Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night God Turned the World Upside Down

As I write here I think about the night that the world was turned upside down by our God.  We seem to have a problem with the Christmas message because it doesn't resonate with how we would have planned the coming of the Savior into the world.  How would we have planned it?

First of all, what place would we choose to have the birth of the Savior?  My guess is that we would want to provide a very comfortable, almost lush, place where Mary could deliver her child - with all of the best medical attention the world could give.  It would be a pleasant place with bright light, soft chairs, and a spacious room where visitors could come.  Maybe not a palace but close.

And what about how we would announce the birth.  In our day we would certainly use Facebook and Twitter and all the other possibilities through the Internet to alert the world to this great event.  And who would we want to be the visitors to the birthplace?  Probably the heads of state of the governments of the world who would come to see the newborn Prince of Peace. 

But this is where the message of Christmas puts another light on the subject.  God chose not a spacious room or palace to see his Son born - he saw the child come into the world in a stable and being placed in a feeding trough for animals.  Is this because we know that this child would eventually give us his own Body and Blood for our nourishment?  The first visitors to the birthplace were not the high and the mighty but the lowliest citizens of the place in the eyes of others - the shepherds: dirty, unkempt and probably smelling of the animals they cared for.  Is this because Jesus was to become the shepherd of us all?

It may be hard for some to comprehend that God could leave behind all the trappings of divinity and come to reside in the vulnerable body of a tiny child.  We have a God of surprises and at the birth of Christ the world was turned upside down by our God.  We may try to control the feast by our songs and our decorations but what we are witnessing is the weakness of God - a weakness of great and unbounded love for his creation and the human race that he created.

A certain man had difficulty understanding this message of Christmas.  He could not comprehend that God would become human to help the likes of us.  Each year his wife would ask him to come with her to the Christmas worship service in their church but he stayed home.  On one particular Christmas night while his wife was away at church, he heard a loud noise in his barnyard.  Investigating, he found a gaggle of geese who seemed to be trying to find a warm place to rest.  He thought if he could open the barn door they would go in and get warm.  But no matter how hard he tried to coax them into the barn they remained outside somewhat fearful of this human being.  He thought: if only I could become a goose for a while I could entice them to enter the barn.  Then it hit him: this is exactly what our God did on that first Christmas night.  Our God became one of us to entice us to enter into a relationship with him and be freed from our sins and bask in the warmth of his love.

We love the story of the baby Jesus because babies are soft and cuddly and seem to bring out the best in us.  But as Jesus grew up, we, too, must grow up in our faith experience.  There is a wonderful picture portrayed by different artists of Jesus as a man knocking at a door.  The door has no outer handle with which to open it.  It is a reminder that Jesus is knocking on the door of our souls but it is up to us to open the door and let him in.  Are we ready to let him into our lives?

Many come to church at Christmas time to seek God but the story of Christmas is that God is seeking us.  He is reaching out to us; he is knocking at our doors.  May this Christmas be the time we answer wholeheartedly to his summons.  As we go forward from this Christmas, maybe we can hear something in the words once written by the writer and theologian Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled; when the star in the sky is gone; when the kings and princes are home; when the shepherds are back with their flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers and sisters, to make music in the heart.

May the peace which Jesus brought at his birth reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas season and may we begin the work of Christmas in our world.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's Been Happening?

It's been a few weeks since I have had the time to come up with a new post for the blog.  Much of the reason lies with the fact that I am now working as a parish administrator in an urban parish while the pastor is on extended medical leave.  Fortunately, he is coming along well after a procedure to deal with his cancer and the parish continues to pray for his full recovery and return to his pastoral duties.  Perhaps you can send up a few prayers for this dedicated priest that he may return to full health.

I have been busy with the parish as well as other duties that I have in the Diocese of Albany, New York.  All of this work is very rewarding.  I have a dedicated staff at the parish and the diocesan work brings me into contact with wonderful people who give of their time and talent to spread the message of Jesus Christ throughout our area of New York State.  In the United States, we recently celebrated our annual Thanksgiving Day and I am continually giving thanks for all the great people I have in my life including a wonderful and supportive family and friends.

I'd like to highlight three events that have taken place in the past several weeks which made an impression on me.  First was a remarkable concert that took place at the mother church of our diocese - the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (the feast we are celebrating today as I write this post).  The cathedral is blessed with a very talented music director (and very good friend of mine), Thomas F. Savoy.  Over several months he, together with a dedicated assistant, worked on restoring music that had been discovered in the cathedral archives some of which dated back to one of the cathedral's former directors who served in the early part of the twentieth century.  The concert featured a number of that composer's works as well as others and was performed by a choral group and orchestra.  It was a wonderful night of music and it is hoped that more such events will take place in the future.  I was also very pleased that my son who is a trained singer was part of the ensemble with a featured solo.

The second event to take place was one in which I had been involved over several months.  On the first Sunday of Advent in the English speaking world, the third edition of the Roman Missal was introduced.  I had been involved in presenting a number of workshops throughout the diocese in the preceding months to help the faithful be prepared for the new translation and the changes in some of the wording of the faithful's responses in the liturgy.  What I have heard from friends around the diocese is that while there is still some hesitation and stumbling over the new translation, it has gone quite well.  I believe the new translation (which is more faithful to the original Latin text) is more elevated and poetic and helps us to pause and realize that we are speaking to our God and should give God the best we can.

The final event took place a week ago.  As I have mentioned in a number of my former posts, my younger daughter is disabled with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (or CMT) which is a neurological disorder that affects the nerves and muscles in the hands, arms and legs.  She has worn braces for a number of years and is limited in a number of her activities.  There is a group of volunteers in the Albany area where we live that have been having art shows exhibiting the work of local artists in order to raise funds for a particular disease or condition.  Last week such a show (called Art de Cure) was held to raise funds for research into CMT in the hopes of finding a cure or finding ways to alleviate the symptoms.  My daugther's undergraduate college degree was in fine arts and she prepared a few paintings to be exhibited (which by the way were sold).  The event featured the art work plus a silent auction where people could bid on various craft items as well as the art.  It was well attended and was a success.  My daughter has since prepared some additional paintings (one of which I show here entitled "Elements") to be on display and has been asked to serve on the ongoing committee to plan future arts shows in the region.

