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Archives: November 2019
Recently I attended the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. While I have kept in touch with some of my classmates, this certainly has not been the case with all of them. Given this, it was good to see my classmates again and catch up on what has gone on in their lives these many years. At one point in the evening, in a private conversation with one of my classmates, he revealed that he had been sexually abused by his pastor when he was in grade school. I thanked him for his courage, and for trusting that he could share this information with me. I asked if he would be open to getting together for lunch so we could talk about it. He said yes, and we exchanged email addresses so we could set a date for lunch.
When we got together for lunch, my classmate shared his experience with me. Not only had his pastor abused him, but he was also a serial abuser, who had victimized others. My heart went out to my classmate as I listened to the pain and hurt he had suffered. I knew there was nothing I could say that would be helpful, so I just listened, apologized and offered my prayers—knowing all the while that this was too little, too late, and probably more for my sake than for his.
Several years ago I had a similar experience, when one of my grade school classmates told me he had been abused by one of the associate pastors at our home parish. Unlike my high school classmate, however, his abuse had taken place over a period of years. Now, in both these cases, I would by lying if I said that I handled them with grace and composure. In these and other instances when I’ve talked with victims of sexual abuse, I have prayed swiftly and mightily that God would give me the right words to say, or at least help me not say something terribly wrong, inappropriate or hurtful. Listening to someone talk about the pain and hurt they have experienced at the hands of the church is a grim experience. In these instances, though, while I didn’t think I said anything particularly profound or helpful, I did come away with the awareness that I had been “standing on holy ground.”
(As part of my conversation with both of my classmates, I asked if I could write about the experience in our parish bulletin. I also promised to get their permission before publishing anything. Both agreed to this. I am grateful for their willingness to allow me to share their experience.)
Now with the above as background, it needs to be said that it is vitally important that those in leadership positions in our church listen to the pain and hurt of people who have been victims of sexual abuse. Their/our work, however, doesn’t and shouldn’t end there. We need to acknowledge our failings and the harm they have caused. Further, we need to ask for forgiveness over and over and over and over again. We also need to seek ways to promote healing and reconciliation, and finally and perhaps most importantly the leaders of our church need to commit to making changes so that these things can never happen again. Unfortunately at this point, most of the changes that have been made to date have not arisen out of care and concern, but rather as a result of lawsuits or changes in the law. And even more unfortunately, I think there is an unspoken attitude among many leaders in our church that once this crisis blows over they can go back to the way things used to be. This cannot happen. We can and must do better. And while our Archdiocese has made some progress in this regard, much more needs to be done.
The words openness, transparency, and honesty are much in vogue these days. Their high fashion status, though, doesn’t diminish their importance or necessity. Specifically in regard to our church, they call our bishops to a high standard of accountability. Certainly for some time now our leaders have failed to meet this standard. For this they need to confess their failings, apologize, repent, and establish clear standards of openness, transparency, honesty, and accountability. And they need to work with others—most especially those who have been the victims of sexual abuse—to establish these standards. If the bishops across the United States can’t do this or if they are unwilling to do this, they shouldn’t be surprised if people stop paying attention to them or simply leave our church.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120119.cfm
This coming Sunday, as we celebrate the First Sunday of the season of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. This year we will use the “A” cycle of readings, which means that our Gospel readings will be taken primarily from the Gospel of Matthew.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” In essence Jesus is saying that people will be doing normal everyday things when the end comes. He sums up his comments by saying: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Clearly Jesus was reminding his followers that they are not to live as did the people of Noah’s time, thinking only of their present comfort and happiness, and giving no thought to the future. Rather, we are to stay awake and be prepared for no one knows when the Son of Man will return, or when one’s own life will end.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading Isaiah offers comfort and hope to the people of Israel who are under threat from their enemies. In this reading Isaiah reminds the people that if they are true to their covenant with God, “many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.’”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. It probably was written somewhere between 55 – 60 AD, and reflects the common thinking at that time that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Paul says: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- It is easy to become lulled into thinking only of our comfort in the present moment and to forget about being prepared for the Lord’s coming. What is one concrete thing you could do to keep better focused on being prepared for the Lord’s coming?
