Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Pope: the rock for our trying times

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
It is no secret that Pope Francis is one of the most interesting and engaging persons in our time.  I was born during the short reign of John Paul I.  I lived most of my life with John Paul II as my pope.  I spent most of my seminary and priesthood under Pope Benedict XVI.  I can say without a doubt that I would not be a priest if it were not for John Paul II.  His beautiful witness to the truths of the faith was compelling to me as a young man.  I can also say, that Pope Benedict was a huge influence on me in a theological way.  Having read a number of his books, his theology helped to shape the way I think about the truths of the faith.  John Paul II and Benedict were great popes and good men.  But, they did not seem to generate the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm as Pope Francis, especially among non-Catholics.  It will be exciting to see how Pope Francis continues to lead and guide the Church.
But, these men all had one thing in common: the held the office of Bishop of Rome, they were popes.  I have always found the papacy to be an interesting aspect of Church history.  There have been great popes, there have been sinful popes.  There have been crusading popes, there have been peaceful popes.  There have been brilliant and scholarly popes, there have been simple and humble popes.  Yet, all of these men are successors of St. Peter.
The papacy is quite controversial really.  I know that most non-Catholics probably think of Pope Francis as a spokesperson for the Catholic Church.  But, he is ever so much more than that.  He is the supreme teacher of Christianity in the whole world.  He has all the legislative authority in the Church.  Pope Francis has direct and supreme authority in all matters in the Church everywhere in the world.  He would never do this, but if he wanted to, Pope Francis could call me up and tell me to go to a different parish or a different country for that matter.  Throughout history, this office of the papacy has caused some divisions and problems.  One of the major issues separating the Orthodox Christians in the East is the role of the pope.  But rather than being a source of division, I think the office of the papacy is a wonderful gift from God that provides the Church with unity and stability.
Today in the gospel we hear Peter professing his faith in Christ, and we hear Jesus say: you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.  I think the office of the pope is important for precisely these two reasons: the proclamation of the faith and the rock established by Christ.
First, the task of the pope is to proclaim the faith.  At the heart of the whole Christian message is this fundamental truth: Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.  Yet, this truth has to be presented to new generations from the time of Christ until he comes again.  Rather than simply leaving us a book, Christ left us a voice.  The pope is, for us, an authoritative voice telling us the truth of the faith.  Since he is guided by the Holy Spirit, we can trust that the Holy Father will lead us and guide us and that he will always be faithful to the fundamental proclamation of the faith.  John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis all have different styles, but they are believers in Christ and they guide us in the faith.  Rather than seeing this as a limit to my human freedom, I find having the pope as an authentic guide is truly liberating.  I don’t have to make up the truths of the faith on my own, I get to receive them as a gift from the Church.
Second, the pope is a rock.  We certainly live in trying times.  I know that many of us are quite disturbed by the many crazy things going on in our world.  Whether it be the Ebola outbreak, war in Israel, violence and riots in our own country, the terrible execution of that reporter in Iraq.  Sometimes it seems a bit too much to take.  And yet Christ knew that we would need a rock.  He knew that we would need something solid.  This is the Church.  No matter what we might face in this life, we have the Church as our true home.  We have the pope as our leader in the faith.  Though the wind and the waves might rock us from time to time, we have a rock foundation that will never collapse.  I find great comfort in this.

The pope probably has the most difficult job on the planet.  If it were merely a human institution it would have failed eons ago.  His office was established by Christ, and he fulfills his mission by the power of the Spirit.  My friends we have a grave responsibility to pray for the Pope.  Ask God to strengthen and guide him.  But we also have a wonderful gift in the pope, he is our rock that will proclaim until the end of time: you are Christ, the son of the living God.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lord, Help Me

