Saturday, April 30, 2011

Santo Subito!

Reading about Pope John Paul II’s upcoming beatification reminded me of an entry I had written in my journal back in 1980 describing his visit to Boston the year before. Though my memory of the day is foggy, I suspect I took some liberties in describing the event. In fact, I distinctly remember that my grandmother would not let me take a bath when I got home because she claimed it would make me sick. The part about some black guy pushing me into the mud also sounds suspect. Anyway, the uncorrected, unexpurgated entry dated October 1, 1980 follows. The picture below is from a much later encounter I had with His Holiness after my deaconate ordination in 1991.

I remember being in Boston Common a year ago today literally soaked to the skin trying to listen to the pope’s homily. There was no way we could keep dry because if you put your umbrella up to protect yourself people would complain because “they can’t see his holiness.” I tried to listen to the pope’s homily but there was this lady next to me who was praying out loud and saying amen to everything the pope said. It was finally drawing near the end, the experience was great but the conditions worsened my attitude, and I had gotten in line when this black guy cuts me in line, makes me lose my balance, and fall right in the mud. I got up fast and told my mother that we should skip communion before we get killed. When we got home the best feeling I ever had was that hot bath I took. If the pope ever returns to Boston and it rains then I’m staying on the bus.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stunning but True

I wasn’t sure what to say or how to react.

We hadn’t seen in each in well over ten years when I bumped into her at the hospital. So the talk naturally gravitated to our children. Hers are older and are already having children of their own. However, her youngest had just lost her baby five months or so into the pregnancy.

“How awful,” I replied. “You must have been devastated.”

“Well,” she said, “if the baby had been born, the doctors said she would not have lived long and would have needed to be on a feeding tube. So they decided to have a medical abortion.”

“Oh,” I replied.

“We called a priest to baptize the baby,” she continued, “but he refused to do it. That’s the kind of thing that turns people off to the Church.”

She must have sensed from my blank look and silence that I was stunned by what she had told me.

“I guess you can see both sides of it,” she said and decided it would probably be better to change the subject

I was indeed stunned because she and her family are well meaning people whom I thought should know better that we do not put children, babies or the unborn “ out of their misery” because of their disabilities. Instead I was brought face to face with a reality of life in our society - some ninety percent of unborn children diagnosed in utero with down syndrome, spina bifida, hemophilia or cleft palate are aborted in the United States and Europe. We might not want to frame it this way, but we are deciding that only perfect little babies should be allowed to live.

In India and China, much the same dynamic is taking place. For several decades now it has been a common practice for couples to abort unborn female babies. These sex selective abortions reflect the strong cultural preference for sons. It is creating a widening disparity between the number of men and women in those countries meaning that very many men will never be able to marry and raise a family.

The reality of sex selective abortions puts the lie to the claim that abortion is a woman’s rights issue. If women who behave rarely make history, we can be sure that women who are aborted never make history.

Arizona recently passed a law prohibiting abortion based on a fetus’s race or sex, reflecting the growing number of immigrants from countries where these practices are common. It would have been interesting if they had also criminalized abortions against unborn children diagnosed with disabilities. The law might not have passed as easily, but it would have sparked an interesting debate and made it much harder for the pro-abortion lobby to deny that they are interested in purifying American society from “undesirables.”

I don’t want to sound insensitive to couples who receive the news that their unborn child has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome or spina bifida. It must be heart wrenching. However, they deserve better advise from their doctors than to terminate the pregnancy. They deserve more options than abortion and the physical, emotional and spiritual toll it takes on couples. And they deserve to have their unborn child treated with the same dignity and care as the healthy unborn child of the fair skinned couple in the next room.

Today is the feast day of Saint Gianna Molla. When pregnant with her fourth child, she learned that she had a fibroma. Rather than undergoing a hysterectomy which would have resulted in the death of her unborn child, she chose to have the fibroma removed. After the surgery she continued to experience intense pain which she suffered bravely until her daughter was born on April 21, 1962. Gianna Molla died seven days later. She was recognized by all who knew her to be a woman of tremedous courage and faith, and was canonized as a saint by the Church in 2004. May she and so many other women who have foregone treatment to spare the lives of their unborn children be an example to us of the dignity of all human life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Prayer

My grandmother has some beautiful old Portuguese prayer books. One in particular, O Relicario Angelico, or The Angelic Reliquary, offers this moving prayer in honor of the Resurrection. I have taken some liberties with the translation to modernize it.

