Letters from a Pastor to His People

Love Your Enemies

Letters from a Pastor to His People- February 24, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

This, to me, is our Lord's hardest teaching, or at least one of the hardest.  "Love your enemies...turn the other cheek...stop judging." 

I once heard a priest say, "We love God as much as we love our least favorite person."  Ouch!

Yes, it's a hard saying, but "with God all things are possible."  That could be a simple prayer of yours this week.  Think of a person with whom you struggle and simply offer a Hail Mary (or some other prayer) for that person each day this week.  How powerful that could be!

This is the Commitment Weekend for the 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal. We are called to answer Jesus' call to follow Him and share the word by providing the necessary contribution to fund ministries and services to share God's love with many others in our parish and our Archdiocese.  The Archdiocese of Chicago does so much for the City of Chicago and for the universal Church, and we all know how important St. Juliana is to the lives of so many. Your contribution to the ACA allows us to continue to function and make a difference.  Please remember that the ACA is not a one-time special collection, but rather a pledge campaign where you can make a more generous gift payable in installments.  Cardinal Cupich and I are deeply grateful for your generosity. 

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Complete Surrender

Letters from a Pastor to His People- February 17, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

The Beatitudes.  We're all familiar with these.  They come from Christ's Sermon on the Mount (or, in Luke's Gospel, the 'Sermon on the Plain', for he delivers it "on a stretch of level ground"). 

I find myself throughout periods and seasons of my life appreciating a beatitude in particular more than others.  Not that I don't appreciate the others; more than one beatitude just happens to resonate with me because of my life and spiritual circumstances.  Maybe that is the case with you?  Maybe something for you to at least pray about, if not?

“Blessed are you who are poor" is the beatitude that resonates with me right now.  I've preached on poverty before.  This doesn't have to mean material poverty.  Christ isn't necessarily calling us to give away all our money and drain our retirement funds.  He is calling us to spiritual poverty, or a dependence on him.   

A poor person depends on others.  He has to beg.  We are called not to self-reliance, but a complete surrender of ourselves to God.  It is blessed to beg Jesus!

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Inconveniences Are Good

Dear Parishioners,

This is a beautiful Gospel scene.  There is a lot to unpack, a lot upon which to reflect.  One thing immediately comes to my mind is inconvenience.  Jesus does not mind inconveniencing people. 

First, the crowd.  The crowd is "pressing in on Jesus." They obviously want to be close to Jesus—to hear him more clearly and perhaps even touch him.  Jesus leaves the throng and continues his lessons from a boat in the lake.  'Where are you going, Lord? Don't leave us!'

Second, the fishermen.  They had just finished their long day of labor.  They had secured their boats, were washing their nets, and ready to go home for the day.  They must have thought, when Jesus chose their two boats, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" The day's not over yet, fisherman.  They drag back the clean nets, unhinge the boat, and set off into the lake, as if it was morning already for the next day of work.

Third, the fishermen, part 2.  Not only are the workers back out on the lake when they thought they were finished for the day, they are now instructed to throw the nets back in to resume their fishing.  Not only was this laborious, it was emotionally draining.  They were already demoralized, having caught nothing for the day.  Being told to try fishing again must have been hard to swallow.  It's like a father insisting to his boy to continue hitting the golf ball when he just can't get it right.  'Can't we just try again another day?' No!

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God Has a Plan For Each One Of Us...

Dear Parishioners,

Jeremiah's opening, in our first reading, is perhaps one of the most heart-warming lines in all of Scripture:  "The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:4-5).

I don't know about you, but I find this very consoling.  Pray on that line.  God knows exactly who we are.  He formed us in our mother's womb.  He designed us and is with us always.

It's easy when we're discouraged about our failures to think we're alone.  If we do see God (and the temptation is just not to think about him at all--he's ignored us when we're in darkness, we think), we feel God sees us as a failure, a disappointment.

But it's not true. God is with us, knows what's going on, and has a plan for us. 

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Ezra, Man of Law

Dear Parishioners,

I have to mention Ezra from our first reading, being the canon lawyer that I am.  Because, you see, Ezra is connected to the law and quite significant when it comes to establishing the foundation for church law.

Ezra lives about 450 BC during the Diaspora, or when the Jews were dispersed throughout the Middle East.  Jerusalem had been destroyed and many of the Jews taken into captivity in Babylon.  He is a scribe and priest (remember how Jesus confronts the scribes?).  He is sent by Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, who has conquered the area, back to Jerusalem to reestablish the Torah or the law to the Jews who were now living back in Israel. 

Ezra was commissioned for this project because he was a man of the law.  He had introduced to Jewish communities living outside of Israel to the customs of the faith.  These weren't just haphazard practices created by Ezra, but practices outlined in the law.  Following the law, therefore, connected these scattered Jewish peoples to the true faith.  They couldn't physically worship in Jerusalem.  But this didn't mean they still couldn't be Hebrews.  If they followed the law, their identity was established.  So, it wasn't political nationality, ethnic background, or even regular participation in the Jerusalem temple cult, but following the law that made them God's chosen people. 

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A Thousand Bottles of Wine

Dear Parishioners,

There is so much to reflect upon with the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This is our Gospel reading this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Yes, we are officially back in Ordinary Time.  We will climb all the way up to the 8th week in Ordinary Time before switching to Lent at the beginning of March.

