Friday, July 29, 2011

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's gospel reading opens with Jesus in distress. He has just learned of the death of John the Baptist, a man Jesus admired deeply. He was the prophet who came to prepare Israel for their Savior. In fact, Jesus admired him so much that he chose John to baptize him in the Jordan river. And so, Jesus is saddened by his death. Not only that, but Jesus must have been saddened that John's message of repentance was rejected. He had to know that the same fate - rejection and a violent death - awaited him as well.

And so, Jesus leaves to spend some time alone grieving his friend. But, when Jesus gets off the boat, he finds a vast crowd awaiting him. The needy crowd presses Jesus to stay with them, to speak God's word to them and to heal their sick. Though they've interrupted his plans to have some time to himself, Jesus does not resent the crowd. Rather, he takes pity on them. He realizes how deeply they hunger for God's word. And, he understands that only he can meet the deep burning need within them for friendship with God and salvation. So, Jesus doesn't rebuke the crowds for bothering him. Instead, he puts his own needs aside to meet the need of the crowd pressing in on him.

After spending a full day with them, it would be reasonable for Jesus to leave the crowd to get something to eat for himself and to allow them to find food for themselves in the surrounding villages. But, once again, Jesus does not put his own needs first. Neither does he consider his own lack of resources to be a good excuse for not tending to the crowd's hunger. Instead, he instructs the disciples to take the little food they had - five loaves and two fish -and to share it with the sizable crowd which would have numbered well over five thousand. The fact that it was barely enough food for Jesus and the apostles did not deter him. Jesus' love for the crowd would not allow him to abandon them in their hunger. Jesus would not dismiss them until all their needs had been met. Jesus would not tend to his own needs until he had satisfied the crowd's hunger.

Jesus' whole life was consumed with bringing God's love and God's life to the world. For that reason, Jesus had no place to lay his head, no home and no possessions. He wanted nothing else but to preach about God's love and relieve people of their suffering. Jesus gave of himself fully, even to the point of offering his life on the cross. Out of love for sinful humanity, Jesus held nothing back for himself.

It can be tempting for us to put our own needs before the needs of others. It is natural to fear that our needs won't be met unless we take care of ourselves first. Sometimes, however, we can be so focused on our needs that we get locked into a cycle of despair. Because we see our needs for love and friendship so often frustrated or delayed, we can become embittered and think that no one cares for us. Focusing on our needs exclusively can create loneliness within us. The very need we long to have met - the need for companionship and intimacy - can ultimately be what distances us from the ones we love.

If we are to live like Jesus, then we must put the needs of others first. Following the example of Jesus means forgetting ourselves and our needs to serve others.

We live in a world that is hungry. Not only are there vast numbers of people suffering from physical hunger, but from spiritual hunger. In America alone, people spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets, alcohol, drugs, self-help books and palm readers all in hopes of finding something that will fill the emptiness within them. The prophet Isaiah sums it up well in the first reading when he asks, "Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?" We have the bread that will satisfy them. We have the antidote to the deep, aching emptiness within them. We have Jesus.

If we look out at that vast crowd and react with anything less than love and concern for them, they we do not have the heart of Jesus within us. Not only does Jesus demand that we not turn our backs on those in need, he demands that we feed them ourselves. Jesus will not accept the excuse that we have too little to give. We must start by giving what we have - no matter how meager it may appear - and trust that Jesus will multiply it.

And, when we take the risk in faith of setting our own needs aside to give of ourselves, not only will we witness the miracle of Jesus multiplying our efforts, but we will find that we are also being fed. In the course of trying to meet the needs of others, our needs are being met.

Anyone who has ever volunteered at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or hospital can attest to this. The volunteers often begin to feel as if they are the ones being helped rather than the other way around. Despite the sad plight of the homeless and the needy, soup kitchens and homeless shelters are often places filled with joy. They are filled with joy because Christ is there. Christ's presence among the poor is unmistakable to anyone with faith enough to put their own needs aside and to give what little they have to serve them.

