Reflection - June 16, 2019

“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

In nearly every field of human endeavor that’s worth doing we expect there to be exertions, trials, hardships, and afflictions: business, sports, politics, academics, military, art, craft, healthcare, etc.  We even expect, for the most part, that quality human relationships are going to take effort and have challenging times. Human relationships are not easy to do well for the long run. We may even recognize that it is work and takes dedication to be committed to our own mental health. We prize success, achievements, and milestones because they usually reflect hard work and, especially, resilience. 

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Reflection - May 26, 2019

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus was a Jew. All of his Apostles and disciples were Jews. They followed the law of Moses and the traditions and customs of the Jews. Yet, the Gospel was being preached to the gentiles, primarily by Paul and Barnabas. Signs followed, the Holy Spirit was given, and many believed. This created conflict. Should the Gentile followers of Jesus be required to follow all the prescriptions of the law, including circumcision? How was this to be decided? From where would the answer come?

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Reflection - May 5, 2019

“When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread...
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
Jesus said to him the third time,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him,
‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

The Evangelist of the fourth gospel (not to be confused with the modern term, an evangelist like Billy Graham, but used by Catholics to designate the writers of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) emphasizes the connection between love and mission. Being in relationship with Jesus requires action. Love requires service. Faith requires works. It is the same for Peter as it is for us, although the Evangelist takes great pains to establish the primacy of Peter among the disciples, even in the gospel that has such a high opinion of the Apostle John, the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. Peter plays a prominent role, enters the tomb first, even though John arrived before him, and is given charge here of feeding and tending Jesus’s sheep, the Church. This reflects the reality of Peter’s importance among the disciples and in the early Church. His role and authority, and by extension the role and authority of the pope, are founded on love. Love defines the mission. 

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Reflection - April 7, 2019

“‘Let the one among you who is without sin 
be the first to throw a stone at her.’
...And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
‘Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?’
She replied, ‘No one, sir.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’”

Before I was ordained a priest and was serving in a parish as a deacon, the one thing my pastor at the time (now Bishop Spalding of Nashville) required me to memorize was the formula for absolution. These are the words the priest says at the end of your confession which begin, “God, the Father of mercies...,” and end with, “...I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He admonished me, “You’ll need this right away, best be ready.” How right he was! Less than half an hour after I was ordained, at the reception in the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Assumption, a man pulled me aside and asked, “Father, will you hear my confession?” Okay. Gulp. Here we go.

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Reflection - May 19, 2019

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

Growing up at St. Polycarp in Pleasure Ridge Park in the 1980s, I don’t remember having the option not to go to mass. It was just what we, mom and I, did. There were times I was gone on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts, traveling somewhere to visit my dad, or involved in some program or activity far away and missed mass on a particular weekend, but if it was possible to go, we always went. It was a utilitarian church with cinder block walls, square edges and metal poles everywhere, and little in the way of religious art.  It was not so beautiful, altogether. I passed many masses in boredom as they seemed to drag on. In fourth grade, however, I had what I believe to be my first true religious experience. 

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Reflection - April 28, 2019

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Why do we believe if we haven’t seen? I can only scratch the surface here. While leaving out the reasonableness of belief, authority, witness and testimony, proofs, evidence, personal and communal dimensions, virtue, truth, and revelation, faith is a human act of the intellect and will in response to God’s grace. 

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Reflection - March 17, 2019

“The Lord God took Abram outside and said, 
‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,’ he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’
Abram put his faith in the LORD, 
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

From an elevation of 6,700 feet on a trail near the Philmont Scout Ranch base camp in northern New Mexico on a crystal clear night with low humidity, no moon, and little light pollution, I looked up at the night sky overwhelmed by the beauty of the stars and the amazing swath of brightness from horizon to horizon that is the galactic plane of the Milky Way. It was awesome in the most profound sense of awe inspiring. I felt both insignificant in the face of such beauty, immense distances from the stars, and the time necessary for light to travel so that I could see it on that night, and connected to the universe in an intimate way, there at that moment in that place. I sensed who I was and who I wasn’t. It was a personal experience of the transcendent and I cried (just a bit). I counted it as a gift from God.  

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Reflection - May 12, 2019

“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.’...
The Jews, however...stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet 
in protest against them, and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

When I was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, two friends I met through the base chapel programs were fundamentalist Christians. They were the hard core, the Roman Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon, kind of fundamentalists. They were good guys and their concern for me was authentic. As long as I remained in the Catholic Church, they were convinced, I would spend eternity burning in the fires of hell. I was willing to concede some wrongdoing, for we have been far from perfect, but dogmatically they were opposed to saints, the role of Mary, the Pope, hierarchy, ordination, confession, any formal liturgy, the role of works in salvation, tradition, most of the rest of the sacraments, and, especially, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Rather than being part of God’s work and grace by which we enter more deeply into communion, they viewed these things as lies that blinded me to the truth and led me far away from God. We had some great conversations. 

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Reflection - April 21, 2019

“So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter 
and arrived at the tomb first; 
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
...the other disciple also went in, 
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 
and he saw and believed.”

Jesus Christ is alive! Alleluia! On March 25, Pope Francis promulgated an Apostolic Exhortation, another title for a letter, in response to the process and meeting of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. Addressing young people (specifically, those from 16 to 29) and the circumstances of their lives, globally, the Pope seeks to offer a word of hope to young people who face war, violence, migration, abuse, unemployment, the challenges of digital technology, isolation, exclusion, debt, and many other difficult realities, sometimes from within the Church. He also challenges us to recognize the needs and, as importantly, the gifts and contributions of young people for the Faith and the Church. Tellingly, the Latin title for this letter is Christus Vivit, or Christ is Alive. 

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