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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.
“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.”
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
These last Sundays of the liturgical year are filled with apocalyptic imagery as they speak about the end of time. This is intended to gradually prepare us for the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. My granny Yolanda loved and hated these Sundays, for on the one hand she anticipated the end of time while on the other hand she feared it. Her big question always was: “When I see God face-to-face will my faith have been deep enough and my love been generous enough?”
Today’s Gospel ends with a somewhat ominous question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) This question or a similar question: “Are people losing their faith” is on the mind of many of us. Several studies on religious behavior indicate that there is a clear downward trend in terms of religious identification. Many churches see their congregations grow older and smaller and eventually have to close. And where in the past the Catholic Church wielded great influence in many parts of the world, that is no longer the case today. Is this cause for alarm?
In an interview with America Magazine, recently created Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J. stated that the Church “is not here to run the world… but the world should feel that the Church, that Christ, that God is with us, with them, as we face the great difficulties of our lives and of our times.” He went on to say that the mission of the Church “is the embodiment or the implementation of the Gospel in human society and human history. That is what we are really about.” In other words, we are foremost called to be Christ in the world, not to explain Christ to the world or impose Christ on the world.
So, when Christ returns at the end of time will He find faith on earth? He may not find a lot of people who are able to speak to the fineries of Christology or Pneumatology. But hopefully he will find many of us embodying and implementing the Gospel in our world. And paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew: by our fruits He will know us (Matt. 7:20). For indeed, “Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est” or “Where true charity is, there is God.” So let’s not dwell on loss of power or numbers and let us commit ourselves to embodying the Gospel so others will take note of us and want to learn about what motivates us, i.e. our faith, not unlike what happened during the time of the Apostles. Words rarely convert, actions do.
So, in response to today’s Gospel question and in anticipation of the end of time I think I will adopt my granny’s question yet turn it around a bit: “When I see God face-to-face will my love have been generous enough and my faith been deep enough?"
A few years ago some friends of mine moved their dining room table and chairs into their living room and their living room furniture into their dining room. Putting the dining room table in the living room allowed them to accommodate a larger crowd for family dinners, especially when their children got married and started having children of their own. Since it has been this way for a few years, I suspect this is a long term arrangement. Now to be honest, this arrangement works quite well. They have a large family room off the kitchen, and with the former dining room being adjacent to the kitchen, people can easily talk and visit while a meal is being prepared, and then eat dinner without being crowded.
Now, I have to admit that at first I was a little tentative in regard to my friends’ shifting their dining room and living room. In the years since they did it, however, I have come to understand the wisdom of their thinking. The meals I’ve shared at that table are always very enjoyable, with great humor, good food, good companionship, and lots of elbow room. And if we began to feel a little crowded at the table they could just put in another leaf, and there was always room for more.
In reflecting on my friends’ decision to move their dining room table into the living room, it seems to me that it is a real metaphor for what church is all about: It reminds us that there is always room for more at the table of the Lord. Church is (or should be) a place where all are welcome—no exceptions, no limitations, no exclusions. The embrace of our Church can be no less than the embrace of our God’s love.
Jesus was always very clear about the expanse of God’s love. We are told that he dined with sinners and tax collectors. Moreover Jesus was even known to invite himself to someone’s house for dinner. And of course, there was also that occasion when a woman known to be a sinner, burst into the middle of dinner and washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them when her hair. I believe that in sharing a meal with anyone and everyone Jesus was sending the clear message that God’s love is extended to everyone, and that there was always room for more at the table of the Lord.
As someone who by necessity often eats alone, I really enjoy those occasions when I can share a meal with others. I especially appreciate when the table is filled, and the laughter and love flow freely. For me this is a wonderful image of the table of the Lord— where the table is large enough so that there is always room for more.
The fall is my favorite time of year. It’s not just the change in the weather, the back to school excitement, or even the start of football. It’s the feeling that things are going to get accomplished.
I wanted to share with you the following from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium. (I:2-3)
A joy new, a joy which is shared
2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
I appreciate the message the Holy Father is communicating. The document goes on to say much more. I can get caught up in my own interest to the point where I’m less than benevolent. This is the way I try to remind my self that the professional athletes train daily. If I want to be a better Christian, I need to train every day. During these workouts I know I’m going to want to quit or look away from the harsh glare of reality—due to lack of courage or just ignorance—because of not wanting to look deeper.
I have hope that I can do better. I’m going to look at it as a new session. I ask you to call me out on any action you see me do that isn’t following the simple request to open myself to encounter Jesus Christ.
I would like to invite anyone reading this message to make a commitment to The Basilica. We all have gifts. Please share your gifts. If you need a personal invitation from a member of the Parish Council, call me. I just ask you to leave a message at my cell 612.834.4041. I will call you back. Special thanks those of you to that follow Matthew 6:1.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
You folks are amazing. God Bless!
