Sunday, November 11, 2018

11 NOVEMBER 2018

          Widows in the Ancient Near East lived at the bottom of society.  Without any social safety net in a world where men earned their living, widows were extremely vulnerable.  This would have been especially true of the widow of Zarephath in the first reading.  Her situation was even worse, because she lived in an area where there had been a severe drought for years.
            Into her life walks Elijah.  The widow would regard him as the enemy.  He was the one who announced the drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  Yet, the widow still offers him hospitality – a small cupful of water.  Amazingly, she trusts his word that his God would provide for her and her son when she makes a small cake out of the little oil and water that she has left.  She puts herself into the flow of God’s giving by giving the little she has.  God rewards her trust by providing food for her and her son for an entire year.
            Centuries later, Jesus encounters another widow in the Temple.  Like the widow of Zarephath, she too is at the bottom.  Jesus criticizes the learned theologians who are at the top.  They enjoy the benefits of their positions:  their long robes, their seats of honor in synagogues, and the best places at banquets.  They are the ones who serve as trustees for impoverished widows, keeping too much from their meager resources in payment for their services.  In sharp contrast, Jesus points out the poor widow who puts two small coins into the Temple treasury.  Unlike the large coins that would have made a lot of noise going down the trumpet shaped containers, her small coins would not have been noticed.  But Jesus notices her.  She gives of her substance, trusting the God will give back more than she could have given herself.
            These two widows have much to teach us as we advance in the spiritual life.  When we become too comfortable and accustomed to relying on our own resources, we tend to fill our lives with more stuff.  Those who have gone through twelve step programs know this truth.  It is only when they have hit rock bottom that they can begin to trust that God will provide what they need to confront their addictions.  Those who adopt the attitude of the widows can actually grow in trusting that God will provide.  That is why so many in our parish have embraced stewardship as a way of life.  Stewardship teaches the lessons that the widows already knew – that God gives back more than we give.  Good stewards set aside a first and generous time for personal prayer, especially the hour at Mass on Sunday when we give thanks to God for all God has given.  Good stewards set aside a first portion of their busy schedule to give time in humble service.  Good stewards sacrifice a first portion of their treasure, instead of tossing in whatever is left over.
            Jesus notices this widow in the Temple just days before he is stripped of everything and gives his life completely for us on the cross.  The widow points to what he will do.  He will contribute all that he has for our salvation.  His trust in the Father will be returned when he will be raised from the dead and share that resurrection with those who die with him.
            It takes a lot of courage to take those first steps in embracing stewardship as a way of life, because we fear that we will not have enough.  But those who have taken that first step begin to experience the reality that they receive much more back than they ever give.  As we pray for the courage to embrace the faith of those two widows, we also pray for our bishops, who will meet this week to confront the damage done by certain religious leaders of our time have used their positions to enrich themselves to the detriment of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We pray that they will have the courage to listen carefully to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to introduce reforms to the Church and healing to those who have been harmed.  Our prayer is based on the experience of the widows that God will always give back more than we can ever offer.