While it has been a busy time for me, it has been rewarding.  I enjoy my work and I was pleased to have been able to help in the introduction of the new Missal for our Catholic faithful.  I am also a proud father who is puffed up with pride for the accomplishments of all my children - my older daughter who is a teacher of the deaf working with young children, my musical son, and my artistic younger daughter.  So the time has been busy but also has been a happy time.  May you all have a prayerful Advent season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Heart of Christ

I have had the privilege of attending two events recently that had an impression on me that I wished to share with my readers.  One was the annual Fall Gathering - an event held each year for the parishes in my diocese where people can come to hear a keynote speech and attend various workshops dealing with the variety of ministries in which people are involved in our parishes.  The second was another annual gathering - that of deacons and their wives from all the dioceses in New England and the Diocese of Albany in New York (where I serve).  The main thrust of both events was that of evangelization - the primary mission of our Church.

The Diocese of Albany is embarking on the second year of a three year program concerning evangelization known as "Amazing God."  This second year is devoted to the heart of Christ.  At the Fall Gathering we were honored with a wonderful presentation by Father Richard Fragomeni, a priest of our diocese who currently teaches at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  He led us through the Litany of the Sacred Heart pausing to have us reflect on various aspects of that litany.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began with the revelations to a seventeenth century French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.  In a sense of irony, perhaps, my own ministerial life has been surrounded by the image of the Sacred Heart.  For twenty years I served as the organist and music director of Sacred Heart Church in Troy, New York.  After my ordination to the diaconate, my first parish assignment was to the parish of St. Margaret Mary in Albany, New York.  Recently I returned to Sacred Heart Church in Troy as temporary administrator.  I have known in my own life the great love that is poured forth from the heart of Christ and my prayer is that everyone could experience this in their lives.  While I cannot reconstruct the beautiful images presented to us by Father Fragomeni, I would just like to add a few reflections of my own to the invocations of the Litany of the Sacred Heart.

Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity.  What a wonderful image!  A furnace - that which burns to give us warmth.  We all know what it is like to be near a roaring fire especially when the world around us is cold.  Think of the furnace of charity that burns within the heart of Jesus for us.  We live in a world today that is often cold: cold with discrimination toward others; cold with indifference to the value of human life; cold with regard to how we use the gifts God has given us to keep our earth a safe and habitable place.  The heart of Christ burns with great love like a fiery furnace.  We need to bask in that warmth and love and in turn give it to others.

Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy.  The love which pours forth from the heart of Christ with the fire like a furnace is a love that is patient.  It is a love which reaches out in compassion to all regardless of how much we have failed at times to earn that love.  How many times in the Gospels did Jesus show his divine mercy to those who had fallen in some way.  He did not strike out at them with the vengeance of the righteous but rather extended the hand of mercy and forgiveness (cf. John 8:1-11).  We are called to do the same to those who have hurt us.  We are challenged to forgive and be patient.

Heart of Jesus, victim for our sin.  We are all sinners and need the forgiveness of God and others.  Jesus went to the cross as a victim for the sins we have committed.  How grateful we should be that this great act of love on the part of Jesus has brought us redemption and the promise of heaven and eternal life.  May the final prayer of this litany be ours:  Almighty and everlasting God, graciously regard the heart of your well-beloved Son and the acts of praise and satisfaction which he renders you on behalf of us sinners; and through their merit, grant pardon to us who implore your mercy.

The second event I was privileged to attend recently was the annual assembly of deacons and wives from our region in the country.  Our keynote speaker at this event was the Most Rev. Octvavio Cisneros, the auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, New York.  He spoke about the deacon (and the deacon's wife) as evangelizer.  The main point he made is that the evangelization carried out by the deacon is not done so much in what the deacon does as in what the deacon is.  The deacon by his life must show what it is to be motivated by the heart of Christ.  He must live his ministry and not just do it.  In this way, he can be more effective in bringing others to Christ.  As a deacon, I know how easy it is to be caught up in all the "things" we do as deacons: serving at liturgy, proclaiming the Word, and offering a ministry of charity through a variety of ways.  We can become so busy with the actions that we might lose sight of why we are doing what we do.  We need to step back and take stock and to ask ourselves if we are doing these things because "that's our job" or are we doing them with the fire, the compassion and the love shown by the heart of Christ.

All of us as baptized Christians, whether ordained or not, need to live our lives with the image of the heart of Christ being our model of life.  May I offer this prayer from a collection of prayers written by my friend, the Servant of God Terence Cardinal Cooke:

Lord Jesus, I unite myself to your perpetual, unceasing, universal sacrifice.  I offer myself to you every day of my life and every moment of every day, according to your most holy and adorable will.  You have been the victim of my salvation; I wish to be the victim of your love.  Accept my desire, take my offering, graciously hear my prayer.  Let me live for love of you; let me die for love of you; let my last heartbeat be an act of perfect love.  Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Peaceful Protests vs. Violence

Over the past few weeks, a movement has been growing both in the United States and in other countries protesting the inequality between rich and poor - between the middle class and the corporate giants who control a great deal of the wealth in the country.  It began as a movement citing the 99% of people who do not have the wealth as contrasted to the one percent that control much of the wealth.

As in any movement such as this there can be divisions of opinion as to whether the numbers are right or whether all those with wealth are not doing enough to aid those less fortunate.  We know that there are those who are wealthy who have given much time, energy and their wealth to aid others (e.g., the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).  But there is evidence that inequality exists and thousands are growing frustrated and taking their message to the streets of our cities and to the corporate headquarters.

