Sunday, September 16, 2018


          Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  They respond that the gossip circles are saying that he might be Elijah, or John the Baptist, or one of the prophets.  The expectation is that he will be a powerful leader who will overcome the Romans, their current oppressors.  Peter blurts out the correct answer:  “You are the Christ.”  However, Peter has the same expectation about a messiah.  He rebukes Jesus when he defines his role in terms of suffering and death.  In turn, Jesus rebukes Peter and says to him, “Get behind me, Satan.”
            Even those Jesus rebukes Peter harshly and says that he is tempting him to disobey his Father’s will, he tells Peter to get behind him.  In other words, he wants Peter to continue to follow him and to learn the difficult lessons of the cross.
            As followers of Jesus Christ, we have also chosen to “get behind” and follow him.  Like Peter, we find the message of the cross to be very difficult.  That is why I have come to embrace stewardship as a way of life, as a structured way of getting behind Jesus Christ.  Good stewards spend generous amounts of time in prayer, with the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives of faith.  Good stewards give themselves in humble service, as our Lord washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.  Good stewards share a generous portion of their treasure with the Body of Christ, and not just what is left over.  Jesus clearly said that it is by your love for one another that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.  Stewardship, simply, is love in action.
            We renewed our stewardship of prayer at Lent and our stewardship of service during the Easter Season.  This weekend, we invite you to make a commitment to sharing a sacrificial gift with the parish.  Please read the information in your stewardship of sacrificial giving packet and pray over your decision.  Currently, Saint Pius tithes 5% of our income to Saint Adalbert and another 3 ½% to those who come to us in need.  Pray over your decision and set aside a portion for the Annual Bishop’s Appeal.
            You would expect me to say these things.  But, please listen to Brian Jacobs, as he tells his story of coming to embrace stewardship as a way of life.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


          Saint Mark tells us that Jesus has been traveling from the district of Tyre and passes by Sidon to the Sea of Galilee into the district of the Decapolis.  In other words, Jesus is moving out of the comfort zone of his Jewish roots and is proclaiming his message about the Kingdom of God to pagans.  Saint Mark is signaling to us that the Gospel is intended for everyone, and not just the descendants of Abraham and Moses.
            It is in this area that people bring to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment.  Trusting that Jesus has healing powers, they ask him to lay his hands on him.  Jesus takes the man away from the crowd and becomes very physical with him.  He puts his hands into his ears.  Like many healers of his day who regarded spit as a healing substance, he spits and touches his tongue.  He looks up to heaven, because he wants people to know that his healing power comes from the Father.  Using the Aramaic word, Ephphatha, he commands that the deaf man’s ears be opened.  Immediately, the man can hear and is able to speak.
            Saint Mark records this story to help us to believe that the Lord’s healing power is in our midst.  We gather for Mass, because we believe in the Paschal Mystery.  We believe that Jesus died to destroy the power of sin and death.  We believe that he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  We believe that he has sent his Holy Spirit to continue his saving work in our midst.  For us, this is not a story of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago to help a deaf mute.  What Jesus did for that man, he does for us today.
            Truth be told, we have trouble hearing.  There are many loud and competing voices shouting at us today.  Posts on social media encourage us to lash out in anger at those who seem to offend us.  Advertisers try to convince us that their products can save us and bring ultimate happiness.  With the current crisis in the Church, some argue that the Church is completely corrupt and not deserving of trust.  The Lord takes us aside from all that noise into this church, as he took the deaf mute aside, and speaks his Word to us.  He continues to use signs that appeal to our senses.  We hear the words from Scripture.  He gives himself to us in a very real way through ordinary bread and wine.  We also hear the words from the Diocese giving us correct information about what is happening with Bishop Rhoades.  I will offer a question and answer session a week from Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Parish Life Center.  Just as the Liturgy has us say “Ephphatha” at the baptism of both adults and children, the Lord invites us to open our ears to hear him.
            That is why Jesus tells the crowd not to tell anyone what he had just done.  He did not want to draw attention to himself as some kind of wonder worker.  Only after he had died and rose from the dead could people understand the full impact of what he was doing.  Opening that man’s ears and allowing him to speak was only a sign of what he is doing with us today.  He invites us to believe that he does all things well today.
            Once our ears have been opened, and once we hear what the Lord says to us, then we too can continue to listen through reading the Bible, through reflective prayer, and through adult education series that speak to us.  As we come to hear clearly, then we too can speak, as the deaf man began to speak.  We can speak the message of Saint James that God loves everyone, and that we cannot discriminate based on what people wear or what race they belong to.  We can speak the truth about the special responsibility we have to the poor and the vulnerable.  We can also speak of the Lord’s presence in our difficult situation.  It is the Lord who saves us, because he has already conquered the power of sin and death.  It is the Lord who purifies our Church and keeps his promise to Peter that he will remain with us to the end of time, no matter what.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


