Monthly Archives: August 2014

22st Sunday of the Year. A. Thinking Like Human Beings

 

To listen to this weeks homily just select the audio below:

Last week in the gospel Jesus called Peter the rock on which he would build his church. Today he calls him “Satan” and tells him to get away from him.

In the gospels Peter is usually the voice of common sense. That’s what you would expect from a fisherman making his living on the sea. When storms come, get out of their way and head for port.

And so when Jesus speaks of the storms of suffering and death he will face on his journey to Jerusalem, Peter advises him to turn away. “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” The voice of common sense.

But Jesus reminds Peter (and us along with him) that he is thinking “as human beings do.” He even calls him “Satan.” He tells Peter, and all of us, to think as God thinks.

Our readings today remind us of the limitations of human thinking. Jeremiah the prophet says to God in our first reading “You have deceived me.” “You have let me down; you don’t love me; you don’t care.” We only see so far as human beings. When the mystery of the cross casts shadows of sickness, failure and disappointment over us, it’s hard for us to say “I see, I understand, your will be done.”

We’re limited in the way we think. How, then can we think as God wishes us to think? Certainly we can’t know all that God knows. God’s thoughts, God’s mind is infinitely beyond ours.

Thinking like God means knowing the world God made and living in it as God wants us to.

I wonder if the signs of the bread and the wine we bring to the altar can help us see what it means to know the world God made and live in it as God wishes us to live in it.

As we offer the bread to God at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread is a sign of everything, of all creation, we say, creation as it has been given to us by God and creation our hands have fashioned.

Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago.

About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The universe is represented in this bread; it holds the story of the universe.

About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in this bread. Our lives are part of the human story.

We believe that God created our world and it’s is good. The Book of Genesis tells us that. God has a plan for this universe. The scriptures say there’s wisdom and love in that plan. His kingdom will come.

We all have to care for this world, each of us has a part to play in that greater plan.

But we also know the mystery of evil is at work in our world and the mystery of evil is also represented in this bread.

When Jesus took bread into his hands at the Last Supper we have to see the magnitude of that action. He took all created reality, all human existence, the goodness and evil of life in his hands. He was a sign of God’s love and care for all of it. He took it in his hands and gives it to us, in turn, blessed by his presence.

“This is my body.” “This is my blood.”

How significant it is that he gives himself to us in bread and wine. It’s an invitation to live in this world, depending on his wisdom and power. He will show us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Augustine

Augustine

The Word of God, maker of time, becoming flesh was born in time.

Born today, he made all days.

Ageless with the Father, he was born of a mother, entering our years.

Man’s maker became man; the ruler of the stars sucked at a mother’s breasts,

Bread hungered,

the Fountain thirsted,

the way was wearied by the journey,

the truth stood accused by false witnesses,

the life slept,

the judge of the living and the dead was judged by a human judge,

justice was condemned by injustice,

the righteous was beaten by whips,

the cluster of grapes was crowned with thorns,

the upholder of all hung from a tree,

strength became weak,

health was stricken with wounds,

life died.

He humbled himself that we might be raised up.

He suffered evil that we might receive good,

Son of God before all days, son of man these last days,

from the mother he made, from the woman who would never be, unless he made

her.  (Augustine, Sermon 191, 1; PL 38, 1010)

21st Sunday of the Year: Listen to the Prayers

 

To listen to the audio for the Homily, please select the link below:

One of the most important things we do as Catholics is to come to Mass and pray. I’d like to reflect on the prayers of the Mass, in particular the Eucharistic Prayer. They’re good guides to prayer at Mass, but before reflecting on the prayers themselves I want to say something that has to be said today.

Praying at Mass begins with us being there. Praying at Mass begins with us showing up.

Someone once said “Most of life is showing up.” I don’t think we realize how much we need each other “showing up” in church. Suppose the music ministers didn’t show up, the readers, the ministers of communion, the altar servers, the ushers, the deacon, the priest didn’t show up?

We notice people at Mass week after week, year after year. We encourage each other. I often feel in awe watching someone coming into church in a wheelchair or on oxygen support, or mothers and fathers dragging their kids in. Showing up together is a key to praying at Mass.

We’re at Mass to give thanks. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the priest says at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. When we celebrate Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God together.

What does it mean to thank God? The English writer, C.S. Lewis, has a wonderful reflection on thanking God in a little book he wrote on the psalms. (Reflections on the Psalms) Lewis turned away from God for awhile. When he returned and began to pray again he was bothered by the way our prayers urge us again and again to thank God. Why do we keep on praising God, he wondered? Was God a “prima donna” or a dictator looking for our adulation?