I can readily sympathize with the feelings of those who are protesting this inequality.  One professional I know - a teacher by profession - still owes approximately $45,000 in students loans even after twenty or so years out of college.  She told me that would probably be 85 years old (should she live that long) before they are paid off.  This is causing large number of students and former students to call for changes in how the corporate world treats the rest of society.

One of my fears is that when large numbers such as this gather to protest violence may follow.  This can be caused by a number of factors: some overzealous group members who feel that some destruction is needed in order for the corporate world to wake up; some overreacting members of the police who in trying to keep order get carried away with the tensions of the moment; and on and on.  One example of how destructive things can become was the news from Rome that a medieval church was desecrated by some of those who had gathered to protest.  I don't believe the majority of those protesting are prone to violence but one way to quickly lose support for a cause is for that cause to become enmeshed in violent behavior.  Let us hope that those who are sincere will continue their protests by bringing their message to those who need to hear it without anyone being hurt or property destroyed.

There is nothing inherently evil in wealth.  It is how that wealth is used that is important.  Those who are blessed with it need to know that their wealth can benefit others and should be so used without the wealthy person(s) having to become poor themselves.  Perhaps we all need to re-read the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel:

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me; ill and you cared for me; in prison and you visited me."  Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"  And the King will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me."

We are all called to help those in need without questioning whether they are good or not.  If they are in need they need our help - be it the single mother trying to raise a family on a meager salary; a disabled person whose work output is limited; one of the thousands of unemployed who want work but cannot find it - whatever, we need to be there for them.   Those of us who possess more of this world's goods need to remember the oft quoted saying:  From those who have been given much more will be expected.  May we give with gracious hearts.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

When the Church Fails

The Church, we believe, is the Body of Christ.  As such it should always reflect the message of Christ and imitate how he lived.  But the Church is made up of humans who invariably at one time or another fail to do what they should.  When the Church fails through its members - both clerical and lay - to be what it should be, it leaves many questioning their continued involvement with church.  Yet we need God's grace and love which can be brought to us through the ministry of his Church.

This realization of the failures of the Church was brought home to me very well in an article by my bishop, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany, New York.  This article appeared in the latest edition of the diocesan weekly newspaper The Evangelist.  In this article, Bishop Hubbard speaks about the varied ways in which the Church can fail its people.  I would like to just add a few comments of my own to what is a most provocative and instructional article.  The failings of the Church listed were:

Sexual Abuse by Clergy

We know that our American Church has gone through a very difficult period in this past decade as we witnessed countless occasions in which clergy - priests and deacons - have been accused of sexual abuse particularly of minors.  While the American Church is not alone in suffering these moral lapses, the fact that this abuse has occurred has left a stain on our Church.  It demanded a response by the leaders of the Church which was brought about by the now famous Charter for the Protection of Children adopted by the American bishops.  At times the bishops themselves did not fully appreciate the extent or the seriousness of this problem as they continued to reassign priests who had been abusing our young people.  Some were led to believe that these lapses could be remedied by counseling which did not prove to be the case.  As a result of the Charter, large numbers of priests and deacons have been removed from active ministry.  This certainly has alleviated the problem to some extent but many have left the Church or have removed themselves from it to some degree because of this problem.  The positive thing that must be remembered is that the majority of our priests and deacons are true to their vows and have not fallen prey to this moral failing.  Those men should be supported with our prayers and be reassured that they have our support.  We need also to pray for the victims of this tragedy and for the perpetrators that they will find forgiveness and become reconciled with God and others.

Closing of Churches

There are a number of reasons why the Church has found it necessary to merge parishes and close some churches.  These include a reduction in the number of priests to serve the needs of the faithful as well as the fact that a large number of people have left the Church or have fallen away from the regular practice of their faith.  In the United States studies have shown that ten percent of all Americans are Catholics who no longer practice their faith - approximately 18 million people in our country.  With less priests to serve and less people attending it has become difficult to maintain many of the church buildings which were a part of our lives.  Closing of these churches has brought pain and heartbreak to many who grew up in a particular parish, were baptized and received their sacraments there and now find they must worship in a different church building.  For some, it is like losing a member of the family but as we do when we lose a loved one, we find the courage and strength to move on.  Hopefully those who find new homes for worship will be able to find anew the welcome and the invitation to holiness the Church offers.  Just a few days ago, I had the privilege of serving as Master of Ceremonies at the dedication of a newly renovated church in one of our cities.  This new building is the result of the closing and merger of six parish communities into one.  The pastor, who delivered the homily, held up a banner that he had created which said: Mission Accomplished!  On the other side of the banner it said:  We've Only Just Begun!  This was a wonderful reminder of how a new beginning was taking place in the newly renovated worship space.  The Church must move on and the Church is, after all, its people and not its buildings.

Anemic Parish Life

With the merging and closing of some parish facilities it may become difficult for people to become acclimated in a new surrounding.  This is why it is so important that every parish community be a welcoming community.  Whether one is a long-time parishioner or a newcomer, everyone must feel welcome when they enter the church to celebrate the Eucharist.  Among priests and deacons there can arise a situation we call clericalism.  It occurs when we clergy think we are above others or require certain perks because of our ordained status.  But clericalism of a different sort can arise among the laity as well.  This occurs when certain groups within a parish begin to see themselves as the principal "movers and shakers" of the community to the exclusion of others.  When new people arrive in a parish, are they welcomed and invited to become active participants or are we just glad to see some empty seats filled and some additional money in the collection basket?  The Church is where we are nourished spiritually; it must be, therefore, a place where everyone is welcomed and where everyone can take an active part in parish life.


