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A few months ago I got together for dinner with a friend. During our dinner conversation he told me that on a recent trip to the East coast, he had seen GOD’S truck on the highway. Since I am not one to be easily taken in, I asked him what he meant. He said that while he was driving to the East Coast to visit some relatives and friends, in the distance ahead he saw a truck with the word G O D written in large letters across its back doors. He went on to say that as he got closer to the truck he realized that it wasn’t really GOD’S truck after all. Rather it was a truck with very large lettering that announced: Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. As he told this story we both had a good laugh. I then suggested that he get his eyes checked relatively soon.
As I reflected on my friend’s encounter with GOD’S truck, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a message in this experience. Specifically, it struck me that for most of us when we pray to God we often expect “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” in response to our prayers. We expect God to hear our prayers, to understand the wisdom, goodness, and unselfishness behind them, and then to respond to them completely, swiftly, and preferably overnight. The reality is, though, that God doesn’t operate according to our timeline and/or agenda.
Certainly this can be frustrating and it can cause people to wonder why many times their best and most unselfish prayers go unanswered. In some cases people can begin to wonder if they aren’t saying the right prayers, or if they aren’t praying hard enough, or if they just aren’t holy enough. Sadly, for some people, it can even cause them to give up on prayer all together.
The reality is, though, that it is fairly presumptuous of us to expect that God’s response to our prayers should take the form of “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery.” God is not under any obligation to respond to our prayers according to our timeline and in exactly the manner we want. This doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t respond to our prayers.
More times than I can count I have realized (most often in retrospect) that God had responded to my prayers, but in ways I hadn’t imagined or in ways I hadn’t been open to at the time. Often times too, instead of doing things for me, I have discovered that God has given me the strength, the courage, ability, and the grace to do something I had been praying and asking God to do.
God never promised Guaranteed Overnight Delivery in response to our prayers. If we can pray with open hearts and minds, though, and if we can trust and believe that God does indeed hear and respond to our prayers, we will discover that God has responded to our prayers. This response may not occur in the way we had wanted or hoped, but most certainly in the way we need.
For the readings for this Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061117.cfm
Three = One. Huh?
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This Feast celebrates the ONE God who has revealed God’s Self as Creating Father, Redeeming Son, and Sanctifying Spirit. The Preface for this feast (The Preface is that part of the Mass that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy.) declares: “For what you have revealed to us of your glory we believe equally of your Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Our readings this Sunday speak of the relationship of humans with God, beginning with the Israelite people. In the first reading from the book of Exodus, Moses on Mount Sinai encounters God. We are told that God passed before him and cried out: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindess and fidelity."
In our second reading this weekend, from the letter to the Corinthians, Paul states our Trinitarian belief succinctly: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God , and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
Finally in our Gospel reading we are reminded that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life."
All three of our readings for this Feast remind us that the God we worship today is the same God who chose the Israelites, who was fully revealed to us by Jesus Christ, and who continues to abide with each of us and with our Church today.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I think sometimes the Trinity is perhaps best grasped through analogy, rather than through theological language. So think of your mother. To you she is mother; to her mother she is/was daughter; to her husband she is/was wife. She is one and the same person, yet viewed in different ways at different times. What analogy has helped (or still helps) you to understand the Trinity?
- We often use words to describe the different Persons in the Godhead. What words would you use to help distinguish the different Persons in the Triune Godhead? Hint: some people use Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
- What do you think is the biggest stumbling block to belief in a Triune God?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060417-day-mass.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. Along with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is really the third great Feast of our Church year. Unfortunately, coming as it does at the beginning of summer, Pentecost doesn’t get nearly the attention that Christmas and Easter do. And yet Pentecost, because it celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church, is very important.
