Tuesday, August 14, 2012

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (OT) August 12, 2012 (B)

Link to Today's scripture

Semper Fidelis
Always Faithful...
to what?
God, Country and Corps (my fellow Marines)

He is a utterly simple guy, my old friend Rob.  He took me to Church one time when we were home on leave to his home parish in the Bronx.  I am eternally grateful for this.

A couple of years ago my brethren gave me strict marching orders, find Rob.  You see we had lost contact with our good buddy and this circle of friends, all Marine yearned for knowledge.

I had last seen him at his wedding in 1995, to the beautiful Kiara.  I have fond memories for that day for it was the first and only time in my life, since and ever that I wore my dress blue uniform as a Captain.  You see I received my promotion while off active duty so I had no occasion dress in the blues.

The time before I saw Rob while we (our units) relieved each other on a "combat" mission.  Rob saw real combat, later during several tours in the middle-east.  The place where we met this time was relatively benign (I was spared real combat as a Marine, Deo Gratius).  That was in the summer of 1990.

When Harvey from Boston called me to find Rob from the Bronx, the Bostonian being my most ancient USMC buddy, he knew I would and could.  Harv remembered that I found him once before, early in the second Gulf war (2002).  

That time I had little to go on.  After Rob and Kiara settled in to suburban New Jersey, I lost contact.  I did remember Rob's father Norbert was an attorney in Manhattan so I tracked my buddy down through his pop.  Rob has a unique last name, to protect his privacy lets call him Rob "Hanger".
Norbert was a lawyer in a law firm with some other family members, called "Hanger, Hanger and Hanger." Not a good name for criminal defense, but I digress.

When I spoke to Mr. Hanger, Esquire I asked how Rob was doing.  He said, "I do not know."  Surprised and somewhat alarmed, searching for words I sputtered out, "Well, when was the last time you spoke to him", gripping the phone white knuckled.  Pop said, "I think about a month ago."

Not really nervous, I just let it come out.  "Where is he?"

In Baghdad, fighting with the 1st Marine Division trying to liberate the city.

Wow.  I had my answer and not a happy one.

As I said, this was the first of two times I was tasked to find Rob.

The second time was much more recently.  About 3 years ago we lost contact with Rob again.  This time we were reasonably sure he was back in metro New York.  We were wrong.

Keeping up with the times, in the summer of 2009 I "googled" Rob Hanger and found his Curriculum Vitae listed in a prominent New York law firm complete with his email address.  I was glad.

I innocently emailed Rob late one hot Friday night in July and expected that I would receive a response within a few days or a week.  We had much to catch up on.  The Marines guys had moved on in life, many now married with children and I was studying for the priesthood, finding my vocation, my unique call to holiness as well.

Saturday morning I was shocked.  I had a response from Rob already.  On first sight I assumed he was being simply and innocently a "workaholic" getting some paperwork out of the way at home or in the office.

I was wrong.  Rob was writing me from deep inside Iraq, now a Lieutenant Colonel advising the Iraqi military.  One final tour in a very dangerous place.

I will not reveal the content of that email but my good old friend gave me a strong impetus to bring his needs to prayer.  You can infer that a Father of 4 children, 8000 miles away from the love of his life in real combat was second guessing some of his career minded decisions (perhaps).  

Marines back Marines.  Now and as long as we are blessed to be part of the big green gun club (which is always, as you know-- Once...USMC....always....USMC).

I prayed about how I could help and from prayer came prayer.

Being in the seminary at the time, I had not yet had the privilege to celebrate Mass, nor offer Mass for the intentions of another.  Most of you know that nearly all public masses are offered for the intentions of another.

So I made some crude "xeroxed" memos up and asked many priest, even our good Diocesan Bishop to say Mass for Rob and they did.

The Eucharist.  This is the key, that is our bread of life that any good, any struggling Catholic must accept as our key to salvation.  Somehow, through prayer I knew that this could help Rob, Kiara and their family in need at that time.

