Sunday, July 31, 2011


"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."  (Psalm 146:6)

Last Thursday was one of those days.  Back and forth to the hospital.  Six different sick calls.  People pulling me in different directions.  I didn't mind.  I live for days like this.  But as the day went on, it began to take it's toll.  Each sick call was more heart breaking than the one before.  I was finishing up at the hospital late in the day when I went to visit one more patient, except she wasn't there.  There was a little old lady out for a stroll with her walker outside the room, and I asked her if she was the patient I was looking for.  She said with a thick Polish accent that the lady I was looking for had been taken downstairs for some tests, so I stopped at the nurses station to catch my breath and to go over my list of patients while this little old lady stood in front of me.  "You're a father?"  She asked as I looked down at perfectly black clergy suit.  "Yes, I am."  I smiled back at her.  "If you're a father, then you should know what this is," and she pointed to her arms.  At first, I thought she was pointing to her medical bracelet, so I leaned forward and caught I glimpse.  "It's your medical bracelet," I said.  "It says your name is Millie."  "No, no," she responded with frustration, "what is this?!?!"  She pointed to some markings on the skin near her left elbow.  They were faded blue, and at first I thought of something but immediately put it out of my head.   It looked like a faded tattoo, but I didn't want to say that because they also looked like veins.  I'm not a skin expert, so I didn't want to guess incorrectly because she was growing increasingly frustrated.  "I don't know what that is," I answered sheepishly.  "You a father!  And you don't know what this is!"  She got very agitated as I continued to shrug my shoulders.  "This is problem if a father doesn't know what this is!  This is why everyone forgets!"  She kept pointing to her markings, "This is from Holocaust!"  My heart sank into my stomach.  I had seen those markings before.  I tried to find an appropriate excuse for my ignorance, and I told her that I should have known this because I had met Holocaust survivors before.  At this point the entire hospital seemed like it didn't exist and that it was just Millie and I in that hallway.  I engaged her in conversation and asked her where she got those markings:  "The very worst of all--Auschwitz!"  Probably the most evil word in the English language.  She went on to tell me that she was the only one to survive from her family.  She lost her mother and father there.  And now she didn't have anyone to visit her.  We spoke for about 20 minutes and it seems, I hope, that she slowly started to take a liking to me.  I tried to speak to her about hope and overcoming adversity.  At the end, she finally told me, "you nice priest."  And she let me go on my way.  But for the rest of the evening I could not forget about my encounter with Millie.  Up until the moment I met her, I had been complaining about how hectic and exhausting my day had been, but then I met someone who dealt with and to a certain extent was still dealing with great adversity.  My petty problems seemed trivial.  Here was a woman who after 66 years was still crying out to God hungering and thirsting for justice.  Yet, she overcame probably the darkest hour in the history of humanity and still managed to make it to Synagogue to pray to God for peace.

It doesn't matter how many obstacles life throws at us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God as St. Paul tells us in today's second reading.  He invites those who are thirsty and those who are hungry to come to him.  This is exactly what I told Millie when I took my leave of her.  I gave her a kiss on the forehead and asked her to pray for me.  "I will," she answered, "and you pray for peace."  In the face of the greatest problems the world can throw at us, we can always turn to God.  As we hear in today's responsorial psalm, he feeds us and he answers all our needs.  

Each of us walked into this church today with our own problems, burdens, anxieties, and we can either let them become obstacles that overwhelm us, or we can place them here at this altar at the feet of the Lord.  Our God provides for us in our moment of need.  He fed the hungry people in today's gospel, and he stands ready to feed each of us as we gather around this altar.  The gospel says that the five thousand ate and were satisfied.  They were satisfied because they left everything behind to follow Jesus into a deserted place.  They did not bring their problems with them.  They went in search of the living God and were fed by his mighty hand.  Too often we let life's obstacles stand in the way of our relationship with Christ, and we think that maybe somehow God has abandoned us.  This is something Millie admitted to me.  But it is precisely in those dark moments that we must turn to Romans 8:38-39:  "For I am convinced, that neither death,nor life, nor angel, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Like those markings are permanently tattooed on Millie's left elbow, this verse must be permanently tattooed in our hearts so that we may never feel discouraged, stressed out, or abandoned.  Our God is a loving and generous God.  Today he invites us to be fed at this table, but we must place our burdens at his feet and allow him to take care of us.  It is only then the we can freely eat and be totally satisfied.  It sometimes takes the Millie's of the world to bring proper perspective to the problems we carry with us and to remind us of how much God truly loves us.  I prayed for her that night, and still can't get this little old lady of our my head.  A living reminder of God's might hand.  A reminder that the hand of the Lord does feed his people, and he indeed answers all our needs.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seeking Real Treasure

