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Joyce Kilmer's Trees

Joyce Kilmer, the early 20th Century poet, is most famous for "Trees":

 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

 

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

 

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

 

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

 

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We Are Gifts to the Church and the World

Dear Parishioners,

"The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (Is 53:10).

Scripture scholars believe the prophet Isaiah is referring to Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Yes, Lord, please crush Rodgers.

Just kidding.

But seriously, who is being crushed in our first reading? And is God really pleased to see someone crushed?

From the Christian vantage point, it is Jesus Christ being crushed.  Jesus is the 'offering for sin.'It can also be us. We are called to be crushed.  We are called to be offerings.  It's our suffering that will justify many.  It is us who will be able to see the 'light in fullness' in our affliction.

It's a difficult, though certainly fulfilling, point to pray with: you are an offering.  I am an offering.  An offering entails sacrifice.  In ancient religions an offering was burned.  Today, when you make an offering, you are letting something out of your possession and it usually entails a financial cost.

On the other hand, an offering entails purposefulness.  We don't make an offering unknowingly.  If money falls out of your pocket into the collection basket, you've lost your dollar bill; you haven't offered it.  When you offer the money, you intend it and have a purpose behind it.

God uses us as offerings.  Our lives and every good thing we do go to some good purpose, like building up the church and the Body of Christ. This is what pleases the Lord.  This is why he 'crushes' us.

Our lives are not only about us.  Our joys and sufferings are not strictly our own.  We are offerings.  We are a gift to the church and to the world.

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The Crusades - Good or Bad?

Atheists and anti-Catholics often point to the Crusades.  How can the Catholic Church be the Body of Jesus Christ when it committed such awful sins? 

I do not intend to defend the Crusades here, though they are much more complicated than how opponents of the Church present them.  But let me first say Christians sin and act evilly all the time.  They do not stand for the entire Church.  The Church is not sinful because you or I sin.  Individual crusaders committed sins, but the Church as a whole should not be labeled because of them.

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Follow Christ and Experience Fulfillment

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 14, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

We can learn so much from this rich young man!  Little did he know that his 2-minute encounter with the Lord would impact millions of people for millennia.  For instance, many other "rich young men" would likewise run up to the Lord and ask the same question.  St. Anthony, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Charles de Foucald, among others, would not make the same mistake this man from the Gospel did.  These saints would be able to give up everything.  They would not walk away sad, but, on the contrary, would follow Christ and experience fulfillment.

Yes, a path of discipleship entails sacrifices.  If we are to be committed Catholics, intentional in our faith and not lukewarm, there are many deaths, some little, that we will undergo.  We should always keep the rich young man in mind.  He was afraid to give up his wealth.  He could not make that sacrifice.  He thought holding onto the money was a wiser decision.  Was it?  No!   He went away sad. 

Those things we think we "need" in our life—those things we cannot live without—often don't bring us true happiness.  If we keep them, and instead let Christ go, we will be sad, like the rich young man.  That's the pitfall we all have to avoid.  That's the temptation to shun.  Possessions and attachments do not give us the safety or happiness we think they do.  Only Christ does.

Jesus calls us to poverty. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:25).

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Our Lady of Walsingham

I wonder if William Shakespeare was inspired by his Catholicism to make ghosts such a prominent part of several of his works.  The ghost of the title-character's murdered father in Hamlet propels the young man into action.  The spirits of the murdered victims appear in Richard III, Brutus sees a ghost on the eve of battle in Julius Caesar, and the ghost of Banquo haunts Macbeth in Macbeth

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Family Trees

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 7, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

A boy once asked his mom where human beings came from.  "From God," she said. "God created us, starting with Adam and Eve." The boy then went off and asked his dad the same question. "We descended from apes," came the father's response.  When the boy went back to his mother and told her the contradicting answer, the mother said.  "That's okay, honey. Dad is just telling you his family tree. I'm telling you mine."

Ah, marriage, the topic of our readings this week. What shall I say about it?

Sticking with the joke theme, my grandpa likes to kid, when asked how he and my grandma, married for nearly 60 years, have persevered, "we go out to dinner twice a week...she goes Mondays, I go Wednesdays."

I wonder if there's some wisdom in that.  Temporary separation is healthy in any situation and in any relationship.  We need time off.  We need vacations.  We need "alone time." Time away not only refreshes us, it also gives us an appreciation for what/who we have. 

Let's be clear, though.  We're never completely separated from our spouse or work or whatever.  It's not like a husband who takes a golfing trip with his friends is "unmarried" and single for those five days.  Or the fireman ceases in his heart to be a fireman during furlough. 

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The Old War Horse

General James Longstreet was Robert E. Lee's second-in-command.  The "Old War Horse," so named by Lee, played a pivotal role in many battles, including Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness.  One of the Confederacy's most gifted tactical commanders, Longstreet was highly regarded, particularly by southerners. 

That changed after the Civil War.  When Longstreet became a Republican and supported President Ulysses S. Grant, the once-famed Confederate general was seen as a traitor.  He was rejected and shunned by those around him.  In fact, Longstreet was literally shunned by his Episcopalian congregation.  Shunning is a practice of protestant evangelical churches.  Outcasts are banned from the community.  When the rejected Longstreet wandered into the nearby Catholic congregation, Father Abram Ryan, the priest (and also a former Confederate Army Chaplain), told Longstreet his church shunned no one.  Longstreet found his home.  He converted to Catholicism in 1877.  The "Old Catholic War Horse," in his remaining 26 years of life, was not only the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, a U.S. marshal, and the U.S. railroad commissioner, he was also a devout communicant.

