The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Homily: Mass and Healing Service -- 10 Macrh 2018

I was once again honored to be asked to preach at this special Mass on Saturday, March 10. Several times during the year we celebrate a Mass which is followed by a healing service. Saturday's Mass drew several hundred people. Most remained afterwards to join one of the many prayer teams located throughout the church. It was a wonderful morning, a morning enlightened by the hope and deep faith of those who took part, seeking God's healing presence in their lives and the lives of others. It was a morning of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

My homily was supposed to be available as a video, but a technical glitch resulted in a video with no associated audio. No great loss, unless you actually wanted to hear it. But for those few who might want to read it, I have included the entire homily below:

Saturday 3rd Week of Lent
Readings: Hos 6:1-6; PS 51; Lk 18:9-14

Good morning, everyone...and praise God - praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As always, it's wonderful to see so many here this morning, all of you open to God's healing presence. And we praise God too for this.

After the parish mission conducted a few weeks ago by Father Kevin, several people suggested that I might emulate that good Redemptorist priest by adding a bit of levity to my homilies. So I thought the following story just might do the trick.

Of course, most of us here today are old enough to remember the gasoline shortage back in the early 70s and the problems that resulted.

At the very peak of that shortage two nuns were driving the convent station wagon along a state highway when they ran out of gas. One turned to the other and said, "Sister, you're so much younger, would you mind walking back to that gas station we just passed and seeing if you can get some gas?" The younger sister replied, "I'll be happy to do so," and left.

When she got to the station, she posed her problem to the harried attendant who just shook his head and said, "Sister, I'd love to help you, but the problem is we've run out of gas cans. But, you know, there's a pile of junk and debris behind the station. Why don't you go back there and see if you can find a suitable container? If you do, I'll give you some gas."

She agrees and pokes her way through the pile, but all she can find is an old bedpan. She wipes the dust out of it and takes it to the attendant. He fills it with regular and she carries it back to the car.

As she's pouring the gas into the tank, two Methodist ministers drive by, and one says to the other, "By God, there's faith for you."

Coming together here this morning perhaps this little story will remind us of the angel's words to Mary: "...for nothing will be impossible for God."

And especially today, smack dab in the middle of Lent, it's fitting that we should focus on God's will and His power and His love as we turn to our Lord in need of healing, every kind of healing: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Remember those words of Jesus you heard on Ash Wednesday? "Repent and believe in the Gospel." This, too, is a call to healing, for repentance is the first step on the path to spiritual healing.

Our readings today certainly turn us in that direction, don't they? How wonderful, how providential that God's Word proclaimed here today touches on faith, and healing, and repentance, and prayer, and humility, and hope. Could we ask for anything more fitting today as we - and, brothers and sisters, that's all of us, for we are all in need of healing - as we turn prayerfully to our loving, merciful God?

I've long been a big fan of Pope St. John Paul II, largely because of his message of hope, a message he never ceased preaching. It was a message that inevitably began with the words of the Gospel, words Jesus expressed to so many: "Be not afraid."

If the heart of the Christian is to be filled with the hope God desires for us, it must first expel all fear.
"Be not afraid!" [Mt 14:27, et al.]

We fear so much, don't we? We fear that over which we have no control. We fear the known and the unknown in our lives. We even fear ourselves. Indeed, fear creeps into our hearts like a thief, trying to steal all hope, all faith. And yet, as St. John Paul reminded us, we should have no fear because, quite simply, we have been redeemed by God. Listen to his words:
"The power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could fear."

That power, you see, gives us hope, for only hope, the great theological virtue, this divine gift -- only hope drives fear from our hearts.

But hope does something else, something greater still. My mother used to say: "Hope moves us; it moves us to faith."  She was quite the theologian when it came to such practical matters. I think that stemmed from her vocation as an RN, a nurse forced to confront the practical issues of life and death. And, in truth, theology should always be practical. It should always help us navigate the path to salvation. Otherwise it's just an academic exercise.