          When the Pharisees and scribes criticize the disciples of Jesus for not washing their hands before eating, they are really accusing Jesus, their teacher, of having no regard for the Law of Moses.  But that criticism is not true.  Jesus understands the intent Moses words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy.  He accepts the Law as a gift from God to guide the people to live a holy life in communion with God.  He accuses the Pharisees of doing exactly the opposite.  They had introduced many customs intended to become a “fence” around the Law to protect it.  Instead, those fences had become rituals putting the emphasis on external piety instead of true internal holiness.  Our readings today help us understand true holiness.
            We are holy when we are aware of God’s presence in our lives. That is why Moses erected a tabernacle in a tent in the midst of the camps of the Israelites in the desert.  God was traveling with them.  God fed them with manna and water from the rock.  God would not abandon them.  God will not abandon us either, especially in these dark times.
            Saint James reminds us that a holy life is focused on God’s call to action.  He encourages us to hear God’s Word.  We hear God’s Word at every Mass, only after we have admitted at the beginning of Mass that we are sinners.  But Saint James also insists that we must be doers of God’s Word.  We are dismissed from Mass to put that Word into action.  That is why the current crisis in our Church is so shocking.  We have learned that bishops and priests who have led us in pious exercises have done horrible things that have caused so much pain.
            Once we understand the importance of acting on God’s Word, we can understand better the importance of being part of the Church.  The recent revelations of sexual misconduct on the part of the clergy have caused many people to give up on the Church.  However, we need to remain connected with one another as the Body of Christ even more in this time of crisis.  The Lord does not call us to live solitary lives in isolation from one another.  The Lord calls us to gather for the Eucharist and to trust that he continues to walk with us, even as God traveled with the Israelites through their worst times in the desert.  His presence allows us to trust that our Church is being purified so that we become more truly holy and conformed to the Lord’s love.
            Like the Pharisees, we Catholics have developed many human customs and traditions intended to draw us into closer communion with the Lord.  Before the Second Vatican Council, we observed the Church law of abstaining from meat on all Fridays.  Those who were not Catholics saw this as our identity:  we were fish eaters!  But abstaining from meat was not the heart of our identity.  Being the Body of Christ remains our true identity.  To be honest, we tended to abstain from meat more out of obligation than out of a desire to become more holy, much as the Pharisees and their scribes were more concerned about purification rituals than about turning more completely toward God.  After the Council, the law was changed to require abstinence from meat only on Fridays during Lent.  These days, I see more and more Catholics returning to this practice voluntarily, embracing the external practice as a way of doing penance on the day that the Lord died and drawing them more closely into his Passion.
            This is the challenge for our Church today.  We need external reforms to protect innocent children and address the problem of clerical privilege.  We need external reforms to purge the Church in many ways. But we also need to listen to the words of Scripture today.  The Lord remains with us.  He calls us to act on the Word we hear.  We are all sinners who are connected to one another as the Body of Christ, seeking better individual holiness.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

