Wavelength – Week 3

“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Matthew 22:21

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Our message series, Wavelength, is all about thinking, and we’ve got the expressed aim of getting you to change your mind. How we think, especially how we think about life, ultimately determines our actions and, in turn, our destiny. How we think about a problem determines the decisions we make. How we think about someone determines the health of our relationship with that person. Thinking affects the state of our hearts and impacts all areas of our lives. When someone is thinking like we’re thinking, we say he or she is “on the same wavelength.”

It’s clear in our Gospel today that Jesus and the Pharisees are not on the same wavelength. In fact, you could almost say that they are at opposite ends of a spectrum. Jesus wants to share the love of God. He’s just told the parable we heard last week, where the good AND the bad get into the banquet. No one is excluded, no one is left out. Rather than rejoicing at God’s generosity, rather than thinking and being on God’s wavelength, the Pharisees reject Jesus’ premise and try to re-direct the conversation. They don’t want to focus on God’s love, they want to discredit Jesus and reframe the question into something seemingly black or white, something that gets Jesus in trouble no matter which side of the debate He lands.

The reaction of Jesus gives us such great insight into the strength and character of Jesus. Jesus knows the Pharisees’ intentions, that their question is only to trick Him and their flattery is just bate for the trap. Courageously He calls them out as hypocrites, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?…Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were amazed at Jesus, His refusal to be trapped by their pettiness or even to lose His composure.

Jesus makes it clear that God’s wavelength does include only part of the picture, or one side of the coin, or a view from only one perspective. Caesar made the  coin and it bears his image. Give it to Caesar. God made you and you bear God’s image. Give your life to God. Yes, Jesus says, you can give your life to God and you can obey the law. And Jesus also makes it clear that we’re also called to go beyond the law, to show mercy, to think as God thinks. God thinks differently than we do, and actually wants us to think like Him too. And God wants to help us do that, to get us on His wavelength. That’s what this series is all about. And, again, here’s the bottom line for this week and for the whole series: When we think as God thinks, we do as God says. And that is the only question worth answering!

Peace,

 

 

Wavelength – Week 2

“I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret…”
Philippians 4:11-12

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever had the experience of missing something that “everybody else” knows or sees? Or of being sure that you “saw” something that didn’t happen? And you build your thoughts around your information and from your perspective? And even obvious facts do not otherwise change your mind? We tend to see things from some perspective that is always limited and sometimes incredibly limited. Further, especially when I’m on a tear, we tend to not be very interested in or open to changing our minds. And, we always think we’re right.

All of that is to say that it’s actually very easy to be wrong. We began our message series, Wavelength, last week which was all about what thinking, and we’ve got the expressed aim of getting you to change your mind. How we think, especially how we think about life, ultimately determines our actions and, in turn, our destiny. How we think about a problem determines the decisions we make. How we think about someone determines the health of our relationship with that person. Thinking affects the state of our hearts and impacts all areas of our lives. When someone is thinking like we’re thinking, we say he or she is “on the same wavelength.” And It’s great when it happens, but we also know what it feels like when it doesn’t. Just as we want that experience with one another, so too God wants that experience with us. Or, to put it another way: God wants us to think as He thinks. That, Saint Paul says, is the secret.

For Saint Paul, the “secret” is not something unknowable or mysterious.  It’s a secret because it had to be learned. A more literal translation would be “I have been initiated” from a verb used to describe the act of initiation into the mystery cults. Its use would have been striking to the Philippians, who might well have known it from its religious context. It suggests that what Paul “knows,” he had to be “taught” or initiated into by someone else. And that someone else is Jesus Christ. Again, what Paul knows, he knows by experience, not “in theory.” Paul is making clear that God is at work in every situation. Whether good or bad God is with you. Christ is with you. And in every situation, good or bad, Jesus wants you to learn something, so he invites you to look at your life from God’s perspective.

Easier said than done. But it is possible. In fact, it’s pretty simple, but like with almost anything else that’s simple, it’s not easy. And it involves a little bit of sacrifice, most especially, of time.  First, it means taking some time to become aware of God’s presence. Stop whenever works best for you: in the morning, at lunch, after work, at the end of the day. Think expressly about God being present. Then, next, replaying your day. Replay the last 24 hours and as you do so, pay special attention to opportunities for gratitude. Find something to be grateful for, even if it’s only surviving another 24 hours. Third, close with a prayer of praise, worshiping him.

Overcome the obstacle of thinking only human thoughts and being limited (and challenged) by our human perspective. God thinks differently than we do, and actually wants us to think like Him too. And God wants to help us do that, to get us on His wavelength. That’s what this series is all about. And, again, here’s the bottom line for this week and for the whole series: When we think as God thinks, we do as God says. And that shouldn’t be a secret!

Peace,

Wavelength – Week 1

Have no anxiety at all but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus of the two did his father’s will.”
Philippians 4:6-7

My Dear Friends in Christ,

This passage always catches me off guard and invariably I think of my beloved mother who was a worrier of Olympic caliber!! She admitted to me once that, when things were going relatively smoothly on a given day, she would think of additional things to worry about. And she further admitted that, when some of her worries per laid to rest, she would think of new ones to replace them. And, lest you think I’m casting stones, I have inherited enough of this from my mother that I am, as my friend Pete used to add “Worry. Worry. Worry” to my TO-DO lists.