Anyway, getting back to hope - that's what repentance is. It's a sign, an image, of hope. The very fact that we can repent of our sinfulness means that we hope for forgiveness. Indeed, it is our hope that calls us to repentance.

We see this brought to life in our first reading from Hosea, the last prophet of the Northern Kingdom, a prophet called by God to experience in his own life the same unfaithfulness that God experiences when we turn away from Him. Yes, Hosea's marriage to Gomer became a sign, a crying out against all Israel. And yet, despite his broken heart, Hosea becomes the prophet of love.
As Hosea ransomed Gomer, God will ransom us
He reminds us that the God of creation is in love with His creature, in love with those who draw their very life from Him, in love with those who have nothing to give Him. God's forgiveness, God's mercy is not the result of pity or mere compassion; it's the result of love, a love beyond all human imagining. Hosea pleads to God's people:

"Come, let us return to the Lord. It is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence" [Hos 6:1-2].

To heal, to bind, to raise up.

It's in this prophetic prayer of repentance that Hosea calls a rebellious people to conversion, that he calls all of us today to conversion.

It's a prayer of hope...the same hope we encounter in today's Gospel passage from Luke.

Jesus offers a parable. He presents us with two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, two men who represented polar opposites in the mind of the average 1st century Jew. But Jesus, as He does so often, turns everything upside down.

Jesus contrasts a prideful Pharisee, focused on the meticulous, external fulfillment of the Law, with a tax collector, a public sinner despised by all, and yet driven to repentance by humility, by reality. For that's what humility is. It's the grasp of reality, a true understanding of our relationship with God, an awareness of His goodness and our sinfulness.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Both men approach God in the Temple, and both begin to pray. The first thing we notice is how they pray, that the content of their hearts drives their approach to prayer, and even shows up in their posture.

The Pharisee stands erect, right up front where he can be seen and heard, and not just by God.

And the tax collector? He stands "far off" bent over in humility, beating his breast in repentance.

Not surprisingly, out of those two very different hearts come very different words.

The Pharisee, brimming over with self-congratulatory praise, seems to be praying not to God but to himself. And from his words we come to understand that a heart filled only with itself must despise others. Since the Pharisee believes himself righteous, his heart sees no need for humility, for repentance, for conversion.

He's simply perfect, just the way he is. Yes, such is always the way for those who refuse to accept the fact of their dependence on God.

And then, we hear the simple, humble prayer of the tax collector - "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" [Lk 18:13] - and immediately we recognize it for what it is. It's a prayer of poverty, of spiritual poverty, a prayer that shows us what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" [Mt 5:3].

We see in his words a foreshadowing of the ancient, Eastern Jesus Prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." - another prayer of reality.

The tax collector, you see, has that firm grasp of reality. "Oh God, be merciful..." He knows who God is, mercy personified. " me a sinner." And he knows who he is, simply a sinner. In his prayer he remains himself, and he lets God be Himself. And then he leaves it at that, trusting in God's mercy, trusting in God's forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters, his prayer, too, is a prayer of hope, the kind of hope that brought you here today. If you had no hope of healing, would you be here?
A Healing Community
Are we here, filled with hope, coming together in a healing community, a community dedicated to extending God's love to all in need?

Is this why we're here -- driven by hope and moved to faith, yearning for God's Presence?

Do I throw myself at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and beg for the mercy I know I don't deserve?

Or do I come here, as yet unmoved, and just pleading, "Why me, Lord?" It's a question that smacks a bit of the Pharisee's attitude, isn't it? -- as if in my goodness I don't deserve this misfortune.

I suppose these are the questions we're all faced with today.

Think about your answer as you come forward today to receive our Lord's precious Body and Blood, the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. For Christ's Eucharistic Presence, is also a gift of hope, one that moves us to the faith that heals.
God's Healing Presence in the Eucharist
Be not afraid, brothers and sisters, and just open your heart to God's healing Presence.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Homily: Monday, 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Is 65:17-21; Ps 30; Jn 4:43-54

This past Saturday, immediately after morning Mass, we experienced a time of prayer and healing right here in our church.

