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The Homily Archive

Provided by The Pastor . . . Joseph P. Lacey, S.J.
unless noted otherwise.

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." One of my favorite moments in the paschal triduum is the Holy Thursday ritual of the washing of the feet. At the climax of his life and ministry Jesus gathers his closest friends to celebrate the Passover. In John's gospel Jesus astonishes his friends by removing his robe and tying a towel around his waist like a servant and then washing his disciples' feet. How could they ever forget that shocking scene when the master and Lord humbly knelt before them? He had tried numerous times to invite them to this kind of humble greatness, but they just could not take it in. Instead they looked for their own advantage and jockeyed for position. "What's in it for me?" Peter asked in last Sunday's gospel. But Jesus' action was more than a revelation of his personality. It was an invitation to his disciples to imitate this humility. "If I, your master and Lord, have humbly washed your feet, so must you wash one another's feet." Not only does Jesus embrace our humanity completely, but he calls us to share in his divinity.

Through the ages, at the best of times, men and women have taken these words to heart and lived lives of generous service. The beautiful stained glass windows in our Church depict some wonderful examples of this wholehearted response and humble service, but we know there are so many other examples: foster parents who open their hearts to a vulnerable child, volunteers who work long and hard to build up their communities, family members who never stop reaching out to alienated relatives.

Today is Mission Sunday and while we quite rightly remember the ministry of women and men, lay and religious, who proclaim the gospel through their lives of service, the Church challenges us to remember that this invitation to humble service and to share in the Lord's mission is the work of every Christian. We can marvel at the life of Mother Teresa, but she would be the first person to say that she is only doing what every Christian is called to do.

I often speak of Walter Kongari and his pioneering evangelization work. He's an excellent example of a missionary. In spite of physical hardships and continual threats of violence and all the health problems that come with growing older, he faithfully proclaims God's word through a variety of ministries. A number of our parishioners have been very generous to Walter, but his attitude is not that these benefactors are helping him to do his work, but that he is helping his benefactors to do their work of faith. He sees himself as their representative in the field. This weekend at all of our liturgies the second collection will give you the opportunity to be part of the Church's world-wide mission work, but that's only one way we respond to the gospel.

I think we've all known people who have lived lives of humble service by caring for an infirm relative or a special child. Jesus was right. These are the truly great people. Their acts of affection and compassion model for us a true disciple's response to the gospel. Mary Assunta Baxla was one of the most extraordinary women I ever met. She was our cook in Gomoh. I was an early riser in those days and I'd hear her at 3:00 o'clock in the morning cracking coal to start her fires to prepare breakfast for 450 boys and another 50 or so staff. Sometimes there were retreatants or workshop participants to cook for too. The food was simple: surplus cracked wheat from Catholic Relief Services, rice and lentils and curried vegetables, but it was always carefully prepared, tasty and well cooked. Her salary went to buy land for her parents and to put her sisters and brothers through school. Mary Assunta was always upbeat and, while she had little formal education, she was perceptive and articulate, often quite funny, and always genuine. I wouldn't be at all surprised, if I ever do by some fluke get to heaven, to find the place on the right and the left were reserved all along for Walter Kongari and Mary Assunta, or perhaps my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bud, or maybe Larry Hunt and Frank McGauley. Who are your models of humble service? Aren't they the same people you'd expect to see front row center in the kingdom? I believe the Lord who gives us these examples also gives us a share in their call to humble service. How will you follow through in your response today? Who will you reach out to? Whoever wishes to be great will serve others. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. How will you serve today?

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"Jesus looked at the man and loved him and said, 'Come; follow me, but the man had many possessions and turned away with a sad heart and left Jesus." The story of the rich young man is one of the saddest in scripture, because, while we can be confident that Jesus' look of love towards him never changed, we're not sure the man ever looked back to see it. He was obviously a genuine, goodhearted person, devout and earnest in his spiritual seeking. "What more must I do to gain eternal life? ee all that I have done?" In love Jesus wanted to free him from assuming the responsibility for saving himself. Perhaps if he just let go of all his stuff, he would stop relying on himself and allow himself to rely instead on God's loving plan of salvation for him. Jesus was calling him away from things and performance into a loving relationship with God. The man probably thought of all he might lose and forgot about that eternal life he had asked about which he could only receive just by letting go and letting God love him.

I'm a pretty positive person, but it's obvious to me that we live in a society of materialism and consumerism. In my previous community, down at Holy Trinity, one of my jobs was to take out the trash in the morning. One cold morning as I threw our daily bag into the dumpster, it struck me that I had lived twenty-two years in India and in all that time hadn't accumulated even one bag of trash. I returned from India for the final time in 1988 with Jim McGinley, an infirm elderly Jesuit, so I brought back just a shoulder bag with all my stuff in it, so I could assist him. Now my closets and drawers are jammed. Where'd it all come from and why is it all in my room? Even so, it seems strange to read or hear on public radio reports on sudden wealth syndrome: young professionals in their twenties suddenly finding themselves with a million dollars, an eighty hour workweek and meaningless lives. "Money can't buy me love," the Beatles sang, or happiness or meaning or eternal life.

I'm sure we all know stories like this. The parents of my sister-in-law, Evelyn, died quite tragically just before Christmas over fifteen years ago. They lived in Junianta, a neighborhood in north Philadelphia, which had seen better days. The parents had very few possessions in their little row house. The father had some train sets and the mother some jewelry and a mantle clock. None of the sisters or brothers needed the trains or jewelry or that old mantle clock, but they haven't spoken to each other since that Christmas. Talk about turning aside from a look of love and having hearts burdened with possessions. They are not bad people, anymore than the rich man in our gospel was bad. It's just too easy for our hearts and our closets to get crowded.

This weekend I have asked Jim Hull, the chair of our finance committee to give a report to the parish. We've experienced the effects of the slump in the economy in our weekend collections and we've tried to cut back wherever possible on our expenses, but some things like the bathroom renovations just had to be addressed. We are blessed with many generous parishioners who share their time, talent and treasure to enrich our faith community. Visitors continually remark on the warm family spirit and our many opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth. Our monthly poor box donations and outreach to St. Gregory's and programs across the city and around the world are always a sign to me of God's goodness and grace powerfully alive in our parish. Our religious education department continues to grow in numbers of participants and varieties of programs. Opportunities for our young people of every age to mature as Christians continue to expand.

