Friday, December 27, 2019

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS SADNESS



ONE OF OUR ORPHANS HAS DIED



Sister Nyra Anne sent me a text to tell me that Shanique, one of orphans at Saint Benedict Home down in Saint Vincent, died in the hospital on December 23. 

We were able to send her little Christmas presents and special food over that last few years. Your gifts made a real difference in her life, as they do in the lives of the other "special needs" children. Thank you again this year.


Shanique was born on 11th December, 1989 and has been at St Benedict’s Home for Children since 1990. Confined to a wheelchair, she was entirely dependent upon the caring staff at St Benedict’s for her basic care. Shanique’s smile could light up a room, and her bubbling laughter was infectious! She loved to go out for a spin through the beautiful banana fields near the Home.

I am sure the other children at the Home are in a state of sadness and maybe confusion. God bless Sister Nyra Anne and her staff for caring for Shanique these many years when others would not or could not!

Shanique in wheelchair on the right.


Jesus said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them, 
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
  Matthew 19:13-14


With the seventh Blue Christmas Mass for the Grieving here at home behind me, with the news of this death and the personal knowledge of the heroic work of the Sisters and Lay Ministers down in the islands, I can't think of anything better to do with my time and energy during the holidays than to try to do what I can to support those who struggle every day to deal with their sometimes grinding hardships. 

Was I able to "fix" all this loss, suffering and disappointment that I saw and heard about? No! However, I have the satisfaction that comes with knowing that together we did what we could - that at least we did something! 







Thursday, December 26, 2019

MY SILENT MISSIONARY PARTNER

   

Jim Patterson II

For years now, my silent partner in many of my mission projects has been Mr. Jim Patterson II. He does not want this attention. In fact, he may just "kill" me when he sees this, but I have decided that it is time to focus every once in a while on some of my behind-the-scenes missionary partners.  Today I want to focus on Jim who has been with me in this ministry since the very beginning. 

Together, Jim and I have supported many international seminarians and offered them their own Thanksgiving dinner, built a "teaching kitchen" at Saint Meinrad Seminary, renovated the Shrine of Monte Cassino at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, created the Catholic Second Wind Guild in the Caribbean Missions and offered seven annual Blue Christmas Masses for the Grieving, among other things.  Within these projects have been hundreds of smaller projects. Most of what we  have done could not have been done without his valued advice, shared enthusiasm, hard work and generous support. 



I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Jesus when he sent out his first missionaries. He did not send them out alone. He sent them out two-by-two so that they could support and encourage one another in their sometimes difficult and frustrating tasks.  



Tuesday, December 24, 2019

MY BLUE CHRISTMAS EVE MASS HOMILY - 2019





Let me greet those of you who came here tonight with heavy hearts, heavy with deeply held feelings of loss and sadness this Christmas. I want you to know that this Mass is especially designed for you. Only you can feel exactly what you feel, but I am here to simply recognize the fact that you are hurting and to offer you an atmosphere of compassion. The very word “compassion” means “to suffer with.”  Tonight, you are surrounded and embraced by “compassionate” people, people who are here to “suffer with” you.

I started offering Blue Christmas Masses nine years ago, after I woke up and started to notice that not everyone in the church was “merry” at Christmas time. I was hearing that some people even dreaded the Christmas holidays because they reminded them of all they had lost. It is such a painful time for them that they even dreaded the very thought of going to Christmas Mass and having to be reminded of all they had lost.  

When I started preparing to preach that very first Blue Christmas Mass, I began not only to notice how broken-hearted and grief-stricken some people are at this time of year, but I began to notice also how truly sad many of the details of the Christmas story really are! Before looking at the story through the eyes of the grieving, I was always more affected by Christmas hymns, which are so often filled with cute sentimentally and, of course, great joy. However, I realized that if you really look at the details of Christmas story itself in Scripture, you realize that it is literally filled with confusion, disappointment, fear, pain, hardship and even terror. You need to read between the lines to find any “joy to the world” in this story.

The Christmas story, if you really pay close attention, is filled with fear and dread. “Do not be afraid,” the angel tells Mary when he announces that she is to conceive the child Jesus. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says to Joseph when he hesitates before taking the pregnant Mary as his wife. About to go into labor, in fear Mary and Joseph make a scary donkey-back trip to Bethlehem where, in desperation for a place to stay, they find out that they must deliver their baby boy in a smelly animal stall. “Do not be afraid” the angels say to the shepherds of that region who were struck with great fear at the news of Jesus’ birth. Terrorized in fear, the crazy child-killer Herod drives Mary, Joseph and Jesus to escape with their lives and flee to Egypt in the middle of the night.  Cute? Sentimental and sweet? I don’t think so! Over-flowing with joy? Hardly! The whole story is quite sad and desperate, really!