O my sweet Jesus, may your Holy Name be forever praised.For, after the storm clouds of your most holy Passion followed the serene calm of your Glory, and the night of your sorrows, tears and death gave way to the joyful day of your wondrous Resurrection.

For this great mystery I offer you my gratitude and praise because You died for our sins and rose for our justification. And you desired that those who took pity on you and shed tears over your cruel passion and death should also rejoice in your glorious Resurrection with you and with your most holy mother, who, according to the measure of her past anguish and sorrows, received the consolations and joys of so glorious a day.

What words would be sufficient to worthily declare the ineffable joy that her heart received when she saw you gloriously risen? The darkness of your passion was transformed into beauty,the humiliation into glory, the wounds into glorious splendor. Victor over death and redeemer of life, you triumphed over hell and brought peace to all of heaven and glory to the universe.

Therefore, I ask you, King of Heaven and Earth,the one who glorifies and redeems me,
that I take such joy in your wondrous Resurrection so as to also rise with you and share your risen life.

My God and only good, detach my heart from all the things of earth, fix it on the things of heaven so that I may live with You Who are my true Paradise. Make me forget and hate all the pleasures, vain comforts and earthly consolations that separate me from your service and love, and grant that I may not die in sin so that through your mercy I may rise gloriously in body and soul and reign with you forever in your glory. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Joy!

Today is the day of Easter joy!

Over the past 40 days, we have prepared ourselves through sacrifice and prayer so that we could renew our baptismal vows with deeper commitment and embrace the wonder of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In particular, over this past week, beginning with Palm Sunday, we have delved into the mystery of Jesus' suffering and death. We learned that we have a God who does not abandon us to sin, suffering and death, but a God who suffers along with us and offers us the hope of redemption.

This God continues to be alive and active in our world. Whenever a person changes, leaving selfishness behind, God's hand has moved. Whenever good comes out of evil, God is at work. That is the power of the resurrection continuing to act in the world over two thousand years later.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead has the power to transform lives. We see it in today's readings in the person of Simon Peter. When Mary Magdalene tells the apostles that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb, both Peter and John race to the scene. John reaches the tomb first. When Peter finally gets there, he is cautious, not knowing what to make of the empty tomb. John, however, knows right away what's going on. Because John looks at the situation through the lens of love, he sees and believes.

Now, let us go back to the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We find a much different Peter. He is no longer cautious, but proclaims in bold and uncompromising language that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is risen from the dead. What has caused the change? Nothing less than Peter's encounter with the Risen Jesus. Over the next few weeks up until Pentecost we will read in the gospels how the Risen Jesus appears to Peter, forgiving him for denying Him, and challenging him along with the other apostles to leave fear behind and proclaim His resurrection to all people. Meeting the Risen Jesus transforms Peter from a timid and cautious man to a bold witness of Jesus who would eventually be given the courage to lay down his life for the gospel.

If we were to look around this church today, we would find people here who have been transformed by their encounter with the Risen Jesus. There are people here today who were sick, but found strength and hope through the prayers of others. There are couples here today who struggled in their marriage or with their children and through the gift of faith were able to work toward a resolution of their problems and, so, strengthen their relationship. There are people worshipping here today who doubted and weren't sure what to believe. They searched different faiths and researched exotic philosophies in their quest for the Truth. Finally, by the light of the Holy Spirit, they came to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So, how do we encounter the transforming power of the Risen Jesus? One way is through reading the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. Whenever we read the Bible, we can be assured that the Risen Christ is speaking to us. We also encounter the risen Christ through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The bread and wine will become the very body and blood of the Risen Jesus. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is a transforming encounter with the Risen Lord. Every time we receive it in faith, it has the power to change us in a deep and permanent way.

Our liturgy will continue this morning with the renewal of our baptismal promises. We will reject sin and profess our belief in the God who saves. And, with that new commitment, we will receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, a life-changing encounter with the Risen Lord! We need not be cautious like Peter, waiting to see what happens. Instead, like John, we can look on the marvel of this day through the lens of love and believe in the power of the Risen Jesus to change us and to change our world.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus Enters Into His Rest

Today Jesus is resting from His labor of love and redemption.

Just as the Father rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth, so Jesus sleeps in the tomb after recreating us.

