Close Encounters with Pope John Paul II

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Here are a few photos from visits to Rome that I made with students from the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa.

In 2000, we were lucky to attend a special Mass for the 80th birthday of JPII.    In 2004, we attended both a papal audience and the Canonization Mass for six saints, including a favorite of mine, St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Continue reading

“Son of God” Movie

This afternoon I had the chance to see the film “Son of God,” with my sister.   From what I understand, much of the footage came from last year’s “The Bible” mini-series.   While I was in Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Stephen Reichert of Madang lent us his copy of the mini-series (probably one of the few  in whole country), but I was only able to watch the first two episodes before we had to return it.  Therefore, I don’t know first hand if the film is just a re-edit of that footage or not. Continue reading

Feast of Saint Stephen – My Name Day

Carracci,_Annibale_-_The_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_1603-04

When I was younger, I never really liked my first name – Steven.  It seemed ordinary to me.  No pizzazz, not a name that anyone would think was cool.

I didn’t really have any other name in mind, but for awhile I thought I could go by my middle name – Craig.  I didn’t know any other Craigs so, it seemed like an option, but I knew I probably couldn’t make it stick.  My older sister was Christine.  Growing up everyone called her Tina, but in high school she managed to make the switch to Cris, with the intriguing missing ‘h’.    It only half worked though.  All the family older than her still called her Tina, but her siblings and friends all called her Cris, so she was even more intriguing by being one of those dual-named people.

According to my dad, I was supposed to be called Sean. That’s what my mother wanted, but somehow my dad, who didn’t like the name, pulled a switcheroo and had Steven written on my birth certificate. So let it be written, so let it be done!

Today is December 26th, the Feast of Saint Stephen, and so I’m celebrating my Name Day.  Almost like another birthday, those lucky enough to be named for a saint can celebrate their namesake’s feast day and revere him or her as a patron saint and an example for their life.   It’s a very cool tradition so I love it when parents pick traditional saint names for their kids.

I’ve known for quite awhile that the day after Christmas (also called Boxing Day) is Saint Stephen’s Day, but I really never gave much thought to why he was important or why his feast day would be placed where it is.   Now that I’ve learned more about our faith, I can really appreciate Saint Stephen and the very important role he had to play in the early Church.

Here (Acts 6:1) you can read how Stephen was chosen as one of the first deacons of the early Church, to assist the Apostles in their work within the community of disciples. You can also read here (Acts 6:8) how Stephen was debated by some of the people in the outer community, falsely accused and eventually brought before the Sanhedrin (the local Jewish court responsible for religious matters), accused of blasphemy.

Before the people and the court, Stephen gave a brave discourse on the history and stubbornness of  the Jewish people to see and accept the presence of the Holy Spirit among them.   They became so infuriated with him, that Stephen was cast out of the city and stoned to death, becoming the protomartyr, or first martyr of the Church.

During his homily today, Msgr. Gregory Gier, rector of Tulsa’s Holy Family Cathedral, made some very interesting points about why Saint Stephen, besides the fact of his martyrdom, is important to the history of the Church.

Saint Stephen, much like Christ, as he was dying, turned his soul over to the mercy of God, and prayed that his persecutors would be forgiven (Acts 7:60):

“Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.”

We know from Scripture, that one of persecutors of Saint Stephen was Saul, who would later be known as Saint Paul.  We also know that he was present at Stephen’s stoning; and,  was thus one of those whom he prayed for.    Saul, was not an evil person.  He was a very well educated and learned Jew.  He had dedicated himself to serving God, and because of that was a zealot against anything that went against current Jewish teaching.   He thought he was doing the will of God by persecuting the followers of Jesus.  It took a direct intervention by God to convert him and to convince him that Jesus was the Messiah.  You can read about the conversion of Saint Paul in Acts Chapter 9.

According to Msgr. Gier, it’s not wrong to attribute some of the grace from Saint Stephen’s death as a martyr, and his final prayer, to the conversion of St. Paul.  The answered prayer of the Church’s first martyr is the forgiveness and conversion of Saul and the creation of the Church’s apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul.

There’s so much to take from the story of Saint Stephen:

  • The power of the Holy Spirit passed from the Apostles to Stephen by the laying on of hands when he was made a deacon.
  • The example of Stephen as he served the community of disciples.
  • The example of Stephen as he confronts his accusers in the Sanhedrin.
  • The power of the Holy Spirit as Stephen dies, asking for his persecutors to be forgiven.
  • And how that prayer is answered in the conversion of Saint Paul.
  • The Church wouldn’t have had Saint Paul without the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.