Saint Paul assures us in the second reading that nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus. Nothing we do and nothing that can be done to us can ever pry us away from the God who loved us enough to die for us. When Jesus walked among us, not even his own needs nor his lack of resources would keep him from serving others out of love. Neither may we fail to serve others in love no matter how small we feel our contribution may be. Now that we know Jesus' power to multiply our contributions, we can never underestimate how much good the dollar we give to a homeless person or the minutes we spend with a lonely person may do. And, we will be sure to find that, once we have set our needs aside, we have found an indescribable joy and a deep satisfaction because we have discovered in another human being the presence and the joy of Jesus himself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lost Works of Art

The students of Campion Hall in Oxford, England walked by it every day with no idea what it really was.

What appeared to them to be an ordinary painting of the crucifixion has turned out to be a priceless lost work by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo.

The painting had been acquired in an auction back in 1930 and no one since had any idea of its real value. It was hung in the hallway of the student dormitory for decades until this past year when an art historian discovered it.

Imagine the shock and surprise of both the students and the faculty to learn that a painting they barely noticed was really a priceless work of art.

How often did it cross someone’s mind over the years that the painting was an eyesore and should be replaced with a picture of a peaceful country scene or a calendar?

Looking at our own lives, there are many priceless treasures we pass by everyday with no thought to their true dignity and worth. They are our family members and loved ones. They are the homeless we step over on the sidewalk and our co-workers whom we try to avoid.

Imagine if we recognized each others worth and treated each other as priceless works of art. What would our world be like?

Very often we do not have to search far and wide for the priceless pearl or dig to deep to uncover the buried treasure. Like the students of Campion Hall, we are walking past it every day. We just need to be smart enough to recognize it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Buried Treasure

Jesus was a master story-teller. He crafted the parables he told carefully so that his audience could both relate to them and be surprised by them. Whoever heard Jesus speak could not help but think long and hard about the point he was trying to make.

The parables in today's gospel reading are no different. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a valuable treasure buried in a field and like a priceless pearl which a merchant seeks. In both cases, the men are willing to sell everything they have to acquire them. The treasure and the pearl fill the men with such joy, in fact, that they rush out to rid themselves of everything else that once held value to them. Those belongings now seem worthless because of the prospect of acquiring something so much greater. Jesus' message is simply this: there is no treasure as valuable as God. And, following Jesus is worth giving up everything we have.

The crowds listening to Jesus knew he wasn't exaggerating. They looked at the example of Jesus himself. He left a simple life in Galilee to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Because of his preaching, he had no home of his own and no wealth of his own. Jesus had left everything and everyone behind to proclaim the good news. Eventually, Jesus would give his very life on the cross. Serving his Heavenly Father was a priceless treasure for Jesus, a treasure which made everything else seem worthless.

As Jesus was speaking, the crowds could also look to the apostles to know that he wasn't exaggerating. To follow Jesus, the apostles had left their jobs, their homes and their families. When Jesus called them, they joyfully dropped everything to join him in spreading the good news. The apostles had discovered in Jesus a treasure which was worth pursuing at all costs.

Two-thousand years later, there are people who still sell all they have to follow Jesus. They are the people with good paying jobs who, upon discovering the love God has for them and the message of Jesus, decide to leave those jobs to serve God in religious life. They are the doctors and nurses who leave lucrative practices to heal the sick in third world countries. They are life-long politicians who risk their careers to speak out against abuses of human rights and to defend the unborn child's right to life. They are young people who risk being ridiculed and rejected by their friends to live a pure and chaste life, saving themselves for the one who will be their life-long love.

What has compelled people throughout the centuries to abandon all they have known and all they have loved to serve Jesus with all their heart and all their strength? Quite simply, it is because they have fallen in love with the person of Jesus. They have discovered in Jesus a God who knows them, who forgives them and who loves them. This love makes everything else seem worthless. Because of this love, they want everyone to know the God they have discovered. Jesus himself is the priceless pearl. Jesus himself is the valuable treasure.

Most of us gathered here today will not be called upon to sell everything to follow Jesus. For most of us, following Jesus will be a simple act of being faithful to him by being good parents, good citizens and good children. However, following Jesus always costs something.

First of all, following Jesus costs us time. Even though Mass rarely lasts more than an hour, there are other things we could be doing with this time. And, how many times are we distracted during Mass thinking about things we need to get done? All of us give this hour to God because we believe that something special happens here. We believe that Jesus is truly present in his word and in his Body and Blood. And so, we gladly sacrifice this hour to meet Jesus, our friend and brother.

