Letters from a Pastor to His People

Ghostbusters

Dear Parishioners,

Jesus is no ghost! “But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37).

Our Lord on this third Sunday of Easter is conscientious of proving to the disciples that he is real; that he is not a phantom or some vague spirit conjured from the dead. In the Old Testament the ghost of the prophet Samuel was summoned by the witch of Endor at the request of Saul (cf. 1 Sam 28). Ghosts were not unheard of.

Nor was a resuscitated person. Jesus had raised Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:38-44), the daughter of Jairus (cf. Matt 9:18), and the son of the widow of Nain (cf. Lk 7:11-17) back to life The prophet Elijah in the Old Testament had also brought a person back from the realm of the dead (cf. 1 Kgs 17:17-24). Jesus was not a resuscitated human being. His resurrected body is different than it was before. He has a glorified body. He can pass through walls and appear in two places at once and vanish in an instant (see the Road to Emmaus).

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Got faith? Have love.

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Thomas! Oh Thomas, how close you were to missing out on sainthood. How close you were to losing your identity and being consigned to an eternity of confusion and limitation, along with Judas, Pilate, and everyone else who could not step out into the beautiful dark and believe. Thanks be to God (and truly, to God, for he mercifully came to you), you were able to see the risen Christ and come to faith.

We know well the story from today's Gospel, the second Sunday of Easter. “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (Jn 20:24). When Thomas, who has missed Christ's appearance that Easter Sunday evening, is told by the ten of the resurrection, Thomas doesn't believe. It is not until a week later, when Jesus appears and allows the doubter to put his hands into his wounds, that Thomas believes, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” This prompts Jesus' response: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

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Ready, set, sprint!

Dear Parishioners,

I can't tell you how many sprints I've done in my lifetime: sprints throughout grade school and high school for football, basketball, and baseball; sprints in college and then in seminary to arrive at class on time, as well as for sports training; sprints as pastor to answer a ringing phone, to beat traffic across Touhy, to turn on lights in church, to tag a St. Juliana student during capture-the-flag in gym class. So many sprints.

There is a certain level of abandonment when you sprint. You're not contained as when you're jogging. Your leg muscles are fully extended and your arms are literally reaching out as far as they can go. Just one more ounce of abandonment and you'll fall over.

There is also a sense of commitment when you sprint. You're completely in the moment. You can't stop casually. The finish line alone is the object of your focus.

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So Much Duality

Dear Parishioners,

Triumph and Tragedy. I can't help but think of that phrase, the title of the sixth volume of Winston Churchill's narrative of the Second World War, in association with Palm Sunday. There are so many contradictions and paradoxes in the event of Christ's passion. So much beauty; so much ugliness. So much good; so much evil. So much love; so much hate. Yes, a triumphant and a tragic moment in the lexicon of human experiences.

Veronica, Simon of Cyrene, and Joseph of Arimathea—such beautiful, caring figures who supported our Lord. Caiphas, Herod, and Pilate—such ugly, cowardly, and jealous figures who trashed our Lord.

God the Father—such a good figure, the benevolent creator of the universe, consubstantial with his Son, who loved his son and all those given to his son, and loved them to the end. The Devil, Satan himself—such an evil figure who hated the Father so much he would do anything to attack him, even killing his innocent son.

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An Other Forty Days

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton underwent her own forty day trial. In the early 1800s, she and her husband planned a trip to Italy. It was hoped the Italian climate would improve William Seton's health, for he had tuberculosis. But, as the saying goes, God had other plans. Husband and wife were quarantined in the New York port for forty days, and William died on account of the quarantine. They were basically stuck on a cold, wet, and small ship with little food.

Elizabeth survived and continued on with the journey to Italy. Now, Elizabeth was an Episcopalian from a very wealthy New York family. A "high society" young woman, she was a skilled musician, equestrian, and conversationalist, not to mention both beautiful and highly intelligent, speaking French fluently.

