Tuesday, May 23, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A - May 21, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter
Cycle A
May 21, 2017

 

Loneliness


Five years ago, the University of Chicago released the results of a study on loneliness.

The study finds that about 25% of people frequently feel lonely.  And the study says that loneliness is increasing.

Among the factors causing this are our longer life spans, more years spent in widowhood, and the rising number of single-person households.  One finding is that we Americans tend to feel lonely on special occasions.

These are occasions when being together is the social norm, like Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Feelings of loneliness are more frequent at these times.

The study says that loneliness has more to do with the quality than the quantity of relationships.  Studies of college students show that incoming freshmen are particularly lonely during the first quarter of school.

This is true even though they have roommates and are surrounded by many peers.  Again, the finding is that it is not the number but the quality of relationships that determines whether we feel isolated or lonely.

“I will not leave you orphans.”


In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses this very human issue.

Jesus knows that he is about to return to the Father.  He senses the apostles’ anxiety about being left alone, without him.

And so, Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphans.  You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

Jesus promises to be with us through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  And then Jesus makes his presence through the Spirit concrete in two ways: 1) sacraments and 2) community.
      

1. Through Sacraments


First of all, our sacraments are visible, earthly, physical ways for Jesus to be with us through the Spirit.

We have the physical experience of Jesus’ presence through the water of baptism.  We also have a physical experience of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with oil at Confirmation.

And then, here at Mass, the Eucharist is the supreme experience of God’s presence.  In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays over the bread and wine.

Today I will pray: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, by sending down your Spirit upon them… so that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  These gifts become the means for Jesus through his Spirit to be with us.

The result is that when we eat the consecrated bread and drink the consecrated wine, the Spirit enters us and becomes one with us.  We even physically experience Jesus becoming one with us.

We are drawn into the life of God and God lives within us.  As Jesus says today, “you live in me and I live in you.”  

2. Through Community


And then the second way that Jesus remains with us is through community.

Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.”  Sometimes we can be tempted to go it alone in life, to think that we do not or should not need others.

It is so important not to fall into this.  This path easily leads to isolation and loneliness.

Maybe this is why God’s action throughout the Bible is always directed to us as a people, as a community.  Jesus draws the first disciples together as a community and makes this his primary way to be with us.

When we join with other persons of faith, either here at Mass or in the service of others, we are energized.  And this happens because we are drawn out of ourselves – out of our aloneness or loneliness – and into relationship.

And a key part of being in community is to reach out to those who may be alone or lonely – like a struggling single parent or a grieving widowed neighbor.  The idea is that we are empowered by Jesus’ presence here in the community and then we reach out to draw others into that same presence.

Conclusion



So, Jesus addresses a troublesome human feeling today – loneliness – and he gives us some ways to deal with it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A - May 14, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter
Cycle A
May 14, 2017      9:30 and 11:15am
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

 

He/She Looks Like…


Probably all of us, and especially you who are parents have had the wonderful experience of seeing a newly-born baby.

One of the things that almost always happens is that family members and friends look closely at the baby’s physical features.  They try to see who the baby looks like or takes after.

We hear things like: “He has his father’s forehead and hair.”  Or: “She has her mother’s eyes and complexion.”

These are warm and wonderful statements.  And what’s underneath them is that we like to see family members, especially parents or even grandparents in the physical features of a baby.

What Does God Look Like?


Maybe we have not thought about it this way, but Jesus gets us caught up in something like this with God.

We and perhaps most persons have wondered: what is God really like?  And so, over the centuries, our human imagination has produced many images of God. 

Some artists have depicted God as a grandfatherly old man with a gray beard.  Others have depicted God as simply a brilliant, bright light.  

And these images of God are important.  They have consequences on us as persons and on the way we relate to God and to one another.

For example, we may have an image of God as vindictive or punishing, like some of the Old Testament writers did.  This can lead us to be unfeeling and maybe even harsh with others.

Or our primary image of God may be as a judge.  This can lead us to feel distant from God, afraid of God and inappropriately guilty. 

So, what we think God looks like or how we see God’s traits is very important.  As I said, it forms us as persons and effects how we relate to God and to one another.
      

We See God in Jesus


In today’s gospel, Philip asks Jesus, “Show us the Father.”

He wants to know what God is like.  And Jesus responds, “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.”  “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.”

So Jesus is saying that he is like a clear pane of glass through we which we can see God clearly.  He is the full and accurate self-disclosure of God. 

In Jesus’ thoughts, feelings, words and actions, he shows us the mind and heart of God.  So, like looking at a baby and seeing the parents or grandparents in the baby’s features, we can look at Jesus and see the Father, God himself.

So God Looks Like…


For example, we hear Jesus saying, “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.”  From this we know that God is understanding and patient with our humanity and our failings. 

We see Jesus mingling with tax collectors and other so-called sinners.  From this we know that God is outreaching and amazingly inclusive.

We see Jesus saying “Let the little children come to me.”  From this we know that God greatly values those whose life is vulnerable, from unborn children to the disabled, all the way to the frail elderly.

And we hear Jesus saying “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do for me.”  From this we know that God is especially compassionate toward those who cannot afford to pay for both food and electricity, or those who are refugees or minorities and on it goes.


So, by looking at Jesus and his thoughts, feelings, words and actions, we can know a great deal about God.  And these images of God that Jesus gives us have an effect on who we become as persons and how we relate to God and to one another.