Secondly, following Jesus very often costs us friendships. When we take our faith seriously, it is a very common thing that there are some friends who just don't understand why we have changed. They may even think we are hypocrites and phonies because they knew the way we used to be. They haven't yet discovered the priceless pearl we have discovered. No matter how dear those friends may have been to us before, those relationships often fall by the wayside when we decide to follow Jesus.

Time and friendships are just two examples of things we leave behind to acquire the priceless pearl and the valuable treasure. Each of us could probably name several others. But, no matter what it is we are called to leave behind, like the men in the parable, we ultimately do it with joy because we are receiving something infinitely greater than anything this world can offer.

It could also be that, for many of us here today, our faith is still a buried treasure, a treasure we have not yet discovered. In fact, no matter how advanced we are in our journey with Jesus, there is always so much more to be discovered. We can never exhaust all the riches of our faith. This likewise gives us great joy to know that there is still so much to learn up to the day that we meet Jesus face to face in heaven.

Jesus is offering each of us a priceless treasure. It is not the type of treasure, however, that we can keep to ourselves. Rather, it is the type of treasure whose value we discover as we share it with others. We are to go from this place filled with joy at the priceless pearl we have discovered and tell others about it so that they can share our joy. There is no joy greater than discovering the depth of the love God has for us and the mercy he has shown us by forgiving us our sins through the blood of Jesus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sandpaper People

One of the joys of camping is sitting around the fire reading a good book.

My sister’s book had an interesting title: Sandpaper People: Dealing with The Ones Who Rub you the Wrong Way.

We all have sandpaper people in our lives. They are the ones who are always complaining and who suck all the energy and life right out of your bones. They are the hyper-critical people who make you feel defensive and on edge. Or they are the successful, beautiful people who make you feel like a loser. We avoid such people at all costs. We hope they don’t notice us when we see them at the mall and complain about them to our friends in hopes that they have the same impression of them.

The name “sandpaper people” is apt because such people are abrasive. But it is also apt for another reason. Sandpaper is rough so that it can smooth out sharp edges, flatten bumpy surfaces and rub the splinters out of wood. Those sandpaper people in our lives serve the same purpose. They smooth out the rough patches of our spirit by teaching us patience and humility. They give us the opportunity to love and forgive when it is not easy. It is such people, even more than our family and friends, who will help get us into heaven.

There is no getting away from them. They are everywhere. But they need not wear us down to nothing. By embracing them with patience and love, we can become less abrasive ourselves and grow more and more into the loving people God has called us to be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Eternal Priesthood

Listening to this Sunday’s gospel - the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat - I could not help but think about and pray for all the good priests who were uprooted from ministry along with the abusive ones. They were men who may have made mistakes in the past, but who had made amends, were living holy lives and were touching souls with the good news of God’s love. Or they were innocent priests who were wrongly accused and suffered greatly because of it. There are also many good priests who continue in ministry with a smoldering fear of how their lives would be ruined if they were falsely accused.

We have been let down during this abuse crisis not only because abusive priests were allowed to have contact with us but because so many good priests were taken from us.

I cannot say that I know what a better alternative might be. I do not know how the bishops can remove abusive priests from ministry while giving good priests assurance that they will have a fair hearing if they are falsely accused. I do not know if there is any way of being able to tell apart those likely to re-offend from those who made mistakes in the past but are unlikely to break their promise of celibacy in the future.

But I do know that we should not stop praying for those priests - both the good and the bad - who have been stripped of their public ministry. I also know that in some hidden way their priestly ministry continues through prayer, sacrifice and penance. The priesthood of Christ is eternal and those who have been ordained continue to live it whether they are assigned to a parish or barred from public ministry. Through their humiliations, they are being conformed to Christ who Himself was accused and condemned. In some mysterious way, Christ is working out His plan of redemption through them. That deepening participation in the Paschal Mystery can only bring more graces to the Church and the world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weeds and Wheat

This homily appeared in Connect! magazine

Anyone who has ever taken care of a lawn or tended a garden knows how dangerous weeds can be. Whether it is crabgrass or dandelions, not only are weeds ugly, but they leech nutrients and minerals from the good plantings. The only solution is to pull them up from the roots or poison them with chemicals. There is a risk to these treatments, however. Very often, in trying to uproot the weeds, some of the good grass is pulled up leaving an ugly bald spot on the lawn. And, with chemical treatments, the good plants can also be poisoned along with the weeds leaving an unsightly burn mark behind. Once weeds take root, they are very difficult to extricate from a lawn or garden.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of a landowner whose wheat field becomes infested with weeds. The weeds which Jesus describes, which Bible scholars sometimes translates as "darnel", are not the type of weed which farmers can recognize right away. Unlike a dandelion or crabgrass, darnel mixes in with the wheat. It is not until the crop matures and starts to yield grain that you can tell the wheat from the weeds. Because the crop is already so far along, the landowner fears that ripping up the weeds will do damage to the wheat. He is content to wait until harvest time rather than risk ruining any of his crop.