If we are honest, I think another reason why Pentecost doesn’t get the attention it deserves is that the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity. In fact, when I was growing up the Holy Spirit was referred to as the Holy Ghost. And if you think understanding the Holy Spirit is difficult, you can only imagine what it was like for a teacher to explain the Holy Ghost. And yet, the work of the Spirit is experienced in a variety of ways both in our Church and in our individual lives. In this regard some of the words we use to speak of the work the Spirit are: Animator, Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Comforter. We also speak of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit. While we may not have the precise clarity of understanding we would like in regard to the Holy Spirit, what is clear is that the work of the Holy Spirit is essential to our Church and our individual lives.
Our readings for this weekend speak clearly of the work of the Spirit. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the very first Pentecost. The gift of tongues, so that all people could hear of the “mighty acts of God” in their own language, reverses the “babel” that resulted when the people in Genesis tried to build a tower to the heavens. The Gospel reading recounts the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples. And the Second reading from Corinthians reminds us that there are “different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- How would you describe the Holy Spirit to someone who didn’t come from a Christian background?
- How have you felt the Spirit working in your life?
- What gifts of the Spirit have you been given?
In a few weeks, from June 18 - June 22, the priests of our Archdiocese will gather at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester for our biennial Presbyteral Assembly. Every other year, for many years now our Archbishops have asked the priests of our Archdiocese to set aside their parish or institutional responsibilities and gather together for a few days to talk about some specific areas of our lives/ministries. This year the various speakers will focus on the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood; Priestly Fraternity; and Affective Maturity. (I’m not at all sure what that last topic means.)
These gatherings are good and important. As priests, we gather in all our diversity and with all our differences, and spend time together in fraternity. During our time together we are well aware of the things that unite us as well as those things about which we disagree. And often times the things about which we disagree are brought up in very public ways. In fact, in the years I have been attending these assemblies, I have often been reminded of an old Phyllis Diller line from many years ago: “Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight.”
We priests are very much like most other Catholics. We don’t always agree with each other. In fact, if the truth be told, we differ; we disagree; and sometimes we argue. But through it all we stay together. We don’t walk away from each other. I believe the reason for this is that we realize that, at root, the things that unite us are more important than the things that might divide us.
Disagreement and tension have always been a part of the life of our Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul fought with Peter over the issue of Gentile converts. Moreover, through the centuries, disagreement and dissension have been part of more than one Council and/or Conclave. Yet through it all our Church not only has survived; it has thrived. I think the reason for this is twofold.
First, we believe that the Spirit of God has guided and continues to guide our Church. And with the guidance of the Spirit comes the promise and gift of Indefectibility. The gift of Indefectibility tells us that because the Holy Spirit leads and guides our Church, the Church cannot and will not deviate fundamentally from the truth of the Gospel, from the Mission of the Church, or from the Life of Faith. The guidance of the Holy Spirit ensures that despite disagreements that might arise, despite any appearance of division, our Church cannot deviate in fundamental and essential ways from the Gospel, the Mission that Christ entrusted to it, or from the Life of Faith.
The second thing that has ensured that our Church has thrived through the centuries is the grace of God poured out on the Church as a whole, and upon each individual member. I am more and more convinced that God’s grace has enabled and continues to enable us to identify, to discuss, to work through, and/or accept the differences and disagreements that exist within our Church. It is the grace of God that allows us to see beyond the differences that would divide us, to the many and foundational things that unite us. Our Church, both locally, as well as internationally, is very diverse. But diversity does not necessarily need to lead to division. Nor does diversity mean that we can’t stand on the common ground that is foundational for us and that ultimately unites us with God.
“Big God, Big Church” is a phrase that is really a mantra for me. It reminds me that the embrace of our Church cannot be anything less that the embrace of our God’s love. Occasionally all of us—even priests—need to be reminded of this fact. The things that unite us are far more important than the things about which we might differ or disagree. The challenge for all of us is to rely a little more on God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a little less on our own ideas and biases. As followers of the Lord Jesus this must always be our hope and our goal.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-ascension.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. When I was pastor of a parish with a school I loved celebrating Mass with children on this day. After the Gospel I would stand in front of the altar and stare up at the ceiling. Within a few seconds every child in the place would also be staring at the ceiling. After about a minute of this, I would tell them that they were dong the exactly the same thing Jesus’ disciples did when Jesus ascended into heaven.