Monday, May 8, 2017

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A - May 7, 2017

4th Sunday of Easter
Cycle A
May 7, 2017

 

Oliver Wendell Holmes


One of the well-known names in our American history is the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Holmes was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932.  He is rated as an excellent justice, but on a personal level, he had a reputation for being absent-minded.

For example, one day Holmes was on a train out of Washington.  He was completely engrossed in studying a case that the Court was hearing.

The conductor came down the aisle and asked for his ticket.  Holmes searched the pockets of coat and trousers, but could not find it.

The conductor said, “Don’t be concerned, Mr. Justice Holmes.  When you return to Washington, you can send us the ticket at your convenience.”

Holmes shook his head and said, “Thank you, my good man, but the problem is not whether I’ll pay the fare.  The problem is: where am I going?”

Direction and Guidance


That anecdote helps us to appreciate the question implied in today’s gospel.

The question is: where are we going?  Jesus uses the image of a shepherd and sheep.

The idea is that Jesus wants us to see him as our shepherd and to follow the direction and guidance he offers us.  Where do we find this direction and guidance?

We Catholic Christians believe that there are two sources for this.  And these are: the Bible and Tradition.
      

Source 1: The Bible


First, the Bible is the primary place for finding our direction.

The Bible or the Scripture is God speaking directly to us.  It is something like God writing a letter to us.

God is telling us about who he is and who we are.  For example, we are told that in some way God is Creator and Savior and Holy Spirit living within us.

And besides telling us who God is, the Bible also tells us what God intends us to be like.  For example, we are told that to be like God, we need to become persons of compassion and justice.

Now because of all that the Scripture tells us, it is to be the foundation of our faith and life.  This is why whenever we celebrate a sacrament, like the Eucharist, we always begin with Scripture.

It is also why reading some verses from the Scripture, especially from one of the gospels, is a good part of personal, private prayer at home or wherever.  In all of us, the Bible forms our faith and forms us as persons.

It gives us direction.  It tells us where we should be going. 

Source 2: Tradition


That takes us to the second source for getting direction from the Good Shepherd, and this is Tradition.

Here Tradition is with a capital T and not a small t.  Tradition with a small t means customs, maybe like having a family barbecue on Memorial Day.

But Tradition with a capital T refers to our Catholic Christian Tradition.  This refers to what we can learn about God and about living life from the experience of Christians and from the teaching of the Church down through the centuries.

The idea is that the Bible does not provide all the answers.  It is our primary source of direction, but often it is fairly general and does not give specifics.

We also need the Tradition of the Church to give these specifics.  For example, the Bible clearly forbids killing, the taking of the life of a person. 

Our Church Tradition or teaching tells us that ending the life of a fetus is forbidden by this commandment.  In a similar way, that same Tradition spells out principles for a just war that tell us when war may or may not be just and moral.

So, the Bible gives the general commandment or direction.  The Tradition of the Church in a sense supplements the Bible and makes it specific to certain issues.

Conclusion



So, 1) Scripture or the Bible and 2) Tradition with a capital T – these are the two sources for allowing Jesus, the Good Shepherd to give us direction and tell us where we should be going.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle A - April 30, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

 

Family Meals -- Data


There have been some recent, interesting studies that show the importance of family meals, of families eating together.

The American Psychological Association has published a report of research done over a fifty-year period.  These studies, taken together, indicate that there is great value to family meals, especially dinner.

For example, one study finds that the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or try marijuana or drugs as teens.  These family dinners are also linked with teens having a good sense of self, good academic achievement, and good family relationships.

Girls who ate three or four family meals a week are at significant less risk for eating disorders.  There also seems to be a link between family meals and a lower incidence of depression.

The ritual or routine of family meals tends to give shape and meaning especially to the children.  And by the way, the studies show that these benefits apply to the traditional family of mother, father and children, and also to single parent, divorced, and blended families.

Family Meals -- Value


A family meal can be very simple – chicken, chili, hamburgers, pizza, whatever. 

The important point is that a family dinner or another meal can be a powerful ritual or routine.  It gives children times and days that they can count on. 

It assures them that there is a place where they belong and that you value being with them.  And it is a moment for conveying important values, maybe by just talking about what happened during the day. 

I recommend that we begin the family meal with a prayer.  It can be the standard Catholic Grace before Meals or each person thanking God for something that happened that day.

On one level, this prayer marks the transition from busyness to mealtime.  And beyond that, it opens your family to God and God’s presence.

Now this may be a big challenge with today’s busy and stressful lives.  But I recommend that each family work at this and pick a minimum of three days a week for a family meal, especially dinner.  

The Eucharistic Meal


I also want to say that Jesus left us a family meal that we call the Eucharist.

In today’s gospel Jesus celebrates this spiritual meal with two of his disciples.  This meal gives us Jesus in the form of bread and wine.

The ritual or routine of this meal gives us a place to count on for belonging, to each other and to God.  It gives us a way, Jesus’ way, to live by and live for.

Vey important, this meal gives shape and meaning to our lives.  It does this over time, in a steady, consistent, incremental way.

The Eucharist fortifies us for dealing with both the ups and the downs of life.  It gives us a framework for understanding and living the whole journey of life. 

And like a family dinner, everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  We don’t have to be perfect to be here and to receive the Eucharist.

In fact, Jesus gives it to us because we are human and not perfect.  So I recommend that we make the time and space to share this meal once a week.


I recommend that we make this meal a priority along with our family meals.  It is important and it will make a difference in us as persons and in the way we live our lives.