Have you ever been confronted with a surprise pregnancy not knowing what to do or where to turn? If so, Mary in this Christmas story has been there too!

Have you ever been the victim of vicious gossip and character assassination? If so, Mary in this Christmas story understands. She could have been stoned to death if Joseph had not covered for her!

Have you ever had to painfully give birth to a baby at a most inconvenient time and in a public situation? If so, Mary in this Christmas story has been there too! 

Have you ever had anyone predict a painful road ahead for someone you love? If so, Joseph has been there. When Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon predicted that Mary would be pierced by a “sword” of sadness and pain throughout her life.

Have you been raised by a foster parent? If so, Jesus in this Christmas story has been there too! Joseph was the foster father of Jesus.

Have you ever been a refugee who has been driven into a strange country to escape a possible violent death? If so, Mary and Joseph have been there too! They had to flee to Egypt in the middle of the night to escape the child-killer Herod! Maybe you have had a child who was murdered or was killed in a violent auto accident.

Have you ever been homeless and had to roam around for somewhere to lay your head? If so, Mary and Joseph, can identify. According to tradition, they lived in 26 different locations in their 3 ½ years of exile in Egypt!

Have you ever had a child on the Amber Alert List? If so, Mary and Joseph have been there too.  Their young son was missing for three days on a trip to Jerusalem! Maybe you have had a child who has been kidnapped or is still missing. Maybe you have had a child who has committed suicide or died of an overdose.

Have you ever lost a spouse suddenly, leaving you a widow or widower? If so, Mary understands tonight. Joseph died long before her and she had to be taken in by John after Jesus’ death. Maybe your spouse died suddenly of a heart attack or a car wreck, leaving you lost and dependent.

Have you ever had to watch someone in your family being gossiped about, stalked, falsely arrested and publicly humiliated? If so, Mary has been there too!

Have you ever watched a child or a loved die a slow and painful death right in front of you? If so, Mary has been there too! Maybe you have watched a loved one struggle with drug addiction until it was too late. Maybe they died after a long, long battle with cancer.

The whole story of Jesus’ birth and life is quite sad and desperate, but you know what? God was right there, doing his thing, right in the middle of it just like he is in the middle of your situation! Maybe you came here tonight looking for answers. Well, I am doing my best to support you, but I must tell you there are no answers. One of the great mysteries of our faith is that we are called to “walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, God does not give us easy answers to our deepest questions, but he does walk with us in our pain and fear. Hebrews 4:15 is so right when it says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” One of the names given to Jesus at his birth is one foretold by Isaiah, “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us!” As Pope Francis mentioned recently, God may not give us answers, but he has given us a “companion” in the person of Jesus, someone who has “walked the talk,” someone to walk beside us through our doubts, fears and suffering! He "sits with" us. He "accompanies" us. 

To remind you of this great truth, that answers are few and far between, we will offer you a small statue of Mary who said in faith “let it be done to me according to your will.” (You can see a photo of the statue on the cover of your program.) She is presented as obviously pregnant. Kneeling, she is looking down at her swollen abdomen and, with outstretched hands, she wraps her hands around the mystery of all the pain that is to come in her life. 

The good news, that we leave here tonight with, is this. Because of her “yeses” to God, we can still have a wonderful Christmas because we know that we have a Savior in Jesus Christ and our loved ones are safely with him in peace! Maybe our minds and hearts have not caught up with this truth, maybe we have some more grieving to do, but our faith tells us that we will eventually get there! 








BLESSING OF THE BLUE CHRISTMAS MARY STATUES
2019

Loving God, we ask you to bless these images of Mary that we distribute tonight. Let them be a reminder to those who treasure and display them of Mary’s openness to God even in times of great disappointment, fear and confusion.

She kneels, heavy with child, and embraces its mystery with outstretched hands.  Let her famous words, “let it be done to me according to your word,” become our words as we try to wrap our minds around our losses and disappointments.  When we look at her image in the days and weeks ahead, we ask for her help and assistance in coming to terms with our own losses.

