Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Words From Fr Ed (From May 29th, 2011 Bulletin)

I will not leave you orphans…

There are orphans all over the world, deprived of parents through war, disease, poverty and natural calamities. One estimate is that there are 143 million orphans in the world. That’s an overwhelming number and yet God promises to not leave us orphans. Why such discrepancy between this promise and the harsh reality of our world? In three letters, sin.

Sin keeps us from realizing this promise for others and ourselves. Where there is sin these crimes against humanity cut children off from their parents. At times it is the parents themselves who are sinning through addiction or abuse. At other times they are victims of violence, hunger and disease that they have no control over.

John Paul II spoke of ‘structures of sin’ in his encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis (On Social Concern; see: in order to address rampant social evils created by the two extremes of atheistic communism and liberal capitalism. Personal sin leads to social sin, which is “the true nature of the evil which faces us with respect to the development of peoples: it is a question of a moral evil, the fruit of many sins which lead to "structures of sin." To diagnose the evil in this way is to identify precisely, on the level of human conduct, the path to be followed in order to overcome it.” (37)

The path to overcome it is by following Jesus the Way. Jesus begins the gospel for today by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him.” (Jn 14:15-17a) The gift of the Holy Spirit is conditional and can be lost or never attained due to not keeping Jesus’ commandments. And what are His commandments?

Jesus speaks in the plural here, but we can begin with the commandment that He describes as a “new” commandment, unique in its import, given His sacrifice. He said, “…love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Notice this huge ‘As’ that Jesus qualifies this commandment with. If He had only said, “Love one another” we might interpret it subjectively as meaning be nice to one another, polite, observing social decorum. But this “As” calls us to a radical self-giving, even self-sacrifice, for the sake of others, even others we don’t like, even others who are at least temporarily enemies!

This kind of love is impossible without God’s help. That’s why love of God and love of neighbor fit so well together. We need God to love our neighbor; we need to love our neighbor in order for our love for God to be authentic. We cannot approach God without a proper love for neighbor. Why? Because God loves them. As I said, He even loves our enemies. Not because they are enemies, nor because of any evil they might have done to us. He loves them because they are made in His image. Perhaps they have obscured His likeness because of sin, but that’s precisely why He came to save us, not because we were good.

This radical love of neighbor is necessary for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises us. Pentecost is coming soon on June 12th. Are we ready to receive the Holy Spirit in a brand new way? Of course every reception of the Holy Eucharist is likewise an infusion of the Holy Spirit who is forever united with the Son. But are we receiving the Eucharist and our attendance at Mass with this in mind? The Lord desires us to be fully united with Him so that our “joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). These coming weeks are a wonderful opportunity to receive this joy if you haven’t already.

To prepare for Pentecost the disciples gathered in prayer together with Mary “…in one place together.” Jesus had asked them not to depart from Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father”, the baptism “with the Holy Spirit”. (Acts 1:4-5, 14; 2:1) This was the first novena, nine days from the Ascension to the Feast of Pentecost. We too can prepare in a similar way. I’m printing here a prayer to the Holy Spirit that I would like to invite the whole parish to pray these nine days, beginning on Friday, June 2nd and ending on Saturday, June 11th. One can also add fasting or other sacrifices for this intention, that we as Catholic believers here at St. Stephen’s, would be fully baptized in the Holy Spirit, open to all the gifts that God has for us and living in the love of neighbor by which “all will know that you are my disciples.” (Jn 13:35)
Come Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly
wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Please recite the prayer above for nine days for the intention that our parish be sanctified, made holy according to God’s good will. Other novena prayers can be found at:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Words From Fr Ed (From May 22nd, 2011 Bulletin)

Jesus the Way
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Do you ever wonder which way to turn? Philip is baffled by Jesus’ claim on the night before His death that the disciples know the way to where He is going. Philip does not realize that he already knows the way. The way is a person, the person of Jesus Christ. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. Too often the presence of Jesus is right under our noses, so to speak.