What else can I say but I think it’s pretty cool to be named for Saint Stephen and I wouldn’t change it now that I understand what an honor it is.

If you get a chance to visit Rome, I urge you to visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  It’s the main shrine to Saint Paul and is said to be the site of his tomb.  As you stand before the altar, to the left you will see a side chapel dedicated to Saint Stephen.

St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of my favorite places to visit because, with that side chapel of Saint Stephen, you are constantly reminded of the role that he played in Saint Paul’s life and how any life can be redeemed and converted by the Holy Spirit.  I’ve been to that basilica three or four times and have been in all the other chapels and even the sacristy, but I’ve never been inside the chapel to Saint Stephen.  Someday, I’ll go there and find it open.

I also encourage you to visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, in Rome.  There you can visit the tombs of the deacons and martyrs St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, as well as the tombs of St. Pope Hilarius and Blessed Pope Pius IX.  What I love about this basilica is that they allow you to descend into the crypt where you can actually lay hands on the tombs of these great saints.  It’s such a blessing!

 

StStephenIconForWebThanks for reading all this!  I hope you take some inspiration from the story of Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen, pray for us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis Scares Me

(source: Catholic News Agency)

Yes, I said it.  Pope Francis scares me – but in a good and challenging way.

You’ve probably seen the photo of Pope Francis embracing the man with neurofibromatosis, and you may have read some of the articles written about that truly touching moment.  You may have even read some of the critical commentary that implies that this has all been overblown, over sentimentalized, over emotionalized.

Those are all good discussions.

For me, it’s all been about the internal dialogue that has been occurring inside me.

When I see some act like that of Pope Francis, I can’t help but try to put myself into the shoes of those involved.

The nameless man with the disease put himself forward to meet Pope Francis.  I have no knowledge of why he did this.  I don’t know what he was hoping for, but it took guts to do it.   I don’t want to make any assumptions about that.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but his act reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) which we heard recently in Mass.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector – an outcast in his society because of it.  He was “short in stature”, that is, different when compared with those around him.  When Jesus was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see him, so he climbed a sycamore tree – essentially “going out on a limb” for a better view.  Jesus, noticing Zacchaeus’ efforts to be closer to him, reaches out to him and treats him as a normal member of the community.

I see some parallels between this story in the Gospel and what Pope Francis did.

In his time, Pope Francis has constantly shown me in visible and humble ways how much higher the “love your neighbor as yourself”  bar is than I usually think.

I know I shouldn’t look for affirmations about my own faith and conduct only from the people I’m around.  It’s too easy to be complacent.   That’s why the examples of the saints and the saintly behavior of people like Pope Francis are important to consider and reflect upon.

Why does Pope Francis scare me?  Because in his simple actions, he shows me just how far off the mark I am.  How much more I could do.

How much more is being expected of us.  Of me.

Pope Francis makes it look so simple, but I struggle with the question:  “Can I do {THAT THING} that Pope Francis just showed us?”

When I try to put myself into his shoes, would I have been able to show love to that man, or would my instinctual fear, and yes, revulsion, have won the day?

And the next time I’m faced with a chance to show true love and charity, will I be brave enough to answer the call placed before me???

+++++

I was going to leave this post like that.  A hanging question in the ethereal air.

But then, providentially, this new article pops up on www.news.va as I’m editing this post and shows me what I was missing.  A marvelous story, called “An act of love for Noemi” , really should be read in its entirety.

But here’s the part that got to me.  Here Pope Francis is talking about a “communion of charisms”, which reminds me that the gifts I need to carry out what I’m called to do, what I will face each day, are freely given by the Holy Spirit and I needed not worry too much if I’m up to the task:

A second aspect of communion in holy things is the communion of charisms. The Holy Spirit distributes to the faithful a multitude of spiritual gifts and graces; the “imaginative” wealth, let us say, of gifts of the Holy Spirit is ordered to the building up the Church. The charisms — that world is a little difficult — are gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us, talents, possibilities…. Gifts given not to be hidden but to be shared with others. They are not given for the benefit of the one who receives them, but for the use of the People of God. If a charism, one of these gifts, serves instead as self-affermation [sic], then it is doubtful that we are dealing with an authentic charism or one faithfully lived out. The charisms are special graces, given to some for the good of many others. They are attitudes, inspirations and interior promptings that are born in the consciences and experiences of certain people, who are called to put themselves at the service of the community. In particular, these spiritual gifts further the sanctity of the Church and her mission. We are all called to respect them in ourselves and in others, to receive them as serving the Church’s fruitful presence and work. St Paul warns: “Do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19). Let us not quench the Spirit who gives us these gifts, these abilities, these very beautiful virtues that make the Church grow.  (source: www.news.va)

Pope Francis also reminds me that none of us is alone.  The Church as a community itself receives charisms from the Holy Spirit and if we work together, we can accomplish all those saintly acts, which we see in others, and more.

 

UPDATE:  I recently learned about the awesome cartoons of Jason Bach.  This one  is just right for this post:

http://www.jasonbachcartoons.com/catholic-11.html 

Blessed Peter ToRot

On Monday, July 8th, St. Fidelis Seminary and other Catholic institutions and parishes around PNG celebrated the annual feast day of Blessed Peter To Rot (pronounced “toe rote”).  He is the first (and so far, only) person to be recognized as a possible native born saint of Papua New Guinea. (There were many others, mostly foreign-born missionaries, that were also martyred in PNG during the war.)

 

About Blessed Peter To Rot

Peter To Rot was born around 1912 near Rabual on the island of New Britain, now a part of Papua New Guinea.  His parents, converts to Catholicism, immersed Peter and his siblings in the life of the Church in their village.  At age 18, Peter entered the Cathechist School at Taliligap.

At age 21, Peter returned to his village and began his work teaching in the parish school, visiting the sick, and proving to the people that he practiced what he preached.

Peter married in 1936 and began raising a family. By 1942, he and his wife had two children, a boy, Andreas, and a girl, Rufina.

In January 1942, the Japanese invaded the island and imprisoned all the missionaries working there, including the pastor of Peter’s parish.  Peter was left in charge of the parish.

At first, the Japanese ignored the work of the parish, the prayer gatherings and social programs.  As the war turned against them, the Japanese authorities forbad the people from praying to their God against the Japanese.

The Japanese also tried to curry support among the island’s tribal leaders by legalizing polygamy.  Peter spoke out strongly against this, calling the people to adhere to the Church’s teaching on marriage and insisted that they come to him to have their marriages witnessed.

Eventually Peter was reported to the Japanese authorities.  He was arrested along with his two brothers.  Peter was initially sentenced to two months in jail for his activities but was not released when the time came.  He received many visits from family and friends while in jail.  He assured the people that he was ready to die for the faith and urged them to continue to follow its teachings.

One night, while the other prisoners were taken away from the jail, Peter ToRot was beaten and poisoned by a lethal injection.

He was beatified by Bl. Pope John Paul on January 17, 1995 during his visit to Papua New Guinea.

 

Feast Day Mass

St. Fidelis celebrated the feast day of Bl. Peter ToRot on July 8th, transferred from the Sunday before.  An outdoor Mass was held in the coconut grove between the friary and the school buildings.

It was a small affair, just students, staff and their families.  Gratefully, the weather was clear and cloudy which kept it from being too hot or muggy, a nice treat.

 

Celebratory Mumu

Later that day, Archbishop Stephen Reichert, OFM Cap and our friends from the Padre Pio Capuchin Formation House joined us for a mumu (the local variant of a luau) prepared by the students.  Steamed pork, greens, bananas, cabbage and rice were prepared by fired heated stones in a large pit.    Sisters Ofelia and Helen prepared some fish dishes and a rice cake dessert.

A good time was had by all, as they say.

 

As always, here are some photos from the day.  Enjoy!

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Links

Here are a couple of links regarding Bl. Peter ToRot.  Some of the information above was synthesized from these sites.

Catholic.org

saints.sqpn.com

Walter’s Tale

This is Walter.  Say Hi!

Walter is a male cockatiel that belongs to my friends Andrew and Jessica.   I don’t remember how old Walter is, but he’s been Andrew’s pet at least 10 years I would guess.  He lived in St. Louis until about a year ago.

Last Christmas, Walter was a guest in my house for a week while Andrew and Jessica were away visiting family.  We bonded.  We shared Wheat Thins.

