Thursday, April 30, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B - April 26, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter
Cycle B
April 26, 2015     7:30am and 9:00am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Myself as Shepherd

I have found today’s gospel speaking very directly to me.

I as a pastor am to be a shepherd, a spiritual shepherd.  As I thought about this during the past week, I quickly became aware of some traits that have become very central to my sense of priesthood and of shepherding. 

So I decided to share these thoughts with you today.  And by the way, I don’t think I have ever before done this so explicitly.

1. Listen, and Speak Thoughtfully

The first thing I notice in this gospel is Jesus saying: “I know mine and mine know me.”

Jesus speaks of a close relationship between himself and the sheep.  Well, for this to happen here at Saint Margaret’s, I believe that I first have to listen.

I really have to appreciate your life, your joys and your stresses.    I have to listen to your spiritual needs and to your thoughts about faith or the Church.

So I need to listen well, and then I need to speak thoughtfully.  By this I mean that I need to remember that I am on the same human journey of life as anyone else.

And so, I need to be comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own faith to share myself with you.  I have to allow my faith and my humanity shape what I do and how I do it as a pastor.
I need to speak more with you than to you.  In this century and in this culture, I think this needs to be the approach if, as Jesus says, “I know mine and mine know me.”  

2. Be Positive

My next thought really flows from this.

I need to be positive.  Again, in this century and in our culture, I do not believe that being negative will take us anywhere.

I believe that preoccupation with sin and evil, whether in us as persons or in our world, isn’t really very helpful.  In fact, it may well be counter-productive.

I believe it is better and maybe even more challenging to be positive and constructive.  I believe that a shepherd needs to be positive about spirituality. 

It is important for me to reflect with you on how we can positively relate to the Lord Jesus and how we can come to spiritual maturity.  In the past month, I read a book entitled, “The 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness.” 

The title of this book really reflects how I see my role – lifting up a positive message of spiritual growth and wellness.  This is what I believe we need to bring to our young people and in fact to everyone in today’s pluralistic and diverse culture. 

3. Welcome and Include

The last thing I want to share is that I, as a shepherd, need to welcome and include.

Jesus says today, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.”  Jesus is clear that they are still his sheep.

In many other places in the gospel, he is clear that he welcomes and includes everyone.  Today, this might be Catholics who do not come to Mass often or those who have pretty much dropped out of the Church.

So, maybe parents present a baby for baptism and they are not practicing their faith very well.  No question, I want them to practice their faith and come to Mass. 

But instead of making that a pre-condition, I welcome them and we work together and baptize their baby.  I believe this way of shepherding has a far better chance of leading them closer to the Lord.

Or maybe a couple comes to be married and they are already living together.  I and we all know our Church teaching that this level of intimacy should be reserved for marriage.

But instead of turning them away and putting them down, I rejoice that they want to be married in the Church and we proceed to make that happen.  And once again, I believe that this way of shepherding has a far better chance of leading them closer to the Lord.

I am convinced that this approach is key to being a 21st century shepherd.  And by the way, it is not a watered-down approach to faith, but rather a more authentic and even more challenging way of living it.


There are other things I could say but these are some of the primary traits I try to embrace in being a shepherd today. 

1) Listen, and speak thoughtfully.  2) Be positive.  3) Welcome and include.

Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter, Cycle B - April 24, 2015

Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter
April 24, 2015      8:30am


Today’s gospel passage is about the bread of life, the Eucharist.
We hear this during the Easter season, because Jesus speaks of how intimately connected the Eucharist is with the resurrected life that he offers us.
We can see almost a logical, and definitely a beautiful progression in this passage about the life that Jesus gives us.
I see a four-step progression.

First, Jesus declares that he has received his life from the Father:
“Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father…”
Next, Jesus says that it is this life that he now gives to those who feed on his flesh and drink his blood:
“Just as… I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
Then Jesus explains that it is through this common sharing of life that he remains in us and we remain in him.
There is an abiding presence:
“Whoever eat my Flesh and drinks my Blood remain in me and I in them.”
Finally, this life that Jesus gives us is both a present and a future reality:
“Those who eat my Flesh and drink my Blood have eternal life.”
So, we have eternal life, God’s life right now – in the present moment.
But still, Jesus goes on to say, “I will raise them on the last day.”
So there is a future, a perfection or fulfillment to the eternal or divine life that we already share.
There will be a resurrection for us as there was for Jesus.

We keep these beautiful, comforting thoughts and this revelation in mind as we now approach this Easter sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter, Cycle B - April 22, 2015

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
April 22, 2015      6:30am


I know that we need money to live.
There’s no way around that.
I also know that we all enjoy comforts in our lives – tasty food, a nice home, a decent car, and on it goes.
But, but, many or most or maybe all of us learn that these things are not really what make us happy.
It’s a person or persons, a relationship or relationships that really count.
That’s what really brings us happiness.
Those of us who have suffered the death of a spouse or the break-up of a marriage or the loss of someone else close to us know this lesson very well.
I think eventually we all learn this.