The Catholic Church's openness to the troubled Longstreet is what brought the general into the faith and made him a champion of Catholicism.  

Something similar occurred with another wandering Civil War veteran.  William Frederick Cody used his marksmanship to kill 4,280 bison to supply meat for railroad workers.  The fame from this feat led him to create his traveling show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," which toured for 24 years.  Over 2 million people from all over the world saw the spectacle.  But that wouldn't be Buffalo Bill's crowning achievement.  The day before Cody died in 1917, he asked for a Catholic priest and was admitted into the Church.  Like Longstreet, he found a home in Catholicism.

Nothing is Worth More Than Our Souls

Letters from a Pastor to His People- September 30, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

Nothing is worth more than our souls.  Money, our health, the 70-inch flat-screen TV, that Scotch collection in our basement...nothing.  We should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect our souls and strengthen them.  We should be willing to sacrifice and forgo anything that would endanger our souls.

This is what my namesake, St. James, is getting at in the second reading this weekend. "Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days" (James 5:2-3).

This is also what Jesus is getting at when he says, rather extremely, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43).

What's the best thing we can do for our souls? Pray and worship God.  Those aren't the only things we need to do, but they are the most important (in my opinion). 

We are a spiritual people.  We are built for God.  We are hard-wired to be in touch with Jesus.  When we are not in touch with God, mainly through prayer and worship, we become a hollowed-out version of ourselves. 

There are things that pull us away from the spiritual life.  They don't necessarily have to, but they can, depending on our personalities.  If food or video games or our career become ends in themselves and do not lead us to Jesus, then we need to cut them out, like that hand that causes us to sin in our Lord's example.

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Redemption for the Loyal

The prophets in the Old Testament had to preach very difficult messages to hostile audiences.  They were persecuted. Some were even killed (see Isaiah). The Prophet Ezekiel was no different.  Preaching to the Jews in Babylon, for he had been among the group deported by Nebuchadnezzar, he was not well-received.  He had told his fellow countrymen that they had sinned and deserved this punishment.  He prophesied also that this captivity would not be short, but would last seventy years. 

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Come To Me

Letters from a Pastor to His People- September 23, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

In the Gospel of Mark there is a motif known as the "Messianic Secret." Jesus desires his identity as the Messiah to remain hidden.  We saw it in last weekend's Gospel, when Peter calls Jesus 'the Christ."  The Gospel reads immediately afterwards, "Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him" (Mk 8:30).

Jesus keeps quiet in the Gospel this week as well.  "Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it" (Mk 9:30).

Why did Jesus not want people to know who he truly was?  It seems odd, doesn't it?  I mean, we wouldn't today tell people not to talk about Christ. In fact, just the opposite.  We want people to tell the world about the Lord.

I won't go into all the reasons for the Messianic Secret.  The best explanation I recall reading is that Jesus wanted the people to fall in love with him.  Jesus did not want people to be swept up in the grandeur of the 'Messiah.' If people knew who Jesus was, from a title and functional standpoint, before they came to know him as a person, they may not have authentically been attracted to him.

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The Wedding At Cana

At first glance, The Wedding at Cana by Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese is a meaningless jumble of bodies.  But if one looks closely at the expansive painting from 1563, currently held in the Louvre, many messages are portrayed in the variety of figures.  This, of course, is Veronese's depiction of our Lord's first miracle when, at Mary's behest, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast (cf. John 2:1-11).

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Christ in Korea

Dear Parishioners,

The cross is the theme this week.  Last Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk 8:34).  The first reading from Isaiah 50 we also read on Palm Sunday and later this week on Thursday we will celebrate the feast day of the martyrs Andrew Kim Tae-gon and Paul Chong Ha-sang.  A word or two on these Korean saints, as their stories are inspiring and exemplify the Gospel.

Catholicism did not enter Korea until 1592.  Like Japan, the nation was isolated and sealed off from foreign contact.  Somehow Catholic literature from China, brought there by Jesuit missionaries, found its way into the peninsula.  The native Koreans who read the material were so impressed they converted.  When a Chinese priest at last visited Korea in the late 1700s, he found nearly 4,000 Catholics. Remember, these Catholics had never seen a priest. 

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Learning the ABCs of Prayer

Watching the children in pre-kindergarten learn about the alphabet made me recall a little parable on prayer. 

A Jewish farmer was not able to return home before sunset one Sabbath and so was forced to spend the night in the field.  Upon his return home he was met by a rather perturbed rabbi who chided him for his carelessness. "What did you do out there all night in the field?" the rabbi asked him. "Did you at least pray?" The farmer answered: "Rabbi, I am not a clever man. I don't know how to pray properly. What I did was to simply recite the alphabet all night and let God form the words for himself."

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Be Open to Jesus

Dear Parishioners,

"[Jesus] put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha!'— that is, 'Be opened!' — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mk 7:33-35). 

There is a little ritual during the sacrament of Baptism called the "Ephphatha Rite." After the child has been baptized, the priest blesses the child's ears and mouths.  The hope is that the child will one day be able to hear God's word and then proclaim it to others.  Maybe parents hope as well that the child will be able to listen to the parents when the child is told to go to bed or stop fighting with their siblings.  Either way, the priest is asking the ears and mouth to be opened, as that is what the word Ephphatha means.

To be opened.  Pope Benedict XVI, in an Angelus Address several years ago, said that one word, Ephphatha, captures Christ's entire mission.  Jesus came to open us, to free us from anything that would enslave us.  Jesus came to set us free.

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