Five days ago, Walter flew away.  I never heard how it happened, but it was taken tragically by those that know him.   Walter has never been a free bird and it was doubtful that he would survive or be found. Continue reading

I have a plan …

I know I run the risk of seeming prideful or otherwise lacking in humility, but this post is mostly for me, as we begin Lent.

I think I have a healthy appreciation for the opportunities the season of Lent offers us, but lately I haven’t really embraced those opportunities.  Last year was particularly frustrating.  I didn’t have any clear ideas of what I wanted to do.  I vacillated so much that the season ended up being wasted.

So, to give myself some more concrete motivation, I’m going to post “my plan” for the world to see, or at least the 10 people who might actually read this.  You get to keep me honest.

Spiritual / Emotional

  • Eucharistic Adoration – I’ve been a slacker at having and adhering to scheduled time for Adoration.  A couple of years ago, I had a 4am time slot at the St. John Hospital’s perpetual adoration chapel.   I let it go when my job situation changed but never took a new time.   I’m going to try a few different times during Lent and hopefully find one that I can embrace going forward.  My goal is one hour per week of Lent.  Incidentally, I highly recommend those hours in the middle of the night.
  • Edifying Reading – I’ve been an avid reader since I was in elementary school.  Unfortunately, like many people, I’ve let TV and the Internet encroach on that habit too much.  Working from home has only made it worse as a constant temptation.  In addition to some pleasure reading that I have right now, I have the goal to make it through the following books during Lent:
    • The Holy Longing – by Ronald Rolheiser.  This is one of those books that I’ve started to read a couple of time, but never made it all the way through.  My friend John White has invited me to join an email reading group that is making its way through it.  I’m two chapters behind, so I have some catching up to do.
    • Walking with God – by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.  I picked this book up in 2010 when it first came out.  It’s been gathering dust, so it’s high time I cracked it open.
    • Understanding Exposure – by Bryan Peterson.  As an avid amateur photographer, this book was recommended to me as the “bible” for understanding how to shoot great photos.  With spring approaching, I’m hoping to have some time to experiment with some outdoor shooting in the coming months.

Three books seems ambitious to me, but I thought I would set a high mark.  I’ll keep you posted.

    • Write Easter letters to my CFCA sponsored children in Guatemala.  I always forget to do this in time for them to reach them before Easter.  With it on the list, I should get it done.
    • Daily Lenten Reflection – I haven’t decided how I’ll approach this yet, but it will either be via the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily Mass readings, or some other guide that I find.  Suggestions?

Physical / Emotional

  • Gym – I’d be the first one to admit that I need more exercise.  The winter is always tough on me when it comes being active, but I really have let it go on too long.  I signed up for a membership at the neighborhood YMCA and I anticipate using the pool there.  My goal is exercising at the Y or the neighboring LaFortune Park three times a week, minimum.  Gulp.
  • TV – As I mentioned above, TV has become too much of a distraction for me, so I’m going to limit myself to 1 hr a day.  This doesn’t include catching the evening news when needed.   I’m deleting some of the recording schedules from my DVR to reduce the temptation to gorge on TV on Sundays (not included in the days of Lent).
  • Facebook/WWF – Another temptation I face daily.   It’s pretty much useless time and my recent introduction to Words With Friends has only made it worse.  Away from me!  I do have to get on FB occasionally for work purposes, so I will attempt to keep that to a minimum.
  • 20 Bags – Spring cleaning is here and I have a goal to reduce the clutter in my home by 20 bags, boxes, or other donations to Catholic Charities and Goodwill.   If I don’t write it here, it won’t happen.
  • Reduce Caffeine – I go through these periods of overindulging in caffeinated beverages – usually too much coffee in the morning, followed by a never-ending glass of iced tea throughout the day.  I do well in avoiding soft drinks, but I can do better.  I can’t put a goal on this one, because caffeine can be a bit hard to avoid sometimes.

Add a little fruit to my diet, and that’s the list.  What do you think?  If you know me, is this doable?

To me, this list is more of a spiritual exercise than it might seem to the casual visitor.  Reducing meaningless distractions like Facebook and TV, and concentrating more on reading, prayer, and the work I need to do, will definitely help me focus on things better and to think through the decisions that I have to make this year.

What’s your plan?  Care to share?  Care to go on record for the world to see?

Howdy! (New English Roman Missal)

Howdy!

Or perhaps I should be more exact and say “How do you do today?”

(See what I did there?  I translated my Okie greeting into more specific and more understandable English.)