Saint Paul is pretty clear about what to do with worry. Without any qualification, bring anxiety to God. Make it clear to God in your prayer what you’re worried about. Notice, though, that Saint Paul doesn’t say you’re off the hook, doesn’t tell you just to lay back, wash your hands of things and then take it easy. No. Saint Paul wants us, especially in times of worry or anxiety, to recognize who God is and how God works. And we can do that, Saint Paul tells us by remembering that God thinks differently than we do and then learning to think as God does.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney. Have you ever thought about thinking? When it comes to our thinking, we don’t always give it much thought. But how we think, especially how we think about life, ultimately determines our actions and our destiny. How we think about a problem determines the decisions we make. How we think about a person determines the health of our relationship. Thinking affects the state of our hearts and impacts all areas of our lives. To love God and to love others we must take responsibility for our thought life. We have to grow in our ability to think. We need learn to think as God thinks and see the world as God does. When we learn to think and see the world as God does it will be easier for us to do as God says.

We’re kicking off a new message series all about our thinking. And, I’m going be right up front about it, the expressed goal of this message series is about changing your mind. I want you to change your mind. Actually, it’s God that wants to change your mind with the aim of getting you to change your mind. That’s not to make you think like I do – Lord knows, that’s difficult enough for me, let alone for anyone else.  No. God wants you to change your mind, better to say form your mind, to think as He does. Saint Paul is not just telling us to avoid worry. More than that, Paul is giving us the antidote for worry. When feelings of anxiety start setting in, and you pray, your prayer can relieve your anxiety.

We can’t always control our thoughts. But, if we’re conscious about thinking, we can direct them, and we can correct them when they’re unhelpful. And we can do that in prayer. Even better, we can set ourselves up for more successful thoughts, we can feed our brain the thoughts we’d rather have. Paul even gives us a filter for our thoughts.  Think about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious… excellence and… worthy of praise.

Take some time this week to do an inventory of what, who, how, and where you shape your thinking, even unconsciously. What are you reading, including Twitter and Facebook? What are you watching? Who are you talking to? Then, compare all of that to Paul’s list above. How does what you’re reading match up? How do your conversations match up? How do the various ways you spend your time reflect Saint Paul’s list?

The challenge is that we think human thoughts. God thinks differently than we do, and actually wants us to think like Him too. God wants to help you think more like Him, to get you on His wavelength and God wants to help. That’s what this series is all about. And here’s the bottom line for this week and for the whole series: When we think as God thinks, we do as God says. And that is nothing to worry about.

And it is no accident that we begin this message series in October, Respect Life Month  that our Church dedicates to understanding better and valuing more appropriately appreciating more God’s gift of human life. We need to take some time to appreciate the significance of any and all threats to human life. Certainly, this starts with abortion and we need to speak out unequivocally on this horrible tragedy. Even as we speak out unequivocally, we must also be aware that some people that we know who suffer from the tragic effects of abortion. Almost all of those who have shared with me a personal involvement in an abortion felt that they had no real choice. Pressures from society, medical professionals, even family members pushed them down this path. These pressures came along with a lack of support, financial, emotional, educational and otherwise, and a lack of information about what was happening, especially the long term emotional effects on the life of the mother. Cardinal O’Brien said it so perfectly in his homily at the Mass when he was installed as the 15th. Archbishop of Baltimore (10/01/2007): “No one has to have an abortion. To all those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic church—let us walk with you through your time of trouble, let us help you affirm life, let us help you find a new life with your child, but let us help you by placing that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you, let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an answer.”

But respecting God’s gift of life necessarily and essentially goes beyond simply being against abortion. We cannot be focused only a single issue or threat to life.  Even as we fight for the unborn, we must also respect the life of those born but suffering the threats of poverty, homelessness, hunger, disease, end of life issues, abandonment, discrimination, violence, exploitation, ignorance, imprisonment, injustice, lack of education, access to health care, and other basic human needs. These too are threats against human life and must be fought against, not just as an ancillary to our efforts against abortion.

Again, from Cardinal O’Brien’s installation homily: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus sees his divine image in each of us, and that same God is offended when that image is defaced—defaced by degrading poverty, defaced by unjust discrimination, defaced by addiction and by the crime that feeds those addictions, and defaced by the horrific sexual abuse of the young. For the times when the church has failed to do its utmost to curb these evils, we ask God’s forgiveness and yours. I pledge today that I shall make every effort to ensure that whatever sins of omission or commission have been committed in the past will have no place in the future. It was passion for justice that led priests of this archdiocese to take leadership roles in the defense of the civil rights of African-Americans in the early 1960s. It was that passion for justice that led Lawrence Cardinal Shehan to face down jeers and catcalls when he testified before the Baltimore City Council in 1966 on behalf of open-housing legislation. And it is precisely that same passion for justice that is at the root of the Catholic church’s combined defense of the right to life, from conception until natural death.”