The water is symbolic of the Old Covenant.  Notice the water is specifically mentioned to be in "six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings." The relationship of the Jews to God in the Old Testament was not as vibrant as it could be.  Jesus transforms the water into wine; he transforms the faith.  Our relationship with God in the New Covenant is now something totally exhilarating and fulfilling.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice our second reading is a description of all the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

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What's the Significance of the Dove?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 13, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

"And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:22).  What's the significance of the dove?

We know now that the dove is one of the forms or images of the Holy Spirit. But for the crowd witnessing Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, they would not have picked up on this.  They simply would have seen a bird flying in the sky that happened to hover above this young adult.  The Old Testament made no mention of God being a bird.  But there are, however, some Old Testament references to the dove, and I'd like to use these to unpack the dove's significance in the Baptism of our Lord.

Noah releases a dove during the flood to determine if dry land has appeared; if the flood waters have begun to recede (cf. Gen 8:8).  It first returns with an olive branch and then, at last, it never returns, indicating to Noah that the land is once again habitable, as the dove is able to settle on it.    

Christ is the new man, representative of the new creation.  He emerges from the waters, just as that new land upon which Noah's dove settled emerged from the flood waters.  Jesus is the new people of God, emerging from water as Moses and the Israelites emerged from the Red Sea waters free from sin.

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Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 6, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  We celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as a divine person, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.  There are three scenes from the life of Christ that are traditionally used for the Epiphany: the adoration of the three Magi, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This week we read about the Magi.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and will read about that event. In two weeks, on January 20th (the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will read about the Wedding Feast at Cana. 

Every moment in Christ's life was significant.  There is not just a lesson to be had, but also some change in the natural order.  If Christ did something, then that 'thing' is holy.  For example, the fact that Jesus labored as a carpenter sanctifies work.  When we work honestly to make a living, we are doing something holy, for Jesus did it. 

Let's take that lesson and apply it to the three manifestations.  We'll go in reverse order, starting with the Wedding Feast of Cana. 

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Pop Quiz - Who Was The First Saint?

Dear Parishioners,

Pop quiz! Who was the first saint?

  1. a) St. Joseph
  2. b) St. John the Baptist
  3. c) St. Michael the Archangel
  4. d) St. Stephen the Martyr
  5. e) The Holy Innocents

Okay, I know it's Christmas Break and you weren't prepared, so I'll be merciful. No need to call the Cardinal to complain and ask for a redo.  I'll accept any of your answers.  For one could make a theological and historical argument for each of the above. 

But, if we had to choose, (and the answer I usually tell the students in school), I would say: e) The Holy Innocents.

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents this past week on December 28.  If you are not familiar with the Holy Innocents, these are the children in Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod as a result of Jesus' birth.  "When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi (Matt 2:16)."

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A Christmas Tree Blessing

Dear Parishioners,

I have discussed the meaning of the Christmas Tree before.  Its origins go back to St. Boniface, who chopped down a giant oak tree that pagans in Germany were worshiping.  He proved to them that the Christian God was more powerful than the fake, pagan gods confined to a tree.  If the local people needed a tree to facilitate their worship of the one, true God, then they should look to an evergreen tree.  Triangular in shape, like an image of the Trinity, the tree points upward to heaven and its evergreen leaves, which are everlasting, represent the eternity of God. 

I'm sure most of your Christmas trees are up already in your homes.  Traditionally, however, the tree was put up right before Christmas and remained in place until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. 

Your tree may be up, but have you blessed it yet?  No, this isn't a ploy to invite myself over to your house for dinner.  You don't need a priest to bless it.  Anyone in the family can do the blessing.  Doing the blessing on Christmas Eve, perhaps before you have your dinner, could be the perfect family activity! 

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The Three Comings of Christ

Dear Parishioners,

Advent, as I'm sure you are well aware, means 'coming.'  There are three 'comings' of Christ that we recognize during this Liturgical season.  Cistercian monk and (recently deceased) spiritual writer Thomas Keating writes, "The first is his historical coming in human weakness and the manifestation of his divinity to the world; the second is his spiritual coming in our inmost being through the liturgical celebration of the Christmas-Epiphany Mystery; the third is his final coming at the end of time in his glorified humanity."

In other words, there is a past, present, and future coming.  The past is the memorial-aspect of Christ's coming 2,000 years ago.  The future is the apocalyptic-aspect when he will come again at the end of time to bring the earth to final glory.  The present is the grace-aspect of our Lord into our hearts right now.

A good image for Advent, particularly the "present" coming, is light.  By the way, the major liturgical seasons of the year each have an attribution.  Advent/Christmas/Epiphany is light; Lent/Easter/Ascension is life; Pentecost/Ordinary Time is love.

Light is pretty obvious for this present season.  We have Christmas lights and, of course, the candles on the Advent wreath.  The rose-colored candle we light this Sunday, being Gaudete Sunday when we rejoice looking ahead to Christmas. 

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I Do!

Dear Parishioners,

When a man is ordained a priest, he kneels before the bishop and promises obedience.  The bishop encloses his hands around the candidate's folded hands and asks him, "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?"  The candidate responds, "I do."  The bishop then says, "May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment." 

The bishop's line is taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the segment of which we have in our second reading this weekend.  "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).

It's a great line.  We could meditate and reflect on just this one line for an hour.  God began some project in each one of us, and the project is fundamentally good.  Each one of us is here for a purpose.  Remember that when you're feeling down, depressed, alone, and without meaning.  As bad as things might seem or be, it does not erase the fact that God began a good work in you. 

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