I’m reminded of one of our pilgrims to Assisi who became distraught not being able to find the departure gate at SeaTac. She could see A2 and A4, but began to panic when she couldn’t find A3, the gate for the flight to Philadelphia, the first leg of our trip. After a few futile trips up and down the terminal she discovered that A3 was right in front of security, the closest gate to where we came past security. It was too close for her to see it.

Jesus is similar at times, too close for us to see. Our intellects can be dull, not looking for Jesus in the right places. We have to foster an appreciation for what may seem invisible to us today. Notice a blind person’s sense of hearing. They can appreciate every sound because they have to rely on their hearing. It is possible for sighted persons to develop a similar aptitude, but it takes practice. Last week I referred to Brother Lawrence’s “Practice of the Presence of God.” He made a conscious effort to seek God’s presence in his daily life. I want to return to this worthwhile quote and practice:

“The holiest and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure; especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin.”

Another passage from Scripture that we heard during Lent was, “bring with you words” when you come into the presence of the Lord for the sake of repentance. The Lord loves to hear from us. For His own sake? No, for ours. When we speak to the Lord a conduit is opened to our heart. The more heartfelt the words the more open the conduit. The Lord can then make sense to us of His commandments and ways. Otherwise we are lost and confused.

If our hearts are open then we can more easily see the Lord in our day to day activity. Is He in your prayer time? Yes. Is He in your relationships? Yes. Is He in your workplace? Yes. Is He in your hobbies? Yes. Is He in your Church? Yes. But are we present to all these circumstances? There is a spiritual form of contraception that exists today where people are afraid to enter fully into relationships both with God and neighbor. We are present physically but not spiritually. We hold back and thereby prevent ourselves from seeing the Lord.

It is similar to a lesson a friend gave me in downhill skiing. She was a skilled racer so I could only trust what she was saying was true, but her advice was that one needed to lean downhill in order to control your skis. That was the opposite of what I wanted to do. In my fear of falling I wanted to lean back, but this only accelerated the skis uncontrollably. As I took that risk of leaning forward down what seemed like a precipice I found that she was right and it was delightful.

When we ‘lean forward’ in the spiritual life we may feel frightened or vulnerable. Will I be disappointed? Will God deprive me of things or people I love? Will I be called a fool? As we lean with love into the God of love we find love, infinite love. As St. John of the Cross said, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” God is there. That is the one thing we can really count on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Words From Fr Ed (From May 15th, 2011 Bulletin)

…the sheep hear his voice… - Jn 10:3

Have you heard the voice of Jesus lately? Yes, He does speak to us in various ways, and we can hear Him if we are listening. Not that we can control how we hear Him, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, the voice and direction of God can be known in the depths of our souls. This is not necessarily the booming voice that came down to Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments with lightning as an accompaniment. It is typically much closer to the “…tiny whispering sound….” that we read of in 1 Kings. (19:12) Elijah expected Him in the wind, the earthquake and the fire, but the Lord was in none of those. God’s voice is different.

Hearing God’s voice involves, most importantly, the willingness to hear. That may seem like stating the obvious, but too often we enter into prayer with a mind preoccupied with worries and willfulness. There is no room at the inn so to speak. Jesus may knock, but the television in our head is too loud to notice the unobtrusive visitor. Such are our souls when they are filled with commotion and clutter. We must first prepare ourselves by laying down our own agenda and open ourselves to the possibility of anything. As the angel said to Mary, “…nothing will be impossible for God.” (Lk 1:37)

Prepared for ‘anything’ you say? But I have my family, my work, and my hobbies; does God want to take them from me? Not likely. These occupations, and in the case of family, vocation, are part of God’s way of sanctifying us. We will find Him there if we are willing. But, are we open to doing family different from the way we did it yesterday? Too often we can end up in relational ruts that bind us to mediocrity or even sin. What would you change if you could? Remember the Serenity Prayer?

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Courage is necessary to ‘change the things I can’, courage which comes from God. That does not mean blasting people like a bull in a china shop or Rambo getting into a bar fight. When we have not spoken our dreams and desires for some time they can take on an intensity that overwhelms the people around us when we finally explode. Wisdom is also necessary here so that our desire to improve our lives is communicated in a loving way that can at least be respected if not embraced. Turning to God for this courage and wisdom is the best place to start. God knows exactly how He wants to transform your life. It is to Him that we must turn to receive the grace necessary for any good that is about to occur.