After thinking about it, Lewis said he realized that thanksgiving and praise are embedded in ordinary human life. To be thankful and to praise are actually signs of a healthy life. Ordinary life rings with praise and thanksgiving, he wrote:

There’s “…praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars.”

Healthy people praised most, Lewis noticed; cranks and malcontents praise least. He came to the conclusion that praise and thanksgiving are indications of an “inner health made visible.”

That’s true, isn’t it? People who are inwardly healthful praise most; cranks and discontented people praise least. The self-absorbed see only themselves and their little world. Those who lose an appreciation of life because of hurt, loss, or disappointment can lose the ability to enjoy and give thanks and praise.

When we come to Mass, it seems to me, we’re looking for the inner health God wants us to have. It’s so easy to sink in smallmindedness, self-absorption. It’s so easy to let the hurts and sufferings of life get us down. We need to be lifted up to a higher vision of things.

That’s what happens in the mystery of the Eucharist. Do you remember the prayers at beginning of our Eucharistic prayer, the little dialogue that introduces the prayer?

“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.”

“Lift up your hearts.” “We have lifted them up to the Lord.”

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” “It is right and just.”

The Lord is with us, lifting up our hearts and minds to a greater world that God wants us to see. Like the water poured into the wine, we enter the prayer and vision of Jesus Christ and are lifted up into another, higher world, the world of God’s creation. We give thanks to the Lord, our God in that world, and it’s the right thing to do.

In the Eucharistic Prayer we give thanks for the special gift of the God of Creation: Jesus Christ, who came into the world as God’s Son. Remembering the mysteries of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection, we give thanks for him. And he blesses us with the blessings of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection.

He refreshes us by these mysteries. We’re fed by them. They’re food from heaven that gives us a heavenly vision.

Listen carefully to the prayers of the Mass and make them your own

Water and Wine

A woman at the church where I go on weekends stopped me recently and asked for the pope’s address; she wanted to write him about something. I was curious and enquired what it was about.

 “The prayers at the offertory of the Mass are so beautiful,” she said, “and I want him to tell all the priests to recite those prayers out loud so we can hear them.”

 I’ve heard comments like hers lately; people are listening to the prayers at Mass and elsewhere and want to know more about them. There’s criticism of the present translations of our Mass texts, of course, but still the prayers and actions of the Mass remain the best ways we have to understand the mystery we celebrate.

The woman was especially touched by the mingling of water with the wine that takes place after they’re brought to the altar. As he pours a little water into the wine, the priest says:

“By the mystery of this water and wine

may we come to share in the divinity of Christ

who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

The wine represents the humble Christ who comes into our world that we may share in his life. The water, so insignificant, represents us who become sharers in his divinity in this mystery.

A priest I know helped out in one of Mother Teresa’s missions in India for awhile and when he was leaving, he told her he was going to pray for her and her sisters. “Just remember us when you put the little drops of water into the chalice at Mass,” she told him.

We’re the water mixed with wine.

20th Sunday A: Scraps from the Table

 For an audio of the homily:

My mother (God rest her) used to sneak food under the table regularly to her beloved cocker spaniel, Buffy. Sometimes, when I visited home after becoming a priest I’d say to her–in a losing attempt to keep Buffy’s weight down– “Mom, you shouldn’t feed that dog scraps from the table.”

She’d reply, “You don’t live here. Besides, I’m not feeding him scraps from the table. He’s eating the same food we eat.”

I could never understand the logic of her answer, but I gradually gave up trying to stop her. And I remember her every time I hear this gospel,

Jews and gentiles didn’t mix in Jesus’ time and as an observant Jew from Nazareth, Jesus usually avoided eating with them and entering their homes. After his baptism in the Jordan he saw himself sent first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But then, gentiles like the Roman centurion from Capernaum and this Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon came to him.

Matthew’s gospel says the woman was “calling out” to him from a distance, asking him to cure her daughter, but Jesus doesn’t answer. She keeps calling out in spite of his silence. “Send her away,” his disciples say, but the woman persists and even draws nearer.

“It’s not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus finally says. But the woman’s answer has a logic of its own. “Please Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that come from their master’s table.” “ Let it be done for you as you wish,” he says and God fed her from the table.

Jesus’ answer to the woman sounds hard, doesn’t it? But sometimes doesn’t the silence of God seem just like that? A daughter’s sick, a wife is dying of cancer, a child is taken away so young. Is the woman calling out to Jesus an example that persistent prayer is always heard, even if God seems silent, even when God seems not to care?