I've been telling my friends how embarrassed I am to speak to the parish about our finances. The only comforting word I've gotten was that I'm not begging to buy myself a new boat. I'm asking everyone to be generous and help to build our faith family. Since my arrival in Woodstock eleven years ago I've been reminded a number of times that our parish belongs to the parishioners and that I'm just passing through. And that's true. Each year in October the Archdiocese recommends that we preach on stewardship, not only because it improves the parish's financial position, but because it gives everyone an opportunity to reflect on their stewardship of the gifts God has entrusted to them and to exercise responsibility for the health of their own faith community. I know there are many people who do not like being asked for money. I know I don't. I apologize to them in advance. After prayer and reflection, though, I believe I would be remiss in my responsibilities as pastor to neglect this important issue to protect myself from criticism. I welcome your feedback. Just warn me to duck.

Bill Bausch tells the story of the little kid who comes to the front door with a plastic cup and explains to the gentleman who answers that he's raising a million dollars for famine relief. With a smile he asks the boy, "All by yourself?" "No," he says, "I've got another kid helping me." I believe we are all in this together and, luckily for us, God is in it with us. I've often told that story from Rabindranath Tagore, India's Nobel Laureate in Literature, of the beggar sitting by the roadside who hears the approach of the royal cavalry, then the trumpets announcing the maharaja and finally the splendor of the royal carriage. When the maharaja gets down and walks toward him, the beggar begins imagining the house he will build and the fields he will own and the things he will buy with the alms he receives. Instead the maharaja stretches out his hand to ask alms from the beggar. The beggar reaches into his bowl and takes out a single grain of rice and gives it to the king who thanks him and proceeds to his palace. That night, of course, when he empties his bowl, he finds a single grain of gold and exclaims: "Oh, would that I had given him everything." God is never outdone in generosity.

Can you recognize the Lord's look of love at you this morning? Don't go away sad, or mad. Ask for wisdom. Pray for the generosity of a free heart. All things are possible for God. And God is never outdone in generosity. We join with St. Ignatius: "Dearest Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to work and not to ask for any reward, except to know that we are doing your will."

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"If anyone wishes to rank first, he must remain the last one of all and the servant of all." Our first reading is from the Book of Wisdom, which was probably written in Alexandria after the victory of Rome in 30 BC, as an Orthodox response to the godless philosophy of secularized Jews. Wisdom sets the gentle patience of the just one over against the violence of the wicked. The letter of James presents a similar dichotomy. The mean, selfish and hostile make war on God's people. "Wisdom from above, by contrast, is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruit, impartial and sincere. The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace." Perhaps it is like that sometimes in life, but for me, most often, it's not a question of black or white, but of varying shades of gray. You can blame it on my Myers-Briggs, but my mother called it wishy-washy and said I had a wish bone instead of a backbone. In the Exercises Ignatius invited the retreatant to choose the Standard of the compassionate, healing, empowering Christ over the violent brutality of the evil one, but as Paul confessed to the Romans, "The good I want to do, I leave undone. While the evil I want to avoid is what I end up doing." I wonder what Paul's mother used to tell him.

Mark's gospel is written to put heart into a community under attack. To console them in their uncertain faith Mark presents the disciples of Jesus as a pretty unreliable lot. Time after time Jesus warns them of the suffering to come, and then they argue over who's the greatest. Mark comments that they failed to understand his words. John Petranka once commented, "There are those who know all the notes and there are those who know the music." Not understanding protects them, protects us, from having to change, because understanding is a matter not only of intelligence, but also of character. Once again today, the Church uses scripture to challenge us. What is life all about? And what is it not about? Jesus' incarnation journey, his preaching and his deeds of compassion consistently answer, "Life is about the least of us." To those who suffer or grieve, the Crucified shows his wounded hands and side. The wisdom of Jesus' self-emptying in suffering and death is not a philosophical answer, but it's wisdom's invitation to a relationship in loving faith.

We can read about the disciples' discussion of "Who's the greatest?" with impatient condescension, but what do we argue about in life? Is it really what matters most? I attend a lot of meetings and talk with a lot of people about their lives. Frequently, at least from my perspective, the frictions and quarrels appear quite unnecessary, except for my own conflicts, of course. We're like the stubborn child determined that, "If I hit it often enough and hard enough this square peg will fit quite nicely into this round hole." True wisdom turns everything upside down, sees everything in a new light. Scientific discovery comes from being able to see things in a radically new way. That's the kind of wisdom Jesus offers to the dull, petty, timid hearts of his disciples, then and now. The Son of Man will be handed over and killed. Whoever wants to be the first must make himself the least and servant of all. That's not exactly what they had in mind, or what we aspire to. Jesus embraces the child, the vulnerable, the dependent. Can life really be lived that way? Is a life of Christian service possible? Does it make any difference?

As Mother Teresa began her journey of faith from the Loreto nuns to the Missionaries of Charity, she must have asked these same questions. They say she began by collecting the children living on the streets of Calcutta and teaching them to read and write by smoothing the dirt with her hand and writing the alphabet with a twig. Fifty years later when she died, she left no Swiss bank account or splendid buildings but a host of women and men inspired by her example to make themselves the least and servant of all. Mother said she saw the face of Christ in the face of the poor. In the seventies I gave a number of retreats to her Missionaries of Charity Brothers, and I remember one novice, Jesudas, who told me that when he went to the house for the dying at Kalighat each day, he would call the man he bathed and cared for Jose, the name of his youngest brother, so that he would treat each person with the kind of tenderness and respect he'd give his little brother. When our novices would live in the leprosy colonies we'd work to instill this kind of motivation in them for their ministry. How often they returned, having completed the circle, by finding that Ranjit and Ramesh, Sudha and Sarla had opened for them a unique and personal window into God's loving heart. Make yourself the least, Jesus said, and they found in this world's least a beauty and richness touching the divine.

The Chinese sage, Wu Wei Wu, taught his disciples, "Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9% of what you think and everything you do is for yourself, and there isn't one." Christ's wisdom can turn our world upside down: conflicts at work, troubled relationships at home, regrets and guilt over the past, anxieties and feelings of inadequacy in facing the future. "Make yourself the least and servant of all." Oh, we can all understand exactly what that would mean in our lives, but we don't have to do it alone. The Risen Jesus walks with us as he did with the empty-hearted Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. Do not be afraid. See my wounded hands and side. Let me warm your hearts and open your eyes to my loving and powerful, healing and freeing presence with you. Be not unbelieving, but believe. Now that's a new look at life. Make yourself the least and servant of all.

