Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From October 31st, 2010 Bulletin)

All Saints and Sunday Matters
(and Precepts continued)

There are several days of the Church year that are holy days of obligation, but when they fall on a Saturday or a Monday we are dispensed from attending Mass. Thus All Saints Day this year is not an obligation. The next two Solemnities that are obligatory are the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and Christmas on, well, Christmas. Christmas falls on a Saturday this year which creates a double obligation, one for Christmas and one for Sunday.

Why the obligation? I wonder that, too. As a convert I’ve enjoyed going to Mass almost every day for the last 30 years. For me it is a privilege and a gift to attend to the sacrifice and banquet of Our Lord Jesus Christ. How come we have to force people under the pain of sin to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation? We are fallen creatures who don’t always know what is best for ourselves. What?! Does the Church know better than I what is best for my soul? Yes, I believe so. When we say we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, aren’t we saying that we also trust her with the well-being of our souls?

Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” This commission to feed the sheep comes from the Lord Himself. It includes sheep that don’t know the value of eating. I’m sure some of you have dealt with eating disorders, either in a child or yourself. One thing that is essential for anorexia is a healthy eating plan. Too many Catholics are starving themselves by missing Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation. Their salvation, as we understand it, is in jeopardy. As the Catechism states, “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”(2181)

Rather than threaten with hellfire, I’d rather focus on the great good that is lost. People should know the Church’s teaching on missing obligatory Mass. It did not change at Vatican II; what changed was that priests stopped talking about it. While a shift towards mercy is fantastic (Pope John XXIII wanted Vatican II to be a ‘medicine of mercy’), we can’t abandon the reality of sin and its consequences. There is a hell. As St. Pio would say, “If you don’t believe in hell now, you will when you get there!” But hell is a negative motivator. It is called imperfect contrition, which means we are sorry because we fear punishment. Justifiable at the beginning of a conversion, the Lord desires so much more for us. He would not leave us in this state of fear. “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

That’s why I would rather people come to Mass out of love for the One they are receiving. Jesus said in John 6:53, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” So, if St. Peter, who was told that whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven, asks if one has eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, what will you say if you have missed Mass? Will you say, “Yes, two weeks ago.” Or “Yes, at Christmas.” What if he asks about this past Sunday or Holy Day? How will you answer him? You will have to tell the truth, “No I didn’t receive His Body and Blood this week. Is that important?”

Let me tell you how important it is before you reach the pearly gates so you will be better prepared. I can see I need more bulletins to continue this essential topic, which is the First Precept of the Church, but I’ll close for now with this quote from Blessed Dom Marmion,

“We must realize that, at the consecration, the whole drama of Calvary, with all the consequence of suffer ings and humiliations which it involved for Jesus, is present before God. It may be said in all truth that we are displaying before the eyes of the Eternal One all this divine past; that is why the Apostle says so aptly that at every Mass “we announce to the Father the death of His Son.” (p. 209, Christ: the Ideal of the Priest)

Do you want to be present at Calvary, offering Jesus to the Father? Do you want to be present, for all Eternity, at the Supper of the Lamb, receiving His Infinite Love? Come to Mass, Eternal Life awaits you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From October 24th, 2010 Bulletin)

O God, be merciful to me a sinner - Lk 18:13

Today’s Gospel gives us part of the beautiful ‘Jesus Prayer’. The Jesus Prayer is said typically like this, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is the most common prayer amongst Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics. The best book to learn about this prayer is the “Way of A Pilgrim” by an anonymous Russian author. This is on my list of top ten books. I always enjoy another tour through one man’s journey to find the answer to the command to ‘pray always’.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul, teach us how to pray! How we need these words. So often we get caught in a whirlwind of problems and seek solutions without beseeching God for answers. Then when we suffer trials we interpret them as a curse, even from God. But Paul knows that God has authority over every detail of our lives, even the evil that may occur, not because He positively wills it, but by allowance - He foresees a greater good that will come of it.

Our Catholic Catechism reminds us of this truth in Article 412:

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing to prevent human nature's being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more'; and the Exultet sings, 'O happy fault, . . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!'"

As far as injustice goes, the greatest injustice to occur in human history was that the Son of God should be condemned and put to a cruel death. And yet we say that is the greatest thing that ever happened to humanity. We call the day ‘Good Friday’ for that reason.

As our Gospel last week emphasized, let us not give up on prayer, especially when times are difficult. The Jesus Prayer is a perfect one for every occasion. St. Symeon the New Theologian, a Byzantine monk (circa 1000AD), advises us to visualize our heart as we pray - to realize Jesus’ Divine Presence there. Then we add the advice of St. Gregory of Sinai, that the Pilgrim writes about, “…while looking into the heart and inhaling I said, ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ and while exhaling, ‘have mercy on me.’ ” The Pilgrim begins with reciting the prayer for an hour or two, but then expands the recitation throughout the day. We who are busy have to start small. Can you begin with 10 Jesus Prayers? Or one minute? Or five minutes? I preached on this once and a friend came up to me after the homily and said the Jesus Prayer gave him great peace during my homily! Jesus spoke to him better than I could. Try the Jesus Prayer, you won’t be disappointed.

Parish Precepts

Our venture into Gallup’s Strengths Finder and Engaged Church has led us to the question, “What is expected of me as a parishioner at St. Stephen the Martyr?” I thought of the Catholic Precepts, the minimal things that are expected of us as Catholics as a model to begin with. You may have learned these years ago, but we haven’t heard them mentioned so often. They remain obligations for us, so they are worth repeating and plumbing the depth of each one. Briefly, I will name the first, and start a series that will develop what it means to be a parishioner at St. Stephens, along with our goal to be an ‘Engaged Church’. Our recent Gallup survey found that we were 26% engaged, which is better than the national average (18%), but not yet at the threshold where engagement becomes the cultural determinant (37%). Hopefully we can continue to grow more involved, participating in the very life of the Trinity through the parish.