We must spend this day in quiet, then. If we had a guest in our home who was still asleep when we woke up or a child who had just drifted off into a nap, we would move quietly to avoid disturbing them. So we must observe this day in silence so as not to disturb our Lord in His rest.

We also need to rest, to catch our breath from our observance of this Holy Week and from the rigors of our Lenten journey. We need to rest from the long proclamations of the passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, from the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, from the hour that we spent keeping watch with the Lord and from walking the stations of the cross.

And we must rest in anticipation of the feast to come when our Risen Lord will be welcomed into His Church with candles, singing and the pealing of bells, when catechumens will be baptized, confirmed and given their first Holy Communion, when we will renew our baptismal vows and when the Spirit will rush into us anew empowering us to live for the things above, not the things below.

It is good for us to keep silence today. But it is not the silence of humiliation and defeat. Rather it is the silence of burgeoning life. It is the silence the roots make when they pierce the shell of the seed underground. It is the silence of the giant before he is aroused. It is the silence of musicians queuing themselves to sing a new song. It is the silence of our new life stretching its limbs and yawning. It is the silence of a Church and her Saviour about to fling open the doors and go out into the world to preach the good news that Jesus has conquered death.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For You and Me

Jesus, I don't know what your death means.

I'm afraid to die. I'm afraid to let go of this life and its pleasures. I fear the ridicule, rejection and pain which you endured for me.

I know that to be your disciple I must live by the cross that saved me. But, I also understand the fear of the apostles who betrayed, denied and abandoned you. I understand Pilate's confusion and desire to wash his hands of the whole mess. I understand the blood-thirst of the crowd calling for Barabbas' freedom and your death. I understand the Pharisees' suspicion of you. I understand the soldier's making fun of you. They were used to kings who ruled by the sword, not by the Spirit.

It's you that I'm not able to understand.

Your death turns everything upside down. How can we believe in such a weak God? How can we trust that a God who didn't save himself would ever be able to save us?

Yet you showed that, through the whole ordeal, you were in control. You assured your disciples, "I have the power to lay down my life and to pick it up again." Why didn't you come down from the cross, then? Why didn't you show them up for the hypocrites and fools they were? That's what I would have done. I would have protected myself. I would have shown my power. I would have let them know whom they were dealing with. Everyone would have believed. No one would have doubted me. Fear and awe of me would have bent their hearts to my will.

Ah...that's it. You want to rule our hearts not out of fear but out of love. You want us to give our hearts freely to you, not snatch them away from us.

Oh Jesus, how could you ever love us after what we did and continue to do to you? How could you ever believe that a crowd that humiliated you, spit on you and tore you to pieces could ever have it within them to love? Yet, you bet your life that at least some of us would understand and believe.

Jesus, I don't know if I can love the way you love. I don't understand why this all had to happen. I can only look up at you with gratitude. I can only marvel at the love God has for such people as we are.

(image by Georges Rouault)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections on "Spy Wednesday"

It is a question I hear often during this time of year.

Did Satan know that Jesus’ death would redeem the world?

Though Scripture does not address this question specifically, we can assume that he did.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told Cleopas and his fellow traveler that the Hebrew Scriptures foretold that the Messiah would have to suffer and die. Also, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection three times to the disciples. If Jesus expected His disciples to know and understand the redemptive meaning of His death, we can assume that Satan knew as well.

Inevitably, the next question I’m asked is, “Then why did Satan not try to stop it?”

First of all, one thing we have to understand about Satan is that his malice is greater than his intelligence. That is, his desire to do evil overwhelms his rational powers, as considerable as they may be. In the case of Jesus’ death, the devil took so much delight in seeing the Son of God rejected, tortured and killed that it made him forget the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice.

It is the same experience we have, for instance, if we decide to drink too much even though we know we’ll be sick the next day. Satan fed off the bloodthirsty crowd and became inebriated by the orgy of hate he incited. It made him powerless to give any thought to how all this would ultimately result in his undoing.

Secondly, Satan saw in Jesus’ suffering and death an opportunity to destroy the apostles. What would Jesus’ death mean if there were no one left to announce it? Always on the prowl to poach souls, he had already corrupted Judas and came close to leading Peter along the same path of despair. He hoped to sow enough discouragement in the apostles that they would abandon Jesus altogether. And, along the way, he could cement hate into the hearts of the religious leaders, Roman authorities and all those who got in line to insult, spit at and strike the Son of God.

