Sunday, January 27, 2013

TableTalk, 3rd Sunday C

On this Sunday and the next, we are involving ourselves as a parish with the diocesan Charity and Development Appeal.   This annual appeal is always very successful.  It supports community and charitable organizations statewide in helping individuals and families in need or crisis.

The Word of God this Sunday could not be more encouraging for the Charity and Development Appeal.  In the 1st reading from the prophet Nehemiah, Ezra the priest gathers the people in Jerusalem after the return from the awful experience of 50 years of exile in Babylon.  The time is about 500 years before Christ.  Finally at home, the priest publicly reads to the people the “Book of the Law,” which Moses had left them.  It is all about how to live with God.  Hearing the reading of the Book was a terribly emotional experience for the people who had been refugees for decades.  While they shouted their “Amen” to what they were finally hearing again, many of them were crying.  The priest tells them to rejoice, to celebrate and to provide food and drink for those among them who do not have the means to provide for themselves.  In effect, Ezra the priest was teaching the people that living with God includes caring for the neighbor.

In the 2nd reading of this Sunday from the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains that we Christians are one body, the Body of Christ.  Every member of the body needs every other member.  Each should have the same concern for all.  As in our human body, pain in one part of the body is felt by the whole body.  Honor to one part of the body is honor to all.  The body’s many gifts are meant for the whole.  Everything I have is really ours.  Everything you have is really ours, too.  The lesson is that to be in Christ is to be also for the others.  It is part of how Christians live with God.

In the Gospel reading today, Luke begins to answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  He begins with the story of Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth and reading to the congregation this text from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  By reading this text, Jesus is making clear that God’s Spirit on him necessarily opens him to care for the human and spiritual needs of his brothers and sisters.  He ends his proclamation of the Word by saying “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  The very presence of Jesus guarantees the well being of the brothers and sisters.  And the challenge to us his disciples is this:  associating with Jesus means involving ourselves with the needs of the neighbor.  There is no life with God without care for the brothers and sisters.  This Word is to be fulfilled in us today.

This is the fundamental meaning of the Charity and Development Appeal:  living with God means sharing for the benefit of the neighbor.  We are all now invited to express our faith and love of God with generosity to our neighbors in need.

Monday, January 21, 2013

TableTalk, 2nd Sunday C

Some of us remember the old tradition in our Church of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays.  They were the Sundays just before Lent and a kind of gentle entry into the Lenten season.  I would like to speak to you today in the spirit of those pre-Lent Sundays as a preparation for our parish Lent this year, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13.

In the first reading of this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah sings out about the liberation of Israel from its Exile 500 years before Christ.  The song he sings to the people wants to put words like these in God’s mouth: “I told you so, Israel, I told you so!  You are free, you are vindicated.”  Isaiah describes God’s joy over Israel’s deliverance as the joy of a boy when he is finally at the altar with the girl he loves.  God says to Israel, “Your named is changed from ‘Forsaken and Desolate’ to ‘Delight and Married-to-Me.’”

There is a similar theme in our Gospel reading today.  It presents the wedding feast of Cana.  It is an ordinary wedding, ordinary pretty much the way life is.  And they ran out of wine, just like life can do sometimes.  Mary speaks to Jesus and Jesus to the waiters.  The six stone jars are filled with water and the water surprisingly becomes wine, an exquisite wine.  Now the celebration really begins!

I would like to use these two scriptural images, the one from Isaiah and the other from Cana, to suggest a program for Lent this year at St. Joseph Parish.

Where do we find ourselves now?  We have a parish history with its ups and downs.  We are in transition, awaiting our new pastor in July.  We’d like to go from “ordinary” as a parish to a bit more “extraordinary” to begin that new relationship.  Given all that we have experienced, many of us are looking for a new dawn, for a brighter parish life, to see promises fulfilled by God that we have been hoping for.   We want to hear God lovingly say to us, “I told you so!  I told you so!  Look, I have done it for you!”  