Homily for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"Who do you say that I am?" Jesus question to Peter leads us to the climactic close of the first half of Mark's gospel. All of Jesus' teaching and all his mighty deeds have led to the disciple's realization of who Jesus is, the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah. In the second half of his gospel, beginning with Jesus' prediction of his suffering, Mark will help us understand what Jesus' Messsiahship means. We know for sure that this continues to be Jesus' question to each of us all through our faith journeys. Who do you say that I am?

One of Kirk Douglas's favorite stories was about the time he was driving down to San Diego and stopped to pick up a seaman who was hitchhiking by the side of the road. The sailor thanked Douglas, threw his bag in the back of the car and got in the front seat. As they pulled away he looked over at Douglas and in astonishment said, "Say, do you know who you are?" Bill Bausch repeats that old story about the president visiting a nursing home and approaching an elderly gentleman and asking, "Do you know who I am?" The man answered, "Just ask one of the nurses and they'll tell you."

Jesus knew who he was, not because of some divine foreknowledge, but because he returned to prayer again and again to discern the Father's loving plan for him. Long before the letter to the Ephesians, Jesus, like all the great prophets, recognized that God had a secret purpose, a hidden plan for him. It would not be revealed at a flash, but, as Isaiah tells us, the mystery would be unfolded by God's grace at God's own good time. The Lord God opens my ears that I may hear, my eyes that I may see, my heart that I may respond. John XXIII's reading the signs of the times was much like the Examen in the Spiritual Exercises; Jesus and the prophets would have understood that very well.

Jesus knew who he was. He also knew who Peter was and, although it would take time and fear and failure, shame and repentance, Peter would come to know himself. It's not a question of knowing about Jesus, having the right information, the correct facts, but it's a question of relationship. When Peter finally knows Jesus, as Jesus truly is, he knows himself. As James tells us, that knowledge, that relationship, will bear fruit in his life and ministry. So, cut the fancy talk. Just do it.

In spite of Isaiah and the prophets, the carpenter of Nazareth who would suffer coming as the anointed Messiah was a surprise, and not only to Peter. As the Lord comes to us today, will he be just as surprising, just as unexpected? We're called to know Jesus, not out there back then, but right here and now. We'll recognize him by learning to think as God thinks with love and forgiveness and generous, tender care. In John's gospel the Greeks come to Philip and said, "We'd like to see Jesus." That's our daily prayer. As with Zaccheus, it's not enough to talk; we've got to do something about it.

Do you want to see Jesus? Look around you. See him in your family and your neighbor. See him in the students beginning their religious education program and in the catechists who are dedicated to teach them. Let our varied parish activities help you find him in our faith life together. Recognize him in newly weds and golden jubilarians, in teenagers and shut-ins. Find him in the goodness of your own heart.

My first assignment as a scholastic in India was to be prefect of a boarding hostel for Anglo-Indian boys. One of the third graders was named Joseph Patrick Beale. He had been found as a little five-year-old begging on the railway platform at Dhanbad station. The parish priest, Bernie O'Leary, thought he had found a home for Joe with the family of one of the Catholic railway workers. When Bernie stopped by to see them on his way to Mass in Gomoh, he found Joe with a big bandage on his head. It turned out the family didn't think of adopting him, but keeping him as an unpaid servant and when he didn't work fast enough the mother cracked him in the head with a brass plate. Bernie took Joe behind him on his motorbike to Gomoh. There was an elderly widow there whose husband had been an abusive drunk. She hardly had enough to live on for herself, but she had already taken in a young widow and her two children. She found room for Joe in her house and in her heart. She'd always speak with such pride of "My Joseph." I've never seen any mother and son who were closer to each other. Larry Hunt put Joe through paramedical training and Joe was in charge of one of our field hospitals. All of the toughest leprosy patients, medically and emotionally, went to Joe. Our doctors were annoyed, and probably jealous, that with Joe's very limited training he was an incredible healer. No job was beneath him, no person beyond care. Mrs. Beale's love for her Joseph bore fruit in his service to the leprosy patients. Who do you say that I am? Well, I saw him in Joseph Patrick Beale. Where have you seen the Lord? Where will you see God in your life today?

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." In our first reading the prophet alerts Israel to the Lord's approach. Speaking, most likely, from shameful captivity in Babylon, the second Isaiah tells Israel to look with confident faith and see, even here and now, the Lord already present in power and compassion to free and heal, to strengthen and transform. Even when it doesn't look like it, the Lord comes to save. All down the ages words like these have uplifted and sustained Israel's heart.

In our gospel reading Mark wants to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's promise, but also to remind us of our role in this fulfillment. In chapter nine of Matthew we hear those chilling words of Jesus to the Pharisees, "Ah, it's only the sick who need a physician, and you, in your self righteousness, you have no need for me." It's almost as though Jesus needs our frailty to touch in order that our Lord can work his miracles in our lives. What is my deafness and dumbness? What am I afraid to hear or to speak? What do I close my eyes to, or my heart? What keeps me hobbled or paralyses my movement?

It's astonishing how attuned Jesus' senses were and how readily he responded to life. The voice of Bartimaeus was distinguished in the din of the crowd. The son of Abraham that dwelled in the heart of the tax collector was recognized in the man who crouched in the sycamore tree. In the anxious rush all around him Jesus felt the desperate touch of the woman with the hemorrhage. If we allow the Lord's grace and love to transform us, perhaps we too could see the sacred inside each person or speak words of family reconciliation or hear the cry for help even in harsh words of criticism. Jesus got people to stand on their own feet, speaking for themselves, hearing and seeing aright.

What better way to connect with that healing Jesus, than for us to become sacraments of healing to each other? Father Joe Nolan in his Good News tells of a woman who called the department of human services. She hadn't seen the little girl who lived in the apartment next door for over a week, but she had heard whimpering at night. When the police entered the apartment, they found the little girl, naked and filthy, chained to the radiator and the mother on the couch in a drunken stupor. At the shelter the traumatized girl neither spoke nor responded to her care takers until the third day, when an aide was washing her face, the little girl croaked: "If I die, will my mommy love me then?" The concern of the neighbor and the tender care of the social worker restored to that little child her speech and her life. Why then do we reach out to one another? Not so much because someone else needs our help, but because, without reaching out to another, we cannot become our truest selves or know Christ's power in our own lives.