Finally, Satan was ultimately powerless to prevent the crucifixion even if he had wanted to. Jesus clearly tells His disciples that He is laying down His live freely. He is no victim in this barbarous spectacle. It was all preordained before the creation of the world for our salvation. No power in heaven or on earth, besides God Himself, could have put an end to it.

We should never forget that Satan is furiously plotting our ruin. He is extremely dangerous because, like a cornered animal, he knows he is beaten and has nothing to lose. However, his efforts are futile. Christ will reign forever, and we with Him, if we take up our cross and follow Him. That is the true meaning of these days of torture and triumph.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


If we had been alive two thousand years ago, what would we have seen?

We would have seen Jesus entering the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city, in the midst of great jubilation. Though Scripture tells us he rode on a simple donkey, the crowds came out to hail him as though he were a conquering general. They shouted, sang and waved palm branches with indescribable joy at Jesus' entry into the city of David.

Why were they so enthused? Because they heard of all the wonders Jesus had worked. The stories of his healings had made their way all through the city. The incredible tale of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, just a few miles from Jerusalem, had no doubt been told in every barbershop and at every marketplace. As Jesus entered the city, there was a feeling that something remarkable would happen. The people parading behind him must have had a feeling that history was being made, that something of tremendous importance for the city and for the world was about to happen, and that they would be there to see it all.

What went wrong? Why would it be that in less than a week, their jubilation would sour to bitter scorn? Why would it be that this same crowd would call for His death? Why would they reject Him as Messiah saying that they wanted no other king than Caesar?

It is most likely the same thing that caused Judas to betray his friend and teacher. Jesus was not strong enough, not flashy enough. They preferred a Messiah mounted on a mighty steed, not a lowly donkey. They wanted a Messiah clad in shiny armour, not in a simple linen tunic. They wanted a Messiah who could shower them with riches, not one who was even poorer than they were. How could this humble carpenter from Nazareth ever stand up to the mighty Roman Empire and fight for them?

And so, they ask the Roman Empire, in the person of Pontius Pilate, to save them from their Messiah by crucifying Him among thieves.

Can we say two thousand years later that we are so different from them? Can we say that we would have acted differently? Don't we act the same way when we praise God on Sunday, but turn our backs on those in need on Monday? Do we act any differently if we reflect on the mysteries of the rosary, but are blind to the mystery of God unfolding in our lives? Are we any better when we can remember everything that happens on American Idol, but can't recall what the gospel reading from the Sunday before was?

For two thousand years, the world has both longed for its Savior and turned its back on Him. It has longed to see Him and closed its eyes to Him. It has wondered why God is so silent, yet failed to listen to Him. Today, with all the advancements of modern society, we cannot claim to be all that different than the crowd that welcomed Jesus two thousand years ago.

Yes, the week that saw Jesus enter triumphantly into Jerusalem will end with the tragedy of His death. But, wait! The story is not over. For, this week, the God who chose to suffer and die rather than exact vengeance will accomplish something marvelous. It is something that no one could ever have imagined when Jesus' beaten, lifeless body was taken down from the cross. Yet it was for this moment that the world was created. It is the mystery of how God plans to save us even in the midst of our rejection of Him.

We'll have to come back next Sunday to find out what will happen. But we can be assured that it will not disappoint us. For this God of surprises, this God who loves us beyond all telling, will not let death have the final word over His beloved Son. Nor will he allow death to claim those of us who believe in Him and welcome Him into the city of our hearts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Common Good

Most Americans do not begrudge the Catholic Church her teachings on abortion, contraception and the sanctity of marriage. They understand that one is free to belong to the Church or not, to accept her teachings or not.

What many Americans do begrudge - some Catholics included - is the Church’s public advocacy for these issues and her attempts to influence legislation. For instance, Americans may recognize that the Church has a right to teach that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, but they do not recognize the Church’s right to speak out publicly about it, work to influence legislation on marriage or help to challenge such laws in court. According to most Americans, and some Catholics, people of faith should have no voice when these issues are debated and legislation on them is enacted.

If the issues at stake were eating meat on Fridays in Lent or attending Mass on Sunday, I would be in total agreement with most Americans. These are teachings which are binding only on Catholics and should not be imposed on the rest of society through legislation.