First Precept of the Church: To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and to rest from servile works.

Mass is at the heart of Christian life. The Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium said that, “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” The summit is the pinnacle that we strive for, which for Christians is a life that lasts forever in communion with Christ. Jesus said in John 6:54 that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Notice he says ‘has’, not ‘will have’, but ‘has’, already now when we receive the loving host on our tongue.

Daria Spezzano gave a beautiful retreat for our liturgical ministers last week and quoted St. John Chrysostom as saying, “For as when gold is being molten if one should (were it possible) dip in it his hand or his tongue, he would immediately render them golden; thus, but in much greater degree, does what here is set forth work upon the soul.” Eternal life is imparted through Holy Communion to the soul, transforming it into a union with the Divine Presence. How can we forsake this gift on Sunday, and for what? A football game? A picnic? To wash my car? Sad. This is known to be the primary way Catholics fall away from the faith. It begins with one Sunday missed. Let us make Sunday the summit of our week; God has.
(St. John Chrysostom: Homily 46 on the Gospel of John #4)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From October 17th, 2010 Bulletin)

African Children

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him
day and night? - Luke 18:7

Children can make the best pray-ers. They are innocent and unencumbered, unafraid to ask for what they really need. They are also precious in God’s sight. The scripture for the Guardian Angel Mass which we celebrated recently goes like this:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” - Mt. 18:10

Our own parishioner, Diane Cooper, will be carrying goods to Uganda in November, for Emily B. and the Daughters of Mary and all the children they serve. Please help them if you can by providing:

Black Leather Shoes (see description in bulletin)
Children’s Books (Grade 1, 2, 3), Sheets and Towels

There is a nice display and deposit box for these gifts in the narthex through October. Financial contributions are also welcome. If you are interested in sponsoring a child, this is also possible through Diane. See the display for more information.

As for what concerns our relations with our fellow men,
the anguish in our neighbor’s soul must break all precept.
All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself,
because God is love. – Edith Stein

Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

St. Romuald founded the Hermits of Camaldolese in Camaldoli, Italy in 1023. We were able to visit his Holy Hermitage a few weeks ago and concelebrate the community Mass. As a monk with a beard down to his knee played the harpsichord, the Presider prayed Mass as if it was his only Mass this decade; heaven and earth met and we came away divinized by the Exchange.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From October 10th, 2010 Bulletin)

It was on the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninety-ninth year (9/9/99) that I gave up a relationship to pursue the priesthood more definitively. I didn’t plan it that way, but it was noteworthy, or at least easy to remember. This Sunday is the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year. Noteworthy, and yet not so different than any other Sunday in our lives. But isn’t each Sunday unique? There will never be another Sunday quite like this one. Just as with every other day of our lives, we have to ask ourselves how we will use it, what sort of attitude do we take towards it, and what is God asking of us in particular. Excessive attention to numbers can lead to superstition, but Christians inherited the Jewish use of numbers as symbols of spiritual realities. It is the realities that we place our trust in: God’s presence, His mercy and His justice. May we use this day well, 10/10/10, for the glory of God in preparation for His Coming.

Naaman and Numbers
In our first reading, Naaman, was healed by plunging himself seven times in the Jordan River. At first he complained about this act of participation that Elisha asked of him. Naaman said “Don’t we have better rivers in Syria!” One could ask, why seven times and not eight or six? It is a mystery, but seven is used as a symbol of perfection in the Jewish scriptures. The root in Hebrew (Shin - Bet - Ayin) has three meanings:
1) Seven 2) Full/Complete 3) Oath/Swear

For Naaman, he is asked to participate in his own healing, or rather, his wholeness, being made complete. In response he makes an oath, a covenant regarding sacrificing only to the Lord God of Israel in the future. The reading begs the question for us, “What has God asked of me in participation for my own healing?” What will make me whole?
Jesus and Numbers

One Biblical scholar writes that, “…ten is one of the perfect numbers, and signifies the perfection of Divine order, commencing, as it does, an altogether new series of numbers. The first decade is the representative of the whole numeral system, and originates the system of calculation called "decimals," because the whole system of numeration consists of so many tens, of which the first is a type of the whole. Completeness of order, marking the entire round of anything, is, therefore, the ever-present signification of the number ten. It implies that nothing is wanting; that the number and order are perfect; that the whole cycle is complete.”

In our Gospel, Jesus heals ten lepers, presumably of a mixed religious group in Samaria, otherwise it might not be noted that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. All are in need of healing and Jesus’ healing is for the whole world. He desires that all men (and women) be saved. His sacrifice and resurrection is sufficient grace for the whole world to be saved. Yet how many recognize and appreciate that? Is it ten percent of the world? We say that 20% of the world is Christian, at least in name. But how many of those practice their faith in a vibrant way, living to the fullness that God desires for us? An urgent task for us as Catholics is to be renewed in the Holy Spirit, to ‘fan into flame’ the gift that has been given to us in Confirmation. We are called to evangelize the world, beginning with ourselves.

I can recall preaching in Italy at St. Mary Major in Rome on the Feast of St. Jerome the great Biblical scholar, with his tomb a few meters down the nave from us, speculating about what would happen if every Catholic read the Scriptures for ten minutes a day, or even one chapter a day, which takes about five minutes. I am sure we would be living in a different world. St. Jerome said that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Let us pray for our own renewal and consider what kind of resolution we can make to become instruments of God’s Word, which brings salvation and true peace to the world.