Jesus tells us this story to teach us something about God and about how He manages the world. As Jesus explains, the field is the world and all the people in it. The wheat represents good people and the weeds represent bad people. Like the landowner in the parable, God does not act right away to pull up the weeds. But God's failure to act does not mean that he is not offended by our sinfulness, and it certainly is not a sign of weakness. Rather God waits patiently for sinners to repent and to change their ways. As we hear in the first reading from the book of Wisdom, God shows his power not in his willingness to punish but in his willingness to forgive. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son and the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, God does not want to lose any person he has created. And so, he deals patiently with sinners in hopes that they will recognize his love and turn to him for pardon. God gives each of us the time we need to turn to him for forgiveness.

There is a good reason for God's patience. Unlike the landowner in Jesus' parable, God has the power to change weeds into wheat. God can work in our heart, helping us to recognize the error of our sinful ways and calling us to embrace the love he offers us. Saint Paul alludes to this in the second reading. None of us is able to pray as we ought. We get distracted or fail to make the time necessary for God. Nonetheless, God's Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us. The Holy Spirit is within us as we pray so that our prayer can become acceptable to God. Just so, the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and minds calling us to be holy and transforming us from weeds which are useless and harmful into wheat which provides food for the world. As long as we are alive, God never gives up on any of us but is always trying to find ways to get our attention so that we can become a shining harvest for him.

There is another way we can understand Jesus' parable. The field can represent not only the world, but each of us. Each of us is a mixture of good and bad. There is some wheat in us and some weeds. We love, but we also have resentments. We forgive some people, but judge others. We may wonder why God allows us to be so weak in some areas of our life. Could it be that, like the landowner in the gospel, God is allowing some weeds to grow within us? Could it be that God is trying to teach us something through our weakness and our temptations? Very often, God allows some failures in our life to keep us from getting proud. There is no weed which is as dangerous to our spiritual life as pride is. It is the sin which made the devil himself fall from heaven. If it were not for our sinfulness, we could begin to think that we were better than others. We could even begin to think that we had no need for our heavenly Father. If it were not for our weakness, we would not know how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, as Saint Paul tells us. If it were not for our human frailty, we might not turn to God at all. And so, God can allow some weeds in the garden of our heart to remind us that it is he who is the landowner and that he is the one who makes our garden grow.

Because God wants us to be saved, he is patient with us. He gives us the time we need to recognize our sinfulness and to turn to him in repentance. As we receive the gift of finest wheat, Jesus' Body in the form of bread, we must pray that we never become discouraged by the evil we see in the world or the evil we see in ourselves. In our weakness, we must pray to understand that God's purpose is somehow being served despite the sinfulness we see around us and in us. If we can entrust ourselves to God in our weakness, then he will transform us into wheat to feed the world. And, when God finally comes to reap his harvest, we will have confidence that he will gather us up to the reward he has prepared for us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Clearing the Garden

During the summer of 1988, I spent a week at a convent in Elvas, a city in the Alentejo section of Portugal. During the summer, this region turns into a virtual desert. No rain falls, the grass turns as brown as hay and dust gets whipped up at the slightest breeze.

During that week, the sisters called on me to help them turn a section of their yard into a garden. Like much of the Alentejo, this patch of land was overgrown with brambles and the soil was rocky and dry. First we had to pull up the bushes which were not too eager to give up their territory. As we ripped them up by the roots, the branches wrapped around our forearms and legs like tentacles sinking their thorns into our flesh.

Once the thickets were cleared away, we took hoes to the dirt to dig out all the rocks which were as big as potatoes. Then, we had to quickly water down the soil or else it would dry up in the hot sun and blow away.

It was only after we had cleared the brush, pulled out all the rocks and wet the soil down that the sisters could even begin to plant their garden. It was hard, gruelling work under the hot sun. And I knew I wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to enjoy the tomatoes, onions and kale that the garden would produce.

