Letters from a Pastor to His People

Counting Baals

Dear Parishioners,

The account of the Samaritan woman at the well from the Gospel of John—the third Sunday of Lent's Gospel—is an interesting one. Jesus knows that the woman has had five different husbands. The woman is floored. Seems odd. Any gossip in town would know this juicy piece of information. So why is the woman led to divine faith by the information our Messiah possesses?

John, our Gospel writer, usually tries to make some broader connection to the Old Testament in his passages. The word Baal in the Old Testament means false god. You may remember this word. The Israelites often got in trouble for abandoning God and worshipping Baal. But Baal had another meaning as well. Wives sometimes also used the world Baal for their husbands. Jesus is telling this woman she had five different Baals. Well, Samaria—the woman's homeland—was occupied by a foreign power who worshipped five Baals. And there was a prediction in the first chapter of Hosea that Samaria would be delivered from these five Baals after 700 hundred years by the Messiah, and this was the 700th year! The woman makes this connection, which is why Jesus' information leads her to become a disciple.

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It's green week!

Dear Parishioners,

The Transfiguration. I see this event as a sister image of the crucifixion. We could even call the Transfiguration a shadow of the Redemption. Or perhaps it is reversed? Either way, there are several comparisons to make.

Jesus ascends two hills in both scenes: Tabor and Calvary. He is elevated with three individuals below him: Peter, James, and John while he is floating in the air; Mary, John, and Mary while he is suspended on the cross. Of course, two individuals are at his side both times: Moses and Elijah, and the two thieves. The Father in heaven above smiles over the Transfiguration; weeps over the crucifixion.

Christ is bathed in white on Tabor. On Calvary he is bathed in red. The colors are painful, each in their own ways. The bright white blinds, while the red is the blood from the lacerations. The colors are also beautiful. And this leads me to my last point.

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It's good to be dust.

Dear Parishioners,

Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. That is the more traditional formula used on Ash Wednesday. Though I wouldn't call myself a traditionalist, I do prefer this line. I like being reminded that I am dust. Dust means simplicity and total contingency. It is, by definition, a single particle or grain, and dust is totally dependent on something else to create it.

We are dust. That is we are, or, at least ought to be, simple beings—receptacles to receive the breath of God. This is a good thing, since God's breath is holy, powerful, and wise.

We are dust. That is, we are, or, at least ought to be, totally dependent on God (see the opening line of our first reading from Genesis, 2:7, where we hear man was formed out of the "clay of the ground"). This is another good thing, since God is good and will make us good people.

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O you of little faith

Dear Parishioners,

Do you worry? If you do—if you are a "worrier"—then listen particularly to Jesus this weekend. “Do not worry about your life,” he says. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” (Matt 6:24-34)

Planning and being intentional is one thing, worrying is another. Worrying does us no good. It is wasted energy and makes life much less enjoyable. Jesus wants us to be happy, which is why he tells us to stop worrying. Our Savior will provide for us, just like he provides for the birds of the sky and the wildflowers.

Praying is an antidote to worrying. Look at the opening line from our psalm today: “Only in God is my soul at rest” (Ps 62:2). When we worry, our mind and, fundamentally, our soul dart around. Conversely, when we pray we are put at ease. God relaxes us. Sit with Jesus and even express to him some of your worries, and he will settle you.

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All That is Holy

Dear Parishioners,

Holiness is the theme this weekend. “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy,” we hear in Leviticus (Lev 19:1). Paul next informs the Corinthians, “for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor 3:17). Finally, Jesus' instructions to “turn the other cheek”, and so forth, are some qualities that go into making a person holy. I've often said that if you are going to ask for one thing in prayer, ask for holiness. If we are holy, everything else will fall in place.

So what exactly is holiness? Many have written on the topic. In fact, when I come across a quote or a passage about holiness, I record it. Let me share one from the many I have. It is from Thomas Merton, taken out of New Seeds of Contemplation:

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I fought the law and the law won.

Dear Parishioners,

God proposes ideas to us all the time. I don't know about you, but I'm often dubious of them. “Nah,” I say to myself, “I'm not going to stop and talk to that beggar on the street.” “Hmm, I don't know if I agree with that,” I think mentally as I read a theological book. (Note the variety of ways in which God can "speak" to us.)

“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5: 21, 28). Here is a saying from our Lord, taken from this Sunday's Gospel, and my initial reaction is to question. Nemo cogitationis poenam patitur is a maxim I recall from my canon law classes. It means no one suffers punishment on account of his thoughts. Is not Christ's legal interpretation therefore fallacious?

That's when I hear St. Paul talk to me, speaking the same words he wrote to the Corinthians from our second reading: "We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew" (1 Cor 2:6-10).

St. Paul tells us to trust in God's wisdom, which goes deeper than our own. If my inclination is to question Christ's legal interpretation, what I hear Paul telling me to do is to be humble and realize Jesus knows what he is talking about. He came to fulfill the law.

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And the award goes to...

Dear Parishioners,

When Christ says bluntly, “You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world” (Matt 5:13-16), we have a fairly uplifting message. We are, he tells us, fundamentally good. We have something good to share. Jesus wants us to share that goodness.

Remember this Gospel when you're having a bad day. Remember our Lord's message when you feel like dirt. Because you're not dirt. You're a good person. Let your light shine.