My wife, Diane, and I made up one of the many prayer teams that were available to pray with those who entered this church that morning in need of God's healing presence in their lives and in the lives of those they love. I can't speak for the other teams, but I expect their experiences mirrored ours as we listened and prayed and shared God's overwhelming love, His forgiveness, His mercy.

Of course many of those who were here that morning were experiencing deep suffering in their lives - physically, emotionally, spiritually - and they came humbly seeking God's help. I'm always impressed by the extraordinary humility and faith of all who come to this healing service, driven by hope and willing to accept God's will. I'm impressed because their faith and humility are so much greater than my own, and it would be more fitting if the roles were reversed.

But there's something else. So many, despite their own suffering, come to us not just for themselves but for others. They come in prayer, in hope, in faith asking God to extend His healing presence to family, friends, neighbors, to those in need.

In today's Gospel passage we encounter another who comes to Jesus hoping for healing, not for himself but for his son. Probably an official of the court of Herod Antipas, he had traveled 20 miles from his home in Capernaum to find Jesus in Cana.
"You may go; your son will live."
As John tells us, the official approached Jesus and  "asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death." Did he assume that because he was an important official Jesus would simply drop everything and do as he asked and join him on the 20-mile trip to Capernaum? And did he think that Jesus had to make that trip in order to heal his son? If so he was in for a surprise, wasn't he?

Jesus actually seems a bit exasperated by it all, doesn't He? And He gives a rather sharp reply:

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe."
Was this rebuke directed solely at the official, or was it also aimed at the people of Galilee in general? Probably a little of both.

But the official accepts the rebuke. Humbled by Jesus' words, he doesn't allow himself to become discouraged. Moved by love for his son, he now pleads for help: "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Humility succeeds where arrogance had failed, and Jesus replies simply:
"You may go; your son will live."
Hearing these words, John tells us, the man now understands. He believed the Word of Jesus and departed on his journey home.

But he had to be moved to faith, didn't he? His hope for his son's healing led him to Jesus, but it was the Word that brought him the gift of faith.

It's interesting, though, that on the way home, he meets his servants who tell him his son lives. He has been healed. That should have been enough for him, but perfect faith is never easy, is it? And so he asks exactly when his son recovered. The answer, of course, confirms the truth and as John tells us, with that "he himself believed, and all his household."

Yes, sometimes God has to lead us to faith, one small step at a time, so we can request good things from God.

Our faith reminds us that Jesus is present here today just as He was 2,000 years ago in Galilee. And it is through His healing Presence in the Eucharist that we too share in the divine life.

Perhaps, like the court official in the Gospel, we should measure ourselves against Jesus' rebuke.

Do you and I need signs and wonders before we're willing to believe the Word of God?

Is our prayer filled with our own demands or do we turn to God in humility..."Thy Will be done..."?

Any child will be happy to tell you that we are surrounded by signs and wonders, all pointing to God's presence...just as he will tell you that God, like a loving parent, will take care of you.

God has showered us with His blessings, but so often we just don't seem to know it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Homily: Monday of the 3rd Week of Lent

Readings: 2 Kgs 5:1-15; Ps 42; Lk 4:24-30

How small a God do you believe in?

It's kind of an odd question, isn't it? But it's really the question with which Jesus challenged the people of Nazareth, His hometown.

"...they were all filled with fury...."
When He showed up in the synagogue, they were already upset. They'd heard all about the wondrous things He'd done elsewhere, and wanted Him to do the same in Nazareth. They thought they were special. Jesus, after all, was from Nazareth, and so they deserved special treatment. If Jesus were this great prophet that people were already calling Him, they why hadn't He done anything here in Nazareth?

Of course, there was no thought of conversion, no desire to change their hearts. And repentance? Well, no need for that. No, their demand was all about entitlement, for they were a people wrapped up in themselves. Jesus looked at them and saw no humility, only pride.

And, remarkably, they really exhibited little curiosity about Jesus Himself. Oh, they thought they knew Him, because He had grown up among them. But they could see Jesus only as He used to be, as the child who played in their streets. And now He's a prophet?