I thought about that week I spent at the convent in Elvas while the Parable of the Sower was proclaimed at Mass this weekend. How hard at work God has been in the garden of my soul pulling up thorns, clearing away stones and keeping the soil moist. It has been slow, thankless work, but He has kept at it in His love and mercy.

If there is one type of soil in the parable that best characterizes me, it would be the shallow soil that accepts the word with joy, but when difficulty comes, the sprout shrinks up under the hot sun. I am always full of plans and resolutions about how I will put the word of God into effect in my life. But, I rarely persevere in seeing those plans through. No doubt, I make no progress in them because they are my plans inspired by nostalgia, pride or God knows what other vain sentiments. It is not always God’s plan that I am trying to enact. But, most of all, I do not persevere because I am not willing to accept the suffering necessary to see them through.

So then, how can I deepen the soil of my soul so that God’s word can sink deep roots in me? I have to accept the difficulties of my day, no matter how great or how small, without grumbling and even with joy offering them up out of love for Jesus, in reparation for my sins and in atonement for the unrepentant. All those physical pains and mental anxieties are serving to help me die to myself so that I can embrace Christ and His word more deeply into my being.

It is slow going. Preparing the soil requires much toil. And the seed grows slowly in secret. But the harvest is rich!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fertile Soil

Words can be cheap. Anyone can say or do anything. We can't always tell whether people mean what they say until we see them do something about it. There are some people whose word we can trust, but they are very often the exception. For most people, we need to get everything spelled out in writing or in a contract so that we can hold them to it. For most of us, actions are what count, not words.

With God, however, it is different. Because God is truth, God's word is trustworthy. Unlike people, God cannot use words to lie or to deceive. God's words are never empty or meaningless. If God says it, we can depend on it to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God means what he says. And, what God says has the power to change us and to save us.

We see the awesome power of God's word in the story of creation from the book of Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth simply by the power of his word. God said it, and it came into being out of nothing. God said, "Let there be light", and light was created. God said, "Let the earth be filled with every sort of creature", and it happened. God's word has the power to make things happen and to create the world anew.

Today's first reading from the prophet Isaiah describes the power of God's word. According to the prophet, it is like rain which drenches the ground and feeds the soil causing vegetation and fruit to grow. Just as the rain gives life to the earth, so God's word feeds our roots and fills us with life.

Furthermore, the prophet Isaiah proclaims that God's word will not come back to him empty. God's word will fulfill its purpose. God's word will not be frustrated. If we hear God's word and take it to heart, it will mean salvation and life for us. If we decide to ignore God's word and to live our life as if God didn't exist, we will be judged by that word. Either way, God's word matters. And, how we have heeded God's word will be the measure of our eternal reward.

In the gospel reading, Jesus uses another image to describe God's kingdom and his word. Jesus compares it to seeds which a man scatters on the ground. Seeds are tiny. But, when one of them finds the right soil, it can grow into a fruitful tree. Like God's word, seeds are what make life possible on earth. Like a seed, God's word doesn't always seem like much. But, when we take it to heart and it finds good soil in us, it has the power to really change us, to give us life and to make us fruitful.

The image of the seed helps us to understand God's Kingdom in another way. God's kingdom grows in our midst silently and slowly. The growth is so slow that we don't often notice it from day to day or even from year to year. But, with sure progress, God is laying more of a claim on our society and on our hearts. Just as a seed, once it is planted, has a power within it that drives it to become the tree it is meant to be, so God's kingdom, once planted in our world and in our hearts by Jesus himself, takes root and spreads its branches slowly but surely throughout all of human history.

As we look at our world, at our Church and at ourselves, we know that we are not all that we could be. We know that as a community and as individuals, we fall short of the high standard that God's word has set for us. But, we are still in seed form. We are still growing. Just as it takes time for the tiny acorn to become the mighty oak which is sleeping within it, so we are still far off from the glory and the freedom which will be revealed in us as sons and daughters of God. As Saint Paul writes in the second reading, "All creation groans and is in agony awaiting the revelation of the sons and daughters of God." Brothers and sisters, there is a glory and a freedom sleeping within all of us, growing slowly, leading us to become more fully the women and men God intended us to be. God tells us so in his word. It is true, even though we cannot yet see it.