I remember a young woman from Germany, Helga, who turned up at our leprosy project and offered to help. She knew no English or Hindi or Bengali. So she spent a good part of her day helping Mary Assunta in the kitchen. The kids trying to teach her Hindi began to call her Alu ki Rani, the Potato Queen. She took a special interest in Raksha Ram, a young teenager, who came to Gomoh when the government hospital would no longer keep him. Raksha Ram had been begging in a train and was thrown off and fell under the wheels and lost both his legs. Alone and confined to the wheel chair that our kids built for him, Raksha Ram blossomed with Helga's attention. Searching for something he could do, Helga decided to teach him to knit. There's no common language, remember, except the language of love. Somehow it was decided to give his first sweater to me for Christmas and they really worked hard to finish it on time. Helga, no expert herself, had forgotten the technique of joining the arms to the body of the sweater, so the best they could do was a right angle. If I kept my arms stretched straight out, it looked perfect, but, if let my arms down, it bunched up in my armpits. It was a perfect gift, of course. Just before she returned to Germany, Helga organized a disco night. Still no common language, she arranged to borrow a record collection of Hindi film songs and bought snacks, and after dancing with Raksha Ram in his wheelchair, she went over to our elderly disabled patients from our retirement center, Amar Jyoti, and helped the Mulvi Sahib, our Islamic teacher, onto what was left of his bandaged feet. I can still see them dancing, perhaps one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life, and it still has the power to warm my heart.

Dick McHugh, Larry Hunt, and I were together one day and at one point we were talking about megabytes and gigabytes. They knew nothing about computers, though it's considerably more than I know. What if our senses were like computers and had a limited capacity? What if our words were rationed and our ears and eyes could take in only so much? How selective would we be in what we said or saw, did or remembered? Our God of infinite compassion is selective in all the saving ways God reaches out to us, just as Jesus was selective in his words of comfort and forgiveness, his deeds of healing and generous love. How can we respond? What can we do to make God's compassion present in our world? Our parish is blessed in the many opportunities we have to effectively minister to those in need, but each of us, in a word of kindness or encouragement at work, trying to build a healthy community in our neighborhoods, ministering to the elderly by offering a ride to a doctor's appointment, an unexpected visit or a card or phone call, can make Christ present in our world. The healing power of Jesus is present within us, to heal our hearts and ennoble us to see with love, listen with openness, speak with affection and forgiveness and touch with tenderness. Each morning the Missionaries of Charity say the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila: "Christ has no other hands than ours, no other eyes or ears or tongues than ours." May our lives of generous service evoke the same kind of faith from the people of our lives. The Lord indeed has done everything well. Even here this morning he makes the lame walk and the blind see, the deaf hear and the mute speak. He does everything well. As we celebrate the Sacrament of Healing pray for all the sick of our parish and commit the wounded of your lives to the loving heart of Christ.

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"Follow the way of love." Today's exhortation to the Ephesians sums up God's plan for us. My guess is that in some part of our hearts it's the plan each of us would choose for ourselves. Pick up the morning paper or spend an afternoon celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation or plan a visit with your family and it's pretty clear that we all have a hard time following this way of love. Sometimes it's frustration and discouragement that stops us in our tracks. Like Elijah we just give up. "This is enough. I can't go a step further." At other times, like the Ephesians, we go over old memories and deaden our spirits by resuscitating the bitterness and hurt and anger. Or like the crowds in John's gospel, satiated with bread, smothered with privilege and opportunity and advantage, we talk ourselves out of God's loving plan. "There's nothing here that's very special, and besides I can make myself even more miserable by searching out something that's missing so that I can grumble about it."

And still our loving, patient, persistent God continues to call us to follow the way of love. God may well be all knowing, but God doesn't seem to show very good judgment. "Stop wasting your time and your grace!" that would be our advice. Fortunately we are created and recreated day in and day out in God's own image and drawn to imitate God's own love. Thank God it's not the other way around. In spite of our best or worst efforts, God is not created in our image, and fortunately for us God does not imitate us! We don't teach God. God tutors us, draws us, each in our own way, into the Prodigal Father's embrace, and calls us, over all our stubborn resistance, to follow the way of love. When we give up, there are angels sent to touch us and get us back up on our feet, and, when we cling to our despair, angels continue to visit us again and again and again. "Follow the way of love. Be kind to one another;" the Ephesians are told. No one says it's easy, but it is pretty simple. We're good at complexifying things, but what part is hard to understand? Follow the way of love. Be kind to one another.

I suppose even those of us who are not Irish can generate a list of people towards whom simple kindness is a tall order, perhaps even impossible, at least if we had to do it all on our own. Well, we're not on our own. Go back to the earliest times of Israel's history and all of it, every step, every moment, is God drawing Israel into relationship. God fed them with manna in the desert, not just to keep them creaking along, but to draw them into a loving embrace. Jesus fed the multitude, not just to satisfy their physical hunger, but so that they would listen and learn, love and be loved. In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius Loyola situates everything in the context of his mysticism of creation. God creates everything in beauty and love to draw us into a loving relationship. Everything is charged with love, points to love, leads to love: children and the Chesapeake, hydrangeas and Guinness, sex and the sacraments. Everything is shaped from the same stuff of God's loving heart to entice us to follow the way of love. What works we welcome. What hinders we let go of. And the ability to make the choice and live it out is God's gift as well. The refreshment of the angel empowered Elijah to walk for forty days and forty nights to his tryst with God. Jesus, the bread of life, will enable us to live forever. This is not sedentary food. This is food for the journey: Viaticum. Just a week before her death I had the gift of celebrating the sacraments with a good friend from Holy Trinity. I wept at her funeral when her husband, Tom, spoke about Mary, but what a comfort to know that strengthened by that food Mary followed the way of love her last days in this life, and continues her journey now in God's loving presence. She lives forever. And so can we.

How will we follow the way of love today? How will we be kind to one another this morning? Does Jesus, the bread of life, really feed us with the sacraments we celebrate as a people of faith this morning? Is it Jesus who breaks bread for us at our parish festival? I had a classmate during my theology studies in Pune who right after his ordination was made novice master of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers. I spent a lot of time with Sebastian in the 70s at their house in Kidderpore in Calcutta. Now the Missionaries of Charity live a very simple life. They sleep on the floor in the corridors or on top of or under the dining room tables. They eat whatever food they can scrounge. I remember having spaghettios for breakfast there one morning as a special treat. And they are used to ministering to really, really poor people. That's why I was struck by one of those old Argus posters they had hanging in their stairwell. It read: "If you have two coins, use one to buy bread for the hungry. Use the other to buy hyacinths to feed your spirit." Ignatius was right. We are surrounded by gifts and signs and touches of God's love. May we allow our grateful spirits to be fed by God's generous love. May we follow the way of love and be kind to one another today.

