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.