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.