Saturday, November 3, 2018


          When the scribe asks Jesus about which is the greatest of the commandments, the question is much more difficult and complicated than we might think.  At the time, there were 614 Commandments just in the first five books of the Bible – the Torah.  And for each of these commands, scribes and teachers would develop ways to interpret each of the commandments.  For example, there were 39 different categories of work that must be avoided just on the third commandment to observe the Lord’s Day!  Despite these well intentioned efforts to help people follow the law, law-abiding Jews were crushed under the burden of laws and interpretations.
            Jesus responds by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy:  you shall love the Lord your God with every fiber of your being.  This commandment is at the heart of both the Old and New Testaments.  If we love God, then God will come before anything else we might hope for:  power, wealth, success, security, comfort, prosperity, control, or prestige.  Then he quotes a second passage from the Book of Leviticus:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus so radically combines these two commandments that they cannot be separated.  We cannot love our neighbor if we do not love God.  We cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor.
            This love has little to do with emotions or warm feelings.  Jesus has already shown the depth of God’s love by taking on human flesh and identifying with us in every way except sin, as the Letter to the Hebrews insists.  In just a few days after this exchange with the scribe, he will demonstrate his love for neighbor by offering himself as a sacrifice on the cross.  This love has no limits, and this love cannot be defined by rules or laws.  We live the Great Commandment when we imitate the love of Jesus Christ – placing God above every other reality and giving ourselves in humble service to others.
            The Gospels also make it clear that Jesus defines the word “neighbor” in a much wider context than would the scribe.  A neighbor is not just someone in my clan or class or tribe or race.  A neighbor (as we learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan) is anyone we encounter who is in need.  We show our love in many diverse and challenging ways.
            That is why the Diocesan Office of the Propagation of the Faith assigns a mission preacher to each parish every year.  That office connects one mission from a struggling area to a parish in our Diocese, giving us a chance to share our resources with our neighbors.  Most mission speakers stand up here to present the needs of their missions.  This year, the office has allowed us to respond to the needs of someone we know very well.  Father Larry Kanyike has been to Saint Pius often to present the needs of his people.  Through our response, he has been able to build a health clinic, a new church, and most recently a new school.  Now he is asking for our help in furnishing a convent to house the sisters who teach in his school.  He emailed me last week, saying that the Archbishop of Kampala is celebrating Mass in his parish this Sunday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of his parish.  Remembering his hour-long homily at the dedication of the new church, I wonder how long he is talking today!
            The mission preachers in the past have asked us to trust their word about their needs.  I have been to Father Larry’s parish and have seen their needs myself.  Since his “day job” keeps him at his parish this weekend, I am asking for your help in his name.  The image of Saint Charles Lwanga, one of the Ugandan martyrs on our triumphant arch underscores our connection with Father Larry and his parish.  You will find pictures of the church and the school in today’s bulletin.  You can place your donation in one of the envelopes in the pew.  I can assure you that Father Larry puts our gifts at the service of his people, who are most grateful for our help.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

28 OCTOBER 2018

          For the past few Sundays in the Gospel of Saint Mark, Jesus has been walking with his disciples on the way to Jerusalem.  On the way, he has called people to follow him.  One young man responded with enthusiasm and asked what he needed to do to belong to the Kingdom.  Jesus looked at him with love.  But, when Jesus told him to give away all his wealth, the young man went away sad.  He could not see the benefits of giving his wealth away and trusting the spiritual riches open to him through Jesus Christ.   
            Those disciples who had left everything continued to follow Jesus. On the way, he has been teaching them that the promised Messiah would not be a conquering hero bringing great honor and prestige and power.  Instead, he is the Suffering Servant promised by the Prophet Isaiah.  Once they reach Jerusalem, he would be rejected, betrayed, and crucified like a criminal.  The disciples could not hear this message.  In fact, James and John displayed their blind ambition by asking him to sit on his right and left in the Kingdom     
            Today, Jesus and his disciples reach Jericho to begin their ascent to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  As they leave town, a blind beggar starts yelling.  He has obviously heard of Jesus, because he calls him the son of David, a title indicating his true nature.   He asks for mercy, much as we asked the Lord for mercy at the beginning of Mass.  Just as the disciples had tried to silence the children who were drawn to Jesus, they try to silence Bartimaeus.  Just as Jesus had called the children and used them as examples of how to trust, he calls Bartimaeus and asks what he wants.  Unlike James and John, Bartimaeus does not want power and prestige and honor.  He just wants to see.  Unlike the wealthy young man, he trusts so much in the Son of David that he leaves his only possession, the cloak which kept him warm at night, to run toward Jesus.  Bartimaeus becomes a true disciple and follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
            Bartimaeus has much to teach us about being intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.  We may not be physically blind, but we all have plenty of blind spots.  The divisions in our Church and our country can close our eyes to the person of Jesus Christ in the pain of other people, in those most vulnerable members of our society, or even in those who drive us crazy.  We may not be in the 1% of the nation’s wealthy people, but we tend to cling tightly to our possessions and status.  Bartimaeus teaches us to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves.  We need to cry out to the Son of David for mercy.  He teaches us that we can see more clearly with the eyes of faith.  He teaches us to let go of what we think will save and protect us and follow him on the way.
            At the 10:00 Mass this morning, we celebrate the Rite of Acceptance for a number of people who have never been baptized and the Rite of Welcome for those who have been baptized in another Christian community and want to be in full communion with the Catholic Church.  Each person has heard the Lord Jesus calling them.  Each of them have let go of their free time on Tuesday evenings to join us for prayer, catechesis, and formation.  Today, they take the first formal step toward encountering Jesus Christ in the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.  We pray for them, support them, and join them in learning the lessons of Bartimaeus.  He followed Jesus to the cross and experienced the resurrection.  Together with our Catechumens and Candidates for Full Communion, we continue to walk the way of discipleship through our crosses to share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

