of the altar he was kneeling on caught fire. Throughout all the confusion and chaos that followed, he remained where he was, unaware of what was happening around him.


When Martin was 34, after he had been given the religious habit of a lay brother, he was assigned to the infirmary, where he was placed in charge and would remain in service until his death at the age of 59. He was known for his care of the sick. His superiors saw in him the virtues necessary to exercise unfailing patience in this difficult role. It was not long before miracles were attributed to him. Martin also cared for the sick outside his convent, often bringing them healing with only a simple glass of water. He ministered without distinction to Spanish nobles and to slaves recently brought from Africa. One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand, and Martin took him to his own bed. One of his brethren reproved him. Martin replied: "Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness."

When an epidemic struck Lima, there were in this single Convent of the Rosary 60 friars who were sick, many of them novices in a distant and locked section of the convent, separated from the professed. Martin is said to have passed through the locked doors to care for them, a phenomenon which was reported in the residence more than once. The professed, too, saw him suddenly beside them without the doors having been opened. Martin continued to transport the sick to the convent until the provincial superior, alarmed by the contagion threatening the friars, forbade him to continue to do so. His sister, who lived in the country, offered her house to lodge those whom the residence of the religious could not hold. One day he found on the street a poor Indian, bleeding to death from a dagger wound, and took him to his own room until he could transport him to his sister's hospice. The prior, when he heard of this, reprimanded him for disobedience. He was extremely edified, however, by his reply: "Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity." The prior gave him liberty thereafter to follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.

Martin did not eat meat. He begged for alms to procure necessities the convent could not provide. In normal times, Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the indigent. Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary, Martin's life is said to have reflected extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport with animals. He founded a residence for orphans and abandoned children in the city of Lima.

Saint Martin de Porres, please ask God to bless our Caribbean ministry through the efforts of the Catholic Second Wind Guild. 













Sunday, January 5, 2020

DRIVEN BY A HUNGER AND THIRST FOR GOD

                                       




In the days of King Herod,  
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. 
Matthew 2:1-12

I suppose different things might jump out of this story for different people. If you are an immigrant, for instance, you might focus on the inclusion of foreigners from the East in the Christmas story. If you are poor, you might focus on the gifts - what they're worth and what Mary and Joseph did with them. If you are a mental health professional, you might focus on the paranoia of King Herod. If you are a police officer, you might focus on the evasive tactics of the magi. As a spiritual seeker, you might focus on the curiosity and courage of the magi. As a spiritual leader, the curiosity and courage of the magi as spiritual seekers is what always jumps out for me. These guys are certainly not your typical dabblers in religion! As spiritual seekers, these guys are driven!

I was ordained to be a spiritual leader in the Church, and according to the Church, preaching is the primary way I am called to do it. I am to preach conversion to unbelievers and feed the faith within the hearts of believers. I do that in a variety of ways. I preach at Sunday Masses and other celebrations of the Sacraments. I preach Parish Missions. I preach through my extensive writing of columns, articles, books and blog posts.  There is an old Latin saying that every spiritual teacher ought to have tattooed to the back of his hand. I have it memorized! Nemo dat quod not habet. One cannot give what one does not have. I became a designated spiritual teacher several years before I became a serious spiritual seeker. Institutionally, I was "on board," but I was not engaged in a serious personal search for my own ongoing transformation.  It did not take me long, however, to realize that if I wanted to lead people spiritually, I would to have to first be committed to my own intentional spiritual growth. Because I am called to preach, I feel driven to develop a ravenous appetite for my own personal spiritual growth. I understand completely that I cannot give what I do not have! I understand completely that what I give you each Sunday has to come through me and out of me, not just out of some book I read and recycled for you to hear!

Because I am a spiritual seeker, who is serious about doing my seeking within the church, I often attract people who are threatened, for one reason or another, by my choice to do my spiritual seeking within the Catholic Church. Some lash out at me in anger, not only privately, but sometimes even in public! More common than an outright attack is the "humoring" I get from those who are mildly annoyed by my religiosity, but don't want to hurt my feelings. Others are like Herod, afraid of what they may find if they were to get serious themselves about finding God. They want others to do their seeking for them and when they have found it, come back and tell them so that they, too, might come to believe!

No matter where you are on the "spiritual seeker" scale, the magi have something to teach you! These guys didn't just sit around "discussing religion," they were willing to go to great lengths in their asking, seeking and knocking in their search for God. The magi set out from afar, following the path of a star, asking questions of the authorities, reaching dead ends and even exploring alternatives, before they finally found their hearts desire.

Fellow spiritual seekers! Religion has two sides - both important - sides that should never be separated. When they are separated, religion is distorted and can even be dangerous. It has an exoteric side. The exoteric side deals with the things of religion, from the way religion is organized to the religious objects it uses. It has an esoteric side as well. The esoteric side deals with the essence of religion, from the joys of inner transformation to the hardships of daily discipleship.  When the exoteric side is neglected, God's communal religion is distorted into some narcissistic "new age" individualism.  When the esoteric side is neglected, religion becomes idolatry - a worship of the temple instead of the God who lives in it!

My fellow believers! If you are a serious spiritual seeker already - and some of you are - let the magi inspire you to keep working your program and walking your path! If you would like to become a serious spiritual seeker, let the magi inspire you to get up off your spiritual recliners and get your butt to the gym, spiritually speaking! I must warn you that, even though such a search is definitely worth it, it isn't easy! You have to do a lot of asking, seeking and knocking! It is something you have to do personally! No one can do it for you! What you are looking for is an internal transformation. The Church, as a structure, exists to help you and the Church, as the family of God, is there to support you in your search.  The institution needs you to keep it honest and you need the institution to keep you honest on your search.

In short, don't just admire the magi, become a “magi” yourself!  In other words, maybe this will be the year when you become an even more committed Christian and an even more intentional Catholic! It is certainly not going to come looking for you! It is time to trade in your inherited faith for a personal faith - a faith that can sustain you no matter what call in life you answer!