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God willing, goodwill

Dear Parishioners,

The Beatitudes are the subject of our Gospel today, and instead of focusing on all of the Beatitudes, allow me to hone in on just one: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Before I discuss cleanliness, or purity, of heart, a brief thought on the word ‘blessed.’ To be blessed means that the state of life is good. A blessed person has a good life. Goodness, however, is independent of feeling. We may feel happy. We may also feel sad. But if we are blessed, whether we are happy or sad, anxious or bored, we are good. Jesus tells us that these counterintuitive characteristics or qualities will make us good people.

Purity of heart we think of, I'm sure, as being chaste. There is more to it, though. I would like to quote at length from Father Jacques Philippe's book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, in which he discusses this beatitude:

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St. Paul the Equestrian

Dear Parishioners,

This upcoming Wednesday, January 25th is a very interesting feast day in our Church. We celebrate ‘The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle.’ I'm sure you're all familiar with the story of how Saul fell off his horse on the road to Damascus. If not, read Acts 9:1-22. It's interesting that a feast day is centered around a saint's conversion. Typically a feast day is about the saint's entire life, and is celebrated on the supposed date of the individual's death or birth. Paul does have another feast day—June 29th—but this particular event in Paul's life was so monumental the Church believed it necessary to give it a separate feast. Paul's conversion was a miracle and, arguably, the most important miracle in history. Without Paul Catholicism does not spread to Europe and broaden. It remains a progressive sect of Judaism confined to Palestine. Much of our set of beliefs, not to mention much of our Bible, does not exist without the man formerly known as Saul.

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Here I am, Lord

Dear Parishioners,

“Here am I Lord; I come to do your will (Ps 40:8-9).” The responsorial psalm for this Sunday provides both a perfect prayer and a good model for discipleship. What do we "need" to do to be good Catholics, good disciples of Jesus Christ? Simply present ourselves before God and do his will. Check out each of these verses from the psalm.

I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

The ball is in God's court. Simply wait for him (“I have waited, waited for the Lord”) and he will give you what you are to do to follow his will (“and he put a new song into my mouth”).

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”

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Rest in Peace, Father Ahearn

Dear Parishioners,

God bless Father Donald Joseph Ahearn!

Love is the most powerful force in the world. It gives life. A man who loves, lives. And a man who loves a lot, lives a lot. Fr. Ahearn lived a good, long life (91 years) because he was a tremendously loving man. He was loved by so many people and it was your love, brothers and sisters, that allowed Fr. Ahearn to live as long—and as well—as he did.

Father Donald Ahearn

Fr. Ahearn (aka,"Nubs") was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, along with 39 other men, on May 3, 1951. His first assignment was St. Gertrude Parish in Franklin Park, where he served as the assistant pastor for eight years. During his tenure at St. Gertrude, Fr. Ahearn also acted as a chaplain at St. Patrick High School on Belmont Avenue, in addition to being a specially appointed confessor for nuns. His next assignment, still as an assistant pastor, was at St. Barbara Parish in Brookfield, where he served for seven years. On the side during this time, the young priest was a Cana chaplain. Remaining an assistant pastor, in 1966 Fr. Ahearn transferred to St. David Parish on Union Street. After four years at St. David's, he was named the administrator at St. Nicholas Parish on State Street for five months before taking over as pastor at the same parish. Upon completion of three years as pastor, the Archdiocese named Fr. Ahearn administrator for a month of Holy Rosary Parish on 108th Street, before making him the assistant pastor of All Saints Parish on South State Street for a year. Then, from 1974-1975, Fr. Ahearn served as the associate pastor of Our Lady of Ransom parish not too far from here in Niles. Our beloved friend finally found his home here at St. Juliana Parish on Touhy Avenue in Chicago. He was named pastor on August 21, 1975 and retired on June 30, 1995, serving the parish for nearly 20 years! Among all the duties he performed in the parish, Fr. Ahearn was a member of the Pastor Review Board, the School Board Advisory Committee, and then an Assistant Vicar for Senior Priests. From 1995 until his death last Sunday, January 1, 2017, Fr. Ahearn lived at St. Juliana as the pastor emeritus.

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Have a Mary New Year!

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and it's one of our oldest feast days. However, as some of you elder Catholics might recall, January 1st was not always a celebration of Mary's divine motherhood. Originally, today was the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. Jewish circumcisions occurred on the eighth day after a child's birth (cf. Lk 2:21), hence our Lord's circumcision on the Christmas octave. Celebrating this occasion was a recognition not only of Christ's first shedding of blood for the redemption of mankind, but also of the reality that God allowed himself to be “born under the law,” in the words of St. Paul (Gal 4:4), so that he could be fully united to mankind. The circumcision is a symbolic event in the life of Christ, but the Church found it more appropriate to honor Mary on the first day of the new year. Paul VI changed the feast day in 1974.

I'm grateful he did. To me, it's absolutely fitting that we begin our new year by recognizing in a special way our Blessed Mother. I think we all can agree that we want to experience happiness in our lives. We want 2017 to be a happy year. A New Year's Resolution ultimately has the aim of creating happiness. If we lose weight, we'll be happier. If we talk more with our parents, we'll be happier. If we read more, we'll be happier.

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