Monday, September 16, 2019

St. Paul - transformed

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So what is our excuse? 

If Almighty God can transform a Saul into a Paul, if God can "appoint to his service" a mean-spirited, blaspheming man of violence like Saul -- what are we waiting for? Why do we think that God probably has not "appointed" us to serve?
Paul freely says that he is a follower of Jesus Christ not because of his upstanding behavior in the past but because of God's mercy and grace. God understands that Paul "acted ignorantly in unbelief" but is now ready to receive God's forgiveness. Ironically, it is Paul's experience with sin and turning away from God that makes him appreciate the gifts of God's mercy and kindness even more.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

St.Paul - a man of violence

Looks like a guy who doesn't take much shit from anyone (Giotto, St. Paul, 1290s; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100).
It just takes a quick glance at Saul's résumé and it tells us all that we need to know. Paul clearly demonstrates leadership abilities. Shortly after Christ's death and resurrection, he was able to galvanize supporters who would help him with activities such as the murder of Christians, the torture of disciples and the slaughter of innocents. He was even willing to be a "hands-on" manager -- if he couldn't find someone else to carry out the job of making the lives of Christians miserable, he was more than happy to roll up his sleeves and get it done himself. 

He was a hard worker who was not shy about sharing his convictions.

He was brilliant at follow-through; his rampage against Christians went from village to village. He believed in the adage, "Any job worth doing is worth doing well."

Saul may not have been much of a public speaker, but he allowed his other talents to prove his worth. He was confident that his reputation would speak for him. People literally trembled at the mention of his name. His goal was to destroy the hopes and dreams of early Christians, and he did his job well. If Saul had gotten a job interview and was asked to describe himself in a few words, he would have freely said, "I am your worst nightmare. I am a man of violence."

Saturday, September 14, 2019

St. Paul - the great persecutor

Paul of Tarsus

As we reflect on the Sunday readings this week we come across St. Paul who has a checkered past. Paul was probably the last guy in the world you'd predict would have a career that would mean leaving his Jewish faith. No one would have foretold that Paul, or Saul as he was known back in the day, would embrace the radical teachings of a controversial Jewish subversive who was executed way back by the Romans. 

Before his conversion, Saul was no candidate for "Christian Employee of the Year." If Saul were among many applicants for the job of being an "example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life." , he would be least likely to get the job. He frankly admits as much: I was a "blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence."  The guy was a "man of violence." Who in their right mind is going to hire him?

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Sunday Word

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We have some excellent readings to delve into this weekend as we prepare for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is not too early to read the scriptures and spend some time as we approach Sunday.

This Sunday's letter to Timothy gives us a picture that Paul has a new job. The text says, he has: "Appointed me to his service." Sounds like the apostle Paul has a job.

We might want to spend some time interviewing Paul to see how he managed to get this job as preacher and apostle. This "job" allows Paul to write letters, to travel -- by boat, on a donkey, in an ox-cart or on foot -- to places all over the world, including major cities and the seat of the Roman Empire! He gets to speak to thousands of people, and, as the spokesperson for a new movement, he is able to establish adherents wherever he goes, speaking to the poor as well as the rich, to the humble as well as the proud, and to servants as well as to kings. He visits homes, synagogues and palaces. He even gets to spend some time in jail -- on numerous occasions!

Through it all, he is "judged to be faithful" as he tells everyone about some good news, i.e. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Holy Name of Mary - Patronal Feast of the Society of Mary

Revelation in Ivory
By Br. Philip Nolan, O.P. on September 12, 2019

As grateful as I am that museums preserve Catholic art, I cannot spend time in religious exhibitions without feeling a certain melancholy. Stripped of their original context (church or chapel) and of their original viewers (praying Catholics), these works often fail to evoke in me admiration, let alone devotion.

And yet, as I wandered through the medieval section of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, glancing at old, ornate reliquaries and sadly displaced stained glass windows, I came across a statue of Mary that stopped me where I stood. She was not quite two feet tall, carved in ivory, standing there on a pedestal. A line cut straight down the front of the statue, from the crown of her head to her feet, and on both of her sides there were hinges. The statue stood open like a little triptych—a three-piece altar panel. Inside the statue, the sculptor had carved scenes from Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and in the place where Mary’s heart would be, in the middle of the “triptych,” stood a scene of the crucifixion.