In just over a week, our son will begin kindergarten. How can this be when he was just born yesterday? He has been in pre-school, so the transition to kindergarten will not be a shock to any of us, but it does mean a new school, new teachers, meeting new children who will (and won’t) become his friends, and letting go of what was known in his old school. He won’t see Scotty, Charlotte, or Joey anymore, and for a five year old there is some sadness that comes with that. My daily prayer is that he listens to his teachers (better than at home!), makes some good friends, and is anything other than the “mean kid” in his class.
Many of us are going through changes at this time of year. It can be parents who are sending little ones off to school for the first time. Some are getting older children ready for middle school or high school, with all of the anxiety and excitement that comes with that. Some parents will soon be loading up their cars and traveling with young adults beginning college, making one more trip to Target and/or the campus bookstore to make sure they’ve done all they can to help their son and daughter with a major transition. They might be new “empty nesters,” having to adjust to the reality of not seeing their children and being in a quieter home. In all of these situations, we do what we can but have to let go, knowing that once the children are on the bus, dropped off, or we drive away from campus, we have to let go and entrust them to God’s loving care.
For others, transitions can happen when one retires, and beyond trying to figure out what to do with extra time, a sense of identity can be lost when we don’t have a career anymore. Transitions come when a loved one’s (or our own) health deteriorates, and we know that things won’t ever be the same again. Of course, when a spouse, child, or loved one dies, we face those transitions too, often with grief, anger and confusion, and fear of not knowing what will come next. On a national level, we are wrestling with how to welcome those who come to our borders: transitioning from the often harsh realities of violence and corruption in their home countries; looking for a new start with their families.
A priest I know well told me many times that “God is faithful…God is faithful…God is faithful.” He told me that as we were waiting for our son to be born, going through the adoption process, not knowing exactly how it would all work out. It can be a helpful reminder for us, a simple truth that we can hold on to. It’s also a call to be faithful, to God and to each other. We know “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and so we can be faithful in our call to love our neighbors through all of life’s transitions, large and small.
One of my nephews joined a very small non-denominational Christian church on Long Island. While the number of people who attend in person is about two dozen, their on-line following is in the thousands. One of the sermons I heard the leader preach used the Bible to build the case that there is no need for me to care about or address what is happening in our society and world. Indeed, he said, I simply need to care about my own individual salvation. And that salvation would be found between me and God alone.
The clarity and confidence in which he spoke was startling. As he ran through a litany of injustices and tensions in the community, he negated any call to action. They will have their own way to salvation. I will have mine.
Our Catholic faith directly challenges and contradicts this detached understanding of our role in the world. Jesus teaches, and our Church echoes, the core need to see the other—to help the other—to know the other. To live compassion.
The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which together mean "to suffer with." In his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Henri Nouwen suggests that the mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. God chooses to be with us, willing to enter into our problems, confusions, and questions. We, in turn, are asked to do the same.
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts and let go of power. We’re called to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion dares us to cry out with those in misery, and may challenge us to sacrifice personal freedom or even personal safety, in love.
This is not a faith of isolation. This is a faith of radical relationship. It challenges us to create community that builds faith, hope and love “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is a faith that places a primacy on the “common good.” Pope John XXIII states, “The common good embraces the sum total of all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families, and organizations to achieve complete and effective fulfillment.” (Mater et Magistra, 1961 #74) Indeed, it is our responsibility as Catholic Christians to engage in the public arena to work for the common good.
It is imperative that no one...indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good… and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life. (Gaudium et Spes, 1965 #30)
This is our faith. We know this. Yet, we are challenged to examine our hearts and actions: Who are we ignoring? What are we staying silent about? Where are we falling short? Let us commit to a life of prayer—opening our hearts, minds and arms to those most in need. Let us find courage in the Spirit to speak and act boldly about the injustices of our time, and work to create a world of justice and peace.
A few weeks ago I did some much needed grocery shopping on my day off. (My refrigerator and pantry were bearing a strong resemblance to Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.) I stopped at the local CUB store and was surprised at how many people were there in mid-afternoon on a Monday. Pleased that it took me only about 30 minutes to find everything on my list, I approached the checkout lanes. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to see at least three people in each line. I made my best guess at which would be the fastest and for once I was right. The line I picked moved very quickly. When it came my turn to check out, I dutifully pulled out my reusable bags and tried to keep up with the checkout person. Unfortunately, she was much faster than I was, and I only had half my items packed when it was time for me to pay. I took out my wallet with my credit card and went through the usual process. I continued packing but I noticed that the person behind me didn’t have that many items and they were speedily packing them. The person after them started to check out, and it was obvious that my side of the counter was needed for their purchases. I hastily piled my remaining items in my bags, and finished just as their first few items started down the conveyer belt toward the bagging area. Pleased that I hadn’t caused any major disruption, I headed for home.
Unfortunately, when I got home I realized I had left my wallet at the check out counter. I immediately called CUB and asked for customer service. After describing my predicament, the person at custom service told me that indeed my wallet had been turned in. After a big sigh of relief and a quick prayer of thanksgiving, I headed back to the grocery story to pick up my wallet. After waiting my turn I explained that I had called about a lost wallet. The customer service representative asked me to describe it, and after locating it in a box in the safe, said: “Can I see some I.D?” I immediately burst into laughter, since my I.D. was, of course, in my wallet. Since this must have been a standard question, the customer service rep didn’t immediately realize the absurdity of their question. It wasn’t until I suggested that they look at the driver’s license in the wallet to confirm that it was mine, that they finally got it. A slow smile spread across their face as they handed my wallet back to me.