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He Who Can End the Fight

Dear Parishioners,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

There we have it. John 3:16. Perhaps the famous line in all of Sacred Scripture. The citation we see on signs at football games and on billboards. Why is this line so remarkable?

We could write a whole book on why. Here is one reason for your consideration: God does not start the fight, but he can end it.

God is blamed unfairly for many things. What is good is that he is God—he can handle the blame. But still, it's not always just, the anger directed at our God. Cancer—why did God do this? War—where is God to stop it? A tragic car accident–how could God allow this? The stray bullet, the divorce, the drug addiction, the teen suicide, and so on. Fingers usually point to God.

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Passion

Dear Parishioners,

The one thing in Scripture we are told Jesus ever made, though he was a carpenter, was a “whip out of cords” (Jn 2:15). It's in our Gospel this Sunday: the scourging of the temple. It's amazing to think that this simple weapon could drive out the dozens and dozens of moneychangers, animals, and other traffickers. And though Jesus was a strong man (years of carpentry would have made him so), he was not that big and strong, such that he would intimidate people. It wasn't as if Dwane "the Rock" Johnson were cleansing the temple. How was Jesus able to disperse all these sellers and animals, and avoid arrest by the temple police and Sadducees? Author Frank Sheed writes, “there must have been something in the personality they could not stand against, in the blaze of the eyes or the icy condemnation in them; otherwise Jesus would have been beaten to the ground in the first few minutes, and the money-changing and the animal-selling would have gone on with hardly an interruption.”

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Silenzio!

Dear Parishioners,

I spent a decent amount of time in the Sistine Chapel during my six years in Rome studying to be a priest at the Pontifical North American College. The Sistine Chapel, of course, contains perhaps the most famous works of art in human history: Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgement. It is also where the papal conclave is held. I must confess, though, that I usually smirked at least once on each visit to this sacred place. As noticeable as the works of art were the Vatican Security Guards yelling, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” Upon this command, the throng of people would stop, silence their conversation, and put away their cameras...for about a minute. Then, after a minute, would come the, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” This tennis match between the tourists and security guards went on all day.

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Chicken McNuggets and Chuck. E Cheese

Dear Parishioners,

We all know how Chuck-E-Cheese works: you play games, earn tickets, and then, at the end of your time, use those tickets to redeem a prize. It's a fun place, but hopefully the concept is not something we maintain in our spiritual lives. That is, hopefully we don't see our spiritual endeavors as simply means to an end.

During this season of Lent, the Church proposes to us three special devotions: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are like the games at Chuck-E-Cheese. The temptation is to "do" these "things"—or anything in our faith lives, i.e., going to Mass, Confession, etc.—so we can get enough tickets to get to heaven. What a strenuous proposition! Does that mean if we eat a chicken McNugget on Friday we go to Hell?

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Reconciliation

Dear Parishioners,

In Ancient Israel, an individual with leprosy or any other skin malady was seen to be spiritually unclean. It was thus required for the infirm to go before a priest, be quarantined by the priest, and then ultimately be declared by the priest fit for worship. This is what we hear in our first reading from Leviticus, chapter 13.

Jesus continues this injunction when orders the healed leper to report to the priest (cf. Mk 1:40-45).

These readings can be seen as foundational for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today's responsorial psalm also sets up the Catholic sacrament: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD’, and you took away the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32).

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A Problem We Want

Dear Parishioners,

How I wish we had the problem today that is present in our Gospel this Sunday! “The whole town was gathered at the door” (Mk 1:33). Jesus is so successful preaching and healing that he can barely move. He has no time for himself. He runs off early in the morning to a quiet place to pray. But even this doesn't work. “Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” (Mk 1:36-37).

These people wanted Jesus so badly. They pursued him relentlessly. Why? Because Jesus is good for them. He is good for us. Jesus makes us whole. He heals us. He inspires us to be better people. He unites us to the Father, which is our ultimate purpose and fulfillment. “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted (Ps 147).”

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