Letters From a Pastor to His People

  • 14 July 2019 | By

    Father James with an employee of Wrigley Field after he said Mass for the Chicago Cubs

    Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 14, 2019

    Dear Parishioners,

    Preoccupation.  That, to me, is one of the themes of the parable of the Good Samaritan from today's Gospel.

    The priest passes by the victim because the priest is on his way to the temple to worship. The priest will be delayed and, furthermore, if he comes into contact with a potential non-Jew (remember, the man has been beaten and stripped, so there's no way to identify him as a Jew or Gentile), the priest will be impure and have to go through ritual washings, delaying him even more.  The priest is too preoccupied.  He needs to serve God by getting to the temple.  He passes the beaten man by.

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St Thomas, Didymus - The Twin

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Thomas was called Didymus, which means 'the twin.'  Someone asked me about this recently.  Thomas did not have actually have a twin sibling.  He was called 'the twin' because of his split personalities, if you will.  He is a faithful apostle, yet he doubts. 

When Jesus decides to see Lazarus, though it will mean traveling into the lion's den, Thomas says, "let us go that we may die with him" (John 11:16).  When Jesus says at the Last Supper that he is going to the Father, Thomas asks what the way is, to which our Lord responds: "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:15).  When Jesus comes back to life, Thomas resists: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

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The Bunny Hops, Does It Not?

Dear Parishioners,

I came across a quote from Saint Gregory the Great, the Pope from the 6th Century.  It made me think of Easter.  But before unveiling the quote, a word or two about Gregory.

Gregory, born in 540 to a wealthy patrician family, was elected prefect of Rome in his late 20s, an incredible feat.  Dissatisfied with this life, he resigned and became a Benedictine monk.  Renowned for his holiness and his discipline, the clergy and people of Rome elected him Pope at age 50.  As Pope, he removed unworthy priests from office, lived in monastic simplicity, used funds from the papal treasury to care for victims of the plague, famine, and war, dealt with the Lombard king who was attacking Rome, converted Great Britain to Catholicism, introduced 'Gregorian chant' and other prayers into the Mass, and wrote a book, "On Pastoral Care," which is still read today. There is much more Gregory did. Paul the Deacon, who served with him in Rome and later wrote about his life, quipped, "He never rested."  There is a reason he is dubbed the Great. All popes, bishops, and priests should model themselves after this saint. 

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Ah, Holy Jesus

Dear Parishioners,

One of the highlights of my year as a priest is reading the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  It is a privilege to play the role of Christ in the narrative.  The part that always sends a chill down my spine is when the crowd (you all in the congregation) yells out: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"  It's amazing to hear the church roar.

I know you personally are not directing that at me personally. You don't want to crucify me. (Okay, well, maybe, some of you do.) And I know you don't want Christ to be crucified.  You're just playing the part assigned to you.

But why would the Church arrange it so?  Because there's some truth in our crucifixion of Jesus.  We do send Christ to the cross. 

I don't say this to make you feel bad.  I put myself in the same boat.  When we sin and when we do not live fulfilled lives, we crucify Jesus.  Our forsakenness harms Jesus.  Not because he can't handle himself, but because he loves us so much that he is pained when we struggle. 

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Grounded in Prayer on the Mount of Olives

Dear Parishioners,

There are many lessons we can take from Christ in this well-known scene of the woman caught in adultery from the Gospel of John.

First, leading up to this encounter, Jesus had spent the whole previous day teaching in the temple.  The day ends and our Lord's enemies "went each to his own house" (Jn 7:53).  Jesus, on the other hand, "went to the Mount of Olives" (Jn 8:1).  Jesus received his rest and his 'fuel', as it were, by praying.  Who knows how he would have reacted to this adversary had he not grounded himself the night before in prayer?

Second, Jesus does not respond immediately to the Scribes' and Pharisees' puzzle.  He writes on the ground.  This was a way of indicating, in the ancient world, one's disinterest in the topic.  It was Jesus' way of not engaging and saying, "just go away."  Our Lord is patient.  He does not act compulsively or judge hastily.

Third, our Lord does not objectify the woman.  The Pharisees don't truly care about the woman and her sin and the system of justice.  They are out to trap Jesus.  The woman is merely the opportunity; an object to use in their mission.  Our Lord respects the woman.  He merely offers a wise adage: "Let he who is without sin be the first to cast a stone." Like Jesus, we should never degrade people to satisfy ourselves.

