Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 16: Buonanotte

At 1:59pm, tears started welling up.  I stood at the door of our chapel with my housekeeper and my DRE, all three of us looking intently on the video on my phone showing the silence that had fallen over Castel Gandolfo as the top of the hour approached.  Suddenly the Swiss Guard pulled back,  closed the doors to the Apostolic Palace, and ceased to stand guard.  The Pontificate of Benedict XVI had ended.  I looked into the chapel and saw that a supringingly large amount of people had congregated before the Blessed Sacrament to pray the rosary.  The church bells were rung, and a candle that had been lit by the picture of the now Pope-emeritus was extinguished.  I sat down to pray the rosary and teared up again.

I have always felt a close connection to this man.  Almost 20 years ago, on the day my parents dropped me off at seminary, my mother handed me a book called "Ministers of Your Joy."  I looked at the cover and didn't recognize the author.  It was written by a German cardinal I had never heard of named Joseph Ratzinger.  I read that book during my first two weeks in seminary and always kept it close by to remind me of the calling that I had received.  I remember nearly 8 years ago in my first assignment as a priest when I had rounded up the students of St. Agnes into the dining hall because white smoke had emerged from the Sistine Chapel.  We waited anxiously, as we will in the coming days, to see which of the cardinals had been elected.  I had with me a folder with biographies on all the cardinals to give the children an introduction to their new Pope.  But alas, I did not need my research.  I knew this man all too well.  I had read his books.  I had heard stories of this great man.  Cardinal Ratzinger was now Pope Benedict XVI!  Now the world would discover his genius.  And boy did we ever.  His first encyclical on love was a masterpiece.  His books on Jesus of Nazareth captivate even the most learned of biblical scholars.  His gentle voice guiding his sheep towards the Good Shepherd resonates in our hearts.  I had seen Blessed John Paul II when I was a kid when he visited us.  As a priest, I went to Rome two years ago to visit Benedict XVI.  I stood in the square for the Angelus and his General Audience, and I sat 20 yards from Bernini's altar and celebrated Mass with him under the great dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Today's events underscored the humility of a man who loves his Church and his Lord so much that he chooses to live out his remaining years by serving it in a different way.  He did not quit.  He did not abandon us.  He now is probably closer than ever to us through prayer.  When he walked out unto the balcony of Castel Gandolfo for the last time, he had no prepared notes.  He joyfully greeted the crowd and said a simple farewell:

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o'clock this evening and then no more.  I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still ... thank you ... I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.  Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. May Almighty God bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!

No, thank you, Your Holiness!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 15: "The Church is Alive!"

This morning Benedict XVI delivered his final address as our Pope before 150,000 people in St. Peter's Square.  As I was watching this beautiful outpouring of love of the Church for it's Pope and of a Pope for his Church, the first thing that struck me was how the Holy Father immediately left his prepared remarks and looked out over that vast sea of humanity and said, "I am deeply moved because I see a Church that is alive!"  This is the Church that this faithful servant of the Lord is leaving to his successor.  This is a Church that has weathered stormy seas and still realized that the Lord is there.  Of course, when you read the secular headlines all they do is focus on the stormy seas, but they failed to grasp that this was Benedict's final catechesis to his flock.  You can find his entire address here:, but here are some of the highlights from the mind of a brilliant Pontiff:

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of ​​Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His - and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love...

Here allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The gravity of the decision was precisely in the fact that from that moment on I was committed always and forever by the Lord. Always – he, who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. I have felt, and I feel even in this very moment, that one receives one’s life precisely when he offers it as a gift. I said before that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him, that the Pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion, because he no longer belongs to himself, but he belongs to all and all are truly his own.

The “always” is also a “forever” - there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.

I thank each and every one of you for the respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision. I continue to accompany the Church on her way through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and to His Bride, which I have hitherto tried to live daily and that I would live forever. I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so important a task, and for the new Successor of Peter, that the Lord might accompany him with the light and the power of His Spirit.

Let us invoke the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, that she might accompany each of us and the whole ecclesial community: to her we entrust ourselves, with deep trust.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 14: Let's Do Lunch!

