Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 54th New Year's Eve


Had a beautiful Mass this evening in Mildred, PA, at St. Francis Church. The music was beautiful. The event is sublime!

It is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Mary is the Mother of God because there was never a moment when Jesus was not God from God, Light from Light, and True God from True God.

Of all Her titles, Mother of God is the most important to the Church for it clearly proclaims the Divinity of Jesus. There is much discussion regarding the divinity of Jesus. Some say He was just a human person endowed by God with special gifts. Some say He was made divine when God raised Him from the dead, but was just human until after He died. Some say he was never human at all, but just an appearance of humanity (like a body snatcher or something?). Some try to make a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

This most glorious title of our Blessed Lady clearly disputes the above heresies. She is truly the mother of Jesus. He is fully human. He is also fully divine, thus she is the Mother of God!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Get Sinners to Leave Your Church

There is a problem that some people have asked me to address:

Dear Father Mike,

I have a question that I was discussing with some of my parish friends. It seems that there are, from time to time, people who are not really very good Christians who continue to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. Some of them are just unpleasant people who scowl and complain every time we see them. Some of these people are, according to good sources, known to frequent bars and participate in questionable activities around town. There are those, as we all to well know this past week, who only come to Mass on "special" days like Easter and Christmas. Then they take all the good seats, often the ones that everyone know is where someone else always sits. It is not that we mind guests, but we are more concerned about people who are supposed to be members, but give us a bad reputation by their actions and life styles.
I guess what I am asking is if there is anything I (we) can do? It is not fair that they have the same benefits as those of us who give so much to the Church. Sometimes I want to tell them they don't need to be here if they do not straighten themselves out. Is there any way for us to eliminate this problem so our Church can be a holy and relaxing place where we don't have to deal with disagreeable characters such as this? Your insights are most wanted.
much love,
Mr. and Mrs. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we just need to let people know they are not welcomed. Some of these people can really be a bad influence on our children and families. We have to get the message to them, and we can do that explicitly, with words. Some people are brave and brazen enough to do just that. They will walk right up to these characters and tell them that they should leave and not come back. Most of us are much too polite to take this approach. But there are ways to deal with this situation.

One thing you can do is just nod at them if they make eye contact with you. Don't smile or give them any mixed messages.

They need to know if they disgust you. Or you could talk in a slightly exaggerated voice so that they could "overhear" your concern about the children seeing drunks or loose women in Church. By all means, keep your kids close to your side. In fact, try to keep them on the opposite side of your body which is closest to the undesirable.

If your parish has the practice of letting people add prayers to the Prayer of the Faithful, you could pray for the specific sin or condition of those present who cause you concern. It may embarrass them, so do not get too specific, but do be firm in defining certain actions as displeasing to God. As you part ~~THIS IS IMPORTANT~~even though you may find it difficult to squelch your usual good natured response to others, DO NOT SMILE. Keep you eyes focused behind them or over their heads, or on someone else. If you can comfortably avoid it, do not offer your hand in the handshake.

If you get stuck in conversation with some of the, be sure to be polite, dispassionate, and quickly bring the conversation to an end. Keep eye contact to a minimum. You can excuse yourself to the restroom, "notice" a friend on the other side of the room/church, or look at your watch and say you have to go.

Beyond that, make sure to inform other well meaning (and often liberal) do-gooders that they should not try to make the others feel too comfortable. Nor should anyone personally invite them to parish activities.

Before long, the people in question will get the message. They will either stop coming, or they will feel so terrible and lonely that they will repent. Either way, the problem is solved.