26 AUGUST 2018

          For the past five weeks, we have been hearing the Bread of Life Discourse from Saint John’s Gospel.  The discourse began with Jesus feeding five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish.  It has continued every Sunday (actually as long as the Season of Lent) and concludes today.  Jesus has been trying to help people understand the true significance of his sign of that miraculous feeding.  He is the Bread come down from heaven.  He has taken on human flesh.  He will become the sacrificial lamb slain on the cross.  After his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to continue his real presence in the Eucharist.  He promises that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will live forever.
            It is good for us to hear the conclusion of this discourse as we celebrate our patronal feast.  It reminds us that the Eucharist is at the heart of everything we do as a parish.  The vitality of our parish comes from the Eucharist and draws us back again every Sunday.
            Unfortunately, we celebrate our patronal feast when the news of the Grand Jury report from Pennsylvania has rocked our Church.  It is sickening to know that over 7 decades, 300 priests have been guilty of abusing thousands of children.  Even worse, we have learned that too many bishops had turned a blind eye and failed to protect the innocent victims.  Just as many of the disciples of Jesus left his company in today’s Gospel, people are walking away from the Church today because of these new revelations.  At some level, their reaction is understandable.  But Jesus turns to us, as he turns to Peter, and asks, “Do you also want to leave?”  By our very presence here today, we have already responded with his words, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words to eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”  I sincerely thank you for that response!
            At one level, there is not much we can do about those outright crimes and horrible abuses of power.  We can pray for the victims and support them in their healing.  That is why Bishop Rhoades is publishing the names of all credibly accused priests of our Diocese, whether living or dead.  We hope that other victims will come forward to be healed.  We continue to enforce the child protection procedures in place since the clergy abuse scandal broke in 2002.  They provide better safeguards for children under our care.  We expect that offending bishops will be punished or removed for their failure.  We trust that current bishops have learned from the failure of their predecessors and pay close attention to victims of abuse.  Because Bishop Rhoades was the Bishop of Harrisburg before coming here, his name has been implicated.  Please read his statement printed in the bulletin today.  He deserves our trust and support.
            No matter how many reforms have been introduced, we know that the humans of our Church, both clerical and lay, are sinners.  Jesus entrusted the care of the Church to Peter, whose sins are evident in the New Testament.  His worst sin was on the night of the Last Supper when he denied knowing Jesus.  He repented from his sins and worked with the Lord’s mercy to be a better shepherd.  The same is true of us.  We are all sinners.  If you don’t believe that I am a sinner, ask Fr. Eric or any member of the staff.  Those who were guilty of abuse committed crimes and abused their power in terrible ways.  In effect, they ignored Saint Paul’s advice.  Rather than making themselves subordinate to Christ and placing their lives in service to others, they made their innocent victims subordinate to their own darker urges.  We remain in the Church, not because of any human shepherds, but because we subordinate ourselves to Christ and trust that Christ will remain with us, forgive our sins, and feed us with his Body and Blood.  That is his promise.  That is at the heart of our celebration of our patronal feast today.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