The Storm at Sea: 19th Sunday A

You can hear the homily here: 

I visited Magdala along the Sea of Galilee a few months ago and since then I think differently about the apostles, especially  fishermen apostles like Peter and Andrew, James and John. Magdala, the city of Mary Magdalen, was a center for the fishing industry in Galilee in Jesus’ time, according to archeologists who recently uncovered the city.

It evidently was a prosperous place, and so far from being “poor and ignorant” many of the Galilean fishermen were well-off, savy businessmen who knew their way around.

Did Jesus choose them and the tax-collector, Matthew, because they knew the territory well and would be good guides to  the places he wanted to visit? They knew where to go and how to get there: the Sea of Galilee was their usual highway

But a storm like that described in our gospel today (Matthew 14,22-33) would shake anybody, even the most self-asssured.

When we read a miracle story like the calming of the sea and someone walking on water, we shouldn’t just stop in amazement at the power of Jesus. There’s a lesson to be learned in the story. What’s the lesson here?

Perhaps  like Peter and the rest of the disciples we can easily fall into thinking that there are some things beyond God’s power–and ours– to do. These were confident men, yet their faith was shaken, like ours often is. When told by Jesus to walk on the water, Peter believed up to a point, then he said, “This can’t be; it’s not possible; it’s beyond his power and mine to do.” In fear and doubt he began to sink.

Doesn’t this happen to us too? We believe, up to a point, and then we doubt. Our doubts about God’s power can be brought about by major events in our world, as ovewhelming as a storm at sea. Wars, terrorist attacks, global warming. How quickly we throw up our hands as if this is all beyond God’s power and ours.

We are all in the same boat. Take a look at the boat on the Sea of Galilee–it’s  the world on the sea of history, it’s the church in time. In storms, they may both look like they’re going to sink. But they wont. Jesus is in the boat.

That’s what the mystery of the Incarnation tells us.

Father Quentin Amrhein (1926-2014)

 

Sower

 

Yesterday I preached the homily at the Mass for Christian Burial for Father Quentin Amrhein, a Passionist priest who died at Queens Hospital, New York City, on July 31st and was buried at St. Paul’s Monastery, Pittsburgh, Pa., August 7, 2014. He was a member of the community at Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, New York, at the time of his death.

“Each of us is a witness to the gospel; we’re living gospels, however imperfect we may seem. What gospel did we see in Quentin?

We’ve been reading the parables of Jesus recently at Mass; the parable of the sower; the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, the mustard seed, the parable of the net cast into the sea. I wonder if Quentin’s life might tell what some of those parables mean. Parables need to be explained and sometimes the best explanation comes, not from books, but from people who are living gospels.

God the Sower is one of Jesus’ most important parables. He’s the sower who sows seed in the field of humanity. He never stops sowing; from the first moment of creation, from the first moment of our lives, God is at work sowing good seed. Sometimes the growth is quick and obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the growth is delayed, but all our life long, God is the sower sowing good seed. And he doesn’t stop.

In a poem called “Putting in the Seed” Robert Frost describes what he calls “a farmer’s love affair with the earth.” It’s spring and getting dark, but the farmer keeps working his field. Someone from the house goes to fetch him home. Supper’s on the table, yet he’s a

“ Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

On through the watching for that early birth

When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes

Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

Isn’t that a good image of God: a Sower, passionately in love with our world, casting saving grace on it in season and out, and watching it grow?

God blessed Father Quentin. He came from a good Pittsburgh family with strong Passionist roots. His grand uncle, Father Joseph Amrhein, served the Passionist community in Rome and in the United States. His uncle, Father Leonard Amrhein, was a missionary in China and then the Philippines. His younger brother, Raphael, was a Passionist priest, and his sister, Mary, was a Passionist Nun who died a missionary in Japan. Quentin was always proud and grateful for his family.

He was blessed by God with a keen mind and an exceptional memory. Those who knew him marveled at the way he recalled in detail things that took place 20, 30, 40 years ago. I remember him telling me the line-up of the 1944 Pittsburgh Pirates.

But much of Quentin’s life was clouded by sickness of one kind or another, which prevented him from doing many of the ministries a Passionist priest does. He loved preaching, yet for many years he wasn’t able to preach. He loved to study, and yet sickness kept him from doing that as well.

What we noticed in him in recent years, though, was not the sickness but the way he persevered through the suffering and disappointments that sickness brings. He wasn’t beaten by it; he fought the good fight. He was an exceptional fighter. At our wake service for him in Jamaica, a doctor and members of the medical community who cared for him through recent life-threatening crises spoke admiringly of Quentin’s determination to live. He came back again and again from death’s door.

How did he do it? Was it simply him? Was it his strong personality, good constitution, or German determination? We usually explain things like this in purely human terms.