Over the years, I have known parishioners and friends who have lost their I.D. or had it stolen. Not only is this enormously inconvenient, it can be very frightening and time consuming to try to “recreate” one’s life with a new I.D. and new credit cards. Given this, in my prayer that evening I definitely expanded on my earlier and briefer prayer of thanksgiving.
Also in my prayer that evening, as I reflected the events of the day, I was reminded how fortunate we are that we never have to worry about losing our identity when it comes to God. In Isaiah 49:15-16 we read: “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 carved your name.” The words remind us very forcefully that God knows us through and through, and even if we should forget God, God will never forget us.
As I closed my prayer that night I was struck once again at how blessed and fortunate we are that God loves us so much that God never forgets us and never needs to ask for our I.D.
The 16th century mystic, Saint John of the Cross, once wrote: “God’s first language is silence.” In commenting on this insight of Saint John of the Cross, the late Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, in his book Invitation to Love, said: “Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”
Now certainly the above words sound good, pious and important. Let us not fool ourselves, though, Silence is not easy. We live in a world that is filled with noise and distraction. From the moment we get up on the morning, to the time we go to bed at night, we are bombarded with a variety of stimuli. Our phones talk to us and remind us what we are to do, whom we are to call, where we are to go, and how we are to get there. Siri and Alexa address us like old friends, and are ever present in our lives. In the face of this stream of noise and distractions, finding time for silence is more than important; it is a necessity. For it is in silence that God speaks to our hearts, our minds and our spirits.
With all the extraneous noise in our lives and in our world today, though, how do we learn to enter into silence and allow God access to our lives? Well, it seems to me the solution is simple. Unfortunately simple does not equate to easy. It is simple. in that we merely need to learn not to be held captive by our electronic devices and other stimuli. We need to train ourselves to grow quiet on a regular basis and simply be at peace in the silence of God’s love.
But the above is by no means easy. In a very real sense we are victims of the superficiality, selfishness and worldly spirit that are spread by our media-driven society. Unfortunately, we are not unwilling victims. Given this, we need to take control of our devices and not let them control us. Now to be honest, this is clearly a case of “do like I say, and not do like I do.” I constantly struggle to find silence in the midst of the noise and hustle of the world. And when I do find it, it is fleeting at best. And yet, when I can turn off my phone, sit in silence, and quiet my mind, my heart and my spirit, I feel the presence and peace of God. And I am reminded that God abides with me.
Silence is important. Because it is in the silence that God comes to us and dwells with us. Silence; provides the space for God to enter into our lives. That is why it is so important to be silent so that we rediscover the abiding presence of God. For it is only in silence that we discover that God alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart. God’s first language is silence. And it is in the silence that God waits to reveal God’s Self to us.
Many years ago while visiting my brother and sister-in-law, I spent some time playing with my niece and two nephews (all of whom are now adults). At one point during my visit my youngest nephew was attempting to color a picture. I say attempting because, while he was using a variety of different crayons to color the picture, his efforts at staying inside the lines were being met with only limited success. I commented on this and suggested that he try harder to say inside the lines. His response was a masterpiece of childhood simplicity.
He looked at me and said: “That’s okay. I’m not sure what the picture’s gonna be yet.” Silly me, I thought the picture was determined by the pre-drawn lines. My nephew on the other hand had a slightly broader vision. For him the picture was whatever it turned out to be. He wasn’t limited by any preconceived ideas or pre-drawn lines. For him the end product was what really mattered.
In the years since this experience happened, I have reflected on it often. You see, many times I have approached my life similar to the way I approach coloring. I think I see the whole picture, but in reality my perception is limited and I see only what I want to see. In my mind, the lines have already been drawn, and all that is left is for me to try to stay within them. I think I see the full and complete picture, only to discover later that there was more to be seen just outside my preconceived lines. In effect, I often missed the big picture and settled for a limited/reduced version.
I think the above is particularly true in regard to my relationship with God. I have discovered that more often than not, God draws outside the lines in my life. God sees a bigger picture than I do, and I am surprised (and sometimes amazed) when I finally get enough perspective to see that bigger picture. There are times I have faced adversity or distress only to discover later that they were the source of great blessing or grace. On the other hand there have been times when something that initially appeared to be a blessing was in fact not the blessing I originally thought it was.
It is indeed fortunate for us that God is not limited by our preconceived ideas or the pre-drawn lines in our lives. God sees the bigger picture. And often times God draws outside the lines of our picture, to make a picture of God’s own design. In light of this, over the years my prayers have become less specific as to what I want and more open to what God wants for me. In this way I am hopeful that I might be more open to the picture of myself and my life that God has for me, and that I might work with God to make this picture a reality.