The whole statue serves as a commentary on Luke 2:19: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” It offers a speculative peek into the interior life of the Mother of the Savior after that first Easter. She now pondered not only the infancy, not only those long, hidden years in Nazareth, but the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of her Son. And the crucifixion, that raw memory of agony, takes center place.

In a sense, she was prepared for those pierced hands and side. François Mauriac, in his Life of Jesus, reflects on those moments in Jesus’ life when he seems to draw apart from Mary—for example, when the twelve-year-old Son disappears for three days, leaving his mother anxiously searching. Normally so close to her,

suddenly he was like a stranger. Mary knew this had to be. . . . Here below, perhaps, he sometimes treated her as he still treats his chosen ones whom he has marked for holiness and who, behind their grilles, in their cells, or in the midst of the world, know all the appearances of abandon, of being forsaken, not without keeping the interior certainty of being his elect and beloved. (11)

The way Jesus loved Mary did not conform to the ways of the flesh. His love for her, as for all of us, led her on the way of the cross. In the Gospels, we catch glimpses of Mary watching her Son, wondering at why he acts as he does. All these moments find their fulfillment in the crucifixion, where God revealed his love to the world. And Mary, whose faith never faltered, gave her heart to be pierced too.

Today we celebrate the Holy Name of Mary. Her name is holy because she is set apart. We can exalt her high position in heaven, her perfect obedience and conformity to God’s will, and her glorious titles. Her heavenly greatness is all the more moving when we contrast it to the somewhat ordinary life she must have appeared to live. But if we asked her to explain, she would point to her Son.

I walked away from this little statue with a new, Marian-inflected appreciation for St. Paul’s paradox: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Sometimes a small piece of ivory, dropped down in the middle of other medieval bric-a-brac, can bear the weight of divine mysteries.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The call

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"In encountering the Lord, some may feel the attraction of a call to the consecrated life or to the ordained priesthood. It is a discovery that can excite and at the same time frighten us, since we feel called to become “fishers of men” in the barque of the Church by giving totally of ourselves in commitment to faithful service of the Gospel and our brothers and sisters. Such a decision carries the risk of leaving everything behind to follow the Lord, to devote ourselves completely to him, and to share in his work. Many kinds of interior resistance can stand in the way of making this decision, especially in highly secularized contexts where there no longer seems to be a place for God and for the Gospel. Places where it is easy to grow discouraged and fall into the “weariness of hope”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Marianist Monday

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"The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a “cage” or a burden to be borne. On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking. He opens before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch."

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make sacrifices

If we have spent the time perusing today's Gospel we notice that Jesus is speaking very clearly today. Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  He is making it clear that you cannot truly be a disciple unless you are willing to make sacrifices for what you believe in. For each of us, the sacrifice is going to be different — for some it will be a sacrifice of time and energy, while for others it will be the giving up of a habit, a hobby or a particular career path. The only common denominator is a willingness to lay down our lives, as Jesus did.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Follow me.

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In preparation for Sunday's Gospel it is never too late to take anm in-depth look at what Saint Luke has in store for us. Jesus begins his monologue to the crowd by saying, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” You can just imagine the members of the crowd looking confused and saying, “Hate? Hate my father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters? Sure, they’re annoying, but I don’t hate them.”

But Jesus isn’t talking about hate in the sense of intense anger or strong hostility. No, he’s setting up a love-hate dichotomy that’s more like the loyalty we have toward our favorite sports team. If a person says, “I love the Mets and hate the Yankees,” they are saying that they are a committed Mets fan and will always support them over the Yankees. Their love for the Mets is unshakable, steadfast, eternal and, daresay, irrational. They’ll always be the favorite team, win or lose.

When this fan says, “I hate the Yankees,” they are really saying they could never, ever support Yankees. Not in a million years. They doesn’t know any of the players personally, so they couldn’t honestly say they feels anger or hostility toward them. If a sports fan spills over into this kind of intense emotion, it’s time to turn off the television and seek professional help.

So Jesus is saying, “If you want to be my disciple, I’m Number One!” He wants us to be committed to him over any other team of fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers or sisters. If Jesus pulls you one direction and your family pulls you another, Jesus is saying, “Follow me.”

Friday, September 6, 2019

Will you cooperate with Jesus?