Today our Lord teaches us in the Gospel that we must believe in him as the bread of life.  I encourage you to enter into this mystery that we must receive first, and then immerse ourselves into.  It is our call to eternity.

(Today, Rob and Kiara are together and safe at home, living out their unique vocation as husband/wife and mom/dad and good responsible contributors to their community).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B): August 5, 2012

Link to today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel

The other day what should have been a routine "walkabout" became something surreal for me.  It was very ordinary, yet extraordinary all the same.  I was leaving the Parish Center on my way to the noontime daily Mass.  There in front of me was a little baby (juvenile) robin.  I greeted the bird, at least in my mind, and then began to walk towards it.  It did not move, not one inch.

I bended down to it but it still did not move, except for its eyes looking back at me.  No chirp, no flight from me (I am surely a scary interloper to this simple wild species), no reaction whatsoever.  It was as if this was my pet and not a wild animal! 

I petted the bird, then picked him/her up to move it to safer ground.  It being a few feet outside one of the parish buildings near the sidewalk and worse still the street did not seem like the best place to hang out.  Next it flew out of my hand and across to the parking lot, a short distance away near the parish fence line.  I checked on it briefly and then went about my business.  It seemed OK.

Later that evening I saw it again.  It was just a few feet where I had seen it before, now on the pavement where many of the cars park for evening meetings and there was a meeting that night.  Now I became alarmed that it was not simply a little stunned or slightly injured; the bird must truly be completely "off".

Again I picked it up, but this time with both hands.  I brought it over to a nice little garden spot near the rectory as the sun was beginning to set.  I thought this to be better than the parking lot.  After eating dinner I checked on him/her and saw it was just standing just a few feet away near some bushes.  Then it happened-- my conscience got to me.  


What it "informed" me, or rather asked (challenged) me was if there was anything else I could do to make sure the bird did not become a midnight snack for some local feline predator.  I immediately thought yes that there was and so I followed through by calling a friend who knows how to take care of injured or wounded wild birds and nurses them back to help.  Now I was sure I did all I could and the little bird is in better hands than mine and out of the danger of the "elements".

As people of faith, as Catholics our consciences should play a role in the details of our everyday lives.  We speak of having a properly formed conscience through our prayer, adoration and living the teachings or keeping within the moral teachings of Holy Mother Church.

Saint Paul speaks of conscience as he exhorts the Corinthians in our second reading today.  He strongly rebukes them to turn away from secular things as the unbaptized Gentiles do.  They are acting in the "futility of their minds" because of their weak moral code.  He is referring to the philosophers of the day who could justify some immoral behavior by affirming it by false teaching against the natural law.  Perhaps here the Apostle is referring to Hedonism, sexual depravity and generally destructive and irresponsible behavior.  

His remedy? TRUTH IS IN JESUS!
"Put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth".

We hear about the greatest TRUTH from the Lord himself in Saint John's Gospel.  In this section of what is commonly referred to as the bread of life discourse (Chapter 6), Jesus reveals that he himself is the bread of life

What has all of this to do with our conscience?
First we must grasp a better understanding of the word.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Encyclopedia: Conscience
"The natural conscience of the Christian is known by him to act not alone, but under the enlightenment and the impulse derived from revelation and grace in a strictly supernatural order."

Finally, we receive supernatural grace from worthy reception of the Eucharist.  This is a very important, in fact the most important aspect of our faith and in fact is the greatest reason to come to Mass.  Sure we are enlightened by revelation (sacred Scripture) but His body and blood feed us.

Our Gospel passage today concludes with a promise: we will never hunger or thirst when we receive the bread of life.  What greater gift than to receive Him not just in our hearts and minds, but totally and completely in our bodies.  This should transform us forever each and every time we receive it so that we can make spiritual progress so that one day we can join Jesus in the kingdom of heaven, forever.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Upcoming Homilies For Sunday July 22 and 29, 2012

I will be away for the 16th and 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  You can find engaging homilies for these two Sundays here (July 22 and 29, 2012):


15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B), July 15, 2012

Today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel

The other day I was visiting my family on Monday afternoon.  One of the neat things about being a diocesan priest is the understanding that you have two families, your parish and your own human family.   It is always nice to catch up with my sisters and brothers, my father and my nieces and nephews.