Today we hear one of the more interesting, and even unsettling, passages in the gospel.  First, Jesus seems to ignore this poor woman.  Then, it seems like Jesus insults her.  If someone called you a dog, how would you take it?  What is Jesus getting at here?
We have to try to put ourselves into the biblical mindset.  Remember where Jesus was coming from.  He was born into the house of David, he came as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament.  God chose Israel to be his own special possession.  The woman from the gospel was a Canaanite, these were the people who inhabited the Land before Joshua led the chosen people into it.  Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites and the Canaanites in conflict.  The biggest issue that divided them was their belief in God.  Canaanites worshiped their own pagan gods, while the Jewish people worshiped the Lord.
Jesus seems pretty harsh; he was summarizing all of the animosity between the Jewish and Canaanite peoples.  But, we notice that when the woman worships Jesus and shows her faith in him, Jesus grants her request.  Christ came as the fulfillment of the promises to Israel.  But, he came for the whole world.  This Canaanite woman is among the first non-Jewish people to come to faith.  I find it interesting that even though they come from wildly different backgrounds, her words to Jesus seem a lot like those of St. Peter from last week.
Remember last week, Peter was out walking on the water.  He started to sink and he yells out, Lord, Save me.  This week, the woman is struggling in the midst of the crowd and her daughter is afflicted by a demon, she cries Lord, help me.  Almost the identical words, and the response from Jesus is almost identical.  In both cases, Jesus responds by saving Peter and answering the woman’s request.  So, here we have two people who couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds and yet both asked for help, both received it from Christ. 
We are all different.  We all have different upbringings, different backgrounds, different hobbies, different strengths, and different weaknesses.  But, there is one thing that unites us all: our common faith. 
As a priest I get quite the privileged seat here in church.  From up here I get to see just about everyone, although this fan shaped church makes it hard to see all the way back in the corners.  I am happy to say that after a year I have gotten to know many of you.  So when I look out I know many people.  And it is certainly true that we come from different lives.  We all have different joys and struggles, but look at us.  Here we are, joined by our common faith, our common crying out to Jesus: lord help us.  And he does help us.

Christ came for everyone.  Next month we will be beginning our RCIA once again.  The RCIA is the process by which non-Catholics enter into the Catholic Church.  We meet on Tuesday evenings as well as on Sunday’s after the 9:00 Mass.  RCIA is definitely for people who want to become Catholic.  But, it is also a great place for people who want to learn more about the Catholic faith.  I have already had a few people talk to me about going through RCIA next year.  But, I want to ask everyone at St. Jude to invite one person to join RCIA.  We will only be living up to our calling as a parish if we are sharing the faith with the world around us.  Inviting someone to RCIA, inviting him/her to learn more about the Catholic faith is a great way to do this.  In your conversation use today’s scripture passage, it shows that Christ came for everyone, no matter the background or life history.  At the heart of being a Catholic Christian is one fundamental truth: as Catholics we worship Christ and we all say to him from our hearts: Lord, help me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Jesus feeds us

18 Sunday of OT year A:
Today we hear about one of Jesus’ great miracles.  Today we hear that Jesus took some bread and fish and was able to feed a huge crowd of people.  Jesus took simple elements and fed a multitude.  Of course this was not just one event that took place a long time ago, it is something that Christ has continued to do down through the ages.  Right now he is doing it.  This is what the Mass is all about.  During our worship of God at this Holy Mass, Jesus feeds us.  He gives himself to us in the Word of God with the Scriptures, he gives himself to us in his Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  All those years ago he fed the 5000, but today he is feeding millions throughout the world with the Word and the Eucharist.  So, this story is our story.  That is why I find the circumstances so interesting. 
It says that the people had followed Jesus to a deserted place.  I find this to be quite fascinating and beautiful.  Is it so different for us?  We have heard the voice of Christ, we are following him.  But, we realize he does not always lead us down paths that are easy.  The road that Christians walk is filled with suffering, self-denial, and persecution.  How can it be otherwise?  To be a Christian means to follow Christ, to be like Christ.  The same Christ who died on the cross for the salvation of the world asks us to bear our crosses in his name.  Sometimes this feels like we are in deserted place.  Maybe we feel isolated or disenchanted with the world around us, maybe we fear violence, terrorism, and war, all of which seem to be more and more prevalent in our days.  Yes, it feels like a deserted place sometimes. 
Jesus is not unaware of our difficulties.  It says in the gospel that when Jesus saw the people, his heart was moved with pity for them.  His heart is still moved with pity for all those who suffer, all those who fear, all those who struggle, who suffer, those who are persecuted.  Jesus is still moved with pity and he still wants to feed us.  Christ feeds us here at the Holy Mass.  Don’t be afraid to bring your difficulties, your pains, your sufferings.  Bring your ups, your downs, your whole life.  Here at the Mass we join them to the sacrifice of Christ and we find that strength we need for living our lives of faith.  Even if it feels like we are in the deserted place from time to time, Christ is here, his heart is moved with pity, he wants to feed us.
But, I find another aspect of this passage quite interesting as well.  While we know that Christ is the one who feeds all the people, he is not the one who actually gives the food to the people.  Notice, Jesus took the bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it, not to the people, but to the disciples.  It was the disciples that passed out the bread and fish to the people.  Again, is it so different with us?  As I mentioned earlier, Christ feeds us here at the Holy Mass, he tends to our needs, even if we feel like we are in a deserted place.  But, once we have received such an amazing gift, how do we respond?  Do we find ways to share this gift with others? 