Have you ever felt alienated by the actions of a priest, deacon or other church minister?  Some people carry the bruises they have received from the insensitivity of these ministers and some have even walked away from the practice of their faith because of it.  There are times, of course, when the ministers of the Church must adhere to policies and regulations concerning worship and sacramental issues.  And there are times when some of the requests received to bend these norms are unreasonable.  But even then the minister in question must make every effort to be sensitive to the need for these requests and explain as clearly as possible what can be done.  Pastoral sensitivity must always be the goal.

Poor Preaching and Liturgies

People come to our Catholic Church to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  But they also hunger to hear the word of God and hear it broken open with clarity and with evidence of sound preparation.  When those who preach in our Church resort to "canned" homilies or show evidence of poor preparation (waiting until the day before to begin thinking about the homily) the people are disenfranchised.  They deserve a well prepared and delivered homily that will speak to where they are and what the Gospel means in their lives.  They deserve liturgies that are executed well and not in a haphazard fashion.  They also deserve good liturgical music.  As a liturgical musician, I know that it is sometimes hard to find qualified musicians who are familiar with our liturgy and can provide a good musical program.  Sometimes I think good musicians are as hard to come by as finding priests who can fulfill our spiritual needs.  Parishes need to support their musical program because it is a vital part of our liturgy.


Fortunately, many churches are coming of age when it comes to technology.  They are using the Internet; they are creating parish blogs; and they use the latest software to assist in ministerial scheduling and other facets of church life.  If your parish does not have a website, offer your services (if you are well versed in the use of computers) to create one.  It can be a wonderful source of information for your parish and for other parishes and communities as well.

The Feeling of Exploitation

Many people are feeling unaccepted or exploited in today's Church climate.  These may include the separated or divorced, the gay or lesbian person, or women in general.  It is up to our Church and its leaders to remedy these feelings of exploitation by welcoming and involving these people in our faith communities.  All of us are God's children and deserve a place at the table.  May we make every effort as disciples of Jesus, who reached out to all, to be that person of welcome to all who come to our doors.

Once again, I applaud Bishop Hubbard for his insights.  I have added nothing of great consequence to this list of failings of the Church but just a few of my own thoughts.  Our Church is made up of saints and sinners and Jesus came to save us all.  May we accept his wonderful gift of salvation.  Let me close, as Bishop Hubbard did in his article, by quoting the words of Father Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.:

We must rejoice in the very existence of people with all their fumbling attempts to live and love, whether they are married, divorced or single; whether they are straight or gay; whether their lives are in accord with the Church or not.  The Church should be a community in which people discover God delights in them.

To this I say:  Amen!  

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Salute to Teachers

Two events occurred in the past few weeks that made me realize what a gift we have in those who are teachers.  The first was a visit to a school for the deaf where my older daughter has now begun to teach.  My wife and I were able to visit her classroom toward the end of the school day and observe how she worked with the students in her care - kindergarten and first grade students with a variety of handicaps including being either deaf or hard of hearing.

The visit made me realize how proud I was of my daughter as I witnessed her dedication to working with this group of children with special needs.  She truly loves the children she works with and is extremely competent in what she does.  She has had a teaching history of working with handicapped students as well as a time as a college professor teaching college students sign language and deaf culture.  It also made me realize how blessed we are to have such dedicated people as teachers wherever they work - in public or private schools, elementary, middle or high schools or colleges and universities.  With the kind of world we live in today where technology reigns and students need to be prepared for life's challenges, teachers are one of the most important professions we have and need to continually support.

I was recently appointed as a pastoral leader of an urban parish while the pastor is on an extended medical leave.  The parish has a parochial school attached to it and I had the privilege of meeting the teachers last week.  This also made me realize how dedicated a group of teachers we have in our Catholic schools.  While Catholic schools receive some federal aid for mandated programs as well as text book and software aid, and while local public school districts may provide transportation of students to the Catholic schools, these schools depend upon tuition paid by parents and monies provided by the parish.  This means that the salaries that these schools are able to afford in paying their teachers are substantially below the salary scales of public school teachers (perhaps as much as half of what a public school teacher may earn).  A number of these teachers must hold down second jobs in an effort to support their families.  Their dedication to Catholic education is a great gift to our Church and our Catholic communities.

I have two daughters.  Both are teachers by profession.  My younger daughter, however, has had to give up her position as a school teacher because of an injury occurring at work some years ago coupled with her ongoing disability.  Yet she remains a teacher.  She teaches through her blog which I have recommended to my readers on a number of occasions ( and by the life she leads.  As someone with a disability, her very life is one of teaching as she copes with day to day living while maintaining a wonderfully balanced outlook on life and an absolutely terrific sense of humor.  Her days in the classroom may be over but her classroom is the world where she attempts each day to survive and in the words she pens.

I am, as you can imagine, extremely proud of my teacher daughters.  I am also proud of the teachers at my parochial school and all of our Catholic school teachers.  But all teachers deserve our support no matter where their teaching may occur.  They are too often undervalued in our society.  May the master Teacher, Jesus Christ, extend his blessings on all those who teach as well as all those who receive the benefits of their teaching.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness and Remembrance

On this, the 24th Sunday on Ordinary Time in the Roman liturgical calendar, we are challenged by our Lord Jesus to be a forgiving people.  Peter asks if he should forgive the brother or sister who has hurt or offended him up to seven times - probably a magnanimous number in Peter's eyes.  But Jesus tells him he must go further than that - up to seventy times seven times - in other words, there is no limit to be placed on the number of times we are called to forgive those who have hurt us.

This challenge of Jesus is perhaps one of the most difficult things we are called to do as Christians.  When he have been hurt, especially if the hurt is a great one or occurs a number of times, the most human and natural response is to lash out at the offender - to "get even" if possible - but certainly not to forgive the offender.  Yet Jesus calls us to do just that.  When we come to liturgy we pray together just before Communion the Lord's Prayer.  Do we speak these words: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - do we speak them from our heart and mean them or are they just words that trip off our tongues by rote?