Two things are needed, then, if we are to grow strong in the word which God entrusts to us. First, we are to make sure that the soil of our hearts is a welcome place for the seed God wants to plant within us. We must work everyday with God's grace to root out the selfishness, the bad habits and the bad attitudes which make our hearts unwelcoming to God and his word. Second, we need to trust patiently that the word, once planted, will grow and bear fruit within us. We will not always feel as though we are growing. We will not always feel as though we are making progress. Nonetheless, we must always trust that, no matter what we see or feel, God is actively working within us through the power of his word.

God is in the middle of creating a new heavens and a new earth. At present, it is still in seed form. We don't often recognize it. In fact, many people ignore it all together. But those with faith get glimpses of it as it grows. Christ will one day come again in glory to reap the rich harvest of the kingdom he has planted and to reveal the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God. God promises us this in his word, and his word accomplishes what he intends it to. And so, in eager expectation, we prepare our hearts to receive him because we want to be among those who have attended eagerly to God's word and have borne fruit abundantly in faith, hope and love.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Myth Buster

As the sex abuse scandal among Roman Catholic priests unfolded, it was often said that it never would have happened if the Church did not require celibacy. Of course, that myth was busted by the staggering incidence of abuse committed by married men against their own children.

Another myth which we often hear is that, if women had more positions of authority in the Catholic Church, abuse cases would have been dealt with more swiftly and never covered up.

Just as with the celibacy myth, it turns out that women are just as likely as men to avoid confronting the abuse of clergy members and to cover it up.

Case in point, the controversy swirling around the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada and its former bisthop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, regarding revelations of abuse by Bede Parry.

Parry was a Roman Catholic monk living in the Benedictine monastery, Conception Abbey in Missouri. He was accused of abusing members of the abbey’s boys choir in 1987 and was dismissed from the monastery.

However, in 2000 after receiving treatment, he sought to enter another monastery. Before accepting him, the monastery required that he undergo psychological testing which revealed the likelihood that he would be a danger to minors. Needless to say, he was not accepted.

What was Parry’s next move? He joined the Episcopal Church working in the diocese of Nevada which at that time was led by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Though the psychological report was allegedly shared with the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada and he had admitted committing the abuse, Parry continued to work at All Saints Church in Las Vegas and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2004.

Lauren Markoe filed the following report for The Christian Century:

(Bishop Dan) Edwards (current Episcopal bishop of Nevada) said the process that accepted Parry as an Episcopal priest was careful and long, stretching from 2002 until 2004. Parry told church leaders, including Jefferts Schori, that in 1987 he had inappropriately touched an adolescent in Missouri, and that the police had been called but charges had not been filed. He also disclosed that he had gone to counseling.

Episcopal leaders found that there had been no other incidents involving Parry, and subjected Parry to their own, routine psychological testing, Edwards said. They concluded that he did not fit the profile of a pedophile.

"Nonetheless, Bishop Katharine directed that Bede Parry would not be allowed to have contact with minors in the ministry," Edwards told Religion News Service. "She gave that directive to people who oversaw him in the ministry."

Of course, if he had been seeking admittance to a Catholic seminary, he would never have been considered. And if he had already been ordained, he would have had his faculties suspended and been dismissed from ministry.

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, a woman in a position of authority in the Episcopal Church, admitted to the priesthood a man who admitted committing abuse in the past and was identified as likely to reoffend by recent psychological testing.

Another myth busted.

For more on this case see:

Please, I do not bring this case up to gloat or throw stones at my Episcopalian sisters and brothers. I am simply pointing out that the causes of abuse are complex and that there is no quick fix whether it be ending celibacy or allowing women to become priests.

At the same time, I have to wonder whether there is another agenda behind those who continue to propagate these myths.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Come to Jesus

In no other time in human history have we been so busy. Our society values keeping active, and so we fill our calendar with work and social events. The number one complaint most people voice is that they don't have enough time or that they are always rushing. We had hoped that technology would help us by making our work easier, but it has actually gotten worse! Because we have cars, computers and cellphones, we are expected to do more and to be ready for action at a moment's notice. All this rushing around has made health problems such as chronic fatigue, stress and anxiety a fact of modern day life.