21 OCTOBER 2018

          James and John enjoy a privileged position among the Apostles.  Jesus has taken them aside many times at critical times in his ministry, along with Peter.  They had been with Peter when Jesus had been transformed on Mount Tabor.  They had enjoyed a glimpse of his true nature and future glory.  They already know that Jesus has given Peter a position of primacy in the Church to be established.  So, it is completely understandable that they would approach Jesus and ask for places of power and honor and prestige when Jesus comes into his glory.  They are following their natural instincts.
            However, their timing is horrible.  On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus has been teaching them that as Messiah, he is the suffering servant of Isaiah.  When Isaiah said that God was pleased to crush his servant in infirmity, he was not talking about a blood thirsty tyrant who can only be appeased by suffering.  The suffering servant willingly takes the place of a guilty Israel to suffer the consequences of their sinfulness in a redemptive way.  As the promised suffering servant, Jesus would take upon himself all the effects of human sin, hatred, rejection, and betrayal.  For the third time, Jesus clearly tells his apostles that their journey on the road to Jerusalem will result in his sacrificial death on a cross.  He will drink the cup that represents the Father’s will for him in his mission of salvation.  He will pay the ransom for the consequences which humankind deserves for our embrace of sin.
            James and John have not been listening to his words.  Instead of yelling at them for not paying attention, he asks if they can drink of that cup.  They glibly say that they can.  But Jesus knows that they have no idea of what they are talking about.  In time, they will understand that the crucified Lord is surrounded by two thieves on as he dies on the cross on Mount Calvary. He gives himself as a humble servant.   After the resurrection, they too will understand that their privileged leadership in the Christian community will involve humble service, and not power and honor and prestige.  In being humble servants, they will eventually drink of that same cup and show the world a different style of leadership.  They too will share in the redemptive suffering of the one who has taken upon himself the sins of the world.
            If we study the history of our Church over the past 2,000 years, we can see many examples of privileged leaders who have understood their roles as humble servants.  When leaders have shared in the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ, the Church has flourished.  But, when privileged leaders have repeated the mistake of James and John and have put their desires for power and honor and prestige ahead of the needs of the faithful, the Church has suffered.  We are living in such a time now.  We see the incredible damage done when certain priests and bishops have put their own pleasure and interests ahead of the people they should have been serving as humble servants.  They have done great damage to the Body of Christ.
            Jesus speaks directly to us who have the privileged position of being leaders.  He reminds us that we are called to be humble servants, putting the needs of the people ahead of our own desires and needs for recognition.  He reminds all of us who have become his disciples to imitate his example and trust in his redemptive suffering to triumph over the power of sin and death. 
            Bishop Rhoades has asked us to pray the Prayer of Saint Michael the Archangel at the end of all Masses.  The enemies of the Church are having a field day over our current situation.  We will ask for the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel to aid us in our battle with Satan.  In praying this prayer, we will also express our trust that the Lord’s redemptive suffering will guide us out of this time and triumph over the powers of hell.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