Jesus was the perfect model of forgiveness for us.  On that bleak Good Friday when he was lifted high upon the cross he asked his Father to forgive those who had brought him to that moment.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to offer the same forgiveness to others who have brought us to dark moments in our lives.

This weekend in our country - the United States of America - we pause to remember that tragic day ten years ago when the greatest attack ever perpetrated against our country took place in New York City and Washington and for some ended in a field in Pennsylvania.  Almost three thousand people lost their lives in those tragic moments as planes became instruments of death.  It was one of those days that we can vividly remember and remember exactly what we were doing when the attacks occured.  Emotions ran very high that day; emotions of grief, confusion, disbelief, anger and thoughts of revenge.  Certain people among us became targets of our emotions because they held particular religious beliefs and looked and sounded like those who had become our attackers.  Even today the discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters remains even though some of them were innocent victims that day as well, and good living American citizens who happened to be Muslim became targets of our frustrations.  It is against feelings like this that Jesus challenges us to be faithful Christians and respect others no matter what their beliefs or nationality.  We need also to be reminded that those who were our attackers also died that tragic day believing themselves to be martyrs for a cause but the judgment of their behavior lies in the hands of God and not ours.

The American Catholic bishops wrote in a pastoral letter in response to the events of September 11, 2001: True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart.  Without both courage and charity, justice cannot be won.  In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure.

Looking through my resource file a few weeks ago, I came across some items written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, web editors for Spirituality and Health.  Let me share some of those voices that come to us from that tragic Tuesday morning in September of 2001:

I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground.  May I rest in peace.

I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not known where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.  May I rest in peace.

I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive.  May I rest in peace.

I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy.  May I know peace.

I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans.  May I know peace.

I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events, and I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Yahweh/Spirit/Allah.  May I know peace.

And I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other.  May we all know peace.

Friday, August 19, 2011

All Are Welcome

The lines of one of our contemporary Christian hymns says:  All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.  How welcoming are we to others who come to our places of worship each week?  Do we welcome strangers as Christ would welcome them?

In this past weekend's Roman liturgy we heard the story of the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus with a request to heal her daughter.  (Matt. 15: 21-28)  Jesus at first seems to spurn the woman and only after his disciples plead with him to send her away does he make the statement that his mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and he should not be giving the food meant for the family to the dogs.  This sounds like a pretty harsh and unwelcoming statement coming from the compassionate Jesus.  Why would he treat her this way?  Is he being prejudiced?  The passage ends with Jesus' praise of the woman for her great faith.  In a sense, this woman spoke up for her rights and was not afraid to challenge this wonder-worker and preacher.  Jesus recognizes and praises her faith and her strength of character.  We know that Jesus respected the rights and the dignity of women and welcomed them into his circle of discipleship, something not known among most rabbis of the time.  Perhaps this strong Canaanite woman helped shape Jesus' recognition and acceptance of women and the role they would play in bringing others to the faith.

We see in this Scripture reading how the mission of Jesus developed within his own thinking.  With his human knowledge he had to grow in understanding just like each of us and he may have been at the point where he was determining what his mission was.  Was it just to the house of Israel or did his mission reach further?  We know that when he was ready to ascend into heaven after his resurrection he told his disciples to go and teach all nations.  (Matt. 28:19-20)  There were to be no exclusions when it came to God's mercy and compassion and all of us are the ones who have inherited these gifts.

How, then, are we to respond to others who come among us?  Do we restrict our welcoming to those we know and with whom we are comfortable?  Do we welcome strangers among us as Jesus would?

There is a story told about the great Mahatma Gandhi who, when we was a young attorney living in South Africa, went to a Christian church one weekend.  Gandhi was interested in Jesus and his message and wanted to find out more about it.  He was turned away at the doors of the church because of the color of his skin.  He would make the statement:  I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

We must be open to welcoming all who come among us especially to worship.  There should be no lack of welcoming because someone is of another race, nationality, or sexual orientation.  All of us are children of our heavenly Father and all are loveable because he has first loved us.  May we always be able to sing:  All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plenty and Hunger

A little over a week ago we heard the story in the Gospels about the multitude being fed by Jesus and his disciples starting with just a few loaves and fishes.  It is a story of a miracle that is found in all four Gospel narratives and like all Gospel stories it is meant to teach us a lesson.

As I attended liturgy that weekend I was privileged to hear a very provocative homily from our Parish Life Director (one of the best homilists I know!).  She began by pointing out some very interesting statistics which I would like to share with you.

In the United States EVERY DAY we consume 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, three million gallons of ice cream and 3,000 tons of candy.  EVERY DAY!!  Another statistic:  five billion people in the world try to make it on just 20% of the world's goods while one billion consume 80% of the world's goods.  Pretty disproportionate wouldn't you say?

In addition, seven million children in the world die from starvation every year; even in the United States there are 3.8 million families who experience hunger daily (and it isn't getting any better with the economy in the state it is in).

Jesus had compassion for the several thousand men, women and children who gathered to hear his message that day.  He told his disciples to feed them.  He tells us the same thing today.  I believe that Americans and American Catholics are quite generous when it comes to alleviating the suffering that we hear about or see on television throughout the world (such as is currently the case in Somalia).  We need to continue to show that generosity when we who have so much given to us by our God come forward to share what we have with those in need.

We all have many obligations to meet especially within our own families.  But when we can, we need to be like the widow in the Gospel who gave all that she had to put something in the temple treasury and was blessed by Jesus for it.  (Luke 21:1-4)

May God shower his compassion on those who are suffering for want of the world's goods and may God inspire us to continue to bring bread to the hungry wherever we find them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jesus and the Internet

A week ago at a diocesan meeting, we were reviewing a new website for the deacons of the diocese (Albany, New York).  While watching the screen and realizing how much we use technology today, I commented to a colleague that it would have been interesting if Jesus had been able to use the Internet.  I could image that he would be sending out messages on Facebook and Twitter about how much his Father loved us and wanted us to be free.  He might have presented his Sermon on the Mount in blog form.  But is Jesus really not able to use the Internet because of when he lived?