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Bishop Barron offers a beautiful reflection on yesterday's Gospel.
Friends, today’s Gospel gives us the story of the miraculous draught of fishes. In many ways, the whole of the spiritual life can be read off of this piece.

Without being invited, Jesus simply gets into the fisherman’s boat. This is to insinuate himself in the most direct way into Simon’s life. And without further ado, he begins to give orders, first asking Simon to put out from the shore and then to go out into the deep. This represents the invasion of grace. The single most important decision that you will ever make is this: Will you cooperate with Jesus once he decides to get into your boat?

In many ways, everything else in your life is secondary, is commentary. When the Lord Jesus Christ gets into your boat, he will always lead you to the depths. Duc in altum, as St. John Paul II loved to quote. More dangerous? Yes. More exciting? Yes.

Now, mind you, the depths we’re talking about here are spiritual depths. The excitement we’re talking about is the true excitement that comes from spiritual transformation. The depths have nothing to do with what the world considers important or exciting.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sister Larry (Caged) Bird

By Br. Jordan Zajac, O.P. on September 3, 2019

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. (Mt 13:45-46)

Last month, ESPN held up the fine pearl for all to see. The Worldwide Leader in Sports ran a feature story on a 1980s basketball phenom named Shelly Pennefather who left her professional career, and everything else, to become a cloistered nun. Incredibly, millions of readers received an introduction to the reality of consecrated life.

Pennefather’s path to the cloister is certainly an extraordinary one, worthy of the attention. In the video accompanying the story, legendary UConn coach Geno Auriemma refers to her as the “Larry Bird of women’s basketball.” She didn’t lose a single game in high school (96-0) and was an All-American for Villanova, where she is still the all-time leading scorer in program history (for both men and women). After graduating she played professionally for several years in Japan, giving her the opportunity to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The ESPN story goes to great lengths to try to comprehend what Pennefather chose to do next, entering the Poor Clares in Alexandria, Virginia, where she took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. Her family, friends, teammates, and coaches are all interviewed, offering their reflections about her response to the Lord’s call. The more the ESPN story tries to describe her life in the cloister, though, the less sense it seems to make. With the video especially, what makes a deep impression is the pain that her family members and friends have endured, missing her presence in their lives. In the story you find a lament about all the good she could have done in the world. Among the comments left by readers of the article on Twitter, you find plenty of dismissive jabs about this being “a cult,” and her choice being “a tragedy.”

In the eyes of the world, the pearl of great price looks a lot like a pile of garbage.

The problem, of course, is that these people talk like Pennefather herself is the fine pearl. They mistake merchant for merchandise. And even though ESPN seems to give a quite thorough account of her journey, there is still one paragraph missing. St. Gregory the Great has already written it:

[H]e who attains a… knowledge of the heavenly life as far as this is possible, is supremely happy to relinquish all he loved before. In comparison with that sweetness nothing is of value, and the soul abandons all it had gained, scatters all it had amassed. Aflame with love for the things of heaven, it cares for nothing upon earth and considers as deformed all that once seemed so beautiful, for in the soul shines only the splendor of that priceless pearl. Of this love Solomon says: ‘Love is strong as death’ (Sg 8:6), because, as death strips the body of life, so love of life eternal kills the love of temporal things. (Homilies on the Gospels, §11)

When someone like Pennefather encounters Love itself—divine love, a love as strong as death—it inspires what seems like a total waste of a life. But really it becomes “a superabundance of life,” as Pope St. John Paul puts it. Cloistered nuns give the whole world a “joyful proclamation and prophetic anticipation of the possibility offered to every person and to the whole of humanity to live solely for God in Christ Jesus” (Vita Consecrata, no. 59).

This ESPN profile provides an extraordinary witness—a kind of introductory tutorial on how to begin to look at life like a real merchant, how to identify the good stuff when you see it. This education takes time. Sometimes, a very long time. But hopefully for many, through the witness of Sr. Rose Marie, it has begun. May the witness of her vocation move many others, by their very act of wrestling with the seeming irrationality of her choice, to find what is latent within us all: the desire for God.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

“They left everything and followed him”

My vocation is grounded in belonging to Jesus, and in the firm conviction that nothing will separate me from the love of Christ. The work we do is nothing more than a means of transforming our love for Christ into something concrete. I didn’t have to find Jesus. Jesus found me and chose me. A strong vocation is based on being possessed by Christ. It means loving him with undivided attention and faithfulness through the freedom of poverty and total self-surrender through obedience. This is the call of being a Missionary of Charity, being wholeheartedly given over to serving the poorest of the poor. It means serving Christ through his suffering appearance in the poor:

He is the Life that I want to live.
He is the Light that I want to radiate.
He is the Way to the Father.
He is the Love with which I want to love.
He is the Joy that I want to share.
He is the Peace that I want to sow.
Jesus is Everything to me.
Without him, I can do nothing.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Crossfit & the Church

Who would have thought Crossfit has some things to teach us spiritually.