In God’s presence, which is always available to us through a conscious act of faith, we become all that we are meant to be. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection speaks of this in his Practice of the Presence of God. “The holiest and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure; especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin.”

The habit of consciously speaking to God throughout the day leads to a conscious awareness of His Presence and His will for you, even in details that may seem insignificant. Are we willing to surrender our wills to this extent? Are we willing to give up the egotism of doing it ‘our way’? I helped at a funeral once where the family insisted on playing Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” as a postlude. Lord, have mercy. That’s about the last thing you want to be proclaiming as you near St. Peter’s gate. As God says to us through Scripture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways….” (Isaiah 55:8) Come with words to the Lord and be prepared for an answer that may surprise you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Words From Fr Ed (From May 8th, 2011 Bulletin)

“What things?” - Luke 24:19

The resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples of Emmaus is a symbol of Christian conversion that is always worth revisiting. It is also, in a liturgical sense, a symbol of the Mass. Jesus comes alongside the distraught disciples and shares the word of God with them. Then they, encouraged by His presence have Him break bread with them. It is there that they finally recognize who they have been walking with. We too find Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Have we heard His voice and felt His touch? Can we say with the disciples of Emmaus, “Were not our hearts burning within us…?”

These disciples, led by Jesus, model for us the Examen, a daily practice that helps us see where God has been present in our day. Jesus begins the process by asking the disciples what has been happening in Jerusalem over the past few days, as if He didn’t know. He asks in this regard, “What things [have been happening]?” This kind of reflection is essential to growth in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius, in speaking of the Examen, told his companions that this reflecting back on the day’s spiritual activity was more important than any other prayer. The Examen consisted of gratitude for God’s gifts, the request for grace, a searching for signs of God’s presence in our day, an act of sorrow where we failed to respond to this presence, and finally, a resolution of some kind for improvement the next day.

When we think of what things have been happening over the past few weeks, Holy Week and Easter Week, there are incredible graces that have occurred. Each day really deserves attention. While there are graces each day, Holy Thursday stood out for me during Holy Week with the foot washing and chapel of reposition. This year we experimented with including the narthex as part of our reposition environment so that more people could experience it. While the placement of the altar seemed a little challenging, to be looking out into the narthex while praying, I was impressed with the overall peace present in the chapel and narthex combined. ‘Our God is a God of peace.’

Easter Week had its own blessings with each day a Solemnity and the Novena of Mercy. The resurrection appearances challenge us to grow in faith. God’s power is apparent and we need to find ways to allow it to take over our lives. The Easter Octave culminated with Mercy Sunday, which included First Communion at the morning Masses, the beatification of John Paul II in Rome, and the beginning of the month of May with the crowning of the Blessed Virgin at our grotto. Astonishing graces for us as a parish! So many people helped make this an experience that could leave one’s heart burning with joy and gladness. This is just the beginning of the Easter season. May Jesus lead us deeper into the mystery of His risen love.

Happy Mother’s Day

We can apply this same reflection to recalling memories of experiences of our mothers with love. It doesn’t matter whether your mother is living or deceased, for immortal souls exist forever. What things do you remember about your mother? Was she kind, tender, and self-sacrificing? What are you grateful for in relation to your mother? What grace would you ask for her? If she is deceased, offer prayers, especially a Mass. Where did you see God present in her life? What would you apologize for? At least begin with the act in your heart, acknowledging some failure to love, and honor your mother as God commands. What resolution can you make: a phone call, a prayer, a word of thanks? I close with a little praise of mothers written by a Hungarian Cardinal, Joseph Mindszenty, which reads:

The Most Important Person on earth is a mother.
She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.
She need not.
She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral-
a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body…
The angels have not been blessed with such a grace.
They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven.
Only a human mother can.
Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature;
God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation…
What on God's good earth is more glorious than this:
to be a mother?