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Anxious Lately?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 31, 2021

Dear Parishioners,

I once heard this definition: "anxiety is scorned poverty."  Interesting.  Scorned poverty.

I don't have enough space to completely unpack that.  But allow me to give a few nuggets.  Saint Paul, by the way, says in our second reading, "Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties" (1 Corinthians 7:32).

Poverty is being in a state of dependence and weakness.  We don't have something.  We cannot provide for ourselves.  We are reduced to asking for help.

This is a good place to be spiritually.  We are called, in fact, to be poor before the Lord.  We have our weaknesses: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.  We cannot save ourselves.  We need to turn to Jesus to help us.  When we acknowledge our poverty and embrace it, we are put in direct union with God.

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Mary, Mother Most Admirable

'Admirable' is a quality or title we give Mary, and one we would probably not choose immediately if asked to explain our love and appreciation for Mary. We admire people who risk their lives for noble causes or individuals who accomplish heroic feats.  Mary, of course, did all that—think of the journey to Bethlehem while she was pregnant or raising a child who she knew would be killed brutally one day—but admirable seems, well, too cold and distant, no?  To admire someone is far from loving someone, and all of us love Mary.  And yet, Mary is called the mater admirabilis, the Mother Most Admirable.

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Sunday of the Word of God

Last week, while preparing my Sunday homily, I happened to read that just a year ago, Pope Francis declared that the third Sunday of Ordinary Time should be observed as “Sunday of the Word of God.” The Pope highlighted the importance of reading and reflecting on the Word of God, and said that doing so was itself a form of prayer. I think this is a message worth sharing every day of the year.

In his homily for that first “Sunday of the Word of God.” Pope Francis began by stating that through the gospels, “the One who is the Word of God has come to speak with us, in His own words and by His own life.” The ministry of Jesus begins with a call to repent and the message that the kingdom of God is at hand. God is near to us, He came to earth and became man out of love for us. This helps us to understand the direct demand that Jesus makes: “Repent”, in other words, “Change your life”.  It is an invitation to live in a new way, it is time for living with and for God, “with and for others, with and for love.”   

As the pope so beautifully said: “That is why the Lord gives you His Word, so that you can receive it like a love letter He has written to you, to help you realize that He is at your side. His Word consoles and encourages us. And the same time, it challenges us, frees us from the bondage of our selfishness and summons us to conversion.” In our daily prayers, we need to make sure that in addition to those treasured prayers that we pray “by heart”, we should also take time each day to reflect on God’s Word. As Pope Francis urges all of us: “Each day let us read a verse or two of the Bible. Let us begin with the Gospel; let us keep it open on our table, carry it in our pocket, read it on our cell phones, and allow it to inspire us daily.”

The more we read scripture, the more we discover that God is close to us. Through His word he asks us to allow him to enter our very lives. We are constantly bombarded by messages from many sources in our everyday lives. Many of those messages are unimportant and only waste our time. That is why we need his word: “so that we can hear, amid the thousands of other words in our daily lives, that one word that speaks to us not about things, but about life.”

Deacon Tom Dombai

Gluttony

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 24, 2021

Dear Parishioners,

Have you ever had an epiphany about one of your behaviors?  I know the feast of the Epiphany was last month, but the theme of revelation or epiphany is pertinent, I think, to the readings today.  The town of Nineveh has a 'wake-up call' with Jonah's preaching and they change.  Jonah reveals to the people just how destructive their behaviors are, and they repent.  Jesus too speaks of repentance.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John receive a sort of revelation when Jesus calls them: they leave their old way of life and convert.

So, back to the question.  Have you ever read something or seen something that has made you realize, Wow, that's me or Yikes, I'm doing that, and tried to change?  Or maybe had someone reveal something to you?  I had a recent example.

As I mentioned in a homily a few weeks ago, some priest-friends and I are reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung.  It's a book on the Seven Deadly Sins.  The chapter on gluttony opened my eyes.