We all need to take time out from our harried schedules to rest. Just as rest is important for our physical health, it is supremely important for our spiritual health and well-being. We can recognize immediately when our bodies are tired because we lose energy, our muscles ache and we get sleepy. But do we know when our soul is tired? And where do we turn when our soul feels empty and our spirits need a lift?

Among the symptoms of a tired soul are boredom, loneliness, irritability and anxiety. They are just a few signs that we have not been giving our soul the nourishment it needs.

Too often when we feel lonely or anxious, we turn to the TV, to alcohol or to other empty ways of wasting time in hopes that we'll eventually feel better. Though there's nothing wrong with watching TV or drinking alcohol with friends in moderation, these activities can often deplete us and make us feel even emptier than we felt before. This is especially true when we turn to sinful ways of comforting ourselves.

The only way to refuel our spirits and fill our hearts with joy is to turn to Jesus in prayer. Whether it is through meditation, reading the Bible or going to Mass, when we reach out to Jesus we find the rest our souls are longing for. The anxiety or loneliness that cause us so much heartache is very often a cry from within that something is missing in our lives. That missing piece is Jesus and his love.

The good news is that Jesus is never far from us. We don't have to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find him. Nor do we have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get his attention. Jesus wants us to know him and wants us to love him. Because of this, he is always near to us when we call on him no matter how sinful we think we are or how undeserving we may feel.

Jesus takes delight in revealing the Father to us. The whole purpose of his life was to teach us how deep and how wide God's love for us is. Because Jesus and the Father are one, whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. Whoever hears Jesus hears the Father. And whoever is touched by Jesus is touched by the Father.

Who is this God whom Jesus reveals to us? He is not a God who is eager to condemn us or to scold us. No, the God of Jesus Christ is a God who is meek and humble, as we hear in the first reading from the prophet Zechariah. He is a God who is close to those who suffer. He is a God who is eager to forgive.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus rejoices that it is the little ones, the dejected and the outcast who gather to hear his words. Because his heart goes out in love to those who suffer and to those who are forgotten, Jesus stretches out his hand in welcome and comfort to all who seek rest in his words and in his presence. He calls out to all those who have lost hope and to all those who are weary from the cares of this world: "Come to me and find your rest."

When Jesus walked the earth, he revealed God's love through the words he spoke and the miracles he performed. In our day, Jesus continues to reveal the love of the Father through the Scriptures and through the Sacraments. When we hear the gospel, we hear Jesus speak. When we are touched by a sacrament - whether it be confession or the Eucharist - we are touched by Jesus himself. Jesus is alive among us giving much needed rest to our souls by revealing God's love and mercy.

God commands us to keep the Sabbath day holy. We observe the Lord's day as a day of prayer and rest. On Sunday, we are called to take a step back from all the hurrying and all the activity of the week to remember why it is that we are doing all this work in the first place. Is all this activity really bringing us closer to our family and loved ones? Is all this work really making us more secure financially? Or is all this running around really a way of avoiding our problems and neglecting our other responsibilities? And where have we been turning when our souls need rest?

As we gather in this place today, we prepare ourselves to receive the supreme gift of God's love and mercy - the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the most important way that Jesus feeds our weary soul. When we approach Jesus in the Eucharist today, let us place all our burdens and worries on his shoulders and receive him with love and devotion. He wants nothing more than that we turn to him and find our rest in him alone.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Humanity of Jesus

The Feast of the Sacred Heart is a time to celebrate the humanity of Jesus. His human heart fueled by divine love aches for all of humanity. I am posting below part of a talk I gave on retreat about Jesus' humanity.

Growing up in the disciplined environment of a Catholic school, my image of Jesus was much like that of the superheroes I read about in my comic books. He was all-powerful. No one could hurt Him. He did not show any emotion or feel any pain. I knew that He had died on the cross, but to my mind that was all just to show us how tough He was. And that is how I wanted to be. Above it all. Unmoved by anyone or anything. Hard as a rock.

As a kid, there was plenty of reason for me to think that Jesus was superhuman. As the Son of God, He knew all things. He could read the minds of those who approached Him. He had the power to cure people of their illnesses. In one scene from the gospels, He casts out demons from a man, sends them into a herd of pigs and then sends the pigs over a cliff. After His resurrection, He appears to the apostles even though the doors are locked. There was nothing that Jesus could not do. He was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth.