14 OCTOBER 2018

          The young man in today’s Gospel was definitely attracted to Jesus.  He did not stroll up to greet him.  He ran and knelt before him.  He has listened to Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God and wants to be part of it.  He even calls Jesus good, recognizing his share in the goodness of God.  The young man is sincere in following a moral life.  The commandments were part of his daily life.  But, he also senses that something is lacking.  Jesus looks at him with love and tells him that is one thing getting into his way, preventing him from becoming an intentional disciple:  his wealth.  This young walks away with great sadness, because he cannot bring himself to remove the many possessions keeping him from the Kingdom of God.
            The disciples of Jesus had already left everything to follow him.  Yet, they are also amazed at his words.  In their culture, wealth was seen as a positive sign of God’s favor.  Peter speaks for the rest when he reminds Jesus that they had already given up everything to follow him.  Jesus points out that giving everything away opened them to the richness of God’s gifts in ways that they could never imagine.  It will not be until after his resurrection that they would understand what Jesus is promising.  By proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these intentional disciples would attract many more people willing to embrace the kingdom of God in their midst.  Even more, they would be part of an eternal kingdom without end.
            We are like this young man, because we too have approached the Lord Jesus in his real presence at this Mass.  We are also doing our best to keep the commandments.  When we fail, we have access to the Lord’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We who are blessed with many possessions want to be part of the Kingdom of God.  We also want eternal life.
            The Lord looks at us with love, just as he looked at the young man with love.  Without judgment and with love, he speaks the same word to us.  He wants us to take the next step in becoming more intentional disciples and invites us to remove whatever is holding us back from becoming more intentional disciples.  Could it be that we pray only at Mass on Sunday, without setting aside time during the week with our family?  Could it be that we cannot find time in our busy schedules to give ourselves in humble service?  Could it be that we cling so tightly to our possessions that we cannot see the need to share a portion of them with others? 
            Each of us must answer these questions in our own unique way.  Over the years, I have found the message of stewardship to be a structured way of becoming a more intentional disciple.  If we regard stewardship as a way of life, and not just a fund raiser, we can understand the importance of setting aside time during the week for prayer, becoming more aware that everything is a gift from God.  We can take another look at our busy schedules and carve out time for humble service.  We offer many opportunities to share, not just within the context of our parish, but also to serve the needs of those who do not have the blessings that we have.  We can take another look at our possessions and realize that we can set aside a first and generous portion to give back in gratitude.  As a parish, we set aside a first 8 ½ % of our income to support our sister parish of Saint Adalbert and those who come to us in need.  Our new church is a testament to those who have been willing to make financial sacrifices for the good of the community.
            When Jesus challenges us in these ways, we can see the truth of the Letter to the Hebrews.  God’s word is living and effective.  It cuts through us like a two-edged sword.  Don’t be afraid of that sword cutting through us today.  Jesus Christ loves us and wants us to become more intentional disciples.  He will keep his promise and give back more to us than we can ever give ourselves in terms of prayer, service, and sacrificial giving.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