However, when the issues are freedom of religion, providing for the poor, protecting innocent human life and defending the sanctity of marriage, we are talking about goods that are common to all people. All people - Catholic or not - have a stake in whether the right to freedom of worship is respected. Each person, no matter his or her sexual orientation, has a stake in whether the law supports marriages and families or weakens them. These are common goods we all share. As good citizens, Catholics must be engaged in promoting the common good by working for solutions to society’s ills.

Furthermore, when injustices are being committed, it is the duty of all people, including people of faith, to speak out. When the taking of innocent human life is codified in law or societal structures are in place which undermine the dignity of human persons, the Church has a duty to oppose such laws and structures. We as a Church understand that we must use our moral authority, built up over centuries of service to the poor and needy, to advocate for those who do not have a voice.

Over the years, through centuries of reflection, the Church has built up a moral teaching covering every facet of human life and experience that is remarkably consistent. As a Church, we have a responsibility to share that treasure not just with other Catholics but with all of society. The Church, therefore, has a duty not only to spread the gospel but to work for the common good. That means speaking the truth even about matters that do not involve dogma.

Furthermore,one does not lose one’s citizenship by being Catholic. Catholics, including clergy, pay taxes on their income like everyone else. We have a right and a duty to contribute to the common good no matter what issue is being discussed and what values are at stake.

Our faith as well as our civic duty demands it of us

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This Sickness is Not to End in Death

The film, “Soul Surfer” debuted in box offices throughout the country this weekend. It tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who lost an arm in a vicious shark attack in 2003. The movie shows how her faith in God played a major role in recovering from her injury and returning to championship form in the sport she loves. Her faith also helped her see her loss not as a handicap but as a means of inspiring others.

In the gospel readings over the past two Sundays we have read about two men facing handicaps and how faith transformed them. Last week it was the blind beggar and this week it was Lazarus, who has a terminal illness that eventually robs him of his life.

In the case of the man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus if it was because of his sin or that of his parents that he was so afflicted. Jesus responds that his blindness was not a punishment but an opportunity to have the glory of God show forth in his life. Once he has recovered his sight, the blind man then gives us a lesson on what it means to see and believe. His healing becomes a sign pointing to Jesus as the Light of the World.

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus receives the news that his friend, Lazarus, is sick. He responds: “This sickness is not to end in death; rather it is for God’s glory.” Though Lazarus does succumb to his illness, Jesus raises him from the dead to show us that He is the Resurrection and the Life. Lazarus’ death is not a punishment but a sign pointing to Jesus who brings the dead to life again.

Each of us has a situation in life that we think keeps us from serving God better. If only I lived in the ‘50’s. If only my husband went to church with me. If only I were not sick. If only I didn’t have children. If only I had a better education. If only I didn’t work with such jerks. We think that if God would just change those circumstances, we would be better able to do His will.

In fact, the opposite is the case. There is no circumstance we can find ourselves in wherein it is impossible to do God’s will. In fact, it is His will that we are where we are. He wants us to endeavor to live good and holy lives in the midst of people who are indifferent or even hostile to our faith so that we might be an example to them. He desires that we struggle with our personal weaknesses and failures so that we can learn to rely on Him. And if there are relationships or circumstances in our lives which need to change, He will give us the grace and the opportunity to change them. But we can never use them as an excuse not to live good and holy lives.

Whatever we are struggling with today can be a vehicle by which God’s glory can shine forth through us.

If Jesus can give sight to the blind and raise the dead, what else can His Spirit at work in us accomplish?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Breath of Life

We are familiar with the story of how God created the first man, Adam. After forming him from clay, he blew into his nostrils the gift of life. This is different from the way God created any of the animals or any of the plants. By giving Adam His own breath, God was sharing His life with him. Breath is life. We are aware that someone is alive if he or she is breathing. To stop breathing - or to be unable to breathe - is to die.

The word "spirit" is closely related to the word for breath. We call breathing "respiration". To stop breathing or to breathe out is to "expire". Both of those words are related to the word for "spirit". In this way we can understand the Holy Spirit to be the breath of God, the life of God. We have that life not only because we have been created by God, but also through the gift of faith. Through baptism and confirmation, in particular, God breathes the Holy Spirit into us. God shares with us His very life.

Paul speaks of this in the second reading. The Spirit who worked so powerfully in the life of Jesus, is the same Spirit we have received through faith and baptism. This is the same Spirit who empowered Jesus to speak with authority. This is the same Spirit who empowered Jesus to perform miracles. This is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. That Spirit is with us here as we gather to worship.