We read of Jesus’ Ascension in our first reading this weekend which is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In that reading we are told that when Jesus gathered with his disciples for the last time after his resurrection he told them: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’ This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Our Gospel reading this weekend contains the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel. In it Jesus commands his disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit………” Jesus also reminded his disciples, that “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. In it Paul prays that the “eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Sometimes I am like the disciples. I stare off into the heavens looking for Jesus, and forget his promise to be with us always, until the end of the age. Is this true for you as well?
- How are you called to give witness to Jesus in your life?
- How would you explain to someone our belief that Christ is both in heaven and yet with us here on earth?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
“Do you love me?” That Tevye’s question to Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. I suspect most of us have asked (or thought of asking) this question at some point in our lives. In our Gospel today, though, Jesus didn’t pose this question. He was more direct. At the beginning of this Gospel he said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And toward the end of the Gospel he said: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
In Fiddler on the Roof Golde replied to Tevye’s question by saying: “For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him. Fought him. Starved with him. Twenty-five years my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?” For Golde love was shown in actions, not words. Jesus asks this same thing of those who would be his followers. We show we are his disciples by keeping his commandments. And Jesus commandments are clear. We are called to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. For Jesus, love is a verb, not a noun. It is an action more than an emotion.
Our first reading this weekend is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In it Philip proclaimed Jesus Christ to the city of Samaria. After they had accepted the word of God, Peter and John were sent to them to pray for them that they might “receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them.” The gift of the Spirit signifies unity with the apostles and the other early Christian communities.
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter. In it Peter challenges us to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you, for a reason for your hope.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What are some concrete and specific ways we can show our love for God and our neighbor?
2. In what concrete and specific ways have you experienced God’s love?
3. If someone were to ask you, what reason would you give for your hope?
A few weeks ago the Gospel reading at daily Mass was John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s version we are told that Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. We are told further that after everyone had their fill, Jesus told his disciples: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (Jn. 6:12b-13)
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels. And while the details differ slightly in each account, there is at least one element that is common to all of them. In each Gospel, after the crowd had been fed, there were fragments left over that filled several wicker baskets. For some reason this detail caught my attention, so I spent some time reflecting on it. As part of my reflection, two things occurred to me. 1) When God is involved there is always an abundance; and 2) When God is involved nothing is insignificant or lost. I think both of these are important.
Often in our world today and especially in our culture, people live with an attitude of scarcity. We wonder whether there will be enough of “whatever” to go around, and so we cling tightly to our “stuff” because we fear there won’t be enough or that we might run out. This can lead us to hold tightly to certain things because we worry they might become a scarce commodity, and if we let go of them, there might not be enough if/when we need whatever it might be.
In regard to God’s love and grace, though, there is always an abundance. We never have to worry that there won’t be enough, or that someone else will get our share. God’s love and grace are not limited commodities. Since God is love and God is also infinite, it stands to reason that there is an infinite amount of God’s love and grace to go around. With God there is always an abundance. We need never fear that there is a limited supply of God’s grace and love.
As importantly, though, when God is involved nothing is ever lost or too small to be of significance. We know this because God has told us: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget; I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name;” (Is 49:15-16) These words remind us that God’s love is so abundant that no one is ever beyond the reach of that love, or too insignificant or unimportant to be loved. God loves us even if/when we don’t love God. No one and nothing is ever lost to God.
