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Letters from a Pastor to His People

Put your finger here.

Dear Parishioners,

Thomas was so close. His sainthood teetered on the edge. If our Lord had not been merciful and returned to show his wounds, Thomas might never have believed in the Resurrection and might not have remained a follower of Christ. He would not be a saint and would be grouped instead with Judas. Thomas was so close to forsakenness. He could have fallen away. But Jesus catered to Thomas' need for proof and kept him secure. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’“ (Jn 20:27-28).

Maybe you've been close to the edge, close to falling astray and away from Christ. Or maybe even you did fall and were away for a while. Thomas is your saint then.

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With God all things are possible.

Dear Parishioners,

Happy Easter! Christ is risen from the dead, alleluia!

The Resurrection is like a code that has been programmed into the software of the earth. Dying and rising is everywhere. Think about it. Moving on to a high school or college is a resurrection experience. A student "dies" to his grammar school and is reborn in high school. Flowers are blooming. A new Cubs season is underway. People are marrying.

People are dying and being reborn to eternal life.

Companies, like Apple, have experienced the resurrection too, as have industries and brands: bourbon, neon sunglasses, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Twinkie, leggings and striped tube socks. All of these things existed at one point, began to diminish, and then returned.

Saint Juliana Parish is no different. The Resurrection is in our DNA.

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On the importance of the Resurrection

Dear Parishioners,

I teach 7th grade religion once a week in our school. Recently I asked them on a quiz to write a short-answer essay on why the resurrection is important. Here are some snippets of responses from the quizzes:

The Resurrection is important because when Jesus resurrected he opened the gates of heaven so we could live forever.

The Resurrection showed that Jesus was true to his word and also foreshadowed his coming again to judge all.

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Come and See

Dear Parishioners,

The raising of Lazarus is one of my favorite passages from the Bible (cf. Jn 11:1-45). I have meditated on this scene dozens of times and taken away a different message or insight each time. Let's take this line: “Jesus wept.”

I often suggest this passage to read when an individual who is grieving the loss of a loved one comes to me for counseling. Jesus wept over the death of his loved one too. He can empathize with us. We can relate to him. Most importantly, Jesus is with us in our sorrow. Whatever we might be feeling--sadness, confusion, anger, despair—we are not alone. Jesus wept and he weeps again with us. The scene of the raising of Lazarus can hopefully be a source of comfort to us.

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Here's mud in your eye.

Dear Parishioners,

“When [Jesus] had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on [the man's] eyes, and said to him, ‘Go wash in the Pool of Siloam’ —which means Sent. So he went and washed, and came back able to see” (Jn 9:6-7).

Another long Gospel reading this Sunday, but another good one! John, our Gospel writer, is doing more than just recounting a miraculous event in the life of Christ. He is teaching us. The multiple exchanges—between the Jesus and the man born blind, the man and the Pharisees, the Pharisees and the man's parents, the neighbors among themselves, and Jesus and the Pharisees—all contain lessons. But it's this use of clay that has me intrigued.

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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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