However, as I grew older, I came to see Jesus in a new light. Through prayer and by meditating on the gospels, I learned that He was not the superhero I first thought Him to be. Though He was God, He was also human in every way that we are. Not a super-human. Just human. Except for sin, there was nothing that we experience that He did not experience during His lifetime.

Like each of us, he needed a father and mother to protect and nurture Him. He needed to be fed and washed. He needed to have his diaper changed and to be taught how to speak, read and write. He went to school and had friends. He must have also known what it was like to be different from other kids, to see things differently than they did. There would have been many times when He would have felt left out and ignored.

As He grew through adolescence into manhood, He would have learned the carpenter’s trade from His step-father, Joseph. He would know the frustration of someone not being satisfied with His work or not paying Him. There were no doubt many times that He would have hit his thumb with a hammer or stepped on a nail. There were probably many nights that his mother, Mary, would help him pick splinters out of his hands. And sometimes He would be so tired that He just wanted to go straight to bed when He got home.

Jesus was not self-sufficient. He needed the love and friendship of others.Throughout the gospels, He takes time aside from preaching and curing the sick to eat at the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. At the last supper, the apostle John who is often referred to as “the disciple Jesus loved” laid his head on his chest. Jesus is constantly taking the initiative to reach out to others whether it be the Samaritan woman at the well, little Zaccheaus, the tax collector from Jericho who climbed up a tree to get a look at Him or Peter. He cherished the friends He made during His lifetime and drew real comfort and strength from them.

Because He needed others, He also experienced disappointment. When he cured the ten lepers and only one came back to thank Him, He felt the pain of being unappreciated. At the Last Supper we can feel the hurt in His voice when He tells His disciples that one of them will betray Him. He feels especially hurt that Peter would deny knowing Him. And when He looked down from the cross to see that so many of His disciples had abandoned Him, He must have felt crushed. Despite the pain and disappointment He so often felt, Jesus never failed to forgive those who let Him down. He even prayed that God would forgive those who crucified Him. So great was His need to share the abundance of His love with all those He met.

We can very often think that, because Jesus never sinned, He did not have a real human experience of life. But the opposite is true. Jesus is not less human because He never sinned. Rather not sinning made Him more human. To be human means to be made in the image and likeness of God.Sin tarnishes that image of God in our soul. Sin makes us less human. Because He never sinned, Jesus not only reveals to us what God is like. He also teaches us what it means to be truly human.

We can also be tempted to think that, because Jesus never sinned, He could not possibly relate to our weakness and to the struggles we face. But that is absolutely not true. Because Jesus shared our human nature, He faced every type of temptation that we faced. No one here today has committed a sin that Jesus was not tempted to commit in one way or another. Whatever you or I are struggling with, He understands all about it. The Bible tells us so. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned” (Heb.4:15).

It is clear from His life as presented to us in the gospels that Jesus was not offended or put off by the weakness and sinfulness of the people He ran into. He was not looking for people who already had their act together. Rather He was reaching out to lepers, to tax collectors, to prostitutes and to all those who were outcast. He was not drawn to people because they were holy or righteous. He was drawn to people precisely because they were lost and because they were weak. The fact that He Himself never sinned did not make Him less compassionate with sinners. Rather it filled His heart with the desire to extend God’s love to them knowing that they were most in need of it. It drove Him to make the ultimate sacrifice - to die on the cross.

To have a relationship with Jesus, we do not have to wait until we have our act together. We do not have to straighten our lives out or be perfect. We only have to go to Jesus as we are with all our imperfections and weakness. We do not even have to promise that we will be good from now on. All we need to do is tell Him that we want to know Him and love Him. He will take care of the rest because He is longing to be loved by us.

Think about that for a minute. God is longing to be your friend. God pines for you. He wants you to run into His arms. Saint Alphonsus of Liguori describes it this way: “God loves us and seeks us out as if we were His God.” There is no way that He will reject you no matter how unworthy you may feel or how long you may have been running away from Him.

I am convinced that that is why the Son of God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As long as God stayed in heaven, we might fear and respect Him, but we could never really come to love Him. It was not until He became one of us with all our weakness and vulnerability that we could really come to love Him. God is willing to do anything to get us to love Him. He is even willing to allow His Son to be put to death for us.

Jesus in His humanity has something to teach us. He says to each of us, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Jesus can teach us what it means to be human. He can give us the strength and courage to let our guard down and risk being hurt to truly love others from the heart.