OK, I'll make a public confession: I commit the sin of gluttony.  You might be surprised, thinking I'm pretty thin.  Sure, I talk a lot about Malnati's, but it doesn't appear like I overindulge. 

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Shiloh

Shiloh is a site of two major battles, over two thousand years apart, both of which evoke a sense of tragedy and optimism.  Shiloh in Israel was the site of the first temple or Tabernacle.  When the Israelites moved back into Canaan, reconquering the land they once inhabited, they established the dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant at the town of Shiloh.  In the year 1024BC, the Philistines engaged Israel in battle near Shiloh.  When the Israelites lost four thousand men on the first day of battle, they decided on the second day to bring the Ark of the Covenant itself with them into the actual fighting, hoping that would reverse their fortune.  It did not. The Philistines overran the Israelite army, stole the Ark, and plundered Shiloh.

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Jesus said, "Come After Me"

When my brothers and I were in college, we had the opportunity to work as dockhands for three summers at a boat marina in Okoboji, Iowa. Our labor at the local lake wasn’t nearly as grueling as fishermen in ancient Israel, yet I still find myself relating to Simon, Andrew, James, and John… slightly. These four men were so convicted by the simple calling of Jesus when He said, “Come after me,” that they immediately abandoned everything to follow Him. How strong the divine gaze must have been from Jesus and how confident His tone must have sounded to compel these men to leave their livelihoods behind! The Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) mentions that “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” If I truly lived and believed that passage from scripture, how much more seriously would I let the words of Christ influence my life? Would I be ready to abandon the world and come after Jesus instead? My trust is sorely lacking compared to the fishermen!

It is likely that most of us are not being called to physically leave our families, homes, and occupations behind to follow Jesus, but I think there are spiritual lessons to learn from this Gospel passage, especially in this year of St. Joseph that runs until December 8, 2021. When Jesus invited James and John to follow Him, the Gospel specifically mentions that they left their biological father, Zebedee, in their fishing boat to pursue Christ. With that emphasis, I think this offers us an opportunity to contemplate how we are cultivating a relationship with the foster father of Jesus (and hence our spiritual foster father), St. Joseph. We know he must have been compassionate but strong as he helped raise the Son of God. He wants to show that same love to us that he showed Jesus. Let’s look to Joseph this year to help us fulfill today’s psalm and teach us the way to God.

Gospel January 24, 2021

The First Reading is from the Book of the Prophet Jonah. The purpose of the book of Jonah, written after the Israelites have returned from exile, is to teach the people that God loves all people, even Israel’s greatest enemies. Here we have the familiar story of Jonah who is commanded by God to preach to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which devastated the Kingdom of Judah and Israel, a message of repentance for their sinful ways. Repentance is the intentional decision to turn from evil and all things that could lead us to evil. So, the Ninevites got the message. They repented and did penance and they were saved. For this Sunday’s Mass, the Jonah reading is used to teach the kind of repentance that Jesus is calling people to as he begins his public ministry.

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Spiritual Direction

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 17, 2021

Dear Parishioners,

As you may have noticed, I was away the first week of January.  I was asked to serve as a spiritual director on a retreat for seminarians from around the country.  It was an emotionally-tiring experience, but very fulfilling.  I'm grateful to the Lord for calling me to this ministry of spiritual direction.  It is a blessing in my life. 

Before I continue about spiritual direction, I want to thank Father Emanuel and the staff for handling the parish so well while I was away.  Of course we had an influx of funerals that week while I was gone (and Father Roger had also left for Florida—he'll be away for several months, FYI, in case you noticing him missing), but Father Emanuel did a great job, rising to the challenge!  I owe him a bottle of tequila.

At any rate, there are four icons of spiritual directors in our readings: Eli, Paul, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

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John Wayne

John Wayne, born Marion Morrison, died a Catholic.  His grandson is a priest.  Wayne received the Presidential Medal of Freedom because, as President Carter said, he "reflected the best of our national character." Maureen O'Hara, testifying before Congress, spoke of him, "John Wayne is the United States of America. He is what they believe it to be. He is what they hope it will be. And he is what they hope it will always be."  Another actor remarked, "John Wayne was what every young boy wants to be like, and what every old man wishes he had been."  Wayne's biographer, Scott Eyman, wrote of him, "bold, defiant, ambitious, heedless of consequences, occasionally mistaken, primarily alone—larger than life."