I bet that some day this week every one of us will find one person who is hurting or afraid.  We will find one person who is lost or hungry, one person who is in a deserted place.  Maybe this person will be hungry in a physical way, or maybe hungry in a spiritual way.  The words of Jesus to his disciples are the same words he speaks to us today: you give them something to eat.  My friends we are gathered here at Mass to hear the Word of God and to be in his presence in the Eucharist.  We are here to be fed.  But having received, we are then called by Christ go forth from this Mass and to find those others who are hungry in this world so that we can give them something to eat.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hello from DC

Hello everyone,

I know it's been a while since I've posted something here.  I'm still in DC studying canon law for the summer.  Things are going well.

I've completed my first month of classes.  I had a course on the protection of rights in the Church.  This course specialized in procedures concerning hierarchical recourse against an administrative decision in the Church.  One thing we had to do was read decisions from the Signatura. These decisions were in Latin, but were a great way to get to know the procedural law of the Church, quite fascinating.

The other course was a survey of Eastern Law.  Maybe we don't realize it all that often, but the Latin Catholic Church is not the only Catholic Church out there.  There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches that are governed by their own sets of laws, live their own traditions, and celebrate their own rites.  This class was quite fascinating and eye-opening.

Next month, I have a course on selected issues in chancery practices.  Hopefully, this will be a practical course that will help me understand the ins and outs of being a canon lawyer in service to the diocese.

Last night, I had the privilege of being here in DC for the celebration of the 4th of July.  It was amazing to see the fireworks from all over the city.  It was really an amazing event.

I guess that is about all for now, I will try to update more often.
God bless,
Fr Jake

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Explanation of our hope

6th Sunday of Easter Year A:
Today in the letter of St. Peter he instructs us all to be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.  So that got me thinking, what is our hope?  If I’m going to have to give an explanation of my hope, I better know what that is.  We use the word “hope” quite often in our daily lives: I hope it doesn’t rain, I hope to see you later, let’s hope Notre Dame wins this weekend...  However, Hope is a theological virtue.  It is something quite profound.  Reflecting on hope led me to a writer named Josef Pieper, a renowned philosopher, who once wrote a great little article on Hope.
For us to understand hope, we first have to understand our human situation. Until death, men and women are perched on the knife blade between heaven and hell. 
Pieper explains man’s condition well when he states, “man finds himself, even until the moment of death, in the status viator, in the state of being on the way.”   This state of being on the way is natural for us because we were made from nothing and are progressing toward fulfillment (life with God in the Kingdom).  We do experience life as a journey, after all.  However, Pieper notes that though we are moving forward, we are frighteningly close to the nothingness whence we came: “the proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things.”   This rings true to our human experience, have you ever had a brush with death (a car crash for instance)?  Didn’t it feel like you were just moments from nothingness?  Since we come from non-being, we have the ability to return to this non-being: “by the very fact that it [the human person] stems from nothingness, its power can revert to non-being.”  
Yet on the other side, we long for the perfect fulfillment of heaven: “Beatitude is understood primarily as the fulfillment objectively appropriate to our nature… this fulfillment is the Beatific Vision.”   In other words, while we feel close to nothingness, we have this interior longing for a fulfillment beyond this world.
So man seems to be constantly tempted toward nothingness while he strives for fulfillment.  This tension between nothingness and fulfillment is the existential condition of living man.  And, this condition presupposes two possibilities, namely nothingness and fulfillment.  Pieper notes that hope is the virtue necessary for living a human life, torn as it is between being and nothingness.   Hope is the virtue (power) that God gives us to deal with this maddening tug: our mortality on one hand and our striving for heaven on the other.  So, if we are ever feeling torn by the troubles of this world and our longings for the world to come, between mortality and everlasting life, we should ask God for the gift of hope, the virtue for those on the way.
The gospel we have just heard should help us grow in our hope.  Jesus says, I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.  Christ will not allow the nothingness to win.  He came to lead us to new life.  We are full of hope, because we know that Christ is with us.  Even when life is tough, even in the midst of our most troubling circumstances, Christ has not abandoned us, he is with us.  Need proof?  Look no farther than the Eucharist.  This is Christ’s lasting presence with us.  He is never that far from us.  He is as near as the adoration chapel, the tabernacle here in Church, the altar when we celebrate Mass.
Give an explanation of our hope?  No better explanation than to say that I am full of hope in this life because Christ is never far from me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Mass is our Road to Emmaus