19 AUGUST 2018

          As we continue to reflect on the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of Saint John, we must remember that Jesus has fed the crowd of five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish at the time of the Passover.  Those who hear this discourse for the first time understood the importance of the paschal lamb.  In their Passover rituals, the people would slaughter the lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts, as their ancestors had done in Egypt to allow the angel of death to pass over their homes.  As they ate the paschal lamb, they would share four cups of wine blessing (praising) God for their journey from slavery to freedom.  They would speak of the Covenant which God had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai.  In speaking of the manna that fed their ancestors in the desert, they would tell of the ways in which God continues to be faithful to that Covenant.
            Jesus makes it clear that he is the new paschal lamb.  He will be sacrificed on the cross.  Blood and water will flow from his side as he dies on that cross, signifying the water of baptism and the Eucharist in the new Covenant.  He insists that he is the living bread come down from heaven.  Even though he was present at the creation of the world, he had taken on human flesh in the Incarnation and dwells among us.  Through the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist, his Incarnation is made present in a real way.  He promises that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will live forever.  In our journey through the desert of life, eating his flesh and drinking his blood will bring us into an intimate relationship with him that cannot be destroyed by death.
            The crowd is horrified.  Because they understand blood as a sign of life, they would never consider drinking any blood.  They think that Jesus is inviting them to be cannibals, eating the flesh of human beings.  They do not understand that the man speaking this message is the only begotten Son of God.  The Incarnation makes no sense to them, because Jesus is too ordinary for them.  They can only ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
            Saint John records these words for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God after the Paschal Mystery has been completed.  He invites the readers of this Gospel to reflect on what happened to Jesus Christ.  After washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, he had been betrayed and subjected to a fake trial.  He had calmly accepted the verdict of Pontius Pilate and had been executed like a common criminal and buried in a tomb.  He had been raised from the dead and given the Holy Spirit to his disciples.  He had been taken up to heaven, where he intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.  His Incarnation continues to be present every time the Christian Community gathers to celebrate the Eucharist.
            That is exactly why we gather here every Sunday.  We hear about the Lord’s continuing presence in our lives in the Liturgy of the Word.  Trusting in that presence, Saint Paul reminds us to live our Baptismal promises.  He tells us to make the most of the opportunity.  In other words, he tells us that we can redeem the times by our witness to the Gospel.  Then, we take bread and wine, bless God the Father for the Sacrifice of Jesus made present as we remember, break the consecrated bread, and give it.
            Even though we stand on the shoulders of countless theologians who have developed the theology of the Eucharist over the centuries, we might ask the same question:  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  We can never fully understand that Mystery.  That is why the Lord invites us to renew our faith today in his real presence.  He invites us to eat his flesh and drink his blood under the elements of bread and wine.  He invites us to trust that we who eat his flesh and drink his blood are members of his Body, and that death cannot destroy that reality.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

12 AUGUST 2018

          In today’s first reading, we find Elijah in a state of deep depression.  The last remaining prophet of God, Elijah had defeated the priests of the false gods of the Baal at Mount Carmel.  He demonstrated the faithfulness of God and had proven that the leadership of King Ahab had failed the northern kingdom of Israel.  But instead of basking in his victory, he is running for his life.  Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, has sent her armies to kill him.  After a day’s journey in the desert, Elijah sits under a broom tree and asks for death.  Instead of granting Elijah’s desperate wish, God sends an angel to feed him with a hearth cake and a jug of water.  Still depressed, Elijah lays down again.  When the angel feeds him a second time, he obeys the order and walks for forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb.  It was at Mount Horeb (which is the name given to Mount Sinai by the people of the northern kingdom) that Moses had originally mediated the Covenant between God and his people.  It is to Mount Horeb, nourished by the hearth cake and water, that Elijah would encounter God and regain his confidence in God’s promises.
            Like Elijah, we too are walking on this pilgrimage of life.  As members of the New Covenant sealed with the blood of the Lamb who gave his life for us, we know the many ways we have experienced God’s faithfulness in our lives.  But we also know times when the Lord seems distant from us.  All of us know that there are times in our lives when depression has a way of paralyzing us.  Some battle depression as a chronic condition.  Others experience times of depression that rob us of energy, of hope, and of a sense of God’s presence in our lives.
            For the third Sunday, we continue to reflect on the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of John.  Just as God fed Elijah with bread and water to strengthen him on his journey, so the Lord feeds us with his body and blood to strengthen us on ours.  Those who hear his words for the first time cannot believe his promise to be the bread of life.  He is too ordinary for them. They cannot see beyond his ordinary appearance to believe that he is the Eternal Word who has come down from heaven to give them new life.  They forget that their ancestors had complained about the manna in their pilgrimage through the desert from slavery to freedom.  They do the same thing.  They murmur against Jesus and refuse to believe that he will become the new Passover Lamb whose blood will wash away their sins and give eternal life.
            At this Mass, we hear those same words that we who eat his bread will live forever.  Saint Paul believed that promise and reaffirmed it in his letter to the Ephesians.  In writing to the Church of Ephesus two thousand years ago, he might as well have been addressing the conditions of our world today.  Like them, we walk in a world filled with bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.  We know the political divides that polarize us and end up in shouting matches.  We know the pain when we are attacked on social media.  We know the terrible effects of grief resulting from failure or the death of a loved one.  Like Elijah, it is easy to fall into depression and give up.  But when we share in the Lord’s gift of the Eucharist here, we are nourished to continue our pilgrimage together with a sense of hope and love.  Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we can truly be imitators of God as his beloved children and act like God’s beloved children in a broken world.  Aware of the bonds that bind us, we renew our intentions to be kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving one another as God has forgiven us in Christ.  Nourished by the Eucharist, we can learn to imitate the Lord’s kindness not only to those we like or agree with, but also to those with whom we disagree or dislike.  That is why we march together to be fed at this Altar.  We are Christ’s Body, and we can make a difference in our world today by behaving as Christ’s Body.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