Mathew is my youngest nephew.  He will turn 8 in August, which makes him (soon) a third grader.  I was sitting with my sister on the beach when Mathew emerged from the Atlantic Ocean with his "boogey" board.  He quickly dropped it at his mother's feet so as to run off to whatever the next activity for the day would be.

What followed was a very common conversation about how the board was his responsibility and should safeguard it by returning it to the family gathering area so that he would have it for another day.

Mathew was not getting the point (I learned later that what was driving his thought process.  He thought Mommy would carry the board herself back to where it belonged.  There is something innocent about Matty's thought process.  The countless times his mother looked after him from the moment of his birth, in fact his conception to this particular moment. 

Mom was trying to teach him discipline, in fact discipleship so that he would grow up a good member of society.  Matthew, as his brother and sister have learned before him (and as it is reinforced nearly every day when it is time for chores) is that maturity and responsibility go hand in hand.

That is what Sacramental preparation is all about.  The Church takes it very seriously when it comes to celebrating and receiving our seven sacraments: Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Healing, Holy Orders and Marriage. 

Today in the sacred word of God we hear about two particular Sacraments: Confirmation and Healing of the Sick.  Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, mentions to the community there that the Holy Spirit has sealed them.  This is a literal mention of the very essence of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the same one that most of us have already received, probably when we were in middle school.  This “proof” scripture is a great testimony to our 2000-year tradition of faith.

In the Gospel we hear of the 12 being sent out, two by two to evangelize, to heal and cast out demons, in a word to sanctify.  At the end of the "good news" we hear how they were healing the sick by anointing with oil.

We should reflect that Jesus Christ is forming these twelve men as the first missioners (the literal meaning of apostleship) to be sent to the four corners of the earth.  These disciples are formed in discipleship by learning self-discipline, not only for their own good, but also for the good of the entire world.

If he leads a normal life, I hope, one day my youngest nephew will be grown up.  He probably will not remember the bogey board lesson.  He passed it on Monday, a bit grumpy as he dragged, not carried, his board through the sand to its place of rest.

You and I are called the same way by Our Lord Jesus Christ to learn little lessons through the lens, which is our lives, lived out.  But God is calling us to a much more profound consolation than just a job well done or a safe toy put away.  God, who has revealed himself through the great mystery of our faith, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit wants us to be completely possessed by his joy forever.  There is a share for us here as we await the greater glory of Heaven if we follow his simple instructions to live a life of virtue, of goodness.  To turn away from sin, vice and darkness for two reasons: our own sanctification and also so that we can live in a just and peaceful world by being attentive to our role as good disciples to which we are called, like the 12.

Ultimately, God is calling us into the everlasting glory of his Kingdom, through and with his eternal Son, O.L. Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

13th Sunday in Ordinary TIme (B)

Link to Today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel

Periodically, from time to time I come across great homilies from outside sources.  Today I would like to share the work of Jesuit Father Chris Collins:

The gracious act of Christ, emptying himself for us.In the liturgy today, we are given a word from the Book of Wisdom that faces, head on, the ultimate human question of death, and God’s relationship to it.  The response could not be more blunt: “God did not make death.” What God does is create.  He makes life and offers love that makes “life worth living,” as Bishop Sheen so famously put it.  God: “fashioned all things that they might have being” and has formed us to be “imperishable.”  That is God’s plan.  Period.
Of course, there is death and destruction of being all around us.  Where is God?  What is His response? St. Paul gives us a clue in the second reading. He urges the Corinthians that while they excel in faith, discourse, knowledge and love, that they might also excel in “this gracious act also.”  What is the gracious act? “This gracious act” must be getting close to the core of what makes all the difference in our Christian vision.  Indeed it is the core. St. Paul immediately describes the “gracious act” initiated by Christ that “though he was rich, he became poor for our sakes.” The gracious act is God’s own free choice to let go, as it were, of the richness of his divinity and empty himself, becoming a slave, taking on human flesh for those of us who are threatened by sin and death.
By looking at the person of Jesus, we see the power of God going out from himself—out from his transcendence, so that he can be close to his people, close to the broken-hearted, close to the poor, the small, the weak.  That’s what God does. In the person of Jesus, we see a glimpse of that same power of God, that has nothing to do with death, and everything to do with life.  In today’s Gospel, while responding in the affirmative to the plea to go to heal the daughter of Jairus, Jesus shows his instinctive desire to bring life.  While he is on his way to Jairus’ house, another encounter happens that reveals the same truth about the power of God’s life flowing through Jesus.  It is unique among the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounters with the sick, the blind, and the lame.
As the woman suffering with the hemorrhages makes a desperate attempt to reach out to touch Jesus’ cloak, she has a single-hearted desire for healing to come to her from one she believes has that power. Her weakness meets Jesus’ power, and in that meeting, a transformation occurs. St. Mark describes the unusual nature of the healing: “Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him” looks around to find out who had received that power of life and healing.  He seeks to personalize what had happened in an apparently automatic manner. “The woman, realizing what had happened to her…” then sought to approach Jesus, though she did so with “fear and trembling.” Both Jesus and the woman seek to make personal the encounter that had happened unconsciously.  Upon their face-to-face meeting, Jesus confirms her not only as a person who has been healed, but as one who has been given a renewed identity: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”  Not only does Jesus overcome the chasm of isolation she experienced as one who is suffering, but he draws her into a new identity, as a beloved daughter of his Father.  Not only is her “being” refashioned, as the Book of Wisdom describes it, but a new identity is given her.
This is to be the pattern of the Church, also. We are to, first, be the beneficiaries of Christ’s gracious act: he empties himself, becoming one with us so that we might become one with him in eternity.  Once we have received this “gracious act” of Christ, we in turn, as members of his body, are to perform that gracious act ourselves in the world around us. A question for us today might be: how prepared am I to let go of my riches, becoming poor for the sake of those in need?  How might I take part in the “gracious act” of Christ’s self-emptying love for the sake of people like us who don’t seem to deserve it?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Solemnity of Saint John the Baptist, June 24, 2012 (B)

Link to Today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel

For He must increase, and I must decrease (Jn 3:30).

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the signpost for the Messiah.

The other day I had an appointment in New York City.  Unlike many, I do not mind driving to and from Manhattan.  The tricky part can be parking.

At many of the parking lots in New York, there will invariably be a parking attendant who will stand on the sidewalk or near the street waving a red flag.  He will try to sweep you in to his parking lot.  It is a very effective tool, one that helps fill the parking lot as fast as possible.   I suppose it can also be helpful to us because it helps us get our cars into a parking spot and out of traffic and on to where we are going, our destinies for the day.

This image reminds me of Saint John the Baptist.  He is not the messiah, but the forerunner of the Christ.  He comes not to save, but to point us to the one who saves.  He comes not to move mountains, but to make our paths straight so that Jesus can be present to us.  John is calling us to grace so that our beings can receive Jesus, the true and just God for all.

Saint John the Baptist prepares us to be vessels for the Lord so that His salvation may reach the ends of the earth as we hear in our First Reading today from Isaiah 49:6.

In Acts, our Second Reading (13:22-26), we hear that John is the herald of our savior, Jesus.  John baptizes us in repentance to clear out our souls so that they may be made ready to receive our Lord.

In the Gospel we hear of the birth of John and his naming.  His parents are Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin Mary's cousin and Zechariah, both descendants of the priestly tribes of Israel.  In fact, Zechariah is given the prophecy of the birth of the Baptist while conducting his priestly duties in the inner sanctum of the Temple at the tabernacle of the Lord.

Today we should reflect on John's great words that come to us from Saint John's Gospel, "For He must increase, and I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).  

Many times in our lives it is our way or the highway.  We act in a way that is not selfless, interdependent and life giving.  We sometimes live not ordered to God, but to ourselves.  