Well, Jesus, if you're so great, how about proving it? Yes, they wanted some miracles too. But for the miraculous to engender faith, the heart must be well disposed.

You see, brothers and sisters, the people in that synagogue in Nazareth believed in a very small god, a god of Nazareth, not the God of Creation. In a very real sense they'd tried to create a god in their own image, and such a god must be very small indeed.

How does Jesus respond?
Naaman, healed by obedience not water [2 Kgs 5:1-19]
He reminds them of how God worked wondrous miracles through His prophets Elijah and Elisha... but they were miracles aimed at those beyond the borders of Israel, at Gentiles, not Jews. For God, the true God, is the God of all of His Creation. He certainly isn't a God to whom we can dictate.
Elijah and the widow [1 Kgs 17:9-24]
And so, with His examples from the books of Kings, the King of Kings reproaches His neighbors. His reproach, of course, is an attack on their pride.

And they respond. They respond with murderous intent.

Now I've occasionally said things in homilies to which people objected, but no one's ever tried to kill least I don't think so.

But not Jesus. They force Him out of both synagogue and town, intending to throw Him off a cliff. But Jesus withdraws. He withdraws miraculously, mysteriously, majestically, leaving them paralyzed in their wounded pride; perhaps even questioning: "Who is this man that we thought we knew?"

How about you? How about me?

Are we sometimes like them? Do we believe in a little god, a subservient god, one at our beck and call, a god who does, or should do, our will?

Or do we believe in the Lord God, the God who created us out of love, who reveals Himself to us out of love, and calls us to do His will? 

And what about Jesus, the One the Father sent to become one of us, the One who gave His life for us, out of love? 

Do we listen to His Word? Do we realize He speaks to us constantly and from the mouths of the most unlikely people?

And that Cross He carries, that pesky Cross. Does He really expect me to carry one too? Why can't He just make my life perfect, just the way I'd like it?

Who is your God? Who is my God? Who is our Jesus? Have you and I created a little god, one our minds can comprehend, one we can control?

Or, like the deer that thirsts for the stream's running water, do we  thirst and long for the God of Creation, the God of Revelation, the God of the Incarnation, the God who loves, the God who saves, the God who calls each one of us to be His disciple?

You and I have to let go of our little gods and let the true God quench our thirst as He wills.

God love you.

Reflection: Stations of the Cross

Note: Every Friday during Lent the deacons of our parish lead the people in praying the Stations of the Cross. Before praying the Stations, we usually give a brief Lenten reflection to help us conform our minds and hearts to God's holy will. This past Friday of the Second Week of Lent it was my turn. My reflection follows:

I sometimes think we take the Cross for granted, thus dulling the reality of Christ's passion. Or maybe we belittle His sufferings, believing it was somehow different for Him, that in His Divine Person His suffering wasn't real, like our suffering.

It's important to state this clearly: Jesus' sufferings were very real and more intense than anything you and I might endure. And they encompassed so much. 

The agonizing hours He spent in the garden, all the while ignored by His three closest friends. And later to be abandoned by these and by virtually all whom He loved, even betrayed by one of them.

He was arrested, tried and convicted for crimes He didn't commit; falsely accused and subjected to a steady stream of lies.

He was insulted, taunted, repeatedly struck and spit on, flogged almost to the point of death. Then the King of Kings was painfully and ignominiously crowned with thorns.

Condemned and executed like a common criminal, as He died, He endured more taunts, insults and mockery.

And through it all, the Father kept His silence. Can we even begin to plumb the depths of Christ's suffering?

Yet all this suffering would have been wasted, it would not have redeemed a single soul, if Jesus had not endured it with love.

Christ's suffering alone didn't redeem the world. It was His love - the love with which He bore and offered His sufferings to the Father for us. This is the same love that was present at the creation - the love that brought everything into being. A love we repay with sin.

There's an awful lot of suffering in our world today. Just read the headlines. Watch the evening news. Or perhaps you need only look at those seated near you, or at yourself. Illness, the death of a loved one, a child who has strayed and turned his back on God, financial problems, family strife, addictions... all these sufferings are very real in our lives and in the lives of those we know.