So, about 96 days from when I’m writing this, the English-speaking parts of the Catholic Church will begin using a new English version of the Roman Missal.  This will be the 3rd official version of the Missal approved by the Church.    Only the third one since we began organizing all the various texts into one book more than 450 years ago.

What’s the Roman Missal, you ask?  It’s the ritual text that contains all the prayers and instructions for the celebration of the Holy Mass.    It’s a big deal.

The English version, and all the other language versions, are translations from the “official” Latin language Roman Missal that is issued by the Vatican with the approval of many, many people including the Pope.

There’s quite a bit of hub-bub about this new English Missal.  It’s taken many years to complete and there is quite a bit of confusion about why it’s being issued.  There’s also some resistance by some people who don’t want to change the prayers they’ve used their entire lives.  Understandable to have these feelings, but in my opinion, they are based on misunderstandings of the reasons for the changes.

I ran across the following three videos produced by Life Teen that give a brief yet entertaining explanation of the changes, the process involved, etc.  There’s one for adults/parent, one for teens, and one for middle school age kids.

They don’t tell the whole story, but I think they’re a good start and will hopefully open the minds of folks who are scared of change.

Have a look at these and let me know what you think in the comments.

Parent Version

Teen Version (my favorite!)

Middle School Version

 

Thanks to the Christe, Audi Nos! blog for pointing the way to these videos.

Pilgrimage to Rome

I am enormously privileged to be going to Rome this week and witnessing the Beatification of Pope John Paul II.

I’ve been to Rome several times before and saw Pope John Paul II on three occasions.

I took this photo standing alongside his popemobile route through St. Peter’s Square on May 18, 2000.   This was a special Mass commemorating his 80th birthday.   What a joyous occasion and we couldn’t  believe how close we were allowed to get.  I could have touched him (with a little help, perhaps).

I was there with about 25 students from the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa on the first of our yearly pilgrimages to Europe.

We returned to Rome four years later (May 2004) with another group of students and were even more blessed with chances to see JPII.

Somehow, I’m still not sure how this worked out, but we had the awesome privilege of attending the Mass for the canonization of six new saints  Luigi Orione, Hannibal Mary Di Francia, José Manyanet y Vives, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, Paola Elisabetta Cerioli, Gianna Beretta Molla.

You can get a sense of the joyful atmosphere and see the portraits of the new saints on the fascade of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a bit like attending a football game with groups chanting and singing and sharing information about their favorite saint.  I had never heard of St. Gianna Beretta Molla before this day but was very moved to see her husband and daughter present the saint’s relics to the Holy Father.  Can you imagine what it must have been like for your wife or mother to be canonized as a saint!?  She has since become a favorite of mine and a true testament to the sanctity of life.

Even more astounding, a few days later we attended the pope’s weekly audience and had tickets to sit on the platform next to the altar.  Our bishop, Most Reverend Edward Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, was in Rome for his ad limina visit and secured these seats for our group.  What an honor and privilege to be so close to the Holy Father while he spoke.   It was difficult to get good photos from there and not cause a disruption, but here’s one that suffices.

It was a very sad day when he died, about a year after this trip.  What a tremendous library of writings and speeches he left us; and such a testimony and Christian witness during his final months.  Who doesn’t remember where they were during Holy Week of 2005 and the following weeks of his final decline, death, and funeral, followed by the Conclave of cardinals and the election of Pope Benedict?

It is enormously significant to me to be able to witness Pope John Paul II’s Mass of Beatification and to see Pope Benedict in person.  I can hardly believe that I’ll be there in a few days.

I will do my best to share my experiences as much as I can while in Rome.  I hope you’ll join me.

Honor John Paul II on YouTube!

Fr. Roderick over at SQPN had a great idea for the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II.

He is inviting people to create short video testimonies about their memories of JPII and upload them to YouTube. A really fine way to document his legacy!

Learn more over at SQPN at this link.

St. Damien

 

St. Damien of Moloka'i

I have a new devotion to St. Damien of Moloka’i.

 

If you don’t know about St. Damien, his story of devotion to the lepers on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i is truly inspiring.   You would do well to read about him.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few links:

Dr. Paul Camarata and his SaintCast have a couple of episodes dedicated to St. Damien.

Article on American Catholic
Article on Catholic Online

Why the sudden new devotion?