A combined defense of the right to life. The list of threats to human life is long and we live in an age that often dismisses the life of another as unworthy of the same amount or, indeed of any, respect. Each and every person has an inherent dignity and an essential value because each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Yes that image can be obscured by the self or by another, but it NEVER erased and can never be taken from another. This is what we must understand and share better with others who think differently. But even here, we must do so with respect for the other.

What a great way to start Respect Life Month than to celebrate one who saw every part of creation, not just every human person, but every living being, as a reminder and sure sign of the Presence of God. With the Church Universal, we also celebrate our patronal feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. The image of Francis is from the frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi and is said to be the most accurate likeness as it was painted relatively soon after his death.  We celebrate Saint Francis Parish as part of our pastorate community.

Francis viewed all creation as a gift from God that allowed for and helped express a relationship with God. One could say that Francis was the first ecologist because he saw intrinsic value in all of creation and called others to know and to respect that. But more than any of this, Francis maintained and expressed a joy that came from knowing God. From all accounts it was a gentle and exuberant joy that made others smile, bringing them comfort and peace. His joy also brought others to come to know and believe in Jesus Christ, to become active in faith, to want that joy that they encountered in Francis. What a great model for us, living as we do in times that often reject so much of what Francis believed and how he lived.

The challenge is that we think human thoughts. God thinks differently than we do, and actually wants us to think like Him too. God wants to help you think more like Him, to get you on His wavelength and God wants to help. That’s what this series is all about. And here’s the bottom line for this week and for the whole series: When we think as God thinks, we do as God says. And that is nothing to worry about.

Peace,

 

 

Invest and Invite – Week 3

Which of the two did his father’s will?
Matthew 21:31

My Dear Friends in Christ,

The righteous son in today’s parable seems like a good fellow, eager to please, always having just the right word to say like: “Yes, sir,” or, as the Greek word Kyrie indicates, “Yes, Lord.” Notice that he doesn’t just say “yes,” but “Yes, sir!” He’s correctly polite and politically correct. Not so the other son. He’s like … he’s like … well, he’s like us (or at least me)! Sinful, biased, not yet complete in Christ. He doesn’t even have good manners. “I will not,” he says, not “No, sir!”

But then a remarkable thing takes place. He changes. It’s not a major conversion. The Greek word used here indicates not a major and complete conversion but something much smaller, perhaps just regret… a change of mind. But it’s enough that he goes to do his father’s will. He allows himself to be of service to father in the way the father wanted, in the way that actions speak far louder than words.

We’re all challenged today to have the same attitude as Christ, to have that same attitude to the naysayers of our time: the tax collectors and prostitutes, the drunk drivers, the rebellious teenagers, the people in our lives and world whom we regard as less than polite, less than deserving and good. Think about it. Jesus told this parable to sting us “Yes” people in the Church so that we don’t forget what Jesus offered earlier this year in His Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).

This attitude of Christ is the heart of why we Invest and Invite. We want to be good servants, to serve as God asks, to go where God leads, even when we don’t quite feel up to it, even when we’d rather say, “No.” Even if we say it politely. God wants to use us, to use our connections, to use our friendships, our relationships, or bonds to draw others to Him. God uses us to reach others. We’re called to share the Good News that God welcomes everyone, even those considered (at least by me) not quite so worthy. Here again, we’re challenged to have the perspective of God who knows both sons, inside and out, who knows both the spoken response as well as the lived response, the response we see and judge and the response that lays hidden from sight.

This Gospel is meant to nudge us gently from prayer to service, from loving God to serving neighbor. God wants us to seize the slightest opportunity to serve joyfully in the vineyard engaging others, by inviting them to come deeper in faith, by accompanying them, even if it’s just watching the live stream. God wants a relationship with each of us, with all of us.  God wants time with us, God wants to serve us, to love us, to comfort us. And this relationship is what we’re called to share when we invest in another through prayer and then invite them into a deeper life of faith. It’s not about reciting facts or memorizing answers. It’s ok not to be perfect and not be sure of how it all works. It’s only important to remember that it’s GOOD NEWS. To share with others, to Invest and Invite.

Take some time this week to reflect on how you can Invest and Invite. Think about one or two people you know in whom you can invest. Perhaps they are struggling and need your help. Perhaps they’re in your kid’s study group. Perhaps it’s an elderly neighbor or the young family down the street. How can you reach out to them? How can you parlay your already existent relationship with them into a conversation about faith, about sharing the Good News of your faith?

Jesus reminds us that we have many, many opportunities to allow God to use us, to network through us, to serve others by us. Invest and Invite is one of those opportunities. May God give us strength and insight into how we can make the best use, and may God bless our efforts to share the Good News with our families, our community, the larger world around us and everyone else besides!  And may God continue to bless you, your family and all those you love.

Peace,

Invest and Invite – Week 2

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.