In the spirit of Cana, we can acknowledge that, in some sense, we have run out of wine.  We want more for our parish and would like Christ to fill up our stone water jars.  So, for the first five Sundays of Lent this year, we will present to Christ our parish water jars to be filled up.  Each water jar will have a name.  The first Sunday, the water jar will be called “Celebration,” which represents our hope for deeper Christian joy among us, especially as expressed in our Sunday liturgies.  The homily on that 1st Sunday will focus on “Celebration” and after Communion a parishioner will speak for a few minutes about the theme from the layperson’s point of view.  And that will be the Sunday pattern for us throughout Lent. 

The 2nd Sunday of Lent, we will present the water jar called “Sprucing Up/ Stewardship” to be filled up by Christ.  This is about the wonderful gifts of heart and hand that our parishioners have and that we would like to maximize for our parish community and beyond.  The 3rd Sunday, it will be the water jar called “Healing,” where we will open ourselves to being relieved of whatever hurts we may have suffered in the past as a parish.  The water jar of the 4th Sunday will have the name “Community,” our desire to be a real parish family where we feel welcome, know one another more and more and come to greater care for one another.  The 5th Sunday we will present the water jar of “Compassion,” which represents our outreach to both our suffering parishioners and others beyond our parish community.  Each Sunday, then, a water jar theme with a homily and lay sharing about it.

Our Lenten hope this year is that Christ will change the ordinary water in our parish water jars into exquisite new wine that will gladden our own hearts those of many others around us.  We hope that the desire for this new wine will cause there to be “standing room only” at our Sunday Masses!

Lent always calls us to do penance.  We all have our favorite practices of giving up something like chocolate or drinks or recreational activities.  Penances are meant to help us repair our past and rebuild for our future.  We are free to do the penances we want.

But I would like to ask all the parishioners to take on a special community penance this Lent, something we will all doing together as a parish community, all of us, from seniors to juniors.  The community penance I ask you to consider is this:  to invite somebody new to Mass each Sunday of Lent.  Can you imagine what doing such a Lenten penance could mean for the person invited, for our parish family, for our neighborhood, even for our whole Church and society? 

Perhaps you will react to the idea of this kind of penance.  Of course, such a penance is not easy and may make us uncomfortable.  But isn’t that what penance is about? 

The person we invite could be a member of our family who no longer goes to Mass, a friend or colleague who has stopped practicing the faith or a person who has asked us about our faith and is seeking a spiritual home.  It will be, of course, a gentle invitation, with no unkindness or arm-twisting.   We cannot guarantee that the person will take us up on the invitation.  What matters is that he or she is invited.   And we must be ready to accompany the person we are inviting, even if it means changing our own Sunday Mass routine.

The parish will provide classy brochures to all the parishioners that express what our parish is about.  You can support your invitation by handing the person the brochure. Even if a person declines the invitation, you may be planting a seed for some future decision that will change a life and perhaps more than one.

Part of our parish Lenten observance will include a Parish Mission in mid-Lent to be preached by a Crosier Father.  The Parish Mission will highlight important aspects of what Church means.

The Knights of Columbus will continue offering coffee and donuts after the Masses on Sunday, making efforts to be especially welcoming of our invited guests.  The parish will also continue its Friday night Fish Fry and the Stations of the Cross.

Since there is still time before Lent begins, there will be reminders about our parish Lenten program in the bulletin and with announcements at weekend Masses.  Everyone is encouraged to begin thinking now about his or her “guest list of five,” so that by Ash Wednesday we all have our plans for our invitations.

Our great hope as the Parish of St. Joseph this Lent is to know joy like the Prophet said God had over the liberation of Israel, the joy of a boy finally at the altar with the girl he loves.  We hope for new wine to gladden our own hearts and the hearts of many others.  We hope for a stronger parish in the future.