Fr. Mike points out five things the Church can learn from one of the latest fitness crazes, Crossfit: 

1. In Crossfit gyms, you’re seen, you’re known, and you’re missed when you’re not there. How often does someone stop coming to church without us even noticing? 

2. Crossfit is functional fitness, exercises that help you live your life. If we can bridge the gap between what we do on Sunday and our lifestyle, we will see how church helps us be more virtuous in our everyday life. 

3. Crossfit has scaled workouts. Crossfit trainers ask you what you can do. What if we made spiritual exercises tailored to each individual and what they can do? 

4. Crossfit is challenging. Pursuing Jesus is a challenge. What if we challenged Catholics, calling them to something higher? 

5. People doing Crossfit are willing to be led and to learn. What if pastors were more willing to be leaders, and parishioners more willing to be led?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Marianist Monday

September 2019 

Dear Graduates of Kellenberg, Chaminade, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

You may have seen a recent Pew survey which reported that only one-third of Catholics living in our country believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. For Catholics under the age of 40, a full 80% think the Eucharist is just a symbol of Jesus — that the bread and wine do not really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. Rather, many claim that the Eucharist is a symbol of Jesus’ love,reminding us of His call to be nice to one another.
As a member of that under-40 group, I was pretty upset to learn that so many of us have failed to recognize Our Lord present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. After all, if it’s just a symbol, why bothergoing to Mass?

I’ll admit that the Real Presence is not an easy doctrine to accept. Even Our Lord’s first discipleswere ruffled by His teaching on the Eucharist. In chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus tell the crowds, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” But the crowds grumbled against Him, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”(6: 51-52) Personally, I think the crowds make a good point. Like those first disciples, we might betempted to think, “Jesus is telling us that the bread and wine we share are symbols; they help us to be mindful of His teachings and to care for one another.”

Scripture, however, clearly rejects this interpretation. In the Gospel of St. John, Our Lord immediately doubles-down on this teaching, saying, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you.” (6: 53) Jesus was not talking aboutsymbols and kind remembrances, and the crowds understood that too because they said, “This teaching is hard; who can accept it?” And then we read one of the most devastating lines in all of Scripture: “Asa result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompaniedHim.” (6: 66)

Today, we find ourselves in a position not too different from the one Jesus encountered in His own day. Many Catholics “no longer accompany” Jesus by attending Mass on Sunday, so it is no surprise that so many of us find the teaching on the Real Presence difficult to believe. Since so many of us fail to live the Mystery each week, we fail to understand that Mystery.

Maybe it is the case, however, that you do attend Mass every week, and you still find yourself questioning whether that piece of bread on the altar miraculously becomes the Creator of Heaven and Earth. I have been a Marianist now for almost four years, and these past few weeks I have found myself marveling even more at the sheer incomprehensibility of that claim.

On Saturday, August 17, the Brothers celebrated with great joy the Priestly Ordination of Fr. Peter Heiskell, S.M. After more than 30 years as a Marianist, Fr. Peter heard the Lord calling him to serve the Brothers and our students as a priest, and following three years of studying in Rome, he has returned to our Community to begin his new ministry. Fr. Peter was one of the first Marianists that I met when I had him for Spanish during first period of my freshman year of high school, and his friendship and witness to the faith is one of the signposts that God placed on my path leading me to embrace my own vocation as a Marianist. Fr. Peter’s ordination is a beautiful gift to the Marianists and to the whole Church, but I was surprised at some of my own reactions to this grace-filled occasion.