Matthew 20:15

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Yes, damnit! I am envious! It’s the Gospel of the workers in the vineyard, when the Master brings in workers at all points during the day from early morning to about an hour before closing time.  And then, get this! He pays them all the same, all receive the same wage even though some worked all day and others only worked for an hour.  Ooooh, this makes me mad. I am only learning now to appreciate this gospel, or, I should say, at least learning to resent it less. It just rubs me the wrong way. I work hard and I struggle. I spend long days, early mornings, late nights all to serve and to serve well.  And yet some yahoo gets into the kingdom before me. It ain’t right as Gran used to say! It just ain’t right. And, as much as I understood intellectually the logic of the Gospel and the generosity of God portrayed, what has really allowed me to come to appreciate this Gospel, even love it, was my own struggle, my own need of God’s mercy. I was unable to live up to all that God was asking and I failed. But still, even though it was only an hour before closing, God offered me generous love and forgiveness.

This is where are hope comes from and how we can even think about reaching the kingdom. I don’t think any of us would be so bold as to consider himself or herself in the first group, but I’m willing to bet that a good number would at least grant themselves entry by noon at the latest. And that’s the challenge. The challenge of God’s love is to look form God’s perspective, to see what God sees when looking at another, when judging another, when serving another, when being corrected and rebuffed by another. This is what this gospel is all about. God wants us to shift perspective, to look as God does and to see as God sees. It’s not that God loves us any less or that others get more. It is about seizing the opportunities that God offers to us and serving joyfully in the vineyard.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God wants a relationship with us. God wants time with us, God wants to serve us, to love us, to comfort us. And this relationship is what we’re called to share when we invest in another through prayer and then invite them into a deeper life of faith. It’s not about reciting facts or memorizing answers. It’s okay not to be perfect and not be sure of how it all works. It’s only important to remember that it’s GOOD NEWS.

And again, what’s the one thing you do when you get good news? You want to shout it from the roof tops. You want to tell everybody, to allow them to share in your joy, to build excitement and enjoy the feeling. We are most generous when we seek to share the gifts we have been given in faith. But sharing faith is somehow different. We feel lost for some reason and don’t want to impose. We hold back and keep it inside. It’s too hard; we’re not prepared; we need more information; we should wait for a better opportunity. But if we don’t share what God has given us, if we don’t invest in others, if we don’t invite others to share Jesus Christ, then we’re no better than those who are grumbling at the end of the Gospel. Our call is to be different, to share the Good News of what working in the vineyard means and what recompense God offers us even now. To share with others, to Invest and Invite.

Take some time this week to reflect on which group you really think you’re in and what that means for your service as a disciple of Jesus. Do you see working in God’s vineyard as a joy, as a service, as a gift? Or are you resentful of those who seem to work less and get more? How do you see those people? What’s God’s perspective? How does God look at and look out for “those people”.

Another instance where Jesus makes it crystal clear is that we’re to serve one another because God has been generous to us. God has suffered and died for us. Invest and Invite is about accepting God’s love and with joy (and ease!) sharing that with others. May God bless our efforts to share the Good News with our families, our community, the larger world around us and everyone else besides! And may God continue to bless you, your family and all those you love.

Peace,

 

 

Invest and Invite – Week 1

…not seven times but seventy-seven times…
Matthew 18:22

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Peter thinks he’s being so good, feeling pretty smug and sure of himself. Jewish law called for a person to forgive another 3 times, even for the same offense. So, Peter takes that number, doubles it, and then adds one more time for good measure. All to impress Jesus with how many times he can forgive. And Jesus’s answer must have blown Peter out of the water. Jesus doesn’t stop at what the law says, nor does he stop the higher number that Peter has set. Rather he jumps over right to the Triple Dog Dare of God’s mercy: 70 times 7 times. Even if we took that literally, can you imagine forgiving someone 490 times for the same offense? But this isn’t a literal number but a figurative one that means perfection, infinity. Jesus says to Peter and to us that we must forgive infinitely as God has forgiven us.

We’re reminded in our Gospel today that God is generous with us. God gives us grace; God loves us and loves us and loves us and never stops. That’s good news, even great news! What’s the one thing you do when you get good news? Like the young couple that gets engaged. Or the young person accepted into the first choice for college. Or the difficult task you are finally able to master after practice and practice and practice. Or the news that you’re cancer free after months of treatments. You want to shout it from the roof tops. You want to tell everybody, to allow them to share in your joy, to build excitement and enjoy the feeling.

Yes, we want to share good news. We realize that we don’t need to know everything about marriage to be excited for the newly engaged. Or know everything about nuclear physics for the young person received into college to study that. Or all the logistics of piano strings or woodworking to share in the excitement of one who has mastered it. We don’t need to understand the science of getting healthy to share in the joy of someone else cured. I think of my sweet mother who was a cashier at the local grocery store. She was great about sharing products she liked or items that really worked for her. She’d talk with anyone who would listen as they came through her line about new flavors, new products, about whether something really “new and improved” if that was really a scam. People would actually wait in her line even if that line was longer because she was joyfully sharing what worked for her and what she liked, offering a simple but experienced take on things.