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"I myself will gather my flock." That's the promise the Lord makes through Jeremiah in our first reading today. Jesus came among us in his incarnation to touch and redeem each facet of our human experience in order to draw everything we are into himself and then reconcile everything we are within himself. Jesus is the shepherd who looks on us in compassion and love and works to gather us all together. We, however, seem to be working at cross purposes to the shepherd's plan. We distinguish, differentiate, separate and scatter. My own family is struggling with a recent quarrel; no one wants to give an inch. Both sides are convinced they are totally and completely right. And now that we've all grown so comfortable with the scandalous wound of division within our church, we can concentrate on vilifying and demonizing political opponents. Our world is more sadly divided than ever. How we need a compassionate shepherd to gather us in.

Who can hear Jeremiah's words about treacherous shepherds without recalling the headlines and news reports of the disgraceful clergy scandal in the American Catholic Church? Often when missionaries from India visit they ask how we preach on vocations at Mass. In the present climate of suspicion and distrust, who has the nerve to sign up to be a priest? And what will it be like to have a priestless church?

In the second week of his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius encourages the retreatant to pray for the grace to see Christ more clearly, love Christ more dearly, and follow Christ more nearly. Remember it was Jesus' opponents who speculated and suspected, criticized and condemned, while it was Jesus who reconciled and forgave. He gathered the flock from among those who were excluded by others. "Whoever does not gather with me scatters," he said. In his meditation on the two standards, or two camps, Ignatius says there are two very different and opposite ways of dealing with life. The camp of evil is characterized by arrogance and hostility, violence and exploitation, selfishness and pride, even though it often masquerades as piety: "Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing!" The camp of Christ, however, is just the opposite, prizing love, joy, peace, patience, generosity and forgiveness, kindness and healing. Our shepherd calls on us, not to be sheep, but to be shepherds! His example is a servant leadership and, as a sign of that, at his last meal before his suffering, he removes his festal garments and kneels and washes his friends' feet. "As I have done for you, so you must do for each other." You can't work both sides of the street. Do you gather or do you scatter? "By their fruits you will know them."

I think we've all known some true shepherds. Among others I remember Father Mike Kavanagh. As a recently ordained priest back in the forties, Mike was assigned to pastoral ministry in Southern Maryland. He was one of the first Maryland men to be assigned to the Jamshedpur mission, but, like St. Paul, he stayed in touch with his faraway faith community in St. Mary's County. Once on a visit to the States I drove Mike over to visit Leonardtown. He was delighted to show me the street sign that designated one of the side streets Kavanagh Way. We visited families and talked about family members and their concerns. Mike encouraged them to stick together and oppose the drug markets that were building up in their neighborhood. I preached at his funeral and a busload of his Leonardtown friends came up to Philadelphia to honor their shepherd.

When I prepared for my ordination back in 1971 at De Nobili College in Pune, where Joe Lerch would later become rector, many of my contemporaries had already left the Society of Jesus. Getting ordained seemed like swimming against the tide. During my scholastic days Mike had been our villa spiritual father and superior and presented us with an example of what a good priest could be. He was kind and caring, generous and warm. For many of us Mike drew us closer to the Society and the Church, the priesthood and Christ, by his down to earth, funny goodness, a model shepherd.

When I visited the States for the first time in 1975 with Larry Hunt, a number of leprosy patients came to Dhanbad railway station to see us off. They had a message for Father Kabin, as they called Mike: "Tell him that we now come to the station not just to beg, but to say goodbye to our friends." Mike respected the patients he worked with and they came to respect themselves and one another. Like the promised shepherd he brought people together. There's no question about which standard he served under.

Think of the shepherds, the peacemakers and the gatherers you have known. How can you live out the example they have set for you in your life today? "I myself will gather them in," the Lord promises. Gather us in, Shepherd, and help us to be good shepherds like you.

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"Do not be afraid; just have faith." "Your faith has saved you." Woody Allen in a reflective mood once said, "More than at any other time in history humanity is at a crossroads; one road leads to hopelessness and despair; the other leads to total extinction. Choose wisely." Well, he got part of it right. We are always at a crossroads and we must choose wisely, but our gospel situates our crossroads at quite a different place. The author of Wisdom and St. Mark address the most fundamental of human situations: fear and suffering and death. Are they cause for hopelessness and despair or for healing and faith?

Wisdom tells us that all creatures of the earth are wholesome and God has created each of us in God's own sacred image to share fully in God's eternal life. At the end of the first creation narrative the author of Genesis has God look out over the work of creation and pronounce it all very good. God didn't leave anything out and our trust in the perfection of God's handiwork empowers us to be free of every fear.

It is this other hopeful crossroads that Jairus and the ailing woman dramatize for us. Twelve long years of a debilitating illness, all her resources exhausted, the unnamed woman stumbles through the passing crowd. Mad with worry, helpless to save his little daughter, the synagogue leader shuffles toward the teacher. They meet at the crossroads of healing and hope, of freedom and of life. "Do not be afraid; just have faith." "Your faith has saved you." All three of our synoptic gospels present this double miracle. It speaks to the faith experience of their own varied communities and to our own experience. We've all been to that crossroads of fear and helplessness with Jairus and the woman, unable to change a situation or undo a mistake or solve a problem. If I could only reach out and touch the Lord, if only the Lord would take me by the hand.

Sometime ago I visited the grotto of Our Lady at Emmittsburg. There is an altar there with the inscription: "Where there is faith, there is no need of explanations. Where there is no faith, explanations make no difference." Our gospel story today calls us to the crossroads of faith to reach out to our healing Lord, to allow him to take our hands and lift us up.

Someone remarked that Jesus came to save people, not to win arguments. That's how he comes to us today, in word and sacrament, to offer us the faith that brings salvation and healing and peace. Father John Deeney will turn 88 this month. John has been an evangelist for over fifty years. He has translated the scriptures and all of our liturgical books into the Ho tribal language and has published a unique study of Ho culture and customs in Ho. Since Ho had never been written down before, he took great pains to choose the exact word to communicate the meaning he wanted. He was puzzling over an accurate way to express the concept of faith and at the end of a long day sat down to read his breviary. He put his feet up and said, "This is it. Faith is like a comfortable chair in which you can lean your whole weight when exhausted and know that God will uplift you."