Great Lent, great Easter!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

TableTalk, Baptism of Lord 2013

This feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the last day of the Christmas season.  Today, the glory of Christmas draws to a close.  Perhaps for some, maybe many, of us this was another cosmetic holiday season.  Under it all, we still feel the same ache as before, the same helplessness in our life, the same sense of being overwhelmed by the reality of our world.  Christmas didn’t change the world again.

We are invited today go to the river to see Christ now the adult.  We are all there at the Jordan, the “bruised reeds” and the “smoldering wicks.”  We are, nonetheless, still filled with expectation.  Maybe if the new year did not begin at the stable it can begin at the river!

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is a spiritual drama in three acts.  First, Jesus steps into the water.  By this act, he identifies himself with broken humanity.  He knows with whom he bathes and there is no denial in him about the human reality of it all.  No denial, no rejection of the truth of the brothers and sisters in the river with him.  While sinless himself, he wants to be known as one of them.  While whole in himself, he embraces their bruises.  Might he be saying to all the bruised reeds in the river that recovery of the new life begins with the truth about oneself?

Second, Jesus allows the water to be poured over him.  He is yielding to spiritual treatment, to a cure provided by the Baptist for those who have come to the river.  Jesus, God-With-Us, does not make escape into his own divine self-sufficiency.  Amazingly, the Divine Physician opens himself to the curing power of another human. He does not distance himself, does not isolate, but connects.  Might he be affirming to all the smoldering wicks in the river with him that there is healing power in togetherness, in community, healing power to relight a nearly extinguished fire?

Finally, Jesus steps up out of the water.  He has been anointed by the Heavenly Dove and empowered as Beloved to complete his mission in life.  He has already begun to set his face toward Jerusalem.  He has already begun to offer his body for the sacrifice.  He does not shrink back in the face of pain.  He has already begun to roll back the stone from the tomb.  Walking the walk is the discipline, the mission therapy, to which he commits himself in order to see the achievement of his saving destiny. Might he be asking to those in the river with him not to give up on the Christian life-therapy, the discipline of discipleship, that promises each of arrive successfully at their God-given destinies?

Is it at the Jordan, with the splash of Jesus’ foot in the water, that we see a prescription for the healing of ourselves?

The prescription:  as Jesus goes down into the water, we hear the message of “no denial.”  Real recovery begins with self-honesty.  I am who I am, I’ve done what I did and I will remain vulnerable to evil my whole life.  To deny any of that is to refuse the medicine that cures.  And we are so prone to denial:  the evil is never in me but always in you or in the rest of them.   It’s always somebody else’s fault.   I can’t bring myself to admit that I am wrong.  But the healing of my inner self requires, first of all, “no denial” of my truth.

The prescription:  as Jesus lets the water flow over him, he yields to the curative treatment of another.  Coming to health means “no isolation.”  I can cure myself, I say.   I don’t need anyone telling me what to do.  I don’t need to be connected to a church.  I can pray by myself.  Going to confession or Mass is superfluous.  Opening up about myself to others is unnecessary.  But we have forgotten that the context for full realization of our human self is in togetherness, in community?  That is why the prescription calls for “no isolation,” if we want to recover our life.

The prescription:  as Jesus comes up out of the water, he is empowered for his destiny.  He begins the walk into his future with determination, taking on whatever discipline the mission requires of him.  The road to full health means “no giving up on the therapy,” no giving up on the life of Christian discipline that purifies and strengthens.  If my marriage hurts, I keep up the dialogue.  If my faith hurts, I keep up the praying.  If my optimism hurts, I keep up looking for the good.  If my chastity hurts, I keep up watching over myself. “No giving up on the therapy” is the only way to new life.  It is the Gospel Baptism of Fire that must not be fled.