We often do the same. Except our faith is somehow different, perhaps more intimate, more personal, less transferable. We hesitate, we feel lost for some reason. We don’t want to impose so we hold back, keep it inside and don’t share the gift we have been given. We feel it’s too hard, that we’re not prepared, that we need more information or should wait for a better opportunity. It shouldn’t be difficult to share our faith. Actually, it’s not difficult at all. In fact, it’s very simple when you have the right tools. Our new message series tries to take this challenge in hand by providing those tools, like Invest and Invite.

This isn’t about becoming a professional preacher or mounting a soap box or getting a moveable pulpit. All we need to do is to share our relationship with God. And as Jesus challenges us to share mercy with others, we begin by reveling in God’s mercy for us. It’s not memorization of scripture or reciting the content of 2,000 years of Church doctrine or revealing the mysteries of God and the Trinity. It’s simply remembering that God never leaves us hanging and despite our own sins, God still seeks us out. At heart, sharing our faith is sharing that relationship. In this message series, we hope to share some spiritual insights and practical tips to make it easier to share our faith with those already in our lives. It begins with forgiveness, but it goes much further. Like Peter, we’ll be stretched but at least we’ll have some gear to tackle the challenge.

Take some time this week to reflect on the challenge of sharing your faith. Do you feel comfortable talking to someone else about Jesus Christ? If not, what holds you back? What can help you share the Good News of Jesus? What keeps you connected to Christ and the Church? What does it mean to reach out to another? To offer mercy and forgiveness? To share what strengthens you? How can you accompany another who is going through a hard time?

Jesus makes it clear that we are indebted to one another because God has been generous to us. We are called to serve one another because God has suffered and died for us. Invest and Invite is about doing just that and making it a little easier to do so. May God bless our efforts to share the Good News with our families, our community, the larger world around us and everyone else besides! And may God continue to bless you, your family and all those you love.

Peace,

 

 

Labor Day

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Matthew 18:20

My Dear Friends in Christ,

No better way to start up the year than to be reminded that we are not alone. God is close because Jesus has promised to be present when we gather together in His Name. And God reminds us that love is to be our guide. Jesus comes not as the angry judge ready to execute our rightful condemnation but as the gentle Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who gathers and guides and leads and feeds the sheep. The promise of Jesus to remain close to us is the foundation for who we are and how we are called to exercise (poor choice of words – I HATE exercise!) the mandate given us through the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading AND by Jesus Himself in the Gospel.

Yes, we are called to challenge the evil we find in our world and in our sister and our brother (and ourselves although it’s not expressed here). But it’s not simply about pointing out where the other breaks the rules but about reaching out to the other in love. It’s why Saint Paul is so insistent about Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law, rather than just the author of a few precepts or even faithfully subject to the law. Jesus points out the higher law of love and mercy, a reaching out to and a building up of the other. Jesus calls us to do this in such a way as to help the other not browbeat him or her. Jesus even gives a number of steps, leading all the way down to the treatment offered to a tax collector. Now tax collectors were hated, despised, and excluded from the community. By most people that is. But actually, even at this “lowest rung” of a tax collector, Jesus doesn’t give up. In the picture, you see Caravaggio’s late 16th century depiction of the Call of Matthew which shows the tax collector (circled in yellow) sitting at his post while Jesus stands on the right (circled in white), his hand raised dramatically, not to reject and exclude Matthew but to call him as a disciple and an Apostle. This is the way Jesus treats even tax collectors! Oh, and by the way, Matthew was the author of today’s Gospel!!

Take some time this week to think about a person who challenges you, a person who as my mother would say, you want to “beat some sense into.” Think about how Jesus would approach and accompany this person, how Jesus would challenge and correct this person, how Jesus would give to and guide this person, how Jesus would love and lead this person in God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Also, as we approach Labor Day tomorrow, we should pause and recognize those who in this last year have suddenly become “essential.” How can we help those who are struggling now with unemployment due to the pandemic (or for any other reason)? How can we serve those who serve us? How can we uphold the dignity of work in what we do and how we serve? Can we help others find a just wage? Decent health care? A solid job? Some of these things may be directly in the power of some of us. More likely, though, we’ll have to look at how we pray for, care about, and serve others. This is not some ancillary thing we can do whenever we have time. This is the very essence of who we are, not just in the fields of labor for every person we encounter. May God bless our efforts to serve our families and our community and everyone else besides! And may God continue to bless you.

Peace,

 

 

Welcome Fr. Justin Gough!

God forbid…
Matthew 16:22

My Dear Friends in Christ,

It’s a natural reaction isn’t it? We hear of bad news OUT THERE and immediately we think, God forbid that should happen here. This is Peter’s reaction after Jesus bears a difficult truth for the disciples. Jesus has just told them that He (Jesus) will have to undergo much suffering, persecution and even death. Peter doesn’t want that for Jesus, his best friend and teacher and shepherd. Peter wants Jesus to show God’s glory but doesn’t want Jesus to suffer. Let alone die. Jesus doesn’t want it either; He’s no masochist who revels in the physical pain and humiliating degradation that come with the Cross. No Jesus doesn’t want it either and that’s why His response to Peter is so sharp. It’s a scary reality that Jesus will not turn away from or bypass by taking an easier way out. Jesus will head through the suffering to the Resurrection on the other end.