But have we learned to bear our sufferings as Jesus taught us? Even though surrounded by darkness, the light of His love burned brightly and enlightened others. With one look of compassion he brought tears of repentance to the eyes of Peter. He prayed for His executioners. He welcomed the good thief to paradise.

He died because He did the will of the Father, freely and out of love. He didn't simply endure His sufferings. He suffered because of His great love for you.

Suffering that is merely endured does little for our souls except harden them. It just turns us inward and floods us with self-pity, the first and normal reaction to suffering. But self-pity can be a cancer; it can erode our faith, our courage, and our capacity to feel compassion for others...our capacity to love.

Thomas Merton once wrote that, "The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. For nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering." [No Man is an Island, p. 77]

Now, I'm not suggesting that you imitate those who have an almost morbid love of suffering. From my experience, they tend to be dour, humorless people. No. Christ wants us to love. Love can cause the greatest suffering of all - heartbreak - but it also brings the greatest joy.

God wants us to be joyful. That's why next Sunday is Laetare Sunday, a day to rejoice, even in the midst of repentance. After all, we repent because we are filled with hope, the hope of forgiveness. Is this not a good reason to be joyful?

And it's also why Good Friday isn't called "Bad Friday." It's good because it's the ultimate manifestation of God's overwhelming love for you -- not some generic love, but a very personal, individual love, a love in which our God lays down His life for you.

And so today, as we pray these Stations together, let's recall Jesus' prayer for those who nailed Him to that Cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].

When we return to our homes, let's not take up where we left off, carrying the burdens of things we can't forgive.

Jesus began His ministry by telling us to do two things: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].

We talk a lot about believing in and living the Gospel these days, and that's a very good thing. But let's not forget the other part. Let's not forget to repent of our sins.
"Do not weep for me..."
"Do not weep for me," Jesus told the women of Jerusalem, "weep instead for yourselves and for your children" [Lk 23:28].

It's okay if we don't weep for Jesus this Lent. He won't mind. Rather let's follow Peter's example -- Peter, who wept bitter tears for his own sins. Then maybe we'll be able to forgive those who sin against us.

God love you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Memory Almost Forgotten

Youth has the benefit of experiencing a kind of temporal slow-motion. Hoped-for events seem always so distant that when they finally arrive most of the expected enjoyment has already been savored. For a child the anticipation is nearly as wonderful as the reality. As we age, however, time seems to compress causing the future to collide with the present. We hardly have time to look forward to a future event because it has already arrived, or more likely, has joined the rest of our life in a jumble of memories. And the past is indeed a jumble.

This all came to mind yesterday as I approached a local railroad crossing. I've always enjoyed watching trains -- a delight I inherited from my father -- although these days I miss seeing the caboose, that final appendage to every freight train. The caboose, the train's exclamation point, let everyone know the train has passed. And as a child I could always count on a wave from the brakeman as the caboose roared by. But, sadly, technology has now eliminated the caboose, and today's children will suffer, if only mildly, the loss of that wave.

Anyway, as the barrier lowered, the lights flashed, and the warning alarm clanged, I obediently brought my Kia to a stop. I was the one and only car at the crossing and, looking to my left, I could see an oncoming freight train moving along at a good clip. Powered by three engines, the train consisted of 105 cars (I counted). I had even opened the car window so I could fully experience the noise, the smell, the sight of all those freight cars rumbling by as I waited more than patiently. And then it was gone. The barrier lifted and the train joined all those other experiences -- small, large, and in-between -- that make up my past. That train passing in front of me is really no different from the movement of the other events of my life as they pass from future to present to past.

It's unlikely I will actually recall this experience as a unique event that occurred early one February morning in 2018. It will probably merge with dozens of similar experiences joining all those other trains I've watched over the years. But memory is a strange thing, and some experiences, so intense or so meaningful, will always stand out as unique events, never to be forgotten or absorbed into a mass of like incidents. And as I drove through that railroad crossing, I suddenly thought of Henry Wright and said aloud, "Oh, my gosh, I forgot February 6th, the day Henry was killed."