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A:
We have heard it said many times, “life is a journey.”  But what does that really mean?  Next, at the end of this month I will be going on a journey.  I’ll be leaving for 2 months to study Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.  This is my 4th summer out of 5.  The journey to DC involves many steps.  I will have to pack all the stuff I need for 2 months into my car.  I will have to stop for gas.  I will have to look up directions.  I will have to stop along the way for the necessities and food.  Each of the little steps along the way are all leading to DC.  But, I can certainly say that I’m not thinking about my destination at every moment along the way.  Also, not every moment is pleasant or amazing.  But, each little step on the way are all possible because I need to get to DC.
Life is a journey.  We are all on our way to Christ.  Every human being on earth will see Christ face to face.  He is the destination of this journey.  Maybe we don’t see that destination every day of our life, and not every day is a day where we see and feel Christ as a part of our lives.  Some days are filled with sadness and pain.  But, the more we can remember the destination, the journey takes on a new meaning.   Even in those parts of the journey that might bring on weariness, or where we might lose hope, if we have Christ before us the journey will always be possible. 
St. Peter, in the second reading, tells us to conduct ourselves with reverence during our sojourning.  I love that word, reverence.  It means to be quiet and respectful, conscious that we live every day in God’s presence. Where do we find this reverence?  St. Peter goes on to say that the resurrection is the source of our faith and hope.  For the apostles, the resurrection was absolutely decisive.  It was that event that changed everything.  We know that the disciples all fled Jesus, denying or betraying him.  But, in the first reading we hear Peter preaching boldly about Christ.  The difference between the scared frightened disciples on Holy Thursday and the fearless proclaimers of the Word afterward was their experience of the Risen Christ.
The same is true for us.  It will be our experience of the Risen Christ that will give us the reverence we need for our sojourning, the faith and hope we have in God.  Now, you might be thinking: great, all I need is an experience of the Risen Jesus and everything will be just fine.
Now, it is certainly the case that Christ has appeared to people over the ages, so I won’t rule that out.  But, there is an experience of the Risen Jesus that is much closer to home.  In fact, we are all doing it right now.  It’s the Mass of course.
On the Road to Emmaus we hear about 2 disciples meeting Jesus.  What I love about this passage is what the gospel tells us and what it doesn’t.  First, we hear that one of the disciples was named Cleopas.  Really?  Cleopas!  Who was Cleopas?  Up till now we have never heard his name in the gospel.  He is not one of the twelve.  We know he was a follower of Jesus, but he was a rather minor character.  The other guy doesn’t even get named.  So the gospel tells us that it was not just the super-famous apostles that see the Risen Lord.  Also, I see that unnamed disciple as standing in for all of us.  We are on this journey, and Jesus still comes to us the same way he did then.  First, in the Holy Scriptures, second in the breaking of the bread.  In these two ways Christ continues to manifest himself to all his disciples.
What makes a person a Christian is an experience of the Risen Christ, and Jesus, in his divine wisdom, has decreed that the one privileged medium by which he is able to manifest himself to the world for the rest of time is the Holy Mass.  Right here we continue to read the scriptures, and Christ continues to break the bread. 

Life is indeed a journey to Christ.  No matter what we face in this life, we will be able to conduct ourselves with reverence because of our faith and hope in the Risen Jesus.  It is precisely through the Mass that we experience the Risen Christ.  No wonder the Mass is such an important part of our journey through life.  Every time we gather here Christ is made known to us through the reading of Scripture and the breaking of the bread.