Not sure about you, but I must admit that I’m often in this boat with Peter. I hear of or encounter some horrible news, either for myself or for someone I love. God forbid…  Do something to stop it, heal it, fix it.  And when “nothing” happens, I begin to ask why. How could it be? Why didn’t God do something? And I also have to admit, that sometimes it’s not only about the suffering of others. There are times when I don’t want to pick up my cross. I’m tired. It’s too heavy. I want to lay this cross down to take up a smaller cross, one that doesn’t hurt so much, cost so much or take so much from me. Like Peter for Jesus, I want God to forbid my suffering as well. We know, though, that it doesn’t work that way.

Even in our suffering, Jesus carries our cross with us. The sharpness of Jesus with Peter that was prodded by the seriousness of the coming suffering doesn’t last long. Jesus does not remain angry with Peter and continues to walk with Peter, to share Peter’s suffering, to forgive Peter’s sins. Over and over again, both before and after His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus will reach out to feed (literally!), nourish, and strengthen Peter. This Gospel can serve to remind us that even we suffer and struggle, even when darkness seems to reign, even when we face evil (sometimes of our own making), God will not abandon us. God remains present. God still loves us. And God has a plan to bring good even from our suffering, darkness or evil. God’s plan will not alleviate my immediacy or pain, but God can bring HOPE.

In the face of so much already this year, allow this Gospel to speak HOPE into your lives and into our community. God forbid that so many people are dying from COVID-19. God forbid that black people suffer injustice, even at the hands of some police. God forbid that our police are in danger even as they try to protect and serve. God forbid people should get cancer. God forbid that children die. Even though God has not forbid these horrible tragedies, God will bring good from them. We call on God, then, together as a community, for HOPE. God, help us to trust when so much in our world and in our lives seems broken and disjointed and out of order. God, help us to know Your Presence and feel the warmth of Your love.  God, help us understand Your plan for us: our growing stronger, our trusting more and our serving better to bring Your HOPE to others. God forbid we should let suffering stop us.

Congratulations to Fr. Justin Gough who celebrated Mass for you today only a few days after he was ordained to the Priesthood. I’m including the excellent article on Fr. Justin from THE CATHOLIC REVIEW by Christopher Gunty. You can also see some other pictures of Fr. Justin here on the Catholic Review website.

Peace,

 

Future priest shaped by priest-mentors, now intercessors
Christopher Gunty July 28, 2020
By Christopher Gunty
Catholic Review
Filed Under: Feature, Local News, News, Vocations

Editor’s note: Five men were to be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore June 20, a rite which was pushed back to Aug. 22 by the coronavirus pandemic. This is the third of five separate profiles of the men, which will appear once a week on CatholicReview.org.

 

When Deacon Justin Gough lifts the chalice for the first time at his first Mass after ordination as a priest, he will remember a man who was a priest for 69 years, Monsignor Arthur W. Bastress, who died July 16.

            Monsignor Bastress had already intended to give the chalice to the young priest. In fact, Deacon Gough had planned to visit the monsignor July 16 to receive the chalice – which had been replated and engraved with the new priest’s name – when he found out his mentor had passed away earlier that day.

            Archbishop William E. Lori used the chalice during the consecration at Monsignor Bastress’ funeral. The family asked Deacon Gough to come to the cemetery for the final commitment service. “After his body was put into the ground, his brother Paul presented me the chalice on behalf of the family,” Deacon Gough told the Catholic Review. “So, I’ve got it, and it looks beautiful.”

            The next time it will be used will be for his first Mass. According to Deacon Gough, no one enters a priestly vocation without having some priestly mentor. In addition to Monsignor Bastress, he recalls two other priests who had a profound impact on his life, both of whom are also deceased. The first was Father Kevin W. Brooksbank, an associate pastor at Deacon Gough’s home parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville, who died in 2008 at age 35. “I’d say he was really the first priest that I looked up to,” he told the Catholic Review a month ahead of his Aug. 22 ordination. Like Deacon Gough, Father Brooksbank had a great love of music. He also had a great personality and sense of humor.  “When I was first thinking about priesthood,” Deacon Gough said, “he was the model priest I had in mind.” Father Michael Carrion, the longtime IHM pastor who died last November, was another shining example of the priesthood. Father Carrion arrived at the parish when Justin was in second grade, taught him to serve Mass and gave him his first holy Communion.

            “And then he took a real big chance on me when I was in eighth grade. I had been playing piano for the contemporary group,” Deacon Gough said, of a group Father Carrion asked him to lead. “He put a 14-year-old kid in charge of adults and told me I had to teach them how to sing,” Deacon Gough recalled in a December 2019 interview in Rome, where he was studying at the Pontifical North American College.  Deacon Gough isn’t sure that putting him in charge of the group was the most prudent thing to do, but knows that the experience of working closely with Fathers Carrion and Brooksbank inspired him. “That had an incredible effect on me and my discernment because it gave me firsthand knowledge of what parish ministry is like,” he said.