For those of us who look back on a disappointing Christmas, there is today this Jordan River prescription.  It is not a cure-all for all the evil around us, but it is, at least, a way for the inner self to be healed.  Perhaps, in the end, that is the best thing I can do to change the world:  to provide it with one small, new center of health, namely myself.   To do that, I will have to follow the prescription:  no denial, no isolation, no giving up on the therapy.

As on every Sunday, we have come together for the Eucharist.  It is, in some sense, the clinic of our complete recovery.  Here we celebrate and are transfused with the full health given us in Christ.  Here that the Word keeps us truthful about ourselves.   Here we join hands in support of one another on the way to God together.   And from here, when we leave, we are fortified for the discipline of Christian life to stay recovered and to be a center health for the world around us.   The prescription: no denial, no isolation, no giving up on the therapy.

Today we close the Christmas season, but at the River Jordan we can open a whole, very new year.   
 [So] we gather at the river,
        the beautiful, the beautiful river;

Gather with the saints at the river,
that flows by the throne of God.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

TableTalk, Epiphany 2013

Where is God?   This is a question that has been asked by every human being who ever lived at some time or other in his or her life.  The Solemnity of the Epiphany wants to answer it.

The first reading of the liturgy today, Is. 60:1-6, focuses the presence of God in Jerusalem, upon which “the glory of the Lord shines.”  The Prophet Isaiah teaches that the Divine Presence is meant for the children of Israel, but also for the rest of the world:  the peoples, the nations, the kings who remain in darkness, covered by thick clouds.  Israel and all the nations are in search of God and the radiance of Jerusalem captures their attention.  It is there that they will meet and praise God, offering their gifts.

The Gospel reading of the day, Mt. 2:1-12, also wishes to focus the presence of God.  It identifies the Divine Dwelling Pace, quite unexpectedly, as a stable in Bethlehem.  The Gospel tells the story of the rising Star that “stopped over the place where the child was.”  A major point of the story is that it is not Israel now that draws attention to the Star, but pagan Wise Men.  They represent the whole world, seeking the Divine Presence, who is there not just for the Jews but also for all of humanity.  The treasures in the possession of all peoples are meant to be poured out before Jesus, the focus of God’s presence and love for all.  It is he who will orchestrate these treasures to save all people.

And so, each of us is invited today to answer the very important question, “Where is the focus of God’s presence for you?”  It seems obvious to us who believe that that focus is Christ Jesus.  But the Dwelling Place is even more specific.  It is Christ in the place called St. Joseph Parish.  Like with the stable at Bethlehem, there is a Star shining above 40th St. and Shea, the place where God is. 

Being in this place over which the Star shines is a great challenge to all of us.  Its radiance forces us to see the parish in new light.  The temptation of parishioners in any parish is to say, “This is ours.  These are our members, this is our property, this is our money.  We take care of our own.”  But is that enough when the Star is shining over our place?  Certainly, the parish is for the parishioners.  But the parish is defined by physical boundaries that go beyond the parish plant and the active members who participate in its activities.  The Star over the Dwelling Place of God called St. Joseph Parish calls out to the whole neighborhood and even beyond. 

The Star signals to all who see it that St. Joseph Parish is a center of outreach for God, a community of religion known to be neighborhood-friendly, collaborating with all the Star-seekers within its parish boundaries.   The Star points out St. Joseph as a place of evangelizing, a place of generous charity, a place of engagement with everyone of good will whether Catholic or not, even whether Christian or not.  The Star says, “Here is the Dwelling Place of God, where you can know and praise God, where you can pour out your treasures for a better world.”

What might living under the shining Star mean in practical terms for the parish?   Perhaps it means providing parishioners with attractive materials to hand to people who ask about the Faith, e.g., the unchurched, the fallen away.  Perhaps it means the parish has programs to help parishioners know how to use their own computers to promote the values of the Gospel.  Perhaps it means showing wealthier members of the community how to make a greater difference with their treasures.