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God is Fire

Dear Parishioners,

I'm like a Neanderthal when it comes to fire.  I'm mesmerized by it.  Now, I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac.  All you firefighters in the parish, don't give me the evil eye when you next see me.  I'm just saying there is something so primeval and fascinating to me about a burning fire.  Am I that crazy? I'm sure you all enjoy sitting in front of and staring at a fire in your fireplace.  I know the Boy Scouts enjoy making fires--they did so at their Webelos Crossover Event (when Cub Scouts enter Boy Scouts) last week. 

I don't think I'm in horrible company with this fascination with fire.  Moses liked it too. See the burning bush from the first reading (cf. Exodus 3).  This theophany ('appearance of God') had to be incredibly fascinating. Not only is God fire, which is intriguing in itself, he is fire that does not consume. 

This is more than just a fake fireplace (I hate fake fireplaces by the way...I want to build my own fire!).  This is something 'remarkable', as Moses himself commented. 

God is fire.  He is mesmerizing, appealing, and heartening.  And he does not consume.  There is nothing we lose when God comes more fully into our hearts.  We only gain. 

Firefighters should love this image of God.  Think of a fire that does not destroy.  What more could you want!

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The Contemplative Life

Dear Parishioners,

There are some who think there is no place for the contemplative life in Christianity.  Quiet, interior prayer is an aberration.  To be a Christian, they would say, means to serve our brothers and sisters.  Jesus did remark, after all, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  When we are just praying like monks, we are not serving anyone.  Hence, there is no room for recollected prayer.  That takes us away from the mission of Christ.  Such is the claim.

I brought up this argument in my first talk on prayer a couple weeks ago.  There are many flaws in that argument; many ways to rebut it.  The Transfiguration, which we read about this weekend, is one such way.

Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with his apostles, Peter, James and John (the three whom he will take apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane). He is elevated and experiences a mystical encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Yes, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, but they also both represent interior, contemplative prayer.  Moses for 40 days was on Mount Sinai, communing silently with God.  He was immersed in a sort of luminous cloud, which the Hebrews called the shekinah.  When Moses comes down the mountain after 40 days, his countenance is changed.

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Accept Your Discipline in Life

Dear Parishioners,

A 12th-Century Cistercian spiritual writer, William of St. Thierry, wrote this of us:

O image of God, recognize your dignity,

allow the imprint of your Maker to shine out from you.

To yourself you may appear mean

but in fact you are precious.

To the extent that you have fallen short

of him whose image you are

you have become stamped with foreign images.

But if only you begin to breathe again

to live as you were created,

if only you accept a discipline of life,

then you will quickly shed and part company with

those adulterous images

which are like stains clinging to the surface.

I read this recently and find it to be a fitting reflection as we begin the season of Lent.         

The first two lines: we are made in the image of God and have inherent and invaluable dignity.  Pause on that truth.  We've heard it before, but let it sink in.  We are made in the image of God.  God is good.  We are good.  Yes, we may sin and do things that are ungodly, but that does not change our fundamental identity.

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Be Aware

Dear Parishioners,

"For every tree is known by its own fruit" (Lk 6:44).  A simple, but powerful statement from our Lord from today's Gospel!

This is so important to help with our discernment.  We can judge a tree by its fruits.  That is, we can judge an activity by the resulting experiences.  I tell this to the children all the time.  How do you feel after playing video games for a long period of time?  Are you irritable, impatient, disobedient, quarrelsome, edgy until you can get back to playing?  If so, those would be "bad fruits" and the "tree", then (playing video games excessively) is probably bad as well.

This applies for adults equally.  TV shows, use of the phone, some other addictive behavior leaving you with an empty feeling or not putting you in a place of love and peace?  Then that would be a bad tree and we should probably limit our interaction with it.

The key to utilizing this little discernment trick from our Lord is being aware.  We have to be attuned to our inner state.  We need to catch ourselves when we're in a bad mood.  Only then can we determine what perhaps is the source of that bad mood and take steps to correct it.  Remember, Jesus doesn't want us to feel bad, but fulfilled.  He knows what is best for us.

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Love Your Enemies

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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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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