John Ciani was a forty-year-old Jesuit priest from New York who had just finished his doctoral studies at UVA in American Catholic Church history. He was on tenure track at Georgetown University and regularly published scholarly articles in his field and pastoral reflections in America magazine. He was a popular preacher at Holy Trinity and a terrific Italian cook. John was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and after eight months of aggressive treatment was about to die. I had been visiting him at Georgetown Hospital and in the Jesuit Infirmary. The last time I saw him we spoke for a long while about his family and friends. We celebrated all the sacraments together and as I was leaving he asked me, "Do I have everything I need?" I told him, "Yes, John, you have everything you need." He died that night. I was privileged to be with him at the crossroads of faith, as he waited for the outstretched hand of the Lord to lift him up. He had never visited India, but he would have understood John Deeney's idea of resting his whole weight when exhausted in the confidence that God would uplift him. He had everything he needed. He chose very wisely indeed.

The Church calls each of us to the crossroads of faith this morning, with our hopes and dreams, our fears and anxieties. We reach out in faith to the Lord who is surely present with us, knowing that he will take our hand and walk through the day with us. Choose wisely. Faith is not like holding your breath under water or figuring out a riddle. True faith gives you the trust to rest your whole weight on the Lord in the confidence that the Lord in love will uplift you. There's nothing, nothing at all to be afraid of. Just have faith, the kind of faith that always saves.

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

"Why are you frightened? Where's your faith?" Many of those first disciples were fishermen and they must have been used to the unpredictable storms on the Sea of Galilee. With all the traveling Jesus did in their boats it's inevitable that he went through a number of storms with them. My guess is that Mark passed on this story, though, to help his faith community deal with other kinds of storms that rocked their lives. There were threats and rejection, divisions and persecutions. What a difference the Lord's comforting presence can make in the tumultuous life of the believer. And here we all are in quite a different place and time, but the Church gives us this same story to deal with our own set of storms. Life is not all smooth sailing for most of us. Just when we think we've got things under control, our world is shaken up. Unfortunately, I find myself all too often resembling those helpless sailors. "Help! Where are you?" And the Lord seems to be absent, or at least asleep or unconcerned. "Don't you care that we're drowning here?" Of course, the Lord cares. That's who God is. The Good Shepherd distinguishes himself from the hired hand because the hired hand doesn't really care about the sheep, but the true shepherd does. Jesus cares. For me, anyhow, it's vitally important to remember that I am never alone, even when the mess is all my own fault. The Lord's presence really does change situations and makes everything new.

I had always presumed that the opposite of fear was courage or bravery, but maybe Jesus is correct; it's faith. "Why are you frightened? Where is your faith?" Faith is not meant to be locked up in church, but it's given to us for the storms of life. Things do not always end up the way we would like, but heartfelt faith can keep us in peace even in the face of disappointment or failure. I think we've all known people of faith who have dealt with every imaginable situation with peace and grace. They are not trying to flee reality, but their faith is the ground of their reality. It's a vital and essential underlying fundament of what is really going on.

I like being a priest, but one of the best parts of my ministry is sharing faith with the severely ill and dying, and I've been privileged to be present with several people at their deaths. Today's gospel reminded me of one of those times. When I was down at Holy Trinity, one of our second graders was struggling with cancer. He had missed a lot of school, but I was able to celebrate his first reconciliation and first Eucharist with him. His illness came to a crisis and he was in PICU in Children's Hospital. The family asked the school principal and me to visit with him. Ann Marie had just buried her mother after caring for her through a long illness and really didn't want to see Danny in his final hours. Anyhow, we went. The parents and godparents were there and the decision had been made to take Danny off life support. His mother used to drive him to school each day and part of their ritual was, just before arriving in Georgetown, to play Bob Marley's "Don't worry about any little thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright." So as Danny lay dying we joined hands around him and sang along with Bob. The death of a child is always tragic, but I can't imagine a more beautiful way to die. I believe the Lord was holding hands and singing along with us. He's always with us when we need him most. "Why are you frightened? Where's your faith?" "Don't worry about any little thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright." Peace. Be still. I am with you.

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

"Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body which is given for you. Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sin may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me." The institution narrative that we as a community make sacramentally actual and present at each celebration of the Eucharist is found with only the slightest of variations in Paul and our synoptic gospels as well as in Eucharistic prayers of every tradition all through the ages. In ecumenical discussions participants nuance with delicate refinement our separate understandings of this mystery of faith, but as far apart as our sectarianism can try to drive us from each other, we are, despite all our reluctance, inescapably drawn back into unity, because we all claim we want to do what Jesus did and what Jesus told the church to do and what we know we must always do. My guess is that our stubbornness will continue to frustrate God's loving plans of unity, and that God, with indefatigable love, will continue to unite us in God's loving heart anyway. After all, which is stronger, our sinfulness or God's love? Even so, it's not only a scandal, but also a crazy sacrilege, that this sacrament of unity is perverted into a celebration of our disunity. I say this not only because of the thousands of factional Christian churches, but because of the divisions within our own Catholic community where key principles of the gospel message, forgive and be forgiven, judge not lest you be judged, by your love for one another will you be known as my disciples, these fundamentals are marginalized for various other issues. What a hierarchy of values!

Still within our church, within our parish communion, in spite of everything, the Eucharist calls us into unity. It seems that diversity of understanding will always remain. At communion time when each of us is offered the body of Christ, we assent to Christ's presence by saying Amen, but each of us understands that experience in a personal and unique way. That diversity does not divide us, but enriches our community's experience of Eucharist, because all of our opinions, all the theologizing of every age and time, could never exhaust the mystery of the Eucharist. This sacrament is a call to relationship between God and us, and among us with one another. Moses' ritual of sprinkling blood on God's altar and God's people celebrated the union of God with the corporate personality of Israel. I remember going to Kalighat temple right next to Nirmala Hriday, Mother Teresa's house for the dying in Calcutta. Actually the house had been a temple guesthouse for pilgrims until the Hindu priests gave it to Mother Teresa for her ministry. All day long in the Kali temple there are animal sacrifices, usually goats, and after the animal has been beheaded people reach in to smear the blood of the goat onto their foreheads. Everyone can see who has participated in the sacrifice. They are clearly marked by the blood. How will people recognize our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ?