- Priests of our Archdiocese are asked to do advance planning for our funerals. It is an interesting experience. If you knew the end of your life was approaching what would you do to plan for it?
- How would you respond to someone who claimed the return of the Lord was near?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112419.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This Feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Seeing the devastation caused by World War I, Pius established this Feast as a way to remind people that Christ is Lord of both heaven and earth. Initially this Feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but when the Roman Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar in 1969 it was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year. (The new liturgical year will begin on December 1st with the Fist Sunday of Advent.)
Our Gospel this Sunday is the scene of Jesus on the cross. He is ridiculed by the rulers and jeered at by the soldiers. We are told that the soldiers taunted him by saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” There were also two criminals crucified with Jesus. One of them reviled Jesus saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other rebuked him, however, and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. In reply Jesus said to him: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the second book of Samuel. It recounts the story of David being anointed as King of Israel. As Christians, we see the Kingship of David as pre-figuring the eternal Kingship of Christ.
Our second reading this Sunday contains a wonderful Christological hymn (a hymn to Christ). It is St. Paul’s pronouncement of Christ’s place in God’s plan of salvation. The hymn really needs to be read in its entirety to fully appreciate it, but it reminds us that: “He is the image of the invisible God ……………………. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- A friend of mine likes to say that the criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom was a thief to the end, in that he stole heaven. Hearing Jesus’ response to his fellow criminal why do you think the other criminal didn’t also ask to be remembered when Jesus came into his Kingdom?
- Jesus’ exchange with the “good thief” gives me a profound sense of hope that the gift of eternal life will be offered to all who are open to that gift. What do we need to do to be open to that gift?
- What does it mean to call Christ our King?
I remember the 2016 closing Eucharist for the Holy Year of Mercy well. We were in Rome with our Schola Cantorum to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica. At the end of the liturgy Pope Francis unexpectedly announced the establishment of a World Sunday of the Poor as a way to live out the Holy Year of Mercy into the future.
In the Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et misera Pope Francis wrote that marking a World Sunday of the Poor on the 33rd Sunday of the liturgical year “would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the 34th and last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy” (cf. Mt 25:31-46). He expressed his hope that it would be a day to “help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace.”
For every World Sunday of the Poor Pope Francis has written a message. In this year’s message, entitled “The hope of the poor will not perish for ever” (Ps 9:19). Francis holds that our world desperately needs God’s love made visible by “the saints next door.”
Pope Francis affirms our Christian duty to provide those who are hungry with food and those who are homeless with shelter. It is our Christian duty to work hard to change the systems and politics that favor a few over the many and perpetuate the endless cycles of poverty. However, he also writes that people who are living in desperate situations need more than that. They “need our hands, to be lifted up; our hearts, to feel anew the warmth of affection; our presence, to overcome loneliness. In a word, they need love.”
For political and sometimes religious reasons people in need are often reduced to statistics we cite when discussing the success or failure of our works and projects. However, rather than statistics those who are in need are “persons waiting to be encountered;” they are young and old people waiting to be offered a meal; they are men and women who look for a friendly word. In turn they “enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”
On November 19, 2017, the first World Day of the Poor we dedicated our Homeless Jesus sculpture by Timothy Schmalz. Today, this sculpture can be found in almost 100 cities throughout the world, including Vatican City. On this third World Day of the Poor all of us who are home to a Homeless Jesus will mark this day by rededicating. While doing that we not only express our love for this work of art but more importantly we recommit ourselves to work toward ending homelessness, hunger, poverty and injustice in our world by accepting the invitation to encounter Christ in the face of all those who are in need.
May the Homeless Jesus and Mary, Untier of Knots guide us on our way.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111719.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. As we come close to the end of this liturgical year, which will end next weekend with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King, our Gospel reading focuses on the end times. It begins with Jesus reminding people that: “All that you see here --- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
The people naturally ask: “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” In response to this question Jesus tells the people not to follow anyone who comes in his name saying: “The time has come.” He then describes catastrophes and calamities that will occur before the end times. He ends, though, with a note of consolation: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t promise that his disciples won’t experience pain or difficulties. He does promise, though, that ultimately God will triumph.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Malachi. It shares the apocalyptic theme of the Gospel. Like the Gospel, though, it also offers a promise of consolation and hope: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
For our second reading this Sunday, we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. In this reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians (and us) that while we await the end times, we are not to grow slack or idle. Rather, Paul is clear that we are to work diligently as we await the return of the Lord and “if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- There seems to be a constant ebb and flow in regard to interest in the “end times” Why do you think this is?