            While he acknowledges that he will miss his priest-mentors, Deacon Gough said, “It’s good to have that hope that on the other side now there’s an intercessor – and that is even more helpful, in a sense, than having their friendship and companionship in this life.” Tom Bozek, director of music and liturgy at Immaculate Heart, has known Deacon Gough since he began serving at the altar in third grade. He said a lot of people saw in him early on the qualities that would make a good priest, earning him the nickname, even as a boy, of “Father Justin.”

Deacon Justin Gough of the Archdiocese of Baltimore presents Pope Francis a Ravens jersey signed by Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson Dec. 3 in Vatican City. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Baltimore)

            Bozek said the deacon wants to serve others. Assisting at the parish as a deacon since he returned from Rome in March, he has already been officiating at baptisms and marriages. “He’s relishing those things, being involved in and being around people,” Bozek said. Back in December, Deacon Gough said he looks forward to accompanying parishioners “in every stage of life from baptizing their children, to hearing their confessions, to saying Mass every day, to being there when it’s a difficult moment” or a crisis or death in the family. “You know, I mean, it’s everything. And sometimes all that happens in a single day,” he said.

            After ordination, Deacon Gough is supposed to return to Rome for a final year of education, but that may be on hold for a while. As a student, he would be allowed to return, despite the European Union travel ban on Americans, but he would have to quarantine for 14 days – as he did when he came back to the United States at the height of Italy’s dealing with the pandemic. “I would like to not do that again,” he said wryly. Until he can return to Rome, Deacon Gough will attend his classes online. He will also be formally assigned for sacramental assistance at Immaculate Heart, where he expects to celebrate one Mass a weekend, with new pastor Father Jeffrey Dauses taking the others. He will also help out at other parishes as a “utility player.” He hopes to be able to continue playing and composing music, even if just as a hobby.

 

Deacon Justin Gough

AGE: 26

SPONSORING PARISH: Immaculate Heart of Mary, Towson

FAMILY: Lisa Gough and Gerard (Jerry) Gough; no siblings

EDUCATION: Immaculate Heart of Mary (pre-K–8); Calvert Hall College High School, Towson; Our Lady of Providence Seminary (college seminary) and Providence College (B.A. in philosophy); Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas “Angelicum” in Rome, (S.T.B.; currently working on S.T.L. in Dogmatics and Fundamental Theology)

PASTORAL ASSIGNMENTS: Catholic Community of Ascension and St. Augustine, Halethorpe/Elkridge; St. Michael, Frostburg, St. Joseph, Midland, St. Peter, Westernport, St. Ann, Grantsville, parishes that became Divine Mercy Parish; Our Lady of Grace, Parkton; St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park; Immaculate Heart of Mary d. 

 

Concluding Rites

But who do you say that I am?
Matthew 16:15

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Jesus is not simply fishing for compliments. He’s heard the rumors and understands the confusion. After all, the radical love of God can challenge long held ways of thinking and believing and acting. Now, He’s taking a read on how much the disciples have learned and taken in and made their own. It’s the sign of a good teacher but even more, I think One who understands that there is a lot still to do, a lot of ground still to cover, a lot of sins to be forgiven, a lot healing still to be worked, a lot of love to share. And Peter answer with faith and hope: You’re the Christ, God’s chosen, our Savior!!

Such a profound and insightful answer is not the end of the story, though. What Jesus asks now in the form of a question, the disciples will encounter again in the stark reality of the Passion and Death of Jesus. Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus and their abandonment of Him offer a far different answer than the flash of faith and insight offered in today’s Gospel. Such a drastic collapse of faith in the face of suffering and struggle is not Peter’s alone. There are so many times when my lived actions fall so far short of my spoken words or untested beliefs. Like Peter, I speak the truth when it’s in season, when it’s convenient.  But like Him, when the going gets tough, I often jump ship and abandon the Lord to other devices. Here again, though, even this isn’t the end of the story. We know that not only does Jesus forgive Peter but assigns Peter the task of leading this ragtag bunch of disciples, each sinful and imperfect, to testifying to the world the truth spoken in today’s Gospel. It is only the forgiven Peter who will offer witness to Who Christ is and how God worked in Jesus. What a long, strange trip it’s been for Peter: Floundering. Fallen. Forgiven. Formed. Fortified.

This is a model of how God works, not only for highfalutin people like Peter, but for simple fold like you and I who share Peter’s weakness, sinfulness, and struggles for holiness. And in that, again, we’re not alone. It’s why Jesus gave the Great Commission as marching orders and why we end each Mass with a SENDING. We close out our Message series, Mass: The Pearl of Great Price by looking at the Concluding Rites. We’ve been chosen and gathered together by God (STIRRING). And we’ve come together to hear and be strengthened by our past, present, and future (STORY). We shared in the Sacrifice of Christ (SACRIFICE) and been nourished by His Body and Blood (SUPPER). Now we are SENT. Go forth to love and serve the Lord. Jesus wants us to answer, now with our very lives, the question He asks of all disciples: Who do you say that I am? This we do by sharing the love of God we have received. This we do by taking up the marching orders of Jesus: GO MAKE DISCIPLES.