7 OCTOBER 2018

          When the Pharisees ask Jesus their question about divorce, they already know the answer.  The Law of Moses allowed a husband to divorce his wife.  They are trying to trap Jesus into taking sides on the issue of what constitutes the reason for the divorce.  Those who interpreted the law strictly argued that infidelity would be the only reason.  Those who interpreted the law loosely argued that any reason would suffice.  A husband could divorce his wife if he did not like her cooking.  Filing for divorce was the husband’s right.  The wife had absolutely no rights.
            Jesus knows the hardness of their hearts and that they are trying to justify their actions by appealing to the law.  He appeals to God’s original plan in Genesis.  God created us in his image.  God made us male and female.  God intended the union of husband and wife to be a relationship that can only be broken by death.  Pictured as the first of the mosaics in the main aisle of our church, this covenant of marriage reflects God’s unconditional love for us. 
            When the disciples find themselves alone with Jesus in the house, they also question him about his teaching.  They find it difficult.  He rebukes them and invites the children to come to him.  Children have a way of being vulnerable and putting their trust in those who love them.  We see this type of trust when we offer Penance Services in Advent and Lent to our children.  They come rushing to the priests who are seated for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  They display a trust in the Lord who will forgive them.  Those who enter the permanent covenant of marriage can have the same trust that the Lord will give them the strength to die to themselves so that they can rise with the Lord and their spouse and children.
            We find this teaching as difficult today as the first disciples of Jesus did.  In fact, this Gospel is the basis for the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.  We believe that once a couple has entered into a valid bond of marriage, only death can end that bond, and not a legal decree of divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce is part of the fabric of our culture, as it was at the time of Jesus.  Every one of us has been touched by divorce, in one way or another.
            At Saint Pius, we work to help parishioners to uphold this difficult teaching.  Our parish team works with couples preparing for marriage.  We have developed programs to assist married couples.  We have offered “date night” for married couples, giving them a chance to join other couples in reflecting on the Lord’s presence in their marriage.  Lou and Lori Giovannini are currently offering their seminar, Married in Christ.  We provide resources for those in troubled marriages, giving recommendations for professional therapists who believe in marriage.  We offer the services of the Marriage Tribunal to those who have experienced the scourge of divorce.  Going through the Marriage Tribunal is challenging.  It asks the question whether the marriage under study truly had everything needed to be considered a valid bond of marriage that can only be ended by death.  We offer a special ministry to those going through the process.
            Jesus’ teaching on marriage is indeed difficult.  Those of you who have made that permanent commitment know the crosses that you must carry to continue to live that Sacrament.  But you also need to know the graces that come from your sacrifices.  The month of October is dedicated to our conviction that we are made in God’s image and that we must safeguard the right to life from conception through natural death.  Please visit our website and the display in the Parish Life Center for ways to be involved.  But also know that if you are struggling to live the Sacrament of Marriage, you are already involved as you trust in the Lord’s presence in your marriage, as children trust those who love them.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


          When Jesus takes a child into his arms, he tells his disciples that whoever welcomes this child welcomes him.  Tragically, we have heard too many horrific reports of priests who have done great harm to children, and by extension, to Christ and to his Church.  If you are outraged, scandalized, ashamed, and confused, please know that you are not alone.  Bishop Rhoades, Father Eric, I, and our staff share these feelings. 
            However, we also need to remember that the holiness of the Church relies not on the leaders of the Church, but on the total self-giving love of Jesus Christ.  That is what he says to his disciples and us today.  He invites us to respond to his total gift of selfless love by imitating him and dying to ourselves.  As we rely on his total gift of selfless-love, it is important that we express our feelings.  We also need to look to the future and trust that Christ will heal his Church as she is now being purified.  Trust is hard, because trust has been lost.
            Saint James says that conflicts arise when our passions are disordered.  While we need to express our passionate feelings, we have to be careful not to allow our anger and fear to do any further harm to the Body of Christ.  We need to remember that under the leadership of both Bishops D’Arcy and Rhoades, successful reforms have been put in place to ensure the safety of our children.  As time goes on, we will find ways of dealing with this situation.  But, they must be positive ways that bring about healing and renewal. 
In just a moment, Bishop Rhoades will explain the good work done in our Diocese through the Annual Bishop’s Appeal.  Please listen with an open heart and prayerfully consider what is being asked of us.  Also, remember that our parish is so accustomed to the generous response of so many that we rely on the funds which come back to us once we go over our goal.
 To be honest, those of us on staff questioned whether it is wise to do the Bishop’s Appeal video after the names of the credibly accused priests was listed last week.  But, it really provides an opportunity for reflection.  A good friend told me that he had considered withholding his contribution as a way of sending a message.  But he prayed over it and talked to his wife.  He was able to let go of his anger and choose love instead, and love changed him.  He recognized that he was being tempted by Satan to lose faith in the core of the holiness of the Church: the total self-gift of Jesus Christ.  As you will hear from Saint Paul in the video, “The love of Christ urges us on.”