Too often, either consciously or unconsciously, we can believe that we are too insignificant to be known and loved by God. Jesus’ concern, though, that the fragments of barley loaves and fish be gathered up, reminds us that nothing escapes God’s notice and no one is ever lost to God. Such is God’s love. It is abundant beyond belief, and because of this, no one is ever beyond the reach of that love.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051417.cfm
I have a friend who, whenever he has a bad day, always has tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for supper. He told me that ever since he was a little boy, tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich has been his “go to” comfort food when he is stressed out or worried about something. I suspect we all have certain “comfort foods” in our lives --- food that comforts us when we encounter difficult or trying days. In addition to comfort food, though, I also believe there are certain scripture passages that provide comfort whenever we read them. I think our Gospel for this Sunday is a case in point. In that Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “We are not to let our hearts be troubled……….. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And that he “will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus also tells us that he is “the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The above words of Jesus fill me (and I suspect most of us) with great comfort whenever I read them. They remind me Jesus loves us so much that he wants to be with us always --- not just in this life --- but also in the life to come. He is the way that leads to the Father and in his Father’s house there are dwelling places for all of us.
Our first reading this weekend reminds us that roles and responsibilities began to develop in the early church, so that the word of God could “continue to spread.”
Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the first letter of Saint Peter. In it Peter reminds his audience that because of Jesus Christ they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever had a troubled heart? What/who gave you comfort?
- Are there certain passages from scripture that are “comfort” passages for you?
- What things do you do so that the word of God can continue to spread?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm
I would guess that for most of us the words “sheep” and “shepherds,” evoke idyllic images of meadows, flowing waters and pleasant tranquility. The reality is, though, that sheep are not the cleanest of animals and they certainly aren’t very intelligent. And, at the time of Jesus, shepherds were not well paid and shepherding definitely was not an important job. In fact, shepherds were often looked on with suspicion, and were not accorded a great deal of respect. Despite this, in the Old Testament, the images of sheep and shepherds were often used to describe God’s relationship with his people. Jesus too, often used this image to describe his relationship to his disciples. This is certainly true this weekend as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter. Each year in our three year cycle of readings, we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel on this weekend, and we always hear of sheep and shepherds.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus reminds us of four important things. 1. The sheep “hear the voice of the shepherd.” 2. The “shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” 3. The shepherd “walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him.” 4. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
In our first reading this Sunday, we continue to read from Peter’s speech on the first Pentecost. In the section we read today, Peter challenges his hearers to “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children.” The last sentence is important. It reminds us that God’s promise of salvation is universal and timeless.
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the First Letter of Peter. In the section we read today, Peter reminds us that Jesus is our model in any sufferings. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In today’s world, do the images of sheep and shepherds still work to help us understand our relationship with God?
- What helps you to hear the voice of the shepherd?
- Why do some people better seem to bear “suffering” better than others?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/043017.cfm
Our Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of the season of Easter is the familiar and beautiful story of two of Jesus’ disciples encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. We are told that these disciples were on their way to Emmaus “conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” As they walked along, Jesus “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” As they approached the village Jesus gave the impression that he was going further, but they urged him: “Stay with us……” Jesus then ate with them and as he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” They then said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us.” Later, they recounted to the other disciples what had happened, and “how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
I believe the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is really the story of every Christian. There are times as we journey through life when we are completely oblivious to Christ’s presence with us. Then we read or hear a scripture passage, or we come to the table of the Lord, and we discover anew Christ’s abiding presence and realize that he had been with us all along, though we failed to recognize his presence.
Our first reading this Sunday is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles. It describes the early Christian community. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter. Most likely this letter was written to Christians who were experiencing some unspecified trials. It reminded them that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when --- in retrospect --- you realize Christ had been with you, even though you didn’t recognize it at the time?
- We believe that the Eucharist is the preeminent way that Christ is present to us. We also believe, though, that he is present when we read the scriptures. Additionally, we know that he is present where two or three are gathered in his name? Where else have you experienced Christ abiding presence?
- We know that the life of the early Christian community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, didn’t last very long. Why do you think that is?