"The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.  God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

How do we use the gifts that God has given us?  Way back in 1984, there was a magnificent film released about the life of Mozart called Amadeus.  However, the film was told from the point of view of another musical composer, Antonio Salieri, who was angry at God for giving Mozart who is portrayed as a vulgar buffoon such extraordinary musical gifts.  Salieri slaved over each note of his compositions and longed for God to give him the same gifts he gave Mozart so that he could use them to write divine music, but instead Mozart would effortlessly compose great symphonies which would only fuel the envy inside Salieri's heart.  The movie is a wonderful example of how each of us are given gifts from above and how we use them.  In the opening prayer today, we ask that we may use the gifts that God has given us with wisdom.  We sometimes forget that God has endowed each of us with great gifts.  Now some, like Mozart, are blessed more than others, yet we are called to discern God's will in our lives and place them at the service of his Kingdom.  Today we come to the Eucharist to ask the Lord to make us aware of the many blessings and gifts that he has given us and how we use them wisely.

In the first reading, God appears to Solomon and basically says, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you."  Solomon even in his youth does not ask for riches or more power, but rather because he recognizes the limitations of his youth, he responds to the Lord by saying, "Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong (1 King 3:9)."  Solomon just wanted the wisdom to discern right from wrong and to know God's will.  Why?  Because he knew that happiness resides in doing the will of God and that joy is worth more than anything the world has to offer.

Unfortunately, too often we go looking for happiness in a world that cannot possibly bring us joy.  We seek solace in vices and things that only draw us further away from God's divine love.  Yet when we find the treasure that Jesus speaks of in today's gospel, we don't ever want to let it go.  The real treasure of knowing how much God loves us, of knowing how much he forgives us, of knowing what awaits us in heaven, is worth more than the greatest of riches.  As the Psalmist says today, "For I love your command more than gold (Psalm 119:127)."  But why do we go against the Lord's commands and his perfect will when he knows what is best for us?  Why do we seek treasures in other places when the greatest of treasures is right here on this altar?  Here we realize how much we are loved and how much God has blessed us.  Here we realize that we are His children called to take our gifts and do the extraordinary out in the world.  Perhaps the story of Mozart is a cautionary tale, at least from the movie's point of view, because it seems that he never appreciated the immense gift that God had given to him and he died young, penniless, consumed by the  world, and rather unaware of how much God loved him (sound familiar? #club27).  There are so many gifted people in our world with divine talents that could be used for good and that could bring them great joy and peace, but sadly they go looking for happiness in all the wrong places.  May we always be aware of His love and of the many blessings he bestows on us.  Solomon was aware of this which is why he only sought the wisdom to know what was right in the eyes of God so that he could always please Him.  Which brings us to two final questions:  If God approached you like Solomon ready to give you anything you wanted, what would you ask for?  And would you place that divine gift at the service of his Kingdom?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In His Hands

"The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness..."  (Romans 8:26)

There was a simple little song we used to sing when we were kids called: "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."  Believe it or not, I used to sing this in my public elementary school.  As Christians, we sometimes fail to remember that this is wholeheartedly true. Even today’s psalm response reminds us the Lord is indeed good and merciful.  However, we get discouraged when we see so much despair, injustice, and evil in the world.  Yet Jesus reminds us in today's gospel that the wheat and the weeds grow side by side.  The sun rises and sets on both good and evil.  People sometimes ask: "Why is there so much evil in the world?" It's as if they perceive the weeds being far taller than the wheat. 