Lunch time is a time of getting away from work for an hour to feed the body and refresh the soul.  It should be a time of refreshment, but in today's business climate, and the Church is not immune to this, it often turns into an hour of business.  We take clients out to lunch, talk business, and really never take that hour to spend connecting with co-workers or friends or even family if they are close by.  What about connecting with the most important person in our lives?  Christ!  Many churches have Noon masses where people spend half of their lunch hour being nourished at the table of the Lord.  If you can't do that, how about spending an hour of quiet somewhere, anywhere to just take in silence?  Eat a sandwich on a park bench.  Eat under a tree.  Eat by the Bay.  Eat somewhere where you can reconnect with your God.  (Please don't eat in church cause then your pastor's will get mad at me.)  So, sometime this Lent, make it a point to schedule a business lunch with your most important, most influential, and most forgiving "Client".

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 13: A Week Like No Other

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final Angelus message to a crowd that, depending on who you read, was between 100,000 and 200,000 people.  I was blessed in 2010 to be in St. Peter's Square for an Angelus with His Holiness and you can see the "modest" crowd below.  But it's what the Holy Father said about his future plans that will make this week like no other the Church has seen.  Benedict continues to show his holiness and his supreme love of the church with his remarks:

“The Lord is calling me 'out to the mountain' to devote more time to prayer and meditation, but this does not mean I'm abandoning the Church. In fact, if God is asking this of me, it's precisely to continue serving the Church with the same dedication and love with which I have served so far, but in a way that's more suited for my age and strength.” --Pope Benedict XVI (2/24/13 Angelus)

He is definitely not abandoning the Church.  Through prayer, he will be closer to us than ever!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 12: We Are Young

“He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”  (Philippians 3:21)

We don’t understand God’s love.  We don’t understand the depths of his love and of his mercy.  If we truly understood His love then sin would not enter into our thinking.  We would not dare hurt this relationship of love.  I always like to use the analogy of a married couple who are so in love with each other that they seek only to make the other happy and love would put any selfish thoughts that might injure that relationship out of their heads.  So it is with our relationship with God who despite our sins still seeks to restore us to what we were created to be: like his son Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel, Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain where he not only is transfigured before them, but he also speaks with Moses and Elijah.  Now while Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was conversing with these two pillars of the Old Testament, Luke is the only one that tells us what they were actually talking about:  “[they] spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31).”  Now whenever we hear the word “exodus” we think of Moses and how he liberated Israel from slavery and led the exodus out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  But now Jesus, the new Moses, who will give us a new law of love and a new covenant will go to Jerusalem and through the blood of his cross lead the exodus of all people from sin and death to light and life.  Jesus himself will show us the depth of God’s love through the Transfiguration for like St. Paul says in the second reading, he will transform our lowly bodies into a glorified body like his.

Last night, I concelebrated a Mass with the Archbishop that celebrated the 40th Anniversary of “Encuentros Juveniles” which is a youth apostolic movement of the Archdiocese that has put on over 180 retreats for young men and women over the last four decades.  I was blessed to attend one during my seminary years as was the Archbishop and most of the ten priests that were concelebrating.  The Archbishop pointed to the song that the kids sing as they come out of the retreat house for the first time and into the closing Mass which is titled “Yo quiero ser feliz (I want to be happy).”  It is a simple song that is joyously repeated over and over again by the kids at the top of their lungs because they have just had an encounter with Jesus Christ.  The Archbishop even went as far as to say that they had a “transfiguration moment” like the disciples during the retreat which impacted them so much that they wanted to sing of this joy.  As you can imagine, over 40 years of retreats produces many young disciples of Christ, and we gathered after Mass last night for a gala where we reminisced about old times and the things we accomplished.  Christ had brought us together all those years ago and he had brought us together again for that evening.  We saw slideshows of our old exploits in the 90’s and what marveled me back then as a seminarian is the amount of work my friends would put into making these retreats a success.  We have aged since those days.  In fact, the lights were brought up at one point for a picture, and I made the comment to dim them again because we looked younger.  It reminded me of the song from Fun. that has been playing on the radio for some time now: “Tonight, we are young.” 