In a very real way, just as marriage joins not merely bodies, but lives, Israel became a people and in the Eucharist we become Church. As Jack Haughey has remarked, "Eucharist without community is at best a sign with an indistinct or misleading message." Separated individuals, we are called into community. It is in this coming together that God's loneliness meets our own. From the garden of Genesis to the complexities of our modern societies, we hunger for each other and yearn for a coming together into a unity that we nonetheless continually find ways to violate. "Here comes everyone," James Joyce once said. Not a bad definition for our church. "Take this all of you and eat it," Jesus says. Can God cross the barriers we've so carefully erected? "Take this all of you." Do we have to wait for the messianic banquet for all, who are baptized into Christ and who want to do what Christ told us to do in his memory, to be united in the Eucharist? Until then will we preserve our distinct Roman, Lutheran, Orthodox and Episcopalian identities at the expense of the unity of the Body of Christ? "Take this all of you." And what place will there be at that table for Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist and Jew?

I've often told the story of Walter Kongari's Corpus Christi processions twisting their way through the crowded streets and bazaars of Dhanbad, with cries of Krist Raja ki Jai, Long live Christ the King. They were led by our drum and bugle corps from De Britto House in Gomoh. Our kids didn't have a very large repertoire and the closest we came to a Eucharistic hymn was, "For he's a jolly good fellow," so that's what we played. And here we all are for this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Not a very large crowd, but can you imagine all the places we've all come from in our own life experiences? Stretch that across our state from Ocean City to Deep Creek Lake, or our country to Anchorage or Maui and down to Puerto Rico, or around the globe, even back through time to Theresa of Liseaux and Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Monica and the disciples who sat with Jesus at table. It is our Eucharist that makes us one body in Christ. Augustine wrote that when we say "Amen" to "The Body of Christ" at communion time we say "Amen" to ourselves as the Body of Christ. What do we place on the altar each Sunday? We bring all that we are during the week, our work and our relationships, our hopes and our fears, our nobility and our pettiness. And so we say with Peter, "Lord, it is good for us to be here," because we know that this is where we belong, and we know just as well that our Eucharist is proved authentic, genuine and true, not by ritual precision or clever theories, but by our lives. They say some folks were speaking to the pastor on the way out of church, "That was a beautiful Mass, Monsignor." And he answered, "We'll see. We'll see." For as it was with Israel, it's not enough at Mass just to hear the word, but the word must shape our sense of who we are and what our lives mean.

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ draws us inexorably into unity with God and each other, transforming the way we see our lives in God's life. Food for the journey, food for healing and reconciliation, bread of love and drink of peace: where do we need the transforming power of the Eucharist in our lives? And like ministers of viaticum, where can we take the Eucharist to the cares and concerns of our world? They tell the story of the Sanyasi praying on the banks of the Ganga who sees a scorpion scuttle to the end of a stick and get caught in the eddying waters. Seeing the scorpion struggle the Sanyasi reaches out to rescue the scorpion and is stung. The Sanyasi pulls back, but seeing the continuing struggle reaches out again and again, till someone shouts at him, "You stupid fool, why do you allow yourself to be stung by the scorpion?" "Friend," the Sanyasi answered, "It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, just as it is my own nature to save?" Sound like anyone you know? This Eucharistic feast reminds us that this is God's loving nature. What does the Eucharist teach us about our own true nature, and how will we live that out today? At the supper, Jesus said, "Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body which is given for you. Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sin may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."

Holy Trinity Sunday - B

"Know that I am with you always even until the end of the world."

God's presence with us, this is what we celebrate in our feast of the Most Holy Trinity. This is not the day to rehearse and debate the subtleties of the Nicene Creed. We are led in our prayer today by the Ignatian principle that our prayer should not be speculative, but practical. Our devotion to the three persons of the Holy Trinity gives us three ways of speaking about God, three ways to recognize how God touches our hearts and shapes our lives.

Moses asks Israel, "Did anything so great ever happen before? Did anyone ever encounter God so near or experience God so loving?" Maybe not, but God continued to work with Israel. Moses' experience did not exhaust God's mystery, God's love, but it was an invitation to recognize God's continually new and fresh ways of engaging Israel and calling her ever deeper into this loving relationship.

In Christ's Incarnation, we believe, God not only takes us by the hand, but Christ empties himself of divinity and God becomes truly human, sharing our flesh and our lives, our dreams and our anxieties, our love and our loneliness. God becomes human. Did anything so great ever happen before? Certainly not, but God is not through with us yet. Through his life and teaching and deeds of compassion, and particularly by embracing his death on the cross and being lifted up from that death by the Father, we are drawn into God's own life.

Last week, on Pentecost, we recalled how the Risen Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the hearts of his disciples. "Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Forgive." In Paul's image we become Temples of the Holy Spirit, because God's Spirit lives within us. As truly as Jesus entered our humanity, God's love immerses us in divinity. Did anything so great as that ever happen before? Well, I believe it did. I believe that from the dawn of humanity, from our first conscious thought, God has been reaching out to engage us in God's own life. The great world religions speak in diverse ways of God's initiative in relating to us. What a wondrous sign of God's love that God speaks in the idiom, in a way, takes flesh in the culture of people of every place and time. Gandhiji's favorite hymn was the traditional Hindu hymn of the hundred names of God, but God's names, God's features, are uncountable, inexhau

stible, just as God's love is.

And God continues to speak and act and connect with us in our lives just as we are. Couples fall in love and marry and give birth to beautiful children, and God is there in the love, in the child, in our frail and frightened, our noble and forgiving hearts. Day in and day out, before our very eyes, God speaks and heals and loves. It is God who fixes it in our hearts that, whatever else is true, God loves this world of ours; God loves us, loves you, loves me. God reaches out each day to lead each of us by the hand. We each have our own salvation history that we celebrate in our Eucharist, a sacred sharing of life that happens all anew right here and now, in this church, at this moment. We hear God's voice and grasp God's hand and breathe in God's Holy Spirit of life. In this intimate and tender encounter we know ourselves God's children. We know ourselves in Christ, in God, and God in us.

Each time the church celebrates baptism we speak of becoming a child of God, and that is what we are, what we always have been. In God's creative love, in Jesus' life-giving redemption, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our world, we are all one in God. God's love is not corralled and confined, but all of creation, all of humanity, no matter what name they call God, is awash in God's saving love. Christ's promise to be with us is not tempered and measured, but experienced in every breath; every movement of every human heart, each sight, each sound, draws us into the mysterious communion of God's very self, the communion of the Holy Trinity.

And what do we do with this divinity so inextricably interwoven with our humanity? Whenever Flip Wilson was asked his religion, he'd identify himself as a Jehovah's Bystander. "They wanted me to be a witness," He explains, "but I didn't want to get involved." Jesus speaks to his worshipping, doubting disciples in our Gospel, commissioning them, sending them as witnesses.