Thanks for you important question. Many people have expressed similar concerns throughout my years as a priest.

pax,

Fr. Mike

P.S. OR YOU COULD:

1. LOVE THEM LIKE JESUS DOES!

2. ACCEPT THEM SHORTCOMINGS AND ALL, JUST AS THEY ARE LIKE JESUS DID WITH YOU.

3. OFFER THEM THE ARM OF FRIENDSHIP

4. PRAY FOR THEM THAT THEY MAY DRAW CLOSER TO GOD

5. LOOK FOR SIGNS OF GOODNESS IN THEM AND BUILD ON THAT

6. INVITE AND ENCOURAGE (DON'T NAG) THEM TO BECOME INVOLVED IN THE CHURCH

7. THANK GOD FOR THEM AND ASK FOR THE GRACE TO BE AN INSTRUMENT IN THEIR ONGOING CONVERSION

Perhaps the result will be conversion! Presto-Changeo! Now saved, not sinners!

Who knows, you might find yourself getting a little closer to God in the process.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

PRAY FOR PRIESTS!


Today I went to a local parish which has Eucharistic Adoration every Tuesday, except when there is a fifth Tuesday in the month. Guess what... Yep, this is the 5th Tuesday of December. I am praying that one day our little town of Williamsport, PA, will have a Perpetual Adoration Chapel somewhere. If I am ever made pastor, my church will have Perpetual Adoration. That is my promise to our Lord and His Blessed Mother.

So, anyway, I had a nice time praying in this Church all decorated in Christmas splendor to honor our Lord's Incarnation. While I was praying, two lovely elderly ladies came in to make a visit. Before they left, they came over to me and introduced themselves. They, mother and daughter, are relatively new to the area. The mother is a member of the Church where we were praying. The daughter is a member of The Door, a congregation that protests Catholicism and much of Protestantism. She did not seem to share the disdain for Catholics I have encountered among many of their members.

In the course of our conversation, which included praises to God and a request that I pray for several situations in their family, the woman informed me that her husband had been a Franciscan priest for 30 years prior to their marriage. According to her, "He left one vocation for another. Now I am his vocation." Then she jokingly added, "And I am a full time vocation." She showed me pictures of her handsome grandson and his 3 adorable children, and one of her and her husband. I didn't say it, but he looked Franciscan. He still, even in a photo, had something of that spirit though he was now a member of or at least worships with an apostate group. Then they left, and I returned to prayer. I lifted up their intentions. God, of course, graciously heard.

But... there is always one of those with me ... I was disturbed by her comment that her husband's vocation was now full time to her. Is not every vocation to the Lord? She may not have meant that she usurped God in some way, but I wonder if she does somehow wonder.

I guess this is germane to me because 2009 was a year in which my vocation to the priesthood was severely tested. I was prevented from saying Mass and functioning as a priest from September 2008 until October 2009. The reason was, ostensibly, that I was in disobedience to my Bishop for refusing to take an assignment that would prevent me from caring for my now 95 year old grandmother despite the fact that I had a verbal agreement with the Bishop himself. Vicars, church politics and an ineffective style of leadership resulted in my unfortunate situation. It was not until I consulted and retained a Canon Lawyer that I was reinstated because there was, in fact, no basis for my dismissal.

Anyway, during that period of exile I was seriously questioning my priestly vocation. Was God trying to tell me something? Had I committed the sin of presumption by daring to pursue such a holy vocation? Was God punishing me? Was God testing me?
Could I endure the test?

Now, two months "back in the saddle" so to speak, I think there may have been a bit of punishment due to a laxity in personal prayer and for carrying a few grudges. That is now purged, thanks be to God! But the test... I think I passed the midterm exam. I have been given a renewed and deeper love for Christ and His Mother, as well as a renewed zeal for the priesthood, the sacramental life, preaching the Good News, the Rosary and for Corporeal and Spiritual works of mercy.

What about the final? Can I endure the test? With your prayers and the help of Mary and the Saints and Angels, I am most hopeful.






Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Family

"...and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man." (Luke 2:52)



Mary pondered all these things in her heart and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.
Mary pondered. Jesus grew.

It seems to me that this is the whole of the Christian life and experience. We encounter Christ in some way, great or small. We reflect on this experience. And, Glory to God, He grows in our hearts, our awareness and our living.