But you see, it’s not only last night, for in the eyes of God we are always young, we are always his children.  His love and his grace keeps us young and helps us conquer the world for Christ.  As he finishes his pontificate this week, I am reminded of something Pope Benedict XVI said at his Installation Mass:  “The Church is young.”  There is so much yet to be accomplished for the sake of the gospel and for that we must submit ourselves to God’s love and mercy during this Lenten season.  He will turn our lowly bodies into glorified ones.  We will always be his young children.  I’ll end with this because it was the highlight of my day.  When I saying hello to the faithful before Noon Mass, I walked up to a little old lady who I see every week, and she sitting in her pew and smiling up at me.  She was dressed to the nines and she tells me, “Father, today I am greatly blessed.”  I asked her why and she responded: “Because today I am celebrating my 90th birthday!”  She was so thrilled to be at church to celebrate Mass.  We can be 7, 17, or 90.  God will never stop showering with his abundant love which is the only thing that makes us truly happy like on those youth retreats and totally rejuvenates us as it did that young lady whose 90th birthday we celebrated today.  Indeed, we are young.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 11: A Soldier, A Priest, A Hero

This morning I read a tweet that the President is going to posthumously award the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest military award, to a priest from Wichita, Kansas who died during the Korean War.  Out of curiosity I clicked on the link and read an amazing story of courage and defiance for the sake of the Gospel.  The priest's name is Father Emil Kapaun who served as an army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War.  He was taken captive in North Korea along with many soldiers and was held as a prisoner of war which is when, as his comrades describe, his real heroism began.  An except from today's Wichita Eagle:

Soldiers like Mike Dowe, William Funchess, Robert Wood, Robert McGreevy and Herb Miller, most of them Protestants, have spent decades writing letters or giving interviews describing repeated acts of bravery by Kapaun. They said he repeatedly ran through machine gun fire, dragging wounded soldiers to safety during the first months of the war.

Read more here: said on Friday that he first met Kapaun in a prison camp in February 1951. By that time, Funchess had not had a drink of water in three months – he’d eaten snow to stay alive. He came across a bearded scarecrow of a man bending over a fire, which was prohibited by the camp guards. The man was melting snow in a drinking cup and handed it to Funchess.
“It tasted great,” Funchess said.
“Later, I saw him (Kapaun) crossing a barbed wire fence, sneaking in at great risk to himself to tend sick and wounded enlisted men in a different compound.”
In the following months, after guards began abusing Kapaun for defying their brainwashing classes, Funchess, Dowe and others nearly came to blows with Chinese guards, risking their lives to protect Kapaun, who had become sick and was now regularly abused by the guards.
“I had greatest admiration and respect for Father Kapaun, and it was indeed agony when the Chinese came and physically removed him from my room, and took him on top of the mountain at the end of the camp,” Funchess said. “I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen.
“When I heard he had passed on, I knew it was a great loss, not only to the Catholics in our camp but the non-Catholics. All of us loved Father Kapaun.”
Dowe said the Chinese prison camp guards murdered Kapaun in May 1951 by isolating him in a hilltop building where the starving and enfeebled Army chaplain had no way of getting water or food. He said they did so because Kapaun openly defied the camp guards after they tried to brainwash him and other prisoners into denouncing their country.
Kapaun also violated camp rules by praying rosaries with other prisoners. By the time he died, other prisoners said, Protestants and men of other beliefs were praying the Catholic rosary with Kapaun and were openly resisting the brainwashing classes.