- When have you felt God’s comforting grace in the face of difficulties or pain?
- Has there been a time when you have grown slack or been idle in your faith? What re-energized your faith?
“I know well the plans I have for you says the Lord . . . Plans for your wellbeing,
not your woe . . . Plans to give you a future full of hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Have you heard about the “Nones?” A Pew Research Study identified increasing numbers of young adults who no longer choose to affiliate with organized religion and named them the “Nones.” Critical downward trends face many churches and raise serious questions about the future. Fewer people attending church, downward changes in financial giving habits, and volunteering are just a few of the troubling trends impacting many faiths, especially Catholics.
The Basilica has been successful in attracting young adults and we are grateful for their involvement and that of all our parishioners, but we know we can’t simply sit back and relax. That’s why the work of our volunteer leaders to implement the Our Parish, Our Future strategic plan is so important.
This fall it’s been exciting as parish leaders have gathered for deep dives into pressing questions about creating a future full of hope for our parish. Fifty ministry leaders have agreed to serve as plan ambassadors, to share their ideas and feedback. Another 25 leaders are serving as a Change Management Team and to shepherd this work. They have focused on critical questions:
- What do we want to see in place in 3 -5 years?
- What blocks us from realizing these hopes, and how can we deal with them?
- What underlying contradictions keep us from achieving our goals?
- What innovative, substantial actions will address these underlying contradictions and move us toward our achieving our vision?
In depth conversations have resulted in an initial approach to practical goals. Central to our work is an ongoing commitment to living our Catholic faith in the world through our liturgies, learning, and Christian life. As a dynamic Catholic parish, we are committed to our responsibility to minister to our members and to invite and challenge them to minister to those in need.
We’ve set a goal to broaden and deepen engagement through a focus (both internal and external) on arts, inclusivity and preventing homelessness through a commitment to a continuous process of improvement and accountability. Our work will move us towards:
- Increasing engagement
- Strengthening our presence and partnerships—to leverage and extend our reach and engagement
- Enhancing belonging and excellence in ministry
- Stewarding our resources
Staff from all parish departments have participated in goal setting sessions to identify how to move forward practically and successfully. Together, volunteers and staff have identified one year accomplishments and two year success indicators necessary to achieve our goals. The resulting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals will guide our work in the coming years. Our conversations have turned toward ways to evaluate the impacts and effectiveness of our ministries, programs, and operations.
At the end of the day, our goal is to put our faith into action. We strive to accept the challenge of St. Teresa of Avila to take up the work of Jesus Christ and live our faith in the world – “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111019.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, posed a question to Jesus that presumed there would be a resurrection. Not only was their question insincere, but also it was rather implausible. As background to their question, though, it is important to remember that for many Jewish people there was/is no clear belief in an afterlife. Rather, it was their belief that you lived on through your descendants. Given this, having children was very important. In fact, having children was so important that if a woman’s husband died without offspring, it was the responsibility of the next unattached male from the husband’s family to marry the widow and try to have children. Knowing this, the Sadducees invented a story about a woman who married seven brothers, each of whom died without producing any children. When the woman died, the Sadducees wanted to know “at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus’ response to this question was masterful. He implied that the Sadducees’ question was completely irrelevant because: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the second Book of Maccabees. This is the only time during our three year cycle of readings that we read from this book. It tells the story of seven brothers who died rather than “eat pork in violation of God’s law.” The reason they were willing to die was because of their belief in an afterlife: “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to continue to live a life of faith. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What causes or helps you to believe in an afterlife?
- How would you describe the resurrection to someone who didn’t believe in an afterlife?
- What causes you to live a Christian life? Is it hope of heaven or fear of hell?