 

Last night, I had the opportunity to see a performance of the one-man play “Damien” written  by Aldyth Morris.  It was performed by a wonderful actor, Casey Groves.

Although there was a very small audience for this particular performance, his portrayal was very powerful and captivating.   Here’s a link to Casey’s website where you can see a bit of video of the play.

I seem drawn to  missionary saints and truly respect the special devotion it took for them to leave family and home to serve God and the Church.  So many of the struggled tremendously and faced certain martyrdom.

St. Damien is a great example of this type of devotion, knowing full well that he would face the same terrible disease afflicting his parishioners.

His relics are currently in Tulsa and I plan to visit them later today.

iPilgrim Podcast

A few years ago, my good friends Jim and Tom, and I spent three weeks walking the pilgrimage route in Spain call the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

I’ve been lucky recently to participate as a commentator on a brand new podcast about the Camino called the “iPilgrim Podcast.”

Give it a listen at http://www.ipilgrimpodcast.com or subscribe to it through iTunes.

Unless a grain of wheat …


I ran across this article on CNN.com and the accompanying video called “Dying for Life.” It all seems very strange to me, but the idea is to prevent people who are considering suicide from killing themselves. “We can’t understand death simply by talking about it. People truly experience death by participating in it and being reborn.”

Aside from the macabre ideas, I couldn’t help but be reminded about the following passage from the Gospel of John:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. (John 12:24-26)

This passage seems to come up from time to time as I think about my life and where it is going. Perhaps it’s a midlife sort of thing, but I seem to have a frequent urge to drastically change my life, to take the road less traveled, to be that radical person who casts his cares aside to seek a different kind of future. A future that encompasses things that are not “what is normally expected.”

Most of the time I feel too cowardly to actually do anything like this. I wonder what it takes to get to that jumping off point and make that “leap of faith”?


To Be Salty

I have been privileged to know and to have worked with many fine priests.

One of my favorites is Fr. Jack Gleason, pastor of my home parish, the Church of the Madalene, in Tulsa.

Above all, his pastoral care in times of tragedy and trouble has been all I could ever have hoped for.

He is also that rare priest whose homilies frequently seem to bore right into your soul and speak to to you in that special way.  That way which gives you assurance that those words are from God and have particular meaning especially for you.

Fr. Jack’s homily last Sunday was one of those special moments and I wanted to record my thoughts about it while they are still fresh in my mind.

The Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary time (Year A), is from Matthew 5:13-16:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

I’ve heard and read this passage many times, but the way the Fr. Jack expounded on it really resounded in me.  I listened to the podcast recording of this homily again and I’m going to paraphrase some of what he said, along with some of my own thoughts.

Christ tells us that we are “the salt of the earth.”  But what does that really mean?  We know that salt is necessary for life.  We also know that salt has no purpose unto itself.   It is useful to flavor and preserve other things.

Christ calls us not to be just virtuous, but also to be “salt.”  That is, to “raise the level of the flavor in every human activity and therefore to transform it.”

“What is ordinary can be delightful if seasoned with joy,with fidelity, and with our good works.”

If salt loses its taste it becomes insipid (bland, without distinctive, interesting, or stimulating qualities).  Apparently, the word “insipid” shares some of the same Greek roots as the word “sophomore,”   (sophos wise + mōros foolish), literally meaning a wise fool.

So, to lose taste, to become bland, is to become foolish. A thing is wisest is when it most knows itself.  It tastes more like what it is meant to be.

“Wise salt” gives flavor to the world and helps preserve what is good.  “Foolish salt” has lost its taste and no longer heightens flavor and no longer preserves anything.  It can only be thrown out and trampled under foot.

Since salt is not for itself but gives flavor to other things, it is directed outward.  Christians likewise, in order to be “salty” are also called to be directed outward.  We are called to do something “out there.”  To do something for “them.”

Insipid, bland Christians are foolish Christians who have forgotten who they truly are.  They have forgotten their role in society.  They have become blended into secular culture and are just as bland as everyone around them.

When we say that someone is “salty,” we usually mean that he uses colorful language.  Even if his language is inappropriate, we would agree that he doesn’t blend in, rather he sticks out and is noticed.

We are called not to blend in but to bring life, to bring flavor, zest and joy of what it means to be a Christian into the world.  We are called to know who we are and not to forget our identity.  If we think like everyone else, act like everyone else, if you can’t tell any difference between us and every other person, what good are we?