Read more here:
They said his most courageous acts followed in a prisoner of war camp, where Kapaun died in May 1951. They said he saved hundreds of soldiers’ lives using faith and the skills honed on his family’s farm near Pilsen. In the prison camp, he shaped roofing tin into cooking pots so prisoners could boil water, which prevented dysentery. He picked lice off sick prisoners. He stole food from his captors and shared it with his starving comrades. Most of all, Kapaun rallied all of them, as they starved during subzero temperatures, to stay alive. When their future seemed hopeless, he persuaded them to hope. Hundreds died in the camps, but hundreds more survived...
Funchess said on Friday that he first met Kapaun in a prison camp in February 1951. By that time, Funchess had not had a drink of water in three months – he’d eaten snow to stay alive. He came across a bearded scarecrow of a man bending over a fire, which was prohibited by the camp guards. The man was melting snow in a drinking cup and handed it to Funchess. “It tasted great,” Funchess said.  “Later, I saw him (Kapaun) crossing a barbed wire fence, sneaking in at great risk to himself to tend sick and wounded enlisted men in a different compound.” In the following months, after guards began abusing Kapaun for defying their brainwashing classes, Funchess, Dowe and others nearly came to blows with Chinese guards, risking their lives to protect Kapaun, who had become sick and was now regularly abused by the guards. “I had greatest admiration and respect for Father Kapaun, and it was indeed agony when the Chinese came and physically removed him from my room, and took him on top of the mountain at the end of the camp,” Funchess said. “I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen. “When I heard he had passed on, I knew it was a great loss, not only to the Catholics in our camp but the non-Catholics. All of us loved Father Kapaun.”  Dowe said the Chinese prison camp guards murdered Kapaun in May 1951 by isolating him in a hilltop building where the starving and enfeebled Army chaplain had no way of getting water or food. He said they did so because Kapaun openly defied the camp guards after they tried to brainwash him and other prisoners into denouncing their country. Kapaun also violated camp rules by praying rosaries with other prisoners. By the time he died, other prisoners said, Protestants and men of other beliefs were praying the Catholic rosary with Kapaun and were openly resisting the brainwashing classes.

Read more here:

Read more here:

The Church has indeed started doing its investigations for Father Kapaun's cause of canonization.  He risked his life for others during unspeakable torture and led these men in prayer, especially the rosary!  How else would you define a saint?

To read the entire article, click here:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 10: Tu Es Petrus

"And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

Two and a half years ago, I walked under that glorious dome of St. Peter's Basilica and saw this verse inscribed around the dome looking down on the man who now walks in the shoes of the Fisherman. It is providential that we celebrate today the feast of The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle during the final day's of the pontificate of his successor Benedict XVI.  This feast celebrates the unity we have to the Bishop of Rome who has worthily defended and spread the faith of our Lord during the last 8 years.  We celebrate that Christ chose a man, frail as we are, to be the rock on which he would build his church.  Now in these days of historic and unprecedented transition, we are called to prayer and to be more united to Peter both in the person of Pope Benedict during his final days and in the man who will soon succeed him.  He will confront a world that has forgotten God, and a world that seeks to dictate to us what we ought to believe as Catholics. 

I am always amused, bewildered, and frustrated all at the same time when I watch news coverage of the Pope's resignation and the election of his successor.  Pundits, most of them not Catholic, seek to tell us what kind of pontiff the College of Cardinals should elects.  I hear the words "progressive" and "change" tossed about as if the Church was in need of some radical change.  Change is always in the air when a church is guided by the Spirit and that is what the world does not understand, but that change is personal, internal, and in the heart.  The "change" the world is looking for is a faith that is more in line with the views and norms of the world.  Unfortunately, that is not the the Church that was founded on the rock.  Because we are founded on that rock, there are truths and morals that cannot and will not change.  I hear constantly that the new Pope must do this and must change that.  They say he must let priests get married.  I am so honored and humbled that so many who aren't even Catholic are so concerned about my marital status when, quite frankly, I am not.  What the world fails to recognize in our glorious Church is that she has been around for 2000 years and this bark of St. Peter has weathered strong tempests before, some self-inflicted, but the Good Lord always calms the storm and the steady hand of Peter steers us through these storms by preaching the same truths that Christ himself preached long ago.  So many attack the Church for holding firm to these truths, for not budging on what is right and what is wrong, and for defending the faith and morals given to us by our Savior.  When founding the Church, Christ promised that "the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it."  This is our faith.  This is why we stand under the dome of St. Peter's, kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in our parishes, and profess every Sunday that we believe in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."  Let the pundits pontificate and speculate as we kneel in prayer during this time of grace.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and implore his guidance upon the College of Cardinals who are charged with the solemn task of electing one who is worthy to sit in the Chair of St. Peter.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Day 9: Throwback Thursday

Memory is such a key element to the spiritual life.  We draw on memories to reconnect us with God in our prayers, to take us back to that place where we discovered Him, or to that moment when we felt the most peace. 