I am ever amazed how the memory of such events is triggered. Why did I think of Henry yesterday morning? I haven't a clue. But as soon as I got home I went directly to a thick book just published by my U. S. Naval Academy class of 1967 as a remembrance of the 50th anniversary of our graduation. It contains biographical sketches of most of my classmates, living and dead. I turned to Henry's entry just to ensure I had the date right. I did. His entry is below. Click on it for a larger image.

Henry Arthur Wright was a 1967 classmate who, along with me and a couple of dozen other classmates, spent four years together in the same company. (The Brigade of Midshipman was divided into 36 companies.) 

Henry was a remarkable young man, a true over-achiever determined to prove, if only to himself, that he had what it takes to do great things. Henry didn't need to prove this to those who knew him, because we were already convinced of his capabilities. The photo below is his USNA yearbook photo.

Henry Arthur Wright
Henry chose to become an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps and at graduation was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Like every new Marine officer, he spent the next few months at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. On January 5, 1968, just six months after graduation from the Naval Academy, Henry was in Vietnam as a platoon commander. One month later, on February 6, Henry was mortally wounded leading his platoon in relief of a company of Marines near Da Nang. He was the first of our classmates to sacrifice his life in combat. And it truly was a sacrificial act, for his bravery under fire was recognized by the award of a posthumous Bronze Star and, of course, a Purple Heart. Among the youngest members of our USNA class, Henry was just 21 years old at the time of his death. He is indeed "forever young."

We lost too many classmates in the Vietnam conflict. They were all remarkable men, true heroes every one. But to me Henry was special -- not simply because he was the first to lose his life, but because I knew him so well. He was indeed a friend. (Henry's profile on the Virtual Wall: Panel 37#, Line 76)
Marines Near Da Nang
A few months ago, a TV show recalling the Tet Offensive brought Henry to mind and I could hardly believe it had been 50 years since his death. I promised myself that on February 6 of this year, I would remember February 6, 1968 by having a Mass celebrated in Henry's name for the repose of his soul. And then, of course, in the busy-ness and unceasing movement of life, I simply forgot. I will make up for that lapse this week. Fortunately, Henry is now in eternity where time and memory presumably have less meaning. But these are still meaningful to me and to all those who knew this wonderful young man.

Rest in peace, Henry. We will never forget you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Morning of Reflection (Videos)

[Late Note: After watching the videos embedded below, a few folks have contacted me and asked what my comment about "The Godfather" was all about. During one of the talks (I think it was the 2nd talk), a cell phone in the congregation rang with the theme of "The Godfather" movie playing loudly. It wasn't picked up by the microphone I was wearing, so you can't hear it on the video. Anyway, my odd comment was in reference to the phone ringing.]

Our parish's Council of Catholic Women asked me to lead a pre-Lenten Morning of Reflection for the parish on Saturday, February 10. Designed as a kind of introduction to the Lenten season, its theme was "God's Call to the Way of the Disciple."

The CCW was joined by our parish prayer groups in preparing for this day. It was a monumental task and I extend my thanks to all who helped put it all together.

The morning began with morning Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a Scriptural Rosary in the church. We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the parish hall.

After breakfast I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and delivered three talks on discipleship with each talk centered on a particular Gospel passage.

Each talk was followed by a hymn related to the talk's subject. These were sung by our three amazing and very talented music ministers -- The Grace Notes -- Dawn DiNome Wetzel, Becki Pishko, and Jillian O'Neil.  

After the third talk, I conducted Benediction and reposed the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer teams of our Emmanuel Prayer Group were  then available to pray over and with parishioners who brought healing and other needs. It was a wonderful morning and perhaps 500-600 people attended. I only hope that my talks were well-received. 

I discovered later that our A/V folks had recorded the three talks but not the brief homily I preached at morning Mass. I have included the text of the homily below since I intended it as a kind of introduction to the Morning of Reflection. Videos of the three talks follow the homily text. If you really want to watch the videos, understand that each is about 30 minutes long, so you'll have to set aside some serious time. Maybe they'd be good spiritual food for your Lenten meditation...or maybe not. I'll let you decide.