The great saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century wrote the following prayer:

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he is to look out
Christ's compassion to the world.
Yours are the feet with which to go about doing good;
yours the hands with which he is to bless now.

Keeping this prayer in mind we realize that Jesus is able to use the Internet because we are his hands, feet, eyes and ears in today's world.  When we use the Internet for good we bring the message of Jesus to others.  We all know that the Internet can be used inappropriately even for criminal purposes.  But the advances in technology that we now experience can be a great force for good if used properly.

Recently, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI sent a "tweet" to the world when the Vatican used Twitter (and they also use Facebook).  The Church realizes how beneficial technology can be in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I would like to call my readers' attention to several blogs which people in my own area of the world are using to spread God's word.  I would recommend them to anyone who is interested in hearing more about the message of our amazing God's great love for us.  They are:

Not Strictly Spiritual  (
There Will Be Bread  (
Pilgrims' Potpourri  (
Fr. Bob Longobucco  (
Musings on Religion, Art and Architecture  (
Albany Diocese Peace and Justice Commission  (

I am sure that you will find very interesting and inspirational reading in these blogs.  I would also commend to you a blog of a brother deacon, Deacon Greg Kandra, which can be found at  I must also recommend my daughter's blog if you care to read about how a person can live with a disability with humor and hopefulness.  Hers can be accessed by going to

The message of Jesus is being delivered loudly and clearly through the use of technology and through the great gift of the Catholic press.  May those of us who attempt to bring this message to others always do so with a sense of awe but also a sense of hopefulness and love for those we try to reach.  May God bless you all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Ordinary Time" Is Not Ordinary

The Easter season in the Roman liturgical calendar ends with Pentecost Sunday - fifty days following the celebration of Easter.  On the day after Pentecost, the Church begins a liturgical cycle known as "ordinary time."  While it might not have been readily seen by most Catholics who attend weekly liturgies (because of two special feasts on the two Sundays following Pentecost), it would have become apparent when they arrived for worship the weekend before this to see the color green on vestments and adornments.

Of course, the term "ordinary" here does not mean the "regular, hum-drum, or run of the mill" but rather refers to the numbering of Sundays using ordinal numbers.  There are two times during the liturgical year when we celebrate "ordinary time" - between the Christmas season and Lent and the period following Pentecost.

But even though our usual use of the term "ordinary" does not apply here, it strikes me that the liturgical calendar of our Church pretty much imitates our various life cycles.  In the beginning of the liturgical year we celebrate Advent while we await the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus.  How many times in our own lives do we wait for something important with great expectation - it might be the birth of our own child(ren), the message that we have been given the job that we have so long sought, the word from the bank that we have been given the mortgage to buy the house of our dreams, and so on.  We wait for these events with prayerful anticipation just as the Church waits for the coming of the Savior.

Then we have the period of rejoicing when something wonderful happens in our lives - when what was long awaited has happened: the child is born, the son or daughter graduates from college, the new house is finished, the new job is just what we wanted, etc.  Such joy we experience like the Church does as it celebrates the Christmas season.

But in all of our lives there are those times when things don't always go our way.  We may experience either mental or physical suffering, the loss of a job, the dwindling health of a loved one, and perhaps even the death of someone close to us.  We look to our God at these times for strength and support to get us through the difficult times.  Such is the Church's celebration of the season of Lent when we are asked to practice penance and self-denial in concert with the recollection of the sufferings that Jesus underwent for our salvation.

But again - joy returns!  He is risen and we also arise from our sufferings.  Perhaps we have conquered a disease that has been troubling us; perhaps someone we loved experiences a recovery from a difficult situation.  The joy of Easter is in our hearts and we thank our God for his great gifts and mercy.

Surrounding all of these life experiences, however, are those times when things go on at a normal or "ordinary" pace.  We go to work each day and enjoy the times with our families.  We may be in school studying so that we can improve our own chances in life.  Whatever the situation we are doing the ordinary things of life.

But is our God ordinary?  We can experience God in those high moments of our lives when things are going so well as well as seeking him in those times when things are tough.  Through all of these times our God is not ordinary - our God is extraordinary; our God is amazing.  This is also true of those times in our lives when we are just going about the ordinary things of life.  God never leaves us to be with us only in those times of either great joy or great sorrow.

In an earlier post this year (3 March - The Sound of Silence) I recounted the story of Elijah found in Chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings where Elijah is waiting to hear the voice of the Lord and does not hear it in either the wind, the earthquake, or the fire but only finally hears it in a "tiny whispering sound."  Sometimes - in fact probably most of the time - God comes to us in these whispering sounds rather than in the bombast of wind, fire or earthquake.  My question then as now is "Are we listening?"

The man whispered, "God, speak to me."  And the meadowlark sang.  But the man did not hear.  So the man yelled, "God, speak to me!"  And thunder and lightning rolled across the sky.  But the man did not listen.  The man looked around and said, "God, let me see you."  And a star shone brightly.  But the man did not see.  And the man shouted, "God, show me a miracle!"  And a life was born.  But the man did not notice.  So the main cried out in despair, "Touch me, God, and let me know you are here."  Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.  But the man brushed away the butterfly and walked on.

We are now in the numbered weeks of the liturgical year known as "ordinary time."  But no time is ordinary with our amazing God who will be with us at all times whispering to us and touching us in various ways; we only need to listen and to be aware.  The color used during this liturgical period is green - the color of hope.  As we look around our world today we may find little reason to hope: military action is underway for our armed forces in three areas of the world, the threat of terrorism is constantly presented to us in the daily news stories, the ravages of weather that have occurred this year have almost seemed unprecedented.  Yet we move on in hope - a hope based in the fact that our God never abandons us.  Our God in the person of Jesus Christ, went to the very depths of the human experience in death in order that we might live.  Knowing this, how can we doubt that our God will remain with us?  Let us celebrate "ordinary time" with our extraordinary God!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday America!