What does this mean for us? If God's Spirit is the very life of God within us, then the eternal life of heaven is not something we receive after we die. That eternal life of God is already in us. We are already living it. Heaven is already within us and around us. To be sure, it is still in seed form. It hasn't yet reached its fullness. We are not always aware of it. But, it is at work in us just as surely as our breath is filling our lungs with oxygen.

We see that eternal life at work in the words of Martha and Mary. They are distressed at their brother's death and distressed at Jesus' apparent neglect of them in their need. Nonetheless, in the midst of their grief, they confess their belief with the words: "I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God". And, Jesus does not let them down. When Jesus says that they will see their brother again, Martha misunderstands and thinks He is talking about the resurrection on the last day. But, Jesus has something else in mind. He has in mind the life of the Spirit which is already at work in Him and is beginning its work in the world. Jesus' life was not something that Martha and Mary would experience in some far off day in the future. They were to experience it that very day with the raising of their brother Lazarus from death. Because they believed, they saw the glory of God.

Jesus came to earth for one reason - to redeem us from our sins and to restore us to life with God. Sin cuts us off from God's life. Sin strangles God's breath of life within us. Sin inevitably leads to death. When Jesus weeps in today's gospel reading, he is not just mourning for Lazarus. He is not just sympathizing with Martha and Mary. He is weeping for all of humanity which suffers death because of sin. But, Jesus will conquer death by Himself suffering it and by rising from the dead to give us the hope of everlasting life with Him now through faith, and in fullness with Him forever in heaven.

All life needs food to sustain it, and the life of God in us is no different. Not only does God provide us with the breath of His Spirit, He also nourishes us with the body and blood of His Son. The same Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead will transform simple bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ to give us the power to live as He lived.

Now that we have tasted the life of God - now that we have breathed it into our lungs - why would we ever go back to living just for ourselves? Why would we ever want to let sin cut us off from that life again? No matter what choices we have made in the past - even if it seems that our souls are buried deep in a tomb - God can roll away the stone and breathe new life into us. Today is a new day. If we believe, we can see God's glory at work in us and at work in our lives. We need only believe to breathe deeply of God's eternal life which He offers through the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Light of the World

On a talk show one morning, A blind man was promoting a book he had written about his life. During the interview, he talked about how he considered his blindness to be a "blessing in disguise". He told the woman interviewing him that, since he wasn't able to see her, he couldn't judge her by how she looked or by the clothes she wore. The only idea he had of her was from the words she spoke and the sound of her voice. And so, with his heart, he could "see" her - the real her - better than those who could see her with just their eyes.

Being able to see something with our eyes and being able to understand it with our mind and heart are two different things. There are many things we see and yet do not understand. There are many times as well that our eyes get in the way of our understanding because of prejudices we may have against those of a different race or those of a different economic or social status.

In today's first reading, God sends the prophet Samuel to Jesse's house to choose a king for Israel. If Samuel had just relied on his eyes, he would have picked one of Jesse's older sons. But, Samuel was listening to God. Samuel didn't choose based on what his eyes told him, but what God told him. As God says to Samuel: "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart." And so, having trusted God and not his eyes, Samuel anoints David as the next king of Israel. It would turn out that David would be Israel's greatest king. Later on in Scripture, God will say of David that he is a "man after my own heart." It is from David that the Messiah would be born.

Jesus also understood very well how seeing is not always believing. He knew that, though people saw him with their eyes, they didn't always understand who he was. In today's Gospel reading, we find that it is the blind man who comes to really see Jesus for who he is and to testify to him as the Messiah. The people who should know better - the religious leaders - cannot get past their own squabbling to really see with their heart who Jesus is. They are too concerned with maintaining control and with maintaining their authority to see that Jesus is the Messiah they have been longing for.

As we look now at our life, do we really see what's going on? Do we grasp the grace which God is showering us with everyday? Do we notice the beauty of the day? Do we notice when someone needs our help? Do we know what are children are up to? And, if we see it, do we understand it? Do we hear God taking us beyond the appearances into the reality, into the truth?

There are a lot of reasons we might want to stay in the dark and not see. There's a lot of ugliness in the world such as war and famine. There's a lot of sadness in the world. If we were really to see it, we might feel overwhelmed. We might not know what to do. Or, we might for maybe the first time feel as though we needed to do something about it and be shaken out of the comfortable little world we've made for ourselves. It is fear that keeps us in the dark. It is fear that so often keeps us from wanting to see.