Sometime back I had an e-mail from my evangelist friend, Walter Kongari. He wrote about a visit with a church that he established about thirty years ago. It sounded for all the world like Paul's relationship with Philippi. The community has grown, not just in numbers, but in the intensity of their Christian experience. Malti Tudu, the first religious vocation, has been professed as a Sister of Charity and a number of kids who started out crowded into the first kindergarten class are now in good colleges. When he returned to Rerua, he and his catechists had to stay awake through several nights to chase wild elephants out of the garden and he watched the flimsy mud walls of his house get washed away again in a storm, but Wally's faith and confidence remains steady as a rock.

On this feast of the Trinity we are reminded that we receive the same empowerment, the same mission, as Wally and those first disciples. The Lord promises us, in our scripture and in our sacraments, to be with us, within us, always and everywhere. How is this expressed in our lives, in our relationships, in the work we do, in the words we speak, in the attitudes of our hearts? We can start by praying at this Eucharist with this parish, but we each have to express this witness in our daily lives, perhaps in something as simple as a greeting card or a visit to a shut-in, or a word of gratitude or affection, of forgiveness or apology. How will you celebrate the mysterious, powerful presence of the Trinity in your heart, in your life, today?

"Know that I am with you always," the Lord promises, "even until the end of the world."

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent - B

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. Today's the first Sunday of Lent. Our Lent is not a time for gloom and sadness. Our liturgical texts refer to it as a joyous season. So our Lenten question is: "Are we having fun yet?" As days grow warmer and longer and hints of spring appear, our Lenten journey's purpose is to help us leave behind our darkness and advance towards the bright joy of Easter.

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is near. Our prayer is an attitude, a disposition, with our hearts open to the hope that this indeed could be a time for something new to happen, a time of fulfillment, when the kingdom of God really does draw near to us. What would that be like for you? How would you know it? What graces, what qualities of life, what inner experiences of goodness assure you that this is true? As Christ leads us to God and brings us to life in the Spirit, what kind of people are we? It's only in such sacred space that Christ can truly Easter in us.

We know well enough the things that hold us back, that weigh down our hearts and make our heavy steps sluggish. There are painful memories we rehearse over and over, unpleasant conversations we play back for ourselves, regrets and anxieties. We've a very effective plan already in place that can paralyze us and drag us deeper into darkness. That's what we fast from. Worries and fears, resentment and hostility: give them up for Lent! In their place we invest our energy and our time in the sort of things that take us forward. Again we know from experience what is life-giving and empowering: reconnecting with old friends, formally expressing gratitude and affection, giving pardon and asking forgiveness. It could be as simple as a walk in the park or using your imagination or creativity. That's your almsgiving. Repenting, freeing yourself from all that holds you back and engaging yourself in all that moves you into Resurrection territory, your Lenten journey will be life-giving for you and for all who relate with you. This is the good news that Jesus gives us.

There's something in us, though, that's comfortable with bad news. Newspapers and TV provide us with details of one terrible situation after another: political corruption, schools without learning or safety, abuse of trust, violence and greed. It's a sad story. Bad news, it paralyses us and protects us from the need to do anything: "Well, you know how it is: you just can't change the world." Lent tells us a different story. Look up. The rainbow in the sky reminds us of God's promise and God's fidelity. It's the Lord who leads us to new life in the Spirit. Repent. Turn from discouragement and helplessness to hope and trust in God's kingdom within us. Lent insists, you can do something here and now. Freeing and cultivating your heart, you can welcome the power of the Risen Christ and allow it to work. Something in our hearts still hears this message and believes it. This kind of Resurrection faith can be triggered by the first crocus or the memory of a kindness, the warmth in a smile or the unexpected goodness coming from our own hearts.

I heard from my friend, Walter Kongari, on Tuesday. He's not in training for the rice paddy marathon, but still he and his teachers have been covering many miles each day either walking or by bicycle to reach out to neighboring Santhal villages. He's a terrible cook, but when he gets stuck outside at night, especially with the elephants on the move, at least he gets a hot meal at the roadside stalls where he sleeps on the tables. With his bottle of aspirin and total faith in the power of the good news he's inviting the Santals of Singhbhum to look up and recognize even in their own fragile lives the beauty and power of God's presence. This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.

Bearing fruit is the sign of true repentance. Lent's a call to action. The kingdom of God is within and in Christ I can do all things. In our bulletin you'll find plenty of resources to help you make this Lent life-giving. Sign the posters at the main entrance of the Church and pray each day of Lent for one of our Confirmation candidates. Gather your family as best you can and daily pray the Lenten prayer from the Rice Bowl or the Prayer for Renew. Read the gospel of Mark right through in a single sitting. Join our parish celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation this Wednesday or our Lenten program each Friday. Perhaps there's an activity that you've been thinking of doing. Visit an elderly relative or neighbor with a bowl of soup; send a card or flowers to one of our parish shut-ins. Participate in St. Gregory's Holy Thursday meal. Open your heart to the weak, the poor, the marginalized. The most powerful nation on earth has one of the worst records for malnutrition, infant mortality and child homelessness in the western world. The pictures of refugees starving in central Africa, Sally Struthers introducing us to hungry children, or tales of children in protective custody, they've all grown old. We've tamed our hearts, dulled them with words, hardened them. Lent gives us a chance for a new heart. Look up. See the rainbow of God's promise. Look up. See the Risen Christ drawing you into the Easter embrace. This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.

This week the Novena of Grace enables us to look to the example of the saints and to recognize how men and women of flesh and blood embraced and lived this promised new life. We remember St. Francis Xavier who approached every journey, every challenge as an opportunity and a grace, a privilege and a blessing. His travels were physically exhausting, but spiritually energizing. One of our parish center classrooms is dedicated to Blessed Miguel Pro whose very brief time of priestly ministry in his native Mexico was spent dodging his pursuers as he put heart into believers who shared his danger. At one point when he was caught in a dragnet, he joined the search and directed the police where to look for him. The faith that Xavier and Miguel Pro shared uplifted them, energized them and bore abundant fruit even in the face of challenge and danger. May they bless us on our pilgrim way this Lent.

Lead us, Lord, on our Lenten journey as you walk from your desert of tempting to proclaim the nearness of God's kingdom. As we turn from all that keeps us from you, may our faith in the good news heal and empower us.

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This page was updated September 2009