Lately this interesting trend known as "Throwback Thursday" of posting old pictures on Instagram or Facebook has been fun because for each of us old pictures remind us of joyful or simpler times when we were younger.  Pictures have a way of taking us back to that exact moment to remember how we felt, what we were doing, and more often asking the question: "What were we thinking?"

So it is with the spiritual life.  There's a picture that I draw on constantly for inspiration and serves as the background of my Twitter page.  It's a picture that I took on the canonical retreat that I attended two months before being ordained a priest.  My classmates and I traveled up to Marywood Retreat Center on the St. John's River just northwest of St. Augustine.  It is a beautiful setting for a retreat.  It was also early March and ridiculously cold for Florida that week.  The St. John's is a wide river, even wider than Biscayne Bay at some points from what I saw.  Each night we were treated to some spectacular sunsets out on a pier that extended about 50 yards from the shore.  The last morning we were there, there was a dense fog that covered the retreat house.  I felt an incredible peace after going through a beautiful five days of retreat in preparation for my ordination.  I walked out to the pier very early that morning and snapped the picture below.  The St. John's River is the combination of fresh water and salt water and usually very brownish and at times murky, but that morning it was as still and as blue as the deep waters of the Atlantic.  I sat there on the pier for some time feeling God's strength fill me up as I prepared for this great adventure of priesthood.  Any doubts I had were long gone.  It was if the waters were telling me that there was smooth sailing ahead.  Obviously, over the last 11 years since I took this picture, the waters have not always been this smooth or this serene, but just looking back at this picture takes me back to that moment right before the dawn of my priesthood where I felt the peace and the strength to take on the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Throwback Thursday indeed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 8: The Pope's Preacher

Traditionally during the first week of Lent, the Pope and most of the clergy in the Vatican take their annual retreat.  The Holy Father usually picks a priest or bishop with a great gift for the Word.  Benedict himself preached this retreat some ten years ago for John Paul II.  This year the honor fell to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi who is the head of Pontifical Council on Culture and apparently has an affinity to the music of the late Amy Winehouse (as do I).

Cardinal Ravasi has taken the extraordinary step of tweeting some of the highlights of his meditations on the Psalms which he chose as the focus for the retreat.  Some of these tweets have been inmensely profound and I have posted them sporadically, but I wanted to pick out a few that have caused me to pause and delve deeper into them:

"The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope."

"We celebrate divine faithfulness despite human infidelity."
And since Cardinal Ravasi is in charge of culture in the Vatican he knows quite well what we are exposed to in our society and he offered this telling reflection during his second meditation in which he observed that the world lives in a superficial atmosphere which prohibits us from thinking big thoughts and posing big questions:
"Just think of the television...We already know all about fashion, about what we should eat, how we should dress, choose, etc. but we no longer have a voice that shows us the path and meaning of this life, especially when it is so fragile, so miserable. That is why it is important to come back again to the great themes. Have the courage to propose great thoughts, I think one of the great problems of today's youth is that they are no longer able to find meaningful answers and so they allow themselves to drift and be swayed by contemporary society".

We must ask big questions and think big thoughts and awaken from the spell that this world constantly has us living under.  What thought can be greater than one that is elevated towards God?  When we cast all things aside, what are we left with?  Our fragile human nature in need of a redemptive God. 

I will continue to retweet and post the Cardinal's tweets throughout the week, but may we follow his promptings, which he is also giving to the Holy Father, and cast off the yoke of the world and rely solely on the love and mercy of God.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 7: Gentle Reminders

Throughout the day, God gives us gentle reminders of how much he loves us.  It could be through nature or in prayer or through another person reminding us of his love.  The thing is being able to recognize these gentle reminders and in kind reminding others of how precious they are in God’s eyes.  So I guess I’ll start:  God loves you.  Pass it on.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 6: The Elect

Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting 20 catechumens to the Archbishop in the Rite of Election at our cathedral.  It was an exciting day for these chosen ones who are just being initiated into the life of the church.  For some of them, it was the first time they had ever seen a bishop in person.  One by one they came forward and signed their names in the Book of the Elect for, although they are not baptized yet, they belong to God now and are his chosen ones.  As their pastor, I will have the distinct and undeserved honor of fully initiating them into the Church during the Easter Vigil where they will receive Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion.