Here's the text of the homily I preached at morning Mass  -- Saturday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time:


Readings: 1 Kgs 12:26-32;13:33-34 • Ps 106 • Mk 8:1-10

Mark's Gospel has often been described as a Passion narrative with a long introduction. And that introduction? Well, it moves right along, doesn't it?

Mark's sort of the Sergeant Joe Friday of the Gospels: "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." (If you're under 60, you might have to ask a more mature friend about Joe Friday.) Anyway, Mark doesn't waste time on what he likely considered extraneous details. He gets right to the point.

He even begins that way, No genealogies for Mark. No infancy narratives. None of John's deep theological insights. No, Mark tells us what it's all about with his opening words:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" [Mk 1:1].
You can almost hear him saying, "That's it, folks, the nitty-gritty - but let me tell you more just so your faith will stay strong."

And as Mark's Gospel progresses we encounter two themes, two threads that weave their way through the Gospel and converge in the Passion narrative of chapters 14 and 15.

One is the story of Jesus, the Son of God, and the suffering Son of Man, a life and ministry that moves inexorably to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection as the very fulfillment of all Scripture [Mk 14:49].

The other thread is the story of the disciples. At first glance it seems to be a remarkable story of the remarkably clueless. Moved by the Spirit, the twelve attach themselves to Jesus with little understanding of His teachings or what His call to discipleship really entails. Some, like Peter, James, and John, have moments of bravado, moments that end up as little more than cowardly bluster. Others remain strangely silent as they struggle to come to terms with their response to this calling.

Interestingly, it seems that the closer a disciple is to Jesus, the less he understands. That, of course, all changes at Pentecost. But don't see their spiritual struggles as a sign of human failure; rather, it's a story of God's success. It's a story of spiritual growth, of gradual formation, a time when the Spirit plants seed after seed in the hearts of these friends and followers of Jesus. Like every seed planted by the Spirit, these sprout and bloom according to His schedule, not ours.

Later this morning we'll look at three events in the Gospels, and see how the Spirit moved those involved as they responded to calls to discipleship. The Spirit can move quickly indeed, or He can lead us to the truth over a lifetime. And it's our response that makes all the difference. We see signs of this in today's Gospel passage.

4,000 people, a huge crowd, have been with Jesus for three days, and have eaten nothing. But we hear no complaints from the crowd, for in their hunger for Truth they have been fed with the Word. They are satisfied.

For them it has been three days of contemplative prayer, for what is contemplative prayer but placing oneself in Jesus' presence and listening, listening to the Word so He can alter one's very being.

It's also a time of fasting. But in his compassion, Jesus knows once He leaves them, their fast will end, and they will return to the world hungry. They will need to be restored so they can carry the Word to their homes, into their everyday lives where they can live from faith.

So Jesus turns to His disciples and simply states a truth:

"They have nothing to eat" [Mk 10:2].

"How can we get bread in the desert?" [Mk 10:4] they ask. He has yet to reveal that He is the Bread of Life, that wherever Jesus is, there is Bread. Yes, Jesus is the Eucharist, a gift He will institute at the Last Supper - the bread, His Body - the wine, His Blood - the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. But as yet they don't know this. Have they so soon forgotten His earlier feeding of the 5,000? Miracle upon miracle, healing upon healing, and yet they ask: "How can we get bread in the desert?"

Does Jesus answer their question? No. Instead, He asks the disciples another. "How many loaves have you?" [Mk 10:5]This, brothers and sisters, is a moment of grace and the loaves are its image. Grace is present because Jesus is present. It flows outward from Him to all who are open to receive it. But grace can never be a private possession. It must be passed on, flow from one to another.

Yes, how many loaves do you disciples have? How much faith do you have? Do you have enough? Are you instruments of grace?

"Seven," is their one-word reply. Does it point to the Spirit's seven gifts they will receive at Pentecost when the full meaning of their discipleship is revealed? Perhaps so.