In the city of Philadelphia 235 years ago on this date, representatives of thirteen colonies under the subjugation of British rule, came together in congress to declare their independence from Great Britain and their desire to form their own country based on democratic principles.  While the signing of this declaration took place over several weeks (and perhaps months), July 4 is recognized as the birthdate of the United States of America.  Those signing the declaration knew that their own lives would be in peril should they be caught by the armies of the British Empire as their move toward independence was seen as treason in Great Britain.  As a result of their courage, the new country would fight its "revolutionary" war and arise as a new nation destined to become the most powerful nation in the world as time went on.

We congatulate our country on this day but we know that the progress sought for by the founders of the nation has taken these two plus centuries to accomplish and much still remains to be done.  And we are not without our faults and failings as a nation.  We have fought several wars with other nations in order to preserve our freedoms (the War of 1812 when Britain attempted to regain control of the rebellious colonies; the Mexican War; the Spanish-American War; and two world wars among others).  But the deadliest war that we fought as a nation was between ourselves: the Civil War fought between 1861 and 1865 which saw the deaths of over 620,000 soliders and civilians.  It was fought because certain southern states in the nation felt their rights were being violated and decided to secede from the union.  It ended up being a fight to abolish slavery in this country - officially pronounced by the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  But the struggle for civil rights for our African-American brothers and sisters went on for years with vestiges still remaining in our society today.

Yes, we have made many mistakes as a nation and being human will continue to do so in the future.  We can only hope that we will learn from our mistakes and move on to retain our place in the family of nations as one that proclaims liberty and justice for all.

Our nation has been a beacon of welcome for many who have come from foreign shores to seek a better life.  For those who entered our country by way of the eastern seaboard would find their vessels sailing into New York harbor where they would be met by the "lady with the lamp."  She would reach out to "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses learning to breathe free" and lift her lamp "beside the golden door" to freedom.  One of the most awesome sights I have ever experienced is being on a ferry boat as it approached the isle of Manhattan at night and seeing that beautiful lady holding high her torch of freedom.  May all who come here always find that spirit of welcome.

In their solemn declaration of their independence, the founders of the country referred in their document four times to the Almighty, seeking the Creator's protection as they advanced their cause for freedom.  They spoke of "certain unalienable rights" given by God to his sons and daughters - the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (please note that the first right cited was the "right to life").

Our prayers continue to rise from our hearts in thanksgiving for this great country and ask the protection of our God to sustain our liberties and enhance the good we can do as a nation among nations.  To this end, we should be able to pledge - as did our founders - "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."  May God continue to bless the United States of America!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Our Amazing God

I would like to share in this post some thoughts about our amazing God - a God who loves us unconditionally - no strings attached - and wants just the best for us.  Our God has a love that can never be surpassed by any other and is brought to us through God's creation of us and our world, God's redemption of us through his Son, Jesus Christ, and God's sanctification of us through the Holy Spirit.

This amazing God has been the subject of many books, works of art and great pieces of music that attempt to capture for us the awesomeness of our God.  Nothing we do or create can, of course, come close to recognizing or understanding all that God means to us but we must try.  We also must try to share with others what we know and learn about our God in the hope that others may see and appreciate God's great gifts to all of us.

Let me share with you some of the reflections of my own bishop, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany in the State of New York.  In a column he wrote some years ago after His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI had issued his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, the bishop had this to say about our amazing God:

...The most important truth about every person - young or old, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, brilliant or intellectually challenged, black, white, red, yellow, brown - is that God is deeply in love with that person....God does not love a person because the person is lovable.  Rather, the person is lovable because God loves him or her....When we were created, God made a commitment to love us, and he will never withdraw that love....God cannot love us more than he loves us at this moment because he loves us infinitely right now....God is passionately in love with us.  That's a joyous and incredible message, which God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.

What wonderful thoughts; how can we not be moved by the fact of God's love for us.  The bishop also reminded us that we are called in turn to love others to emulate the love God has for us.  This desire to reach out to others has resulted in our Albany Diocese commencing in 2010 a three year program known as the Amazing God Initiative.  The purpose of the initiative is to rekindle the light of faith and the enthusiasm of Catholics in our part of the Church.  It means nurturing the faith of those who are involved in the Church as well as reaching out to others who may have become alienated from the Church or have no faith tradition.

The first year of the initiative which is shortly coming to its close speaks of the love of God as shown throughout the course of history particularly in the Old Testament.  Year two will address the Heart of Christ and will focus on Jesus' saving work among us, and the third year will deal with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's great gifts and how those gifts now affect our world.

In future posts I will update my readers concerning this wonderful initiative and hope that the message of God's great love will be received and cherished.  At the opening prayer service to launch this special initiative in June of 2010, Father Frank DeSiano, a Paulist priest whose work is in the field of evangelization made these interesting and thought provoking statements:

We are always pointing a finger, "no, no, no", "sin, sin, sin."  We have to say some of that but before we do we need to say: "love, peace, welcome."  We need to embody the love of God....God is amazing.  Jesus revealed a God of unrestricted, overwhelming love that cannot be stopped.

To learn more about the Amazing God initiative of the Albany Diocese, please contact their web site:  Yes, our God is truly amazing.  May this amazing God be always with you and shower his love upon you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Eucharist as Family Meal

At the beginning of this post, I want to thank two of my good friends, Father Anthony Barratt and Father David Wm. Mickiewicz whose insights I have borrowed in presenting the following thoughts.

At the end of every November here in the United States, we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  Picture yourself as the host of an annual Thanksgiving meal.  What would it be like?