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Following Jesus

As I sat in the doctor’s office the other day, I couldn’t help but listen and watch one of the TVs blaring some twenty‐four‐hour news network and see how the craziness of 2020 has bled right into 2021. I yearned to turn it off and block it out, but it followed me everywhere—on my phone, at the airport, even newsbreaks during the Bears game. The world imposes upon us and won’t let us alone.

That’s why today’s Gospel is so refreshing. It’s all about Jesus proposing to , not imposing on, his future disciples. ““What are you looking for?” he asks, not telling them what lifestyle they should be living or products they should be buying. He gives them room to share their own desires, which is to be with him (“Where are you staying?”) Really, they are asking Jesus, “What are you all about? Why is everyone talking about you?” Jesus doesn’t tell them, “Well you see, I’m the Son of God come to save you. You’re lucky I’m even speaking to you.”

Instead, he offers the simplest of invitations: “Come, and you will see.” Come, and experience what fullness of life is. Come, and your life will never be the same. The only promise that Jesus makes is that we will see, we will experience. He’s not locking us into a contract with carefully constructed clauses, but offers nothing less than himself. This doesn’t mean an easy or comfortable road. It does mean beholding things that those who came before waited entire generations to witness.

Following Jesus isn’t escapism from the world, but following the One who will guide us through the chaos that threatens to overtake us at any time. It may feel sometimes that being a disciple of Jesus is even more chaotic than the world. In my three‐and‐a‐half years as a seminarian, I’ve found myself in situations I’ve never dreamed of, but they were never terror‐inducing or constricting. Instead, Jesus was with me to open myself up in ways I never though possible. “Come, and you will see,” may sound scary, but it’s a call to be drawn into something instead of that something being dumped into your life. Leave the exhausting world of the news aside and see what Jesus is offering freely.

Kevin Gregus

Gospel January 17, 2021

The First Reading is from the First Book of Samuel. The child Samuel was dedicated to the service of the sanctuary. One night he woke up thinking that he heard a voice call out to him.  Samuel has not had any experience in listening for God and so he thinks that it is Eli, his teacher, calling. Eli, the priest in charge of the sanctuary, understood that the voice Samuel heard might just be the voice of God trying to break into his consciousness. After Samuel called Eli a second time, Eli advises Samuel to respond with the now-famous reply, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Therefore, God blessed him in the mission entrusted to him, and Samuel became an illustrious figure, ranking with Moses and David as a man of God.

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Christ's Baptism in the Jordan River

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 10, 2021

Dear Parishioners,

Christ's baptism in the Jordan was a significant event in his life.  One could even make the argument it was "life-changing."  (As I write, I can almost see the seminarians getting out their red pens and licking their chops to circle the heresies in this letter...settle down, boys.)

Christ's baptism was deeply touching for him.  It can be too for us.  Remember, as Columba Marmion says, "Christ's mysteries are our mysteries."

To me, when Jesus is baptized, he becomes fully aware of just how much the human race needs him as a savior.  Yes, he receives the Father's love as he hears the voice from Heaven speak, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  But Jesus already knew and received that love.  He already "felt" that love poured out to him in the Trinity from all eternity.  So, that's not really "life changing."

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The Staircase

The staircase is the featured part of a house during the holidays.  Children run down the stairs with anticipation Christmas morning and in the days after to see their gifts.  Adults walk down with satisfaction to have their coffee and see their family members.  A stairwell leads us down to the splendor.

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled" (Luke 2:1).  The palace of the Roman Emperors was on the Palatine Hill—the centermost of the seven hills of Rome.  One can imagine the page taking the scroll with the decree from Augustus' desk and running down the broad staircase of the palace to the city below and to the world.

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