Loving God, the first Christmas was a mixture of light and darkness, great joy and deep sorrow. This Christmas is no different for many of us. Help us keep our eyes on the big picture! Help us look beyond our present situation. Help us wait in joyful hope to that great day when we will be reunited with all those we have loved in this life! We ask this in the name of the Christ Child, Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen! 









































Sunday, December 22, 2019

CHANGE YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR EXPERIENCE





Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly,
but an angel appeared in a dream and
told him to have no fear about taking
Mary as his wife. When Joseph awoke
he did as the angel had directed him.
                                                                    Matthew 1:18-24

When I first arrived here as pastor of the Cathedral in 1983, I was regularly attacked by people over the statues of Mary and Joseph that used to stand on shelves in the sanctuary above where the sanctuary side doors are now. They were placed there during the former 1970's renovation. They irritated the traditional sensitivities of many pious Catholics. We removed them during the present restoration. They are now, I believe, over in the History Center across the street.  

Mary and Joseph were portrayed in very realistic first century Palestinian clothes. Mary was old, stooped and weather-worn, as she would have looked at the end of her life, at the time of her assumption into heaven. Joseph stood there slumped, like a tired worker, with his mouth open in awe. They are fine pieces of art, but they were not what people were used to! They couldn't change their minds. 

I believe the artist did a good job portraying Joseph by having him standing there with his mouth open. What better way to picture this well-known saint? Standing in awe, with his mouth open, captures the fidelity, simplicity and openness of this holy man. He never seems to know what was going on around him!

Usually, when I talk about Saint Joseph, I talk about St. Joseph's fidelity to God, even when he didn't seem to understand what was happening. St. Joseph walked by faith and not by sight.  He never speaks in the gospel. Instead, St. Joseph, has become known as a "shut up and put up" kind of saint.

This year, I want to talk about St. Joseph as a man who could change his mind. Some of us have made up our minds about things years and years ago and we are proud that we are not about to change them now. We may even think that our inflexibility is a virtue. St. Joseph teaches us that, to follow the will of God, we need to be able to change our minds sometimes.

Here's the short version of how St. Joseph changed his mind. Mary and Joseph are engaged to be married. Mary becomes pregnant before the wedding and tells Joseph that she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph refused to believe it at first. He may have even showered Mary with some harsh words. He had his mind made up to divorce her when he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him, confirming Mary's explanation and telling him not to be afraid to proceed with the wedding. Joseph woke up with a changed mind and proceeded with the wedding, accepting his new family.

 "Change your mind" is the very first challenge that came out of Jesus’s mouth as he began his ministry. Metanoiete!” he says in Greek.   “Change the way you look at things! Change the way you see because God is up to something new.  To see what God is up to, it takes a radical change in the way you look out at things.”  By being able to change his mind and look at the Mary's pregnancy with new eyes, Joseph was able to see that he was actually part of a great plan that God had formed long ago,  not being duped by an unfaithful fiancĂ©e as it might appear.   

One of the many times I can remember consciously changing the way I looked at something in my life, as a priest, took place two weeks after I was ordained. I had my heart set on being an associate pastor here is Louisville where I could enjoy all that a big city has to offer. What I got was an assignment to the “home missions” as far away from Louisville as I could get back then. I was angry, but I had to go. Then, half-way down there, in Danville, I had a dramatic conversion in my thinking. It was obvious to me that I would probably be there for 10 years, whether I was mad or not! I decided to change my mind and embrace the assignment. Since I didn’t get what I wanted, I decided to want what I got. I decided to give it my all!  What I didn’t know at the time was, because I had changed my mind, it was going to be a great assignment. Because I decided to look for the blessings of that place, I found what I looked for! Because I chose to look at that assignment in a new way, my experience of the following ten years was a different one, one filled with fabulous experiences and opportunities. I shudder to think what my priesthood might have been like today, if God had not helped me change the way I looked at things.

Through the years I have learned a helpful lesson from St. Joseph - the ability to look at things in a new way, the ability to change my mind.  

Where are some of the places you need a new way of seeing in your life? Who are the people and what are the situations that you have been hoping would change to make life better for you? Why not change your experience of those people and situations by re-choosing how you see them?  Do you feel your children or spouse have let you down? Are you still grieving over a huge personal mistake you have made in the past? Did you lose a child or a spouse and can’t get over it? Do you feel you have been cheated, discriminated against or slighted and still fume inside over it?   Are you still waiting for someone to say they are sorry, give back what they took or take back something they said? Are you down on yourself and bitter about something in life?

St. Joseph can teach us that we can change all of that by changing the way we look at it and think about it! People say you can’t change the past. I am here to tell you that you can change the past. You can change it simply by re-choosing the way you think about it, how you want to remember it and what you want to believe about it.

St. Joseph, teach us how to change our minds, like you changed yours!