What a joy it is to have the knowledge and favor of God grow in our lives through each encounter with Christ Jesus. There seem to be times, however, when the encounters are rare. What then should we do? We should follow the example of His holy Mother. Mary found the Child Jesus in the temple. We, likewise, must get to the "temple" to find Him in those desolate times when we feel lost or cannot feel His presence. Of course, I am referring specifically to the Church, and most specifically to the tabernacle! There we will find our Savior lovingly waiting for us. There He will listen to us as we pour out our hearts. There He will bless us as we bask in the light of His grace.

O, if we only would realize that He is there, really there in every Catholic Church in this most singular way. The same Christ who's birth we have just celebrated is there, childlike and innocent. The same Christ who wandered from His holy family to be in the temple with His Heavenly Father is there to amaze us with His questions and astound us with His answers. The same Christ who taught the disciples is there to instruct your heart in His ways. The same Christ who died on the Cross is there, laying down His life for your Salvation.

This is no mere symbol. This is not some form of religious rant. This is no mere doctrinal statement. This is Jesus. This is the Word Made Flesh.

Come, then, my brothers. Come, my sisters. Sit in His presence. Kneel in adoration. Lay your head against his beating Heart.

Ponder. Ponder and pray, and Jesus will grow in wisdom, and age and favor in your heart.

I found this fascinating quote today:

There is something defiant in [Christmas] also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. (G. K. Chesterton, from The Everlasting Man)Randy Beeler, The Catholic Comedy, Dec 2009

You should read the whole article.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solstice

As the earth tilts away from the sun, the days grow shorter, the light is dimmer, the night is longer. At times it seems as though the darkness will overcome.

As a person tilts further and further away from the Son, the very light of life seems to be about to be extinquished. The darkness can be overwhelming. I know. I have been there.

Lately I have been experiencing a different type of darkness. It is not due to "tilting away" from God. It seems to be more of a natural result of the growing desire to completely unite to Him. Like the change of seasons, the spiritual life naturally passes from one season to another. Is you soul in winter? Spring cannot be far behind. Are you basking in the warmth of His Love. Remember this grace for the times when the prayer seem to be empty and the Lord appears to be distant.

Seasons of Prayer. Seasons of the spiritual life. Sometimes it helps just to remember that this may just be a season.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why try to write my own when I just found this:



From the
Decree of Damasus:







The arrangement of the names of Christ, however, is manifold:
Lord, because He is Spirit;
Word, because He is God;
Son, because He is the only-begotten son of the Father;
Man, because He was born of the Virgin;
Priest, because He offered Himself as a sacrifice;
Shepherd, because He is a guardian;
Worm, because He rose again;
Mountain, because He is strong;
Way, because there is a straight path through Him to life;
Lamb, because He suffered;
Corner-Stone, because instruction is His;
Teacher, because He demonstrates how to live;
Sun, because He is the illuminator;
Truth, because He is from the Father;
Life, because He is the creator;
Bread because He is flesh;
Samaritan, because He is the merciful protector;
Christ, because He is anointed;
Jesus, because He is a mediator;
Vine, because we are redeemed by His blood;
Lion, because he is king;
Rock, because He is firm;
Flower, because He is the chosen one;
Prophet, because He has revealed what is to come!

AMEN

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tidings.

A cold heart. A cold greeting. A cold breeze. A cold grave. And a cold shoulder.

What at day. Even priests and other faithful followers of Jesus are not immune.

I try not to let "it" get me down. I'm not always very successful. So I have a trace of the holiday blues. Notice that I did not say Christmas blues. The holidays can be downright depressing as we witness so many people becoming frantic: cookies to bake, gifts to buy, house to decorate, parties to attend and host, work that won't wait until after the holidays... It is the plague of modern life, this holiday season. And the whole time the radios blare out the insipid music we call Christmas Songs and holiday music. What once proclaimed the birth of our Savior, now glorifies infidelity as it rocks and rolls over souls numbed by consumerism and passion.