Let us then rejoice at the birth of Saint John the Baptist, who great as he was, points us to Christ who is the Way the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).  Let us resolve to be people for others, signposts for Christ, helping those find in Him the place of sanctity and truth, comfort and consolation and ultimately, a profound depth of eternal joy.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Happy Father's day!

We begin with a character description of a person most important to me.  Personal stories are good when they remind us of our own stories.  Our stories help us grow inwardly so our outward expression of life and faith can be intertwined into something beautiful.  This is the story of my Dad.

He walks a mile nearly every day.  He quite remarkably survived some great hardships: The Great Depression that wracked the very substance of our country in the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, World War II (stationed with the U.S. Marines in Panama) and one that is almost unnoticed: difficulty in utilizing his G.I. Bill benefit guaranteeing (re)education while he transitioned back to civilization after the war.  He is among the last of his generation, now 88 years young and probably one of the only certified Architects in America (A.I.A.) who never studied or graduated at the baccalaureate level.  Although he lives a life of quiet solitude, his life's journey as seen through the lens of his professional fait acompli was chronicled in a 1975 edition of the journal, Who's Who in America.

He is my Dad.  And you may have already guessed, I am very proud of him.  Happy Father's day Dad, and to all Dads present here or not!

Link to today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel

In our First Reading today, we hear from the Prophet Ezekiel, who was in exile with his Jewish brethren in Babylonia, after the destruction of the Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar in the early 6th Century, B.C.  The prophet tells us that God the Father will restore Israel to its greatness from the remnant.  This will be a great nation, in fact the greatest and God will ensure this.  This is a foreshadowing of Christ and Christianity; He the Light to all Nations and we his adopted children the bearers of His light to the world.

Our Responsorial Psalm reminds us that it is good to offer thanksgiving to God.  Prayer should never be limited to a crying out in our times of sorrow or hardship.  We must thank the Lord on our good days as well.  This is essential to good spiritual life, grounded in Christ.  The Psalmist invites to respond: Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.

In our Second Reading, Saint Paul writes to the community at Corinth (modern day Greece).  
Here he teaches the local Church about the transcendence of the soul, and that our immortal soul's fate will be determined by Christ, the Just Judge.  The good/bad that we do while in the state of mortal flesh (our earthly lives) will be the fodder for judgement.

The Gospel from Saint Mark features the great parable of the "mustard seed".  OUr Lord gives us this image for the kingdom of heaven, He even explains that it is among the smallest of all seeds.  

This is a great teaching on faith, good works and proper disposition toward the things of the world.  Our faith needs to be nurtured.  Our resolve must be oriented toward the Triune God, revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit by the Son and Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  We must be good sons and daughters to our Father in heaven to enjoy the rewards of heavenly paradise.

Today is the first Sunday in many weeks that we wear green at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Green is a color of hope. It is the color that says, "life springs eternal".  It is a sign of good things to come and a reminder that when we have our failings, when sin becomes apparent in our lives, our good and just Lord is there to forgive us and relieve us of our burdens.  That ultimately is what a good Father does for his children and our heavenly FAther is beyond perfect.  We need never fear going to Him for help, mercy and forgiveness.

To me and my siblings, our Dad has always been there for us.  It is quite remarkable that he is so full of vitality now and, I am sure, that it has everything to do with his great self-discipline that he learned from the sufferings of his life as well as the joys of hearing, seeking and implementing good wisdom for himself and others.  His seven children grew up in difficult times of our own: social revolution in the 60s, severe inflation and unemployment in the 70s and huge federal deficits in the 1980s.  We as sons and daughters suffered the loss of our Mom and his bride of 40 years in 1991.

We have survived and stand ready to flourish.  We can because the "seed" of the faith was nurtured well by our Mom and Dad.  Mom through her Catholic devotion, and Dad through his wisdom and parenting.  Let all of us resolve to be good and faithful servants of the Lord, nurturing the seeds of faith given to us through the Divine Creator and His human instruments  of pro-creation, Moms and Dads.