The reason I tell you this story is because it falls on all of us to pray for these chosen ones as they enter their immediate preparation for these sacraments.  During Lent, you will hear many prayers offered for our Catechumens because these are men and women who have chosen to follow Christ and to be baptized into the Catholic Church.  We sometimes take it for granted because most of us are cradle Catholics and were raised in this faith.  Our elect are just starting to walk the footsteps of faith and are discovering the beauty of the Church they chose to be part of.  There's been many an Easter Vigil where I've seen one of them emerge from the waters of baptism with tears in their eyes.

So pray for these Elect this Lent.  Pray for their families because sometimes the Elect are the ones that through their witness begin to bring their loved ones to church.  Pray that the grace of this season may renew in each one of us the love and the passion that these soon to be new members have for our Church.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Day 5: Armed With God's Word

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)
Like Jesus, we are led by the Spirit into the desert during this Lenten season. In the desert we have nothing and thirst. Hopefully the grace of this Lenten season will help us thirst for God all the more. Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. Forty is a recurring number in the Bible because the rains of the great flood lasted 40 days and the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years. Both the Israelites and Jesus are tempted in the desert but their responses are different as Israel succumbed to temptations while Jesus overcame them.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of meeting one of the great Biblical scholars of our time, Dr. Scott Hahn. We were able to talk a bit about ministry, about the genius of Pope Benedict XVI, and the future of the Church. I was also able to hear him address about a dozen of our seminarians as we had lunch and he told them to read and re-read the works of Benedict because never has the Church had a Pope that was a master Biblical-theological scholar. Both Pope Benedict and Dr. Hahn urge us through their writings to be lovers of Sacred Scripture and to rediscover the treasure that is the Bible. In doing so, we can go deeper into today’s Gospel to compare the temptations of Jesus to the ones the Israelites encountered as they wandered through the desert. This week, Dr. Hahn wrote:
“[Jesus] faces the temptations put to Israel: Hungry, He’s tempted to grumble against God for food (see Exodus 16:1-13). As Israel quarreled at Massah, He’s tempted to doubt God’s care (see Exodus 17:1-6). When the Devil asks His homage, He’s tempted to do what Israel did in creating the golden calf (see Exodus 32). Jesus fights the Devil with the Word of God…”
Jesus is able to resist temptation because he is armed with the Word of God and has an intimate knowledge of it. As we begin our Lenten journey, which is ultimately a journey of rediscovering God’s unconditional love for us, we must also rediscover God’s love letter to us which is the Bible. Now I say this not to insult you but to state an unequivocal fact: as Catholics, we do not know the Scriptures as well as our Protestant brothers and sisters. They can quote chapter and verse and run circles around us when it comes to Biblical study. Can we defend our faith armed with knowledge of the Word if we had to? Could we point out the scriptural roots of our rich traditions? Now I will acknowledge that as a priest, I have to do a better job of opening for you the beauty of Sacred Scripture as Christ did for the disciples of Emmaus, and as a pastor I have to facilitate for you more opportunities for Bible Study. But as we journey through Lent, we can pick up the Bibles we have at home and possibly read a chapter every night. Pick a page. Any page. God has something to tell you. As you begin to read, you will want to read more. You will want to read what the Fathers of the Church have to say on those passages. If we are to overcome the temptations the world throws at us and spread the Good News of Christ, we must have an intimate knowledge of that Good News. We focus so much on the sacrifices we make during Lent, which are all fine and good, when perhaps reading a chapter from the Bible every day can spiritually nourish us more and make this holy season that much more fruitful.
When one leaves the desert, the first instinct is to look for water, and that is exactly what awaits us at the end of this journey: the waters of Easter. Our catechumens will be sent today to the cathedral for their Rite of Election with the Archbishop as they prepare to receive the waters of baptism. We who are baptized pray for them and prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal promises this coming Easter, but let this year be different. When we renew those promises, after completing our Lenten journey through the desert, let us go forth not only with a deeper knowledge of how much God truly loves us, but let us also go forth into the world armed with a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures so that we may set the world on fire with the Word of God.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 4: Men on Fire

I'm writing this between hearing confessions at the 3rd Archdiocesan Annual Men's Conference.  I was here at the first one and I continue to be humbled by all these hundreds of men who come evey year seeking to become real men of God.  All morning long they've been listening to the renowned biblical scholar Dr. Scott Hahn who has exhorted them to take up spiritual arms and be part of the new evangelization by renewing their love if Scripture. Right now I'm in the back corner of the church thinking and dreaming of what would happen if all these men who are on fire right now went back to their families, their churches, and their jobs spreading the Goid News.