It makes me long and nearly mourn for a return to a time when no one cared about holidays. After all, it didn't matter what the day, the cows still had to be milked, meals prepared and the fire stoked. What mattered was the Holy Day. A holiday is a supposed break from the daily grind. A Holy Day is entering into the very meaning of that same grind. Holy it is to care for our family and our homes when they are domestic churches rather than temples of pleasure and leisure. Holy it is to gift someone with our caring presence rather than useless presents. Holy it is to offer a word of encouragement, a prayer for peace and a reason for hope. Holy it is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the lonely and imprisoned. Holy it is to raise our voices together in worship of God at Holy Mass.

So in this cold season of cold shoulders and cold breezes I want to offer a warm word of hope. Even as the wind brings winter storms, it is soon to bring the spring thaw. Even as we mourn the losses of this life, we are steadfastly inching toward that time when there is no mourning, no tears and no loss. Even as I wrap my arms around my chilled body, the Lord and His Blessed Mother wrap their arms around me.

Glad Tidings in this Holy Season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Friendships & Family

My grandmother continues to do as well as can be expected considering her age and previous health record. She will be 95 on December 16. Can you imagine the changes she has witnessed in that span of time: radio, cars, television, antibiotics, space travel, computers, just to name a few. In addition to all those externals are all the relationships which have run and continue to run their evolutionary course from inception to conclusion. All of this is quite ordinary except for the span of time she has endured. Somehow, though, I find it quite daunting, this passage of time with all its changes. To me, this ordinary process is so extraordinary! I watch in awe, almost afraid to breath, as though any movement might break the spell. Or perhaps, by not breathing I might be able to stop this relentless passage of time. Perhaps I could keep my grandmother alive forever, something I couldn't do for my mother. The ravings of a madman and the hope of a fool...

I risked a breath today. Grandma shrank another inch. A friend succumbed to cancer. A parishioner gave birth to number 3! The clouds parted at 3:45 p.m., allowing the sun to brightly shine. Then the sun and the rain conspired to create a most spectacular rainbow. What if I hadn't taken that breath?

So my dear friends I am sending this your way in the hopes that across the miles, in word and memory, we might conspire, for a moment however fleeting, to shine a ray of friendship on one another.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some musings on the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish

Leftovers or part of God’s endless supply of blessings?

Jesus blessed the fish and the loaves of bread. 5 fish. 2 loaves. And the multitudes were fed. 7 baskets were left over. Cups overflowing. Abundance galore. More than enough and then even more.

The same, saving Lord continues to bless with the 7, this time not bread and fish, but 7 sacraments. 7 sources of his divine love. 7 moments in time that speak of His unspeakable love. They reveal His unknowable Nature. They create in us what is already from the beginning of time. What is unforgivable is forgiven.

These seven moments we know as the Seven Sacraments. From Baptism through Last Rites, we are given abundant Grace with more than enough to give to all with whom we come into contact.

There is no limit to the abundant Grace God has given to us. At times we may think that we are lacking. All that we are really lacking is the presence of mind to see what is there.

Advent Joy is Every Day Joy!

Joy

Was talking to a dear friend of mine the other night. She had read an article on joy which stated that although we interpret the meaning of the word to be happiness, the actual original meaning was grace.

Grace is such a rich reality. It includes all of the following:
The presence of God
The power of Love
The incredible knowledge of being ultimately safe in the care of God
Being blessed, gifted and happy.
So joy includes happiness, but is not limited to it. Joy is the manifestation of grace in our lives when we realized that we are not trapped by our fears, sadness, difficulties or emotions.

I find that Joy is and independent truth. It exists as a very real expression of the Grace of God. Joy is. And joy is not limited nor is it extinguished by those moments of life which we often label negatively. Thomas Merton has written,
"Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for Joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not yet begun to live."