29 JULY 2018

          When we hear about this miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, our reaction might be:  “Wow, what an incredible event that happened over 2,000 years ago!  All those hungry people were fortunate to have been fed!”  But that is not the reason why Saint John recorded this sign in his Gospel.  He wrote it so that we can deepen our faith in Lord’s presence at this Mass.
            Just as a large crowd gathered around Jesus after he crossed the Sea of Galilee, so he gathers all of us (from east to west, as the Third Eucharistic Prayer proclaims) in this church for this Mass.  Just ancient people saw mountain as places where the divine touched the human, so we encounter the Lord on this “mountain”.  Teachers in the ancient world spoke from a seated positon.  Jesus has just spoken to us in his Word.  Just as he understood the hunger of all those people for meaning in their lives, he knows that we come to this church with many hungers, and he helps us to understand better what can fulfill those hungers.  Through his Word, he warns us against putting all our energies into those passing solutions which will never satisfy our deepest hungers.  Just as the Jewish Passover was near, so we are entering into the Memorial of the Lord’s Passover from death into life.  That is why the Lamb of the New Passover is pictured in the mosaic on the front of our Altar.
            When he decides to satisfy the physical hunger of the vast crowd, he asks for help from Phillip and Andrew.  Phillip sees it as impossible.  Andrew points out a boy who has brought five barley loaves and two fish.  But he doubts if the boy’s box lunch could make much of a difference with so many hungry people.  Jesus invites the vast crowd to recline on the grass.  Reclining in the ancient world was a posture for those sharing a meal together.  Instead of having them find a seat among thorns and thistles (the result of Adam and Eve’s sin and their being expelled from the Garden of Eden), he invites them to sit on grass, a sign of the new Eden he will bring through his new Passover.  He takes the five barley loaves and two fish and gives thanks to the Father.  Then he distributes the food to satisfy the hunger of everyone who had gathered there.  Once they have had their fill, the disciples gather twelve wicker baskets with fragments left over from the five loaves and two fish. 
            In just a few minutes, people will bring up a gold paten filled with hosts made from unleavened bread, along with some wine.  The priest will take those gifts.  In the Eucharistic Prayer, he will praise the Father for the sacrifice of Jesus made present as we remember.  During the singing of the Lamb of God, we will break the consecrated host and place the rest of the hosts into ciboria.  Along with the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, we will distribute them to the assembly.  We will take the remaining fragments for the sick and homebound, and we will place the rest of the consecrated hosts in the tabernacle.
            Those who were fed on that mountain were so impressed that they wanted to make Jesus a king.  They did not understand that this physical feeding was a sign of the more profound feeding that would occur at every Mass celebrated throughout the world after the Pascal Mystery had been completed.  Jesus withdrew to draw attention away from him.  At the end of Mass, he will send us forth to proclaim the Mystery we have received and behave as members of his Body.  That is why he feeds us with his Body and Blood.  Our reception of this Eucharist increases our trust that he can transform our meager efforts and our limited resources into powerful witnesses to the Kingdom of God.  We can make a difference, not because of our own efforts, but because he feeds us with the bread from heaven and the cup of eternal life.