When we are what we are meant to be, His salvation will resound throughout the world.  As Catholics, we must show the world who we are, what our distinctive flavor is, and not be afraid to show what makes us different.

Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

We cannot be the salt of the earth if we hide it from others.  To be salty is also to be the light set on a lampstand for all to see.

So, this leaves us with a new perspective on the Christian journey.  What makes you salty?  What is your distinctive flavor that God asks you to bring to the world?  What are you doing with it?

Why are you hiding?

Christmas Stories

If you happen upon this little blog of mine, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and my prayers that life is peaceful for you.

It seems to me that the creative people out there have done an excellent job using online media to tell the Christmas story, this year.  By now you’ve probably seen the “Digital Story of the Nativity.” [link].

It was my favorite until my friend Nick Padley sent me the link for this video, called “The Christmas Story.”

I know you will enjoy it.  Pass it along.  There are many out there who need to hear it.

… and then there was a party!

Our Lady of Perpetual Hope

Some of you have asked how you can help with my upcoming trip to Haiti.   Here’s a great way!

The patron saint of Haiti is Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Notre Dame de Bon Secours).  If you happen to read this entry on the date of its posting, you can join me in a novena of prayer in support of the people of Haiti and for the safety of our trip.  We will arrive in Haiti nine days from today.

The novena, and more information about Our Lady of Perpetual Help, can be found here. Additional information can also be found over at saints.sqpn.com.

Incidentally, I happened upon the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope accidentally one day in Rome 3 years ago.  As I recall, I was walking down the street when I passed the Church of St. Alphonsus.  I think it sits above the street by a number of steps and as I passed, the doors were open and I could see the icon in an alcove or side altar, from where I stood on the street.  It drew me in and I spent a few minutes in the church before the image.  I’ve had a devotion to Her since then.

(As of late last night, after a group meeting and a phone conversation with people currently at the mission, WE ARE A GO FOR OUR VISIT NEXT WEEK!)

"Rather Beg Than Steal"

Everyone involved in ministry eventually encounters a panhandler.  As a campus minister, I dealt with a few every semester, usually during the colder weather.  I had different ways of dealing with them, depending on the situation. As a student center, and not a parish, we didn’t have any resources at hand to help the general public in need, so I would either try to send them along to a nearby parish, let them know how to contact a social services agency, or give them a few bucks out of my own pocket.

Catholic social justice teaching encourages us to have a special “option for the poor,” a calling to do more for those in most need, to lift them up out of poverty which cuts them off from so much more than just monetary considerations.  The problem is compounded by not knowing just how to help a particular person and not knowing the truth and legitimacy of the need.

If you drive around most cities, you will often see a “panhandler” standing at an intersection, holding a sign of some sort, hoping for donations from a passerby.  These fleeting encounters tug at our heartstrings and force us to make a quick decision in the time before the traffic light changes.

Perhaps I’ve become a little callous because of the encounters I’ve had before, but I have to be honest and say that I don’t trust these drive-by panhandlers.  I don’t feel compelled to help them in this way.  Instead, I try to find other ways to help the poor in my community.

Just a few minutes ago, I passed a man at a particularly busy intersection.  He was holding a crumpled rumpled cardboard sign with the message “Rather Beg Than Steal” scrawled upon it.  I’ve seen this particular phrase before, but today I caught my attention and made me pensive about its meaning.

Is this a statement of personal conviction?  Is this a warning, meant to guilt us into helping out as a way of preventing a crime?

I would prefer to see it as a plea for understanding, a plea of distress, a last resort before surrendering dignity and morality in the face of truly dire straits.  Does this make me want to give to this man more than before?

When my youngest nephew was confirmed, Bishop Curlin, now Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Charlotte, told us a story of traveling in India with Mother Teresa.  While walking the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa stopped to minister to a dying man on the streets.  Later, Bishop Curlin asked her how she always found the strength to reach out to others.  Paraphrasing from my poor memory, she said that “the Christ in her speaks to the Christ in others.”

Being made in the image and likeness of God, we know that Christ is in each human being, even if he doesn’t recognize it or accept it.  Basic human dignity compels us to help.  Upon reflection, I do feel a bit of guilt for not giving money to the man soliciting on the corner.

I know that 9 out of 10 such donations are probably not going to people who truly need the help.  This money is probably going to feed an addiction or for other spurious purposes. But perhaps that 1 out of 10 is enough.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,

and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,

naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:31-40)