This season of Advent, this season of beginnings, let us begin to Live in Christ!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You Cannot Heal Yourself Out of Hell

You Cannot Heal Yourself Out of Hell

I read this most amazing statement just today. At first I didn't know what to do with that statement. I was wondering if that meant we were stuck. No way out for us. We just have to endure this vale of tears until the time of our deliverance. The world will always be violent. I will forever be crazy and tormented. The gates to Eden are not only locked, but lost long ago, never to be found. The only hope we have is to be strong enough to endure until the day of our salvation.

You can't heal yourself out of hell. All you can do is to love yourself into heaven. To love yourself means to put yourself fully and totally into the hand of Love Itself. In this sense, loving yourself has nothing to do with narcissism. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is not grasping and grabbing for all we want. It is completely releasing the self with all its desires and and even its needs, into the Hands of God.

God, alone, holds real love. And His Real Love is the only antidote to the hell which imprisons so many of us at various moments in our lives. So Love yourself into heaven, where there is no fear, no longing, no suffering, no selfishness, no bloated egos, no hatred, no violence, no disappointment, no brokenness, no lostness.

The Rosary Saved My Life

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

I am now one month back in active ministry. I cannot explain the depth of joy I feel when I am doing the Lord's work as a Catholic Priest. I still struggle with Church "issues" and personalities within the presbyterate. I have tried to mend any broken relationships with my brothers. Some have accepted my attempts at reconciliation. Some have not. I doubt that I will ever attain any remarkable level of sanctity. I hope to attain Heaven as the Blessed Mother, the Saints and many fine Catholic people continue to pray to Jesus for me. With the above disclaimers, I want to share something that "happened" to me and in me this past year.

Because I had been barred from Sacramental ministry for a year (until this October, 2009) I was totally lost. I felt that my world had fallen apart. My purpose here is not to defend myself or to cast blame. Our Good Lord knows enough blaming has already been cast. But my world had fallen apart:

I lost the right to function as a priest.
My salary was removed. I had to live off my retirement and loans.
I felt like I lost my reason for being.
Shamefully, I thought God had abandoned me (because I deserved it).
It was like a divorce and unemployment and homelessness all at once.

As a result, my faith was plummeting and I began a descent into depression that left me numb. The world seemed to be a grey and cold place. Life and nature seemed to mock my loneliness and despair. I was just barely hanging on to sanity and life itself because I had the responsibility of caring for my grandmother in her declining years. Indeed, I had entertained the thought that once she died I myself would stop living. I was not willing to define that term, but I was "open" to any solution. You can read between the lines.

There was one ray, one golden ray of light. I continued to pray the Rosary. It was the one portal of access to our Lord Jesus that was still open to me. I would pray the Rosary without consolation, but with the knowledge that Mary was holding my hand even as I was struggling to run away from God's Church. I would pray without intentions or pleas. I would mouth the words, hoping that they could be used for someone who needed the prayers for healing or salvation.

Our Lady would quiet my mind as a mother consoles her child when he/she is ill. For that short period of time I would be free from the torment of my exile. I can't say I felt peace or hope. What I felt was... companionship. She would listen to my Aves and remind me through the mysteries of the ever present Presence of Christ. She would remind me of the salvific nature of suffering. She would remind me of the mercy of God, especially when I was sure of His anger. And She would remind me of the eventual reward is ours when we persevere. She Who persevered is now Queen of Heaven.

Then, though I was not worthy, She sent a few very special people to pray for me and befriend me. And somehow, despite myself, the months passed and I persevered one moment at a time. And Glory to God, I did not loose my faith. I did not take my life. I did not leave the Church. I did not break my priestly vows. All this was due to that one impoverished daily attempt to "say" the Rosary.

Thank you Blessed Mother. Thank you, Jesus for Your Divine Mercy. Thank You, Holy Spirit for placing within my heart the inclination to reach for the Rosary. Thank You, Heavenly Father for your patience and for purifying my Priesthood.

The Rosary saved my life so God could restore my life and bless it abundantly.