Here's the thing: you don't have to be here at this conference to go set the world on fire. You don't have to be here to be reminded how much God loves you. All you have to do is open the Bible.  Open it and be renewed. Open it and be refreshed. Open it and allow it to set your heart on fire. The Bible is our roadmap through the desert of Lent. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 3: The Hope of Each Morning

This morning I came across this passage from the Book of Lamentations:

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercy never comes to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Every morning the Lord has something new, something beautiful in store for us. May our eyes be open to see it and our hearts be open to embrace it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Day 2: Spreading Lenten Cheer

People aren’t used to smiles.  They aren’t used to others being kind to them. Sadly, they aren’t even used to civility anymore. This applies especially to those who serve us at cash registers, restaurants, or anything that involves customer service. 

Last night, I drove out of my church parking lot at a quarter of 10 on a completely empty stomach and decided to pass by the McDonald’s by the rectory to get what passes as a Fillet O’Fish these days.  When I drove up to the cashier window, the young girl asked me how I was doing.  I responded with a sincere smile and said, “I’m doing great.”  She was taken aback and said, “Wow!  Great?  I never hear that one.”  We both shared a laugh and then I started thinking about all the people that drive past that window who don’t treat this child of God as she deserves to be treated.  All the insults, all the frustration thrown at her, all the lack of basic human Christians, we cannot treat people this way no matter impatient or frustrated we get.

So the next time you’re in a long line at the store or sitting forever at a restaurant or waiting for 30 minutes to talk with someone at the cable company, remember that you may be the only person that day that treats them like a child of God.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Day 1: Benedict's Final Lesson

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them...”  (Matthew 6:1)

Two days ago we woke up to the starling news that Pope Benedict XVI would resign the papacy at the end of the month.  Questions filled our hearts.  Was the Holy Father ill?  What would happen to him?  But when the dust settled and we finished asking questions, one fundamental answer came to each of us: Benedict had one last lesson to teach us—a lesson in humility.  One of the first thoughts that came to me was that this would not be an ordinary Lent.  We begin this sacred season with one Pope and will likely end it with another.  We are indeed entering into a desert as a Church like Jesus did fully relying on the Holy Spirit and ready to be transformed and renewed.  Our Holy Father recognizing that the Church belongs to Christ humbly steps aside to devote himself to prayer and reflection during his final years.  No one aspires to the Papacy.  It is almost imposed on the Vicar of Christ as a cross to be carried.  Benedict knew this when he was elected.  A shy priest and teacher who preferred to communicate the beauties of Christ with his pen was suddenly cast into the spotlight so that the world may know what many in the Church already knew:  here was a man of extraordinary genius who reintroduced us to the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  His depth lifted our hearts to new heights.  His eloquence took us into those “deep waters” that his predecessor had invited the Church to explore. 

Now as he walks off that great pulpit for the last time, he does so offering us a lesson of deep humility.  He did not assume the Papacy for power but out love for his Church, and it is that same love that compels him to serve the Church now in prayer and solitude.  And these final years may be Benedict’s finest as he teaches us what Christ did in today’s gospel, that it is away from the public eye that our greatest deeds are performed.
No, this will not be an ordinary Lent.  The strong winds of the Spirit started blowing two days before the season started.  One last grand gesture by a heroic teacher who even this morning told us:  “During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives.”  During the next 40 days, may that Spirit move us to rid our hearts of clutter and to make more room for God.  Let us offer our Lenten fasting and sacrifices for a great man who has served his Church valiantly and for the man who will soon succeed him.  The Lenten winds are indeed blowing…where will they lead the bark of St. Peter at journey’s end?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In Too Deep

"Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)

This past Thursday, I started to prepare my homily and pretty much had all of it sketched out in my head down to the wording and everything.  On Friday, I was looking back at what I wrote three years ago on these readings and found that the first half of my homily was almost word for word what I had written back then.  Talk about the Holy Spirit at work.  Here is how I opened my homily three years ago:

“Ever since I can remember, my father has been taking me fishing. Now that I'm a priest, we usually do it in the summer when I'm on vacation. We've fished from piers, bridges, beaches, skiffs, big party boats and our own personal boat. We always go to the Florida Keys and never stray too far from shore choosing to fish the back country which is always fun. This past summer we were blessed with a week of unprecedented great weather. Great weather for fishing means having no wind. We've never spent a week with no wind in the Keys, but that is what the Good Lord gave us. The first morning we were there my father kicked me out of bed and simply said, "Let's go fishing." Again, not a drop of wind and my father plots a course on the GPS out to the Atlantic Ocean. Now I'm not necessarily afraid of the sea, I just have a profound respect for it. My father wanted to go fishing for big yellow-tail snapper, so we were going into very deep waters that were unknown to me and that were normally very rough and choppy. But not on this day. The sea was calm. As soon as we dropped the first line, we got a bite and then another and then...well it was as close to the miraculous catch in the Gospel as we were gonna get. We spent five and half hours out there with no wind, in the scorching sun, reeling in fish after fish. Unfortunately, because of Florida Wildlife Laws, we couldn't haul in enough fish to cause the boat to sink, but we did do enough damage out there that we were thoroughly satisfied with the catch. All because we put out into deep water. Even though it is unknown, there is always something joyful and satisfying to be found there.

The Lord is inviting us to go to the deep water this Sunday. We cannot accomplish much staying close to shore where we are comfortable and feel safe. We need to be challenged and that is what Jesus is doing today. We have to deepen our faith, abandon the status quo, throw our nets down to see what blessings we will catch.”

Another aspect of today’s gospel that struck me this week is Simon’s reaction to the miraculous catch.  He acknowledges that he is in the presence of greatness and that he is a sinful man.  Isaiah has a similar reaction in the first reading.  Both Isaiah and Simon Peter have an encounter with the Divine, realize that they are not worthy of being called to minister, but ultimately God finds them both worthy.  The Pope tweeted about this recognition of sinfulness this morning: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy.  We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”  Only in the deep will we be transformed.  Only when we get far away from the world will we recognize our sinfulness and realize that we are in need of conversion.  Only out there in the deep will we reap the rewards and be immersed in God’s abundant blessings.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Love Is...

"[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor 13:7)
Love is…
A heavenly child crying in a manger.
Giving everything to God or neighbor.
A mother loving the child in her womb even though she has never met him or her.
Two people consecrating their lives to each other in the sacrament of marriage and understanding exactly what they are doing.
An elderly woman struggling to make it to Mass every morning at 7am.
A father working 14 hours and still making time to do homework with his kids and tuck them into bed.
A child unexpectedly and without agenda telling his father that he loves him.
A priest sitting on a short wooden stool for 7 hours listening to confessions.
A young man making the ultimate decision to not go to college and enter seminary to become a priest.
A firefighter rushing into a burning tower.
A mother wiping runny noses, changing diapers, finishing homework, packing lunches…all before she heads out the door for work.
A teacher spending hours after school with a student until they“get it.”
An elderly couple worn down by years still holding hands as they walk down a beach.
A newlywed husband missing his working/traveling wife so much that he boards a flight without luggage to fly to her because he cannot bear to spend a night without her.
Two friends sitting together, not saying a word, and yet saying everything.
A wife or husband staring adoringly at their spouse during their final hours on earth knowing that God is about to call their beloved home and trusting that God will take care of them.
A young Virgin saying yes to an angel.
An upright and just carpenter saying yes to an angel and raising the Son of God as his own.
A Rabbi taking off his cloak during a Passover meal and washing the feet of his 12 disciples.
The Son of God giving us his body and blood to eat and drink every single day.
A crown of thorns.
Three nails.
Two pieces of wood.
Blood shed so that we might have life.
Christ on a cross.