As a society, we tend to focus more on the negative than on the positive.  Bad news sells papers, leads TV news, and dominates the headlines under the false presumption that it sells better than good news.  Rare is the time when you see inspirational stories on the front page.  The world does not see the good work that we do because the weeds apparently do obscure the wheat.  Society focuses and, I dare say, even relishes on the negative.  Sometimes the negative that the media chooses to focus on distracts us from true problems and injustices around he world.  Look at all the sensationalistic news we've been fed the last few weeks which has not let us notice a  problem the Pope pointed out this morning: a severe famine in the horn of Africa.  This afternoon the Japanese women's soccer team will play our USA girls in the World Cup Final despite the ongoing aftermath of the horrible earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis that hit their country in March. When was the last time you heard anything about the disaster in Japan?  Or about the victims of all the tornadoes and floods in the South and the Midwest this past spring?  These are things that even though they don’t lift our spirits warrant our attention, but the cameras left once the waters had receded and the earth stopped shaking to focus on what celebrities we are building up or tearing down. 

The fact is that there is much good happening in the world.  All these disasters while terrible bring out the best in humanity.  We don't have to look so far.  I've been here for 17 days and every day I discover a new ministry here at St. Gregory that is helping the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and those who have no voice.  This is the wheat that is growing in our midst, and we will not let the weeds obscure the good work that we are doing.  Yes, there is evil and tragedy in the world, but we have to firmly believe that God holds us in his hands and is taking care of us. 

We may sometimes feel that He has turned our back on us because the weeds start to obscure our sight as well.  When we are overwhelmed by the problems that life throws at us we may feel that prayer has no purpose or that we cannot possibly bring ourselves to pray because the world has dragged us down into the depths of despair.  This is where today's second reading comes in.  St. Paul tells us that "the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness" and that the Spirit intercedes for us.  It is the Holy Spirit that lifts us up and holds us up praying for us when we cannot pray.  We cannot allow the weeds among us to keep us from seeing how great our God is, and far worse, we cannot turn into weeds ourselves.  We have to firmly trust in God that he will deliver us from whatever trial we may be facing and not let the world get the best of us.  We belong to him, and he is our shelter and our rock.  I guess we have to trust God like a young five year old who with great faith sings, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."

God truly does hold us in his hands, and his radiant face shines on the wheat that is growing around us even if it is growing among weeds.  Jesus reminds us that on the last day the wheat will join him while the weeds will be burned.  May we as Catholics continue to rely on our loving God who holds us so very tight in his hands, and may the wheat we produce grow taller than any weed around us so that the world may see the wondrous works that we are doing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Four Corners: Called Out By God