First, your guests (family and perhaps some friends) would arrive and they would be welcomed.  Then you would sit around and share the family stories (what has happened since we last met; how are certain relatives doing; remember when...).  The table would then be set for the banquet meal and all would gather at the table offering a prayer of thanksgiving for all the good things they are grateful for.  The meal would be enjoyed, the dishes and bowls removed, and we would gather again before people would leave.  Finally there would be a sending off or farewell to our guests, wishing them well and hoping to see them again soon.

This is what a typical Thanksgiving Day meal would look like.  How does it resemble the ordinary, every day meals in your family?  In our society today it seems very difficult to really sit down and enjoy a true family meal with everyone in the family having so many things on their schedules: the kids have soccer or band practice, Mom has a church meeting, Dad has to put in some time volunteering for a local charity, etc.  All of these things are good but they do prevent us many times from sitting down as a family for a meal together.

How does this Thanksgiving Day meal resemble our Eucharistic celebration?  It is very much the same.  First, we gather and welcome those who come together for Eucharist (a very important role in our Church today is the role of "greeter').  What is the welcoming like in your parish?  Let us remember all the various people Jesus dined with in his lifetime:

     -  a young nameless couple in the village of Cana; Jesus attended their wedding and partied with the guests and made the celebration lively by providing more wine for the feast;
    -   tax collectors (a very hated group in Jesus' time because they were seen as being in league with the domineering Romans) and known sinners; for these get-togethers Jesus received much criticism from the Pharisees (how can you dine with those people?), and Jesus would tell them that he came to call sinners and not the just;
    -  vast crowds of people; one of the miracles recorded in all of the four gospels is that of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 15; Mark 6; Luke 9; and John 6);
    -   some who were critical of Jesus (Pharisees) who would invite him to dine often to try to catch him up either saying or doing something they disapproved of;
    -   Peter's mother-in-law whom he healed;
    -   his good friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus where he would go to just be with good friends;
    -   little Zacchaeus who had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus and would then be asked to host him at his home (much to the consternation of the Pharisees because Zacchaeus was a hated tax-collector);
    -  after his resurrection joining two disciples on the road to a village called Emmaus where they would recognize him in the breaking of the bread; and
    -   on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where he would make breakfast for his disciples.

Jesus dined with many people and was not fussy about who or what they were.  These are the various people who come to our liturgies; are we as welcoming to them as Jesus was to those he met?  In the rule of St. Benedict (the founder of monasticism) we read:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ for he himself will say:  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  Proper honor must be shown to all...Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.

One of the hymns we sing at our liturgy is called Gather Us In and it speaks of all those whom we welcome:  the "lost, forsaken, blind, lame, young, old, rich, haughty, proud, strong..." - in other words "everybody."  When Mohandus Gandhi was a young lawyer living in South Africa he began studying about Christianity and was impressed about what he learned about Jesus.  He went to a Christian church one weekend to observe their worship but was told at the door that he was not welcome because of the color of his skin.  Later Gandhi would state:  I like your Christ - I do not like your Christians - your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

How do we welcome people as we gather to worship each week?

The second part of our celebration is the hearing of God's story in the Scriptures; not our story but God's.  How well do we proclaim it?  Do our lectors/readers prepare well to proclaim what is God's word?  There is power in the word of God; it was by God's word that the world was created; it was God's divine Word that took on flesh and came among us in the person of Jesus Christ, and it would be Jesus' words that would bring healing to the sick, life to the dead, and still the waters of the sea.  This is why it is important for us to hear the Word when we come to liturgy.

When I was growing up there was much attention paid to when one would commit a "mortal" rather than a "venial" sin as far as attendance at liturgy was concerned.  The command of the Church was that we should gather for worship each week (on Sunday) and on special days (holy days of obligation) during the year.  But how late could you arrive at Mass at still not have committed a mortal sin?  It was said that if we were there by the time of the Offertory of the Mass we would only have committed a venial sin.  How sad it is when we try to compartmentalize our worship and see what is the least amount we have to do in order to stay in God's good graces.  We are only asked to give our God an hour of our time each week; given all that God has done for us, is this too much to ask without worrying about the extent of sin?

After we hear God's word we set the table for the banquet.  We bring our gifts to the feast - the bread and wine that will be used as well as our personal gifts in the form of monetary donations to assist the parish.  We pray and give thanks to our God for all his gifts and offer again his Son in the sacrifice of the Mass.  We then partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord at communion time, joining with our brothers and sisters as one family.

At the dismissal time of the Mass, we are sent forth on a mission.  This is not merely the end of "another week in church."  In the new translation of the Roman Missal (to be implemented on the first Sunday of Advent in the United States) some of the dismissal rites speak to this.  One says:  Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  We are called to go out into the world and bring Christ's message of love, peace and hope to a world desperately in need of it.

When we think back to our annual family Thanksgiving Day feast, would we come late?  Would we fail to take part in sharing the family's stories?  Would we not bring something to add to the feast?  Would we jump up from the table when we had eaten and leave without a formal good-bye?  I'm sure we would not and this behavior should be echoed when we come to liturgy each week.

The celebration of the Eucharist each week is the most important thing we as Catholic Christians can do in our lives.  In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council we read:

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.  No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.

It goes on to say:  ...The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.  And again:  With zeal and patience pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation.

Our weekly liturgy, then, as I stated before, is the most important thing we can do in our Christian lives.  The story is told about two college students - roommates - on a Sunday morning.  One was Catholic, the other was not.  The one who was not Catholic asked his roommate if he was going to church that morning; the roommate sleepily told him he was too tired after being out late the night before and therefore was not going.  The first young man then said:  If I believed as you do about Jesus being present in communion, I would crawl on my hands and knees to be there.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about liturgy this way:  We must consider the Eucharist as: thanksgiving and praise to the Father; the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his Body; and the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit.

We are, therefore, a Eucharistic people.  What does this mean?  What are the characteristics of a Eucharistic people?  They are people of joy and peace: the joy of knowing that God has given us the gift of