What’s more, having the Star shining over us can motivate us to welcome others in the neighborhood who need meeting space to promote Christian-friendly causes.  The Star can mean joining our hands with other churches and groups to meet social needs around us like hunger, health care, youth formation.  The Star can lead us to use our parish resources for programs that advocate for solutions to problems affecting everybody, like drug-abuse, gun violence, immigration reform, respect for life from womb to tomb, etc.  Not that we are not already doing good things!  But the Star keeps pushing us to see and do more in its light.  The Star wants to make St. Joseph Parish radiate as brightly as possible as the Dwelling Place of God in our parish territory.

Is that not why we are organized into the Parish of St. Joseph?  Is that not why we have a Pastor, a parish staff, councils and organizations and an abundance of human and material resources?  As we ourselves have done, so we want the neighborhood to “follow the Star” and, overjoyed in seeing it, to enter the house.  In the end, is this not what God wishes from us, to be the Epiphany of God’s presence and saving love to ourselves and to the entire neighborhood? 

“And the Star . . . came and stopped over the place where the child was . . . and [they] entering the house . . . did him homage.”   St. Joseph Parish is the place for us where the Star has stopped.  Can we join together as parishioners to create even more excitement to get our neighborhood to come in?  The Star is above us.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

TableTalk, New Year's Day 2013

For our Catholic Christian family, this Solemnity of the Mother of God is Mother’s Day.   It is not so different from the May Mother’s Day we observe in our human families.   Both days are full of maternal sentiment and appreciation.  Mothers promote life and happiness.  Mothers open the door to the future.  The memory of a mother’s love is forever an encouragement—at least Mom loves me!  Mothers help us grow up.  They teach us life-skills:  how to tie our shoelaces, use a handkerchief, button our shirts or blouses. 

Our heavenly Mother, given to all of us through St. John at the foot of the Cross, is mother like that.  She bears in her heart our future and her blessing of us is that found in the reading from Numbers in today’s liturgy:  “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

As we live with Mary in the community of the Church, we can pick up from her what we need for an eternal life.  We can notice her day by day “pondering,” as Luke’s Gospel today points out:  “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”   The heavenly Mother kept contact with God, the God always present in the happenings of her life.  So, she could always follow God’s lead for her life.  In this way, she can teach us how to make it successfully through this life to the eternal one.

If you and I want a New Year’s resolution, consider the habitual “pondering” of the heavenly Mother.  What if we decided, each of us, to spend at least three minutes a day simply pondering God.  This is not something peculiar to Christianity.  Recently a Jewish rabbi was featured on CNN with the message that a really new year will depend on giving God center stage in our human lives by some prayer practice.  For us it can be three minutes a day—only!—of “pondering” to help us do that.

How to do it?  It means letting the heavenly Mother influence our way of praying.  Notice her special way:  she uses no words, she has no Bible in hand, only “pondering.”  This is one way she lived in God’s family.  She tried to be in God’s presence, tried to feel God’s presence.  That especially kept her in contact with God and able to follow God’s lead throughout her life.  She had a special knack for prayer.

What if we, her children, could practice that, like we practiced tying our shoelaces or buttoning our shirts or blouses as she looked on?  How new might 2013 be, if we imitated the “pondering” of our heavenly Mother? 

It will mean taking on a little of Mother’s discipline.  We will need to find the best spot in our daily schedule for the three-minute “pondering” like our Mother’s—no favorite prayers, no Bible, no nothing except opening up to God’s presence, just being with God and letting God be with me, for those three short minutes.  (The other kinds of prayer are good, too, and we can and should find time for them also.  But Mother’s “pondering” is special.) 

If my New Year’s resolution is to at least do the three-minute pondering, maybe I will see God more clearly in the events of my day, maybe I will be able to keep closer contact with God, maybe I’ll be more ready to follow God’s lead in my life.  It takes practice.  But wouldn’t that make the Heavenly Mother proud of her children?

Happy New Year to all!