After Fr. Peter’s first Mass on Sunday, August 18, I was thinking about how awe-inspiring a gift the Holy Eucharist really is for us. Having known Fr. Peter for 12 years now, I felt blessed to watch himelevate a simple piece of bread and say the words, “This is My Body, which will be given up for you;” and again a chalice, saying, “This is the Blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured outfor you . . . ” Just two days earlier, those words would have produced no effect, but now, through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Fr. Peter says those incrediblewords, and a miracle takes place. I still find myself thinking, “This teaching is hard,” but I pray for thegrace to accept it more fully.

I think too that perhaps so many of us Catholics fail to recognize Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament because we have failed to recognize Him in one another. Given all the selfishness in the world, it is no wonder that so many of us find it difficult to see Christ with the eyes of faith necessary to recognize Him. Ours is a world so rich in material things, yet so many people are lonely and poor in spirit, and countless more are materially poor as well. Still, Christ is present in each person we encounter every day. We must pray that the Lord will help us to recognize Him in those who are poor and needy, so that we will see Him too in the Eucharist.

Of course, God calls saints in the world who wake us up to the Gospel message in our own time. For example, on Thursday, September 5, we will celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta, a saintly woman who never failed to see the Lord with the eyes of faith in the Host and in one another.

Mother Teresa writes,

"Like Mary, let us be full of zeal to go in haste to give Jesus to others. She was full of grace when, at the Annunciation, she received Jesus. Like her, we too become full of grace every time we receive Holy Communion. It is the same Jesus whom she received and whom we receive at Mass. As soon as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, let us go in haste to give Him to our brothers and sisters, to our poor, to the sick, to the dying, to the lepers, to the unwanted, and the unloved. By this we make Jesus present in the world today."

Mother Teresa knew that the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ made present to us on the altar compels us to pour ourselves out too in service to one another. The Eucharist opens our eyes to theneeds of our brothers and sisters so that Christ’s prayer that we “may all be one” might be fulfilled inour day. It is in worshiping and receiving the Body of Christ that we come to love Christ’s Body, theChurch. If I may, I would like to offer three simple practices that will help us all grow in this faith:

1. Mass
— Every Mass is an encounter with Christ present to us in the Scriptures and especially in the breaking of the Bread. Be radically faithful to Sunday Mass; let your fidelity be an example to your friends and familythat Christ’s mercy is waiting for us in Holy Communion. Think about inviting them to come with you, and consider going to weekday Mass occasionally, too; you would be amazed at what it does for your prayer life.2. Adoration — Prayer is never time wasted. If you want to grow in faith and love, visit Our Lord in the Tabernacle and Adoration. Not sure what to say? Just be present and let God speak to you.

3. Service — Follow Mother Teresa’s advice. If your faith is a little shaky at times, serve God in your neighbors. Check out your school’s Campus Ministry for service opportunities. It’s a great way to meet newpeople, too.

At a sophisticated dinner party in New York City, a socialite once suggested that the Eucharist is a “such a lovely symbol.” In response, Flannery O’Connor famously retorted, “If it’s a symbol, then to hell with it!” I’m with Flannery; let our lives give witness to the world that Christ is really and truly present and alive in every Tabernacle of the world. In the fullness of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, Christ is waiting for us to offer Him our love and receive His love in the Blessed Sacrament. Be faithful to Christ in the Eucharist, and let your life be transformed by it.

I pray that as you begin this new school year, Our Lady guides and protects you. Have a great semester! I hope to see many of you over Thanksgiving and at our college-aged retreat in January.

In Christ and His Blessed Mother, and on behalf of all my Brothers,

Bro. Patrick Cahill, S.M.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

He who humbles..

Today's Gospel asks us to look at others rather than ourselves. We all know that is kind of a tough thing to do in a world of the 'selfies.' Or when the glamorized version of ourselves only bears a slight resemblance to our real-world appearance.

Jesus directs our attention at the host in our second parable.  And, if we connect the two parables, Jesus seems to be defining who the more “distinguished” guests are who should have prominent places at the table. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors,” says Jesus. To do so was expected as part of a social transaction — you invite them and they have to invite you.

It’s the same kind of social contract we expect to execute in the selfie world — you click “like” on someone else’s fake portrait or news about themselves and you expect them to like your altered life as well. But Jesus urges the host, as he urges us, to instead elevate those who cannot reciprocate and to engage with those to whom our self-images don’t matter. It’s in relationship to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind that our real self-image comes into focus. We learn that while we may not be in dire economic or physical circumstances, we too are poor, crippled, lame and blinded by self-interest and self-indulgence.