You can see in the Mass, the outline of salvation history, especially the culmination in Jesus Christ. God comes in MYSTERY in Jesus. In the fullness of the Spirit, Jesus brings the love and mercy and compassion of God into the world. Then, on our behalf, Jesus returns the love of God in the perfect Sacrifice of the Cross, taking us up with Him. We can see the same dynamic writ small in the Mass. God comes in MYSTERY but not in the earthly body of Jesus but, though the same Holy Spirit, under the forms of bread and wine to share with us in the readings, in our gathering, in our celebrating, the love and mercy and compassion of God. Then, on our behalf, Jesus joins our sacrifices to His and offers us all up to God. And it is from this love that we can go forth and makes disciples, sharing with others the love we have received.

Take some time this week to reflect on what it means to re-enter life after Mass. Do you feel sent? Challenged? Do you find yourself nourished and strengthened to share in the Mission of Jesus? What’s your part in that mission? How do you make disciples?

I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, hoping to visit with some priest friends up in Maine. Lots of good conversation, good food (some good drink as well!!) but also, for me, with all that’s been going on, lots of prayer and contemplation as well. Oh…and NAPS! Lots of naps! Please know that I will be keeping all of you in prayer as we gear up for September.  I know that God is Present. I know that God loves us. And I know that God has a plan for us, for our good, for us to thrive. How exciting to keep going!

Peace,

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Jesus said…Great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.
Matthew 15:28

My Dear Friends in Christ,

It’s a tough day for Jesus. He’s been rejected by the religious leaders and misunderstood by his own apostles, his closest friends that he has been working and living so closely with for years. He’s off by Himself, thinking of how to go forward, how to shift focus, change tactics, redeploy resources. Up until now, He’s been concentrating on sharing with and inaugurating the Kingdom of God for the Beloved Israelites, the fulfillment of all God had promised!! But those same Israelites, God’s own chosen people (especially the religious leaders who should have known better!) have refused God’s love in Jesus as too radical, too scandalous, too common. Jesus has to go further and deeper because of their hard heartedness, must reach out wider and even more radically to share God’s love.

And into the midst of this struggle, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman whose daughter is sick. She shakes the handlers, dodges the Apostles, and crawls up to Jesus. She’s annoying, almost crazy, but driven and single-minded in reaching the One she knows can help her daughter. She will stop at nothing, not even bickering with Jesus. Her love for her daughter is matched only by her faith in Jesus. Jesus is amazed to stumble upon such faith in a simple, struggling and suffering woman who’s not even an Israelite. Even with those strikes against her, though, she believes Jesus can and WILL do something, anything to help her daughter. Jesus recognizes in her the faith refused and rejected by those who were chosen, by those in the know, by those who have every advantage. And Jesus gives her far more than the help she asked for in the full healing of her daughter.

What a great image as we as we continue our Message series, Mass: The Pearl of Great Price by looking at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, understood as both SACRIFICE and SUPPER. Even before we dare imagine, let alone ask, Jesus offers us this greatest of gifts. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are made present to and participate in the SACRIFICE of Jesus on the Cross; we are made present to and share in the life-giving SUPPER He shared with His friends. The theological term is anamnesis which speaks of the fullness we participate in and receive from the celebration of Mass. Mass is not merely a reenactment that serves as a reminder to spur our memory or build our faith. The Mass is much more than a liturgical souvenir or postcard sent by Jesus. It’s REAL. GOD COMES. We are made present to and share in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Yes, sacramentally but no less real than did the disciples.

In the SACRIFICE of the Cross Jesus offers Himself for our salvation. Jesus will not stop obeying the Father’s Will nor making known the Father’s love. Even as that love is rejected. Nor will Jesus abandon us, to our own refusal, to our own rejection of what and WHO God has offered. Jesus is faithful to God and faithful to humanity. Which leaves only the Cross.

What Jesus does literally on the Cross, He does sacramentally at the Last Supper. He gathers His disciples aware that they are confused and frightened. It’s a Passover celebration highlighting God’s intervention, reminding Israel of God’s might hand and outstretched arm. Jesus uses that SUPPER, to offer Gift of His Presence, nourishing them, feeding them so that they are never alone, never hungry, never without God. This is what happens at Mass! And what a ride God’s gives us!

In our journey, we’re following a two-pronged strategy. During Mass, I’ll focus on the encounter and the joy, but I’ll also release a short video each week to provide a bit more theology and some questions for reflection. In both the homilies and the videos, I’ll be leaning heavily on a great little book: What Happens at Mass? by Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB. It’s a great book, accessible to all that I think every Catholic should read. I’ll be suggesting each week some reading from here that can help unpack both the mystery and the study of Mass.

Take some time this week to reflect on what it means to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross? Can you understand the love of Jesus in offering Himself? In sharing His Body and Blood? In giving up His life on the Cross? How does this make a difference 2,000 years later? Does it make a
difference? To you? Also take some time this week to pray for my good friend and classmate from seminary, Msgr. David Toups. On June 9, 2020 Pope Francis named Msgr. Toups as Bishop of Beaumont, Texas. He will be ordained and installed on Friday, August 21, 2020. He is a good and holy priest and will make a good bishop. Please keep him in your prayers.

Peace,