"So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."  (Isaiah 55:11)
When I was a little kid in grade school, we would play a game called Four Corners.  Now if you recall, the object of the game is to pick a corner of the room, a person would call out one of those corners, and if that person called out your corner, you would be out.  The last person standing would win.  The other day when I was praying over these readings, I don't know why this game came to mind.  I mean I even had to look up the rules, simple as they are, on Google because I had forgotten them.  I guess the reason why this game came to me was because of the number four.  We have four different types of soil presented to us in today's gospel, and we each fall under one of those categories.  But upon further meditation I realized that much like the game, we are constantly trying to out run God who is seeking us out, calling out our names, and trying to bring us close to Him.  The first reading tells us that the word from his mouth shall do his will, yet we still try to circumvent God's intentions and fail to be the good soil that is receptive to the seed of God's word.
As we seek to be receptive God's word, let us go deeper into the words of Christ in today's gospel:
1)  The first type of soil our Lord mentions isn't really soil at all.  It is the path where seeds will be snatched up.  Our Lord tells us that this is the person that does not understand the word of God and the evil one comes and snatches up the seed placed in our hearts.  As Catholics, we need to be more proactive in understanding our faith.  There's a famous saying in Spanish that says "an ignorant Catholic is a future Protestant" (un católico ignorante es un futuro protestante).  Nothing against our Protestant brothers and sisters, but if we truly understood the beauties of our Catholic faith, if we fell in love with the mystery of the Eucharist, if we understood the graces that flow from the sacraments, we would not turn our backs on God or the Church when things don't break our way.
2)  The second type of soil is rocky ground.  This is someone who receives the word with great joy, but since it is rocky ground there is little soil and that seed can't take root.  So at the first sign of trouble that joy disappears and so does the person.  I call this "The Emmaus Syndrome."  (Yup, pay attention Emmaus brothers and sister, I'm about to pick on you.)  In our Church, of which I am a part of, we have many retreats, like Emmaus, which lift the souls of the people who attend and fill them with great joy.  Unfortunately, as a Church, we do a lousy job of nuturing that joy after the retreat.  The person's joy cannot root itself firmly on the ground, and at the first sign of tribulation, that person feels abandoned and just leaves.  We have to nurture the seeds we plant, but more importantly, we must till the soil we plant them on or else we are just throwing the seeds on rocky ground.  If you're a diehard Emmaus person, and I offended you...good!  It means I struck a nerve, and I point the finger at myself as well.  Emmaus and other retreats have done a phenomenal job of bringing people to the risen Christ.  We just have to keep them there.
3)  The third type of soil is among the thorns.   This is the person who receives the word but is lured away and the word is choked of by the things of this world.  I've been very busy since I arrived at St. Gregory ten days ago.  But in my moments of free time, I've been obsessed with getting our internet and cable working in the rectory.  I quickly realized the first nights that I was here with none of these worldly luxuries that it was preventing me from time better spent on prayer.  The things of the world aren't bad, but they are material, transitory, and must be used in a balanced way.  Yes, I got the cable and internet up and running this past Friday, but have found that I am using them less.  I cannot bear fruit as a priest if I am consumed by the things of this world, and this applies to all of us who are called, as the first reading tells us, to take the word we have received and return it to God with interest so to speak.
4)  Finally, we have the rich soil.  Not much to explain here.  This is what we aspire to in order to produce fruit for our Lord.  A good farmer prepares his soil before he plants his seeds.  He makes sure there are no rocks, thorns, and are away from the path.  What do we have to till away from our lives in order to be rich soil? 
Just like in the game Four Corners, God is calling us out today.  He wants us to be rich soil so that we can be receptive to his word and bear the fruit that he desires.  Yet we run from him like in the game and choose not to be better informed about our faith or go deeper so that it can take root or get distracted by the things of this earth.  Ultimately, we are responsible for our soil.  At the end of the Four Corners game, there is only one person left with the person who is calling out.  One day that will be you and God.  What fruit will you present him with the seed he has planted in your heart?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hidden Things