Yet, if the gospel is at work in us, was God at work in him? Do we see in him God the Sower tending the life of his seed and seeing it grow?

Last week before he died, Father Quentin celebrated and preached at the community Mass at our Jamaica monastery. He hadn’t done that in years. The thirty of us who were there that day will remember that Mass for a long time, I think. It was a beautiful Mass: we were watching a promise come true. A resurrection, a Lazarus come to life.

It was like watching the birth of a seed, as Frost describes it in his poem:

“The sturdy seedling with arched body comes

Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

I said to Father Quentin after that Mass, “ I hope you are going to do that again.” “Yes, I am,” he said, “ the vicar has me down for celebrating Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration.” Then he went on to tell me with his usual enthusiasm, how the Lord shares his glory with us as he did Moses and Elijah and the apostles. But first, we have to follow him in suffering, as he told his apostles when he predicted his passion to them.

Last Wednesday was the Feast of the Transfiguration, but Quentin was not going to preach that day. God was going to bring him up the mountain to share his glory with him.

We’re living gospels and Quentin was a gospel to us. He’s a reminder that God the Sower is always at work in the world, in a world where we think that people with long term disabilities are going nowhere, in a world where we think that life ends with youth, in a world where we think that suffering has no meaning, where we think there’s no resurrection and God has given up on us.

The Gospel of Quentin. I know he would be the last to call it his gospel, because he saw it as the gospel of Jesus, whom he served and love and prayed to and relied on all his life. Today as we commend him to God we read from the Gospel of John a passage he himself chose for this Mass.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.”

The seed has fallen to the ground, but it will bear much fruit.”

(Vincent Van Gogh painted the Sower (above) many times and found the subject filled with spiritual significance. He once said “one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here.”).

The Miracle of the Loaves – 18th Sunday

Select the link below to hear this week’s Homily:

The miracle of the loaves could have been accomplished easier; Jesus could have simply snapped his finger and a banquet would have been spread out for the hungry crowds that followed him to that deserted place. After all, he is “the Word, through whom you made the universe,” the Creator God who can make things out of nothing.

But he didn’t do it that way. When his disciples tell him how hungry the people are, Jesus tells them “Give them some food yourselves.” They point out quickly how small their resources are: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Jesus tells them to bring what they have; he blesses it, and their bread and the fish become not only sufficient for the crowd, but an abundant feast.

How quickly we throw up our hands before the challenges life brings. We think only miracles will do.  Like the disciples, we say “We don’t have enough.” We are not wise enough, strong enough, rich enough, talented enough, old enough, young enough. It looks too hard, and we have nothing. Send it all away.

But Jesus our Savior does not agree. He asks us to take our small resources and bring them to him. Let him bless them; then, they are not too little or inadequate. He gives them a power beyond what we can imagine.

As Savior, he joins our efforts to his in bringing life to the world.

The Lord’s Prayer, Norm for Every Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is the norm for every prayer. That’s true of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, in which we thank God, our Father, for blessing us “always and everywhere.” In its words and the actions that accompany it, we pray the Lord’s Prayer in another form.

As we do in the Lord’s Prayer, we call God “Our Father” at Mass and thank him for the blessings we receive as his children.

God’s blessings are symbolized in bread and wine. At Mass bread has the same manifold meaning  we find in the Lord’s Prayer when we ask “Give us this day our daily bread.” It stands for “our daily bread,” the whole of creation, the bread of everything, “the True Bread come down from heaven.”

Bread and wine are signs of God’s past and present blessings. They also promise of a new creation and new life to come.

In bread and wine, we bring to our heavenly Father everything he has given to us. At Mass, Jesus Christ, our priest, takes them in his hands as he did at the Last Supper and gives them new meaning. He gives thanks to his Father for all his gifts and gives himself to us as God’s supreme Gift.  “Take, eat and drink, this is my body; this is my blood.”

He gives us in himself all the gifts of creation as well as the promise of a new creation surpassing this one.  “God’s kingdom is coming,” he said and he himself is the way to it.

“Your will be done.” Jesus fulfilled God’s will when he came. He showed his Father’s love in a love “poured out” for the forgiveness of sins. In his death and resurrection we’re promised a way to a kingdom to come.

The Lord’s Prayer is at the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer. With Jesus we pray to Our Father in heaven, who gives his children gifts without measure. With Jesus we ask to do his will and work that his kingdom come. We receive Jesus Christ as our daily bread, our food and drink, our teacher and Lord. He is the shepherd who leads us through the temptations of this life.

After praying the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, which the priest representing Jesus prays in our name, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. It’s a summary of the Eucharistic prayer and our preparation to receive the Bread of Life.