And, of course, this is also where Jesus comes in.
He comes to satisfy us – to satisfy our deepest hunger as human beings.
He offers us meaning, purpose, closeness, intimacy, fulfillment, and what we need to call fullness – the fullness of life.
In this, Jesus satisfies our deepest hunger.
This is why, today, he calls himself “the bread of life.”
There is nothing and, in fact, no one else in the long run of life who can satisfy the deepest yearning and hopes and desires, the deepest hunger that we have.
This is why Jesus calls himself “the bread of life.”
And it is why he actually gives us himself under the form of bread.
It is why he gives us the Eucharist – no question, to remain with and be with and abide with us.
But he gives us himself under the form of bread also to remind us that he is the food that satisfies our most profound and ultimate hunger as human beings.

He, the person, and our relationship with him – like other persons and relationships, and also unlike other persons and relationships, in fact, in a way that no other person and relationship can – he satisfies our hunger.

That is why he calls himself and is “the bread of life.”

Monday of the 3rd Week of Easter, Cycle B - April 20, 2015

Monday of the 3rd Week of Easter
April 20, 2015      8:30am


There is an interesting question and answer in today’s gospel.
Toward the end of this conversation with Jesus, the people ask: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
And Jesus answers: “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.”
So, they want to know what are the “works of God,” works, in the plural.
But Jesus responds in the singular: “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.”

Jesus’ point is that the one thing necessary is to believe in him.
So this one thing, this one work is not just another law to keep and it is not just a mental or intellectual assent.
It is rather a relationship.
To believe in the one God sent is to accept that Jesus is the Son, that he is the Savior, that he is the way to God, to the Father.

Now, a lot can eventually flow from this belief in Jesus.
As with any close relationship, little by little it can make greater and greater claims on us.
So in faith, in our relationship with Jesus, little by little we make him primary and make him the basis of what we do and say and think.
But the important thing to recall for ourselves and for the way we look upon others, is that faith is first and foremost a relationship that we try to live.
It is a relationship that is living, always imperfect, and always growing.

The Franciscan priest, theologian and spiritual writer Richard Rohr says it very well.
Father Rohr says: ‘How good of you, God, to make truth a relationship instead of an idea. 
Now there is room between you and me for growth, for conversation, …
You offer me the possibility to undo, to please, to apologize, to change, to surrender, and to grow.’ 
This is good religion, worthy of free, intelligent, and mature people.”

So, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

And Jesus answers: “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Sunday, Cycle B - April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday
Cycle B
April 5, 2015       10:30am and 12:30pm
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


No Proof

We, you and I, I cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead.

We cannot prove that we ourselves will experience resurrection.  There is no scientific way to prove this.

It’s not like combining two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen and coming up with water.  But, I can say this. 

I have experienced the “mystery” – and that’s what it is, “mystery,” something beyond full human comprehension and rationality.  I have experienced the mystery of dying leading to new life.

But…My Experience of Dying and Rising

For example, there have been times when I have offended someone with a curt or insensitive comment.

I can think of occasions when I needed to die to my pride and say, “I’m sorry.  I should never have said that. 

“Please forgive me?”  I have experienced that this dying to myself in these situations has led to new life in a relationship with a friend or a parishioner.

I also look back to the days when I was in elementary school and high school.  My parents had kind of a structure for my brother and me to make sure we would get our homework done.

We didn’t always like this and sometimes would have preferred doing lots of others things.  But this gave us good habits.

There was a certain dying to self in this.  And it led us to become more educated and fuller adults, more alive persons.       

But…Dying and Rising in Nature

I also see this mystery of dying and rising in the world of nature.

A seed goes into the ground.  It seems like a lifeless, dead seed and it actually gets buried in the soil.

We all know what happens.  It comes to life and sprouts and eventually we will see flowers like snapdragons or vegetables like zucchini.

We’re seeing this right now as the bulbs in the ground come back to life and crocuses or daffodils emerge.  Dying in this way leads to new and fuller life.

But…The Experience within Us

And then there is the experience within each of us simply of wanting life.

We want to live.  In fact, we always want better life and more life.

I also believe that our desire for more of anything – for more money or a nicer home or whatever it is – these desires for more are really the desire for more and more life.  I believe that this is an indication of the divine within us.

It is an indication that there is a transcendent God and that there is a life that transcends this life.  It is an indication that there is a life after and beyond death – a resurrected life.

And Jesus Leads Us

The last thing I want to say is that the way of Jesus leads us to life.

Jesus or his way leads us to fuller and fuller life and sparks within us the hope of resurrection.  For example, my experience is that I am most fully alive when I feel compassion for those who are suffering or in need. 

I am most fully alive when I am faithful to my life or vocation commitment, even when that’s hard to do.  I am most fully alive when I am a peacemaker and try to build bridges between people and participate in community with others.

The core of Jesus’ way is that my dying to making myself the center of everything leads me to a fuller and fuller life.  The dying leads to rising.


So, yes, I cannot scientifically prove that Jesus rose and that we will experience resurrection.

But my life experience tells me that this is so.  And my living with trust in Jesus, with faith, confirms this for me and gives me hope.