So Jesus takes the loaves, but He takes nothing without thanking the Father. He gives thanks for the disciples' bread, bread meant for them and for Him, but now destined for thousands.

He breaks the bread, as He will break Himself in the Eucharist, and hands the bread to His disciples. The disciples distribute the bread; doing the miraculous, as the Bread received from the Church carries His miraculous Presence into the world.

Here we see the Church in the process of becoming, for the Bread it is given, the Eucharist - it, too, is blessed, broken, and multiplied. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, offers Himself, but His disciples carry Him into the world.

Jesus also blesses a few small fish so the people can eat an ordinary meal, the same kind of meal the disciples would eat with the Lord. This meal, this everyday experience, becomes for the people an extraordinary, miraculous experience.

Were those few small fish a sign, a reminder that Simon Peter and the others must soon abandon their boats, their nets, their lives and become fishers of men? Did the disciples learn this day that when they give all that they have - even if it's only seven loaves and a few fish - God will multiply it a thousand fold?

And what about you and me?

Can we abandon everything in our lives that is keeping us from true discipleship?

Can we, too, hand the loaves and fish of our lives to the Lord and let Him bless, break and multiply them - so we can carry Him into the world?

Will you let God work His miracles in the everyday ordinariness of your life, so you can be an instrument of His grace?

We are all called, dear friends.

Lord, 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 labor and seek no reward save that of knowing we do your holy will.


We included meditation questions for each talk, including the morning Mass homily, in our reflection booklet. I gave the participants a few moments to meditate on the questions after each talk. The questions that follow were intended for meditation after the morning homily:

Meditation Questions -- the Call to Discipleship.
  • What are some of the obstacles you have encountered, or are now encountering, as you strive to respond to Jesus' call to discipleship?
  • How can knowing you are "loved into existence" affect your life and how you consider and treat yourself and others?
  • Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. What does this mean to you? How is this manifested in your life?

Videos of the three talks follow:

1. The Call to Abandonment.

"...the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" [John 4:14].

In her desire for new life, for salvation, the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with hope, a hope she feels called to share. Driven by this hope she reaches out and shares the Good News. Like Mary, who carries the unborn Jesus, the Word, to Judea, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist, carrying the Word to others.

Meditation Questions -- Disciple and Evangelist: a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
  • Describe a situation when you have experienced being refreshed by the Word of God.
  • God calls everyone to discipleship. Through those who respond He extends that call to others. How can you better respond to this call to evangelize?
  • What aspect of your life must you abandon and leave behind as you follow the path to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • What does it mean to be a "God-bearer" in today's world?
2. The Call to Follow.

"Go your way; your faith has saved you...he...followed Jesus on the way" [Mk 10:52].

Faith saves, but true faith is a living faith, one that always brings forth new life, one that demands a response. Bartimaeus turns from his own way, leaving his old life behind, and follows Jesus on "The Way."

Meditation Questions -- Respond in faith: Your faith has saved you.
  • Have you ever had a surprising encounter with Jesus, an encounter in which you recognized His presence in your life? Describe it. What was your response? Share this with another.
  • What fears might keep you and others you know from following the path to discipleship?
  • People are often like the disciples who want to keep others from Jesus. Have you ever encountered this? Have you ever done this? What is the root of this lack of trust on their part and ours?
3. The Call to Serve Without Compromise.

"...her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" [Lk 7:47].

We turn to Luke's Gospel and Jesus' encounter with the sinful woman who washed His feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Yes, true repentance brings forgiveness, God's gift to those who turn to Him in recognition of their sins. In an act of thanksgiving, overwhelmed by this gift, ultimately the gift of salvation, she is filled with a joy that can only be expressed in her love for the Giver. She responds in love, ignoring the world and its threats, and showers her love on the divine Word.

Meditation Questions -- Response in love: she kissed and anointed His feet.
  • Can love ever be wasteful? Can we love too much?
  • What is Jesus' attitude toward the sinner? Can you offer some other Gospel examples? How can we follow Him?
  • What does the sinful woman in thus passage teach us as we respond to the call to discipleship?