Letters from a Pastor to His People

Growth & Transitions

Dear Parishioners,

We're back in the thick of Ordinary Time and the start of summer, and we're back to hearing the parables in the Sunday Gospels. This 11th Sunday we have two parables dealing with the growth of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:26-34).

The first parable indicates the Kingdom of God doesn't come suddenly and all at once. There is a process to it: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The Catholic Church didn't get to where it is today, over a billion members worldwide existing in structured dioceses and parishes, immediately after Pentecost. It took time. And there were setbacks and challenges along the way (there still are).

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Crazy is as crazy does.

Have you ever been called crazy? The kids in school call me crazy all the time. My family and friends do too. Usually this label is justified, for I act like a goof.

But I have been called crazy once or twice by a stranger or distant acquaintance. The individual is curious why I am a priest. How could I give up so much and devote my life to such a strange calling?

I'll admit, sometimes when I step back, I see it as crazy, being a priest and pastor, that is. I think, Man, God, how did you make all this happen?

But I don't have regrets, for I love being a priest. I love being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Following Christ and being a Catholic is, in many ways, counter-cultural. It raises eyebrows or prompts jokes. But it’s so fulfilling. Jesus was called crazy too. His family said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21).

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Lamb of God

Dear Parishioners,

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. During the exodus, which we hear about in the First Reading, Moses put lamb's blood on the doorposts of each Israelite. When the Angel of Death came at night to take each firstborn, it passed over each house with the sign of blood, hence the name Passover for the feast. The blood of the lamb saved people from death.

The flesh of the lambs slaughtered by Moses was then used as food, to give the people nourishment for their trek out of Egypt, across the desert, and through the Red Sea. The body of the lamb gave the people life.

We see the parallel. Jesus is the Lamb of God. His real blood, which is in the chalice that we receive at Mass, saves us from sin and death. His real body, which is the Eucharist, gives us life. Blessed be God forever!

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Who is your Divine Person?

Dear Parishioners,

One of my favorite hymns is "Praise the Holy Trinity." Here are the lyrics:

O God Almighty Father,
Creator of all things,
The Heavens stand in wonder,
While earth Thy glory sings.

Refrain: O most Holy Trinity,
Undivided Unity;
Holy God, Mighty God,
God Immortal, be adored.

O Jesus, Word Incarnate,
Redeemer most adored,
All Glory, praise and honor,
Be Thine, our Sov'reign Lord. R.

O God, the Holy Spirit,
Who lives within our souls,
Send forth Thy light and lead us
To our eternal goal. R.

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Pentecost

Dear Parishioners,

Saint John Chrysostom was an ancient Church Father who lived in Turkey and died in the year 407. He was famous for his preaching. The name Chrysostom means literally, ‘the golden mouth.’ The priest had this to say about Pentecost:

The Apostles did not come down from the mountain like Moses with stone tablets in their hands. They emerged from the Cenacle carrying the Holy Spirit in their hearts and offering everywhere treasures of wisdom and of grace as spiritual gifts flowing from a gushing spring. They went preaching to the whole world, they themselves being the living law, as if they were books animated by the grace of the Holy Spirit. (In Mt. Hom., 1, 1:PG 57-58, 15.)

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Are you ascending?

Dear Parishioners,

Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia! It's been forty days (well, more or less) since the Resurrection and this Sunday we celebrate Jesus' departure from this earth—the Ascension. “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19).

Notice there is a lot of direction on where the disciples are to go and what they are to do when our Lord ascends to the sky. Jesus tells them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). He also instructs them to preach the Gospel and baptize (cf. Mk 16:15-16). The angel tells them to stop looking at the sky (cf. Acts 1:11). The disciples return to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 24:52).

What am I to do with my life? Where should I go? These are questions people, young adults in particular, ask themselves often. Graduation is around this time of year and I wonder if some college and even high school seniors are wondering about the direction of their lives.

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Mighty Mother

Dear Parishioners,

Let me share with you a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) that I always read this time of year. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, a theologian, and is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era. This is "May Magnificat":

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

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He's a Mind Reader

Dear Parishioners,

The children in school frequently ask me if God can read our minds. Yes, of course! To me it's an easy question (I'm often asked harder ones), and I'm surprised by the students' reactions to that answer. They are taken aback. Really? God knows what I'm thinking?! Yes, he does—he's God. “For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20).

Our second reading is from St. John's first letter (he wrote three). In this letter—actually more of a theological treatise than a letter—John lays out the reality that we are privileged to be sons and daughters of God. When we die, we shall be like God, for we shall see him as he is (cf. 1 Jn 3:2).

John says that we show our love for God and others by what we do and what we believe. What we say doesn't matter all that much. Anyone can say “I love you.” The person who sacrifices and lives for someone other than himself is the one who truly loves.

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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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