But, when we choose to stay in the dark, we also miss out on what is beautiful about the world. We don't see the people who give of themselves to make the lives of others better. We don't see the children whose purity of heart reminds us of the goodness which surrounds us. And, we don't see God working in powerful ways to bring food to the hungry and comfort to the afflicted.

Even the healthiest eye needs light to see. Jesus is our light. He is light for the world. We do not need to hide in the cold night of fear. We do not need to cower before the seemingly endless problems of our lives and of our world. We have in Jesus a Savior who helps us to see ourselves and see our world as God sees it. God sent Jesus to the world to be its light because God thought that we were worth saving. Each one of us is precious in God's eyes. God has paid a high price to secure our salvation - the price of His only Son. How wonderful each of us must be that God was so moved to rescue us from sin and death. And, if we are that precious in God's eyes, what a tragedy it is when any one of us suffers.

When we start to see ourselves and our world in this way, how can we not, then, be moved with the same love to reach out to those who are hungry, to those who are homeless, to those who mourn?

There are many in this world who live in darkness because of fear. Many of them are desperate for light, but don't know where to turn. We know where the light is. We know that Christ is our light. We received that light at our baptism. It is by that light that we live. It is by that light that we see as God sees. How could we ever close our eyes and return to the darkness of fear, now that Christ has given us his light? And, how can we not bring that light today into a world shivering in darkness?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

All Too Human

I learned at a young age that priests were fallible.

One Sunday at Mass, our old Portuguese pastor got up to proclaim the gospel. Father Resendes read the whole Mass right out of the missalette including the gospel. That Sunday, the reading was from the last chapter of John when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. In the missalette, the gospel reading was divided into two columns. Instead of reading down one column and then down the other, Father Resendes read straight across both columns. The effect was something like: “At the Sea of Tiberias Jesus when they landed saw a showed himself once again a charcoal fire, there with a....” You get the idea. Poor Father Resendes was always bumbling over some turn of phrase or failing to make sense in his sermons. But we still loved the little guy.

We were blessed at out parish to always have newly ordained priests assigned to us. Being the late sixties, we had curates with long hair and side burns wearing ponchos and listening to Santana. I imagine that many parishioners may have found this odd or disturbing. But I had no idea that priests should be any other way.

Over the years, my family became friendly with the priests who served us and even had them over the house. I saw them smoke, drink beer, complain about other priests and even swear. It seemed natural to me that they would act much as we do. However, I never lost the sense that there was something special about them. To this day, I still consider them to be among the most gifted and generous men I have ever met.

A lot has changed since the late sixties and early seventies. Any illusions that our priests were super-human or beyond being tempted have been shattered. Sadly for many Catholics who never saw the human side of the priests who served them, with that disillusionment has come a loss of faith. I really cannot think of anything worse that could have happened to the Church.

It is now a part of our collective history that we all have to learn to live with. It is not going to go away. If people keep drudging up the Inquisition and the excommunication of Galileo (not to mention the Borgias whose skeletons are being dug up by Showtime) we can expect to be hearing about the sex abuse crisis for at least the next five hundred years.

It is most especially painful when those who stand accused or have been dismissed from ministry are friends who have inspired you and taught you so much about God’s love. Many effective priests - many of whom I admired and loved - have been snared in the net. I have no idea where they are, what they did or if their punishment is just. They are simply gone.

But I am consoled in knowing that much of what they taught stays with me. It is part of the bricks and mortar of my faith life now, and it always will be. The messengers come and go - taken from us by scandal or by death - but the message rings out. No matter how many priests fall, it can never be silenced because its source is the One who cannot sin and cannot fail.

The latest priest to be accused, Father John Corapi, is stunning to many. Perhaps because we only saw him on television and were not exposed to his human imperfections like losing his temper with an altar boy in the sacristy or having too much to drink at the parish fair, he took on an air of infallibility. It will be devastating to many if the allegations against him are proved true. But isn’t it also true that the faith he stirred in us, the conviction he inspired in us and the truths he taught us will remain no matter how these accusations play themselves out? That faith will surely see us through any disappointment or discouragement we might otherwise experience if these allegations are proved true.

So I am hopeful. Those who have stayed around are true believers and those who have chosen to leave are opportunities for evangelization. We are chastened, but our faith is stronger because it no longer rests on priests who are fallible but on the eternal God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.