"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike (Matthew 11:25)."
In today gospel, Jesus talks to us about "hidden things."  These are the great mysteries of God that are revealed to the childlike and are hidden from the wise and the learned because thewise of the world could not possibly understand the ways of God.  God is a mystery, and his ways are mysterious.  That is why a child is more apt to follow the simple ways of God than an adult who thinks they know better and is resistant to any type of change or promptings of the Spirit.  The mysterious ways of God, these "hidden things", have been heavily on my mind as I have been preparing to come here to St. Gregory.  This is a time of transition for all of us.  I'm starting in a new parish, and all of you have just said farewell to a beloved pastor and an associate.  So you get two new priests, and you're probably wondering what they will be like and what they will do.  This transition really hit home to me yesterday when I was a greting a parishioner before Mass at the front door.  She comes up to me with tears in her eyes and quite sad, and she tells me, "Don't worry Father it's not your fault."  (Here I was thinking that I had done something terribly wrong barely 24 hours into my new assignment.)  She continues, "I'm crying because last week it was Monsignor Fogarty who was greeting me at the door as he had done for the last 20 years, and I just realized how much I'm going to miss him."  I comforted her and told her things were going to be ok, but I began to ponder this moment that we are all going through together.  Change is difficult, but it is part of life and sometimes a necessary part of life.  The Holy Spirit is constantly calling us to change so that we can draw closer to God.  These changes are mysterious at times.  We don't know what God has in store for us as we begin this new time together, but what we do know is that God is with us and that his ways are perfect.  That is why Jesus thanks his Father, as we should today, for this opportunity that we have to grow and to change together for the better as we throw ourselves into the great unknown trusting that God will guide us.
Speaking of change, this weekend we celebrate Independence Day.   Because my grandparents and parents instilled in me a great love for this country where we have freedoms that they did not enjoy in their homeland, every 4th of July I read the Declaration of Independence.  It's probably one of the ten greatest documents ever written.  When our founding fathers put their signatures to this bold declaration, they were thrusting themselves and their countrymen into a great unknown.  They embraced change, but they did so relying on help from above:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Later on in this great document they would appeal to their "Supreme Judge" and then at the end they would say:  "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."  With the great unknown before them, they had to rely on God and his protection for this new country they were founding.  They declared their independence from King George but not from the King of Kings.  Our country which has always been marked by great moments of change has lost its way as it has removed God from the national consciousness.  We have declared our independece from everything and everyone and ceased to be dependant on God.   Yet our dollar bill, which can be the source of so much evil, has it plainly spelled out on the back:  "In God We Trust."  But do we really?  Both as a nation and as parishioners of this parish, do we truly put our trust in him?  As a nation, we need to get back to trusting God and relying on him as our forefathers did 235 years ago.  As a parish going through change, we have to trust that God's ways are indeed perfect and that whatever lies before us will only bring us joy and peace and ultimately closer to him.
God's ways are indeed mysterious.  Our founding fathers probably did not envision what a powerful document they drafted and how it would shape a nation, that while flawed, is still a great nation.  And God's ways have brought us here to this moment in the life of St. Gregory the Great Parish where two new priests begin their ministry to share the love of Christ with all of you.  Only God knows why he has brought me here and why our paths have come together.  And together we throw ourselves into the arms of our Lord so that we may continue to grow in holiness.  I know from experience that I have been incredibly blessed at each of the parishes where I have been.  I am here simply to serve:  to share the joy that I have in my heart, to share the enthusiasm that comes with knowing this Jesus, and to share with you every Sunday this Word and this Bread from Heaven that keeps us eternally young.  All I ask from you, aside from your prayers, is that you take what you receive here at this altar and that you share it with the world.  Take this Jesus to your homes, to your work, to your schools.  These hidden things that Jesus talks about today have been revealed to us, and they should not be hidden.  They need to be shared!  This morning at the end of Mass, the deacon, God bless him, got up at the end to welcome me, and said he wanted to challenge me with three simple words:  "Wake us up."  I was moved by those words, and I believe that as a nation and as Catholics we all need to wake up.  It is time that world discovers through us how great our God is.  So, again, all I ask of you, is that you take this message, this presence, this Jesus that I have shared with you to a world and a nation that desperately needs it.  My friends, be bold.  Be courageous.  Be Catholic!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My First Day

There were just six people.  At the end of a long day of moving from one parish to another, I wanted to do the most important thing I do as a priest:  celebrate Mass.  It was that more special today since It was the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  
So a little after 7pm under a light rain, I walked over to the Church where the deacon was doing Benediction, and I asked the small group if they wanted to stay for Mass.  So six of them joined their new priest as I slowly and devoutly read the readings and shared the gift of eternal life.  And as I read the second reading, tears welled up in my eyes as I proclaimed these words that I've held close to my heart the last three years:  "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us...(1 John 4:10)"  If we could only wrap our minds and hearts around the depths of his love!  This is what today's Feast of the Sacred Heart is all about: a God who loves us so much that he gave his only Son whose heart overflows with boundless love for us.  And today I felt that love as I was welcomed to my new parish.  This is where I will speak of this love.  This is where I will share this love.  May the Sacred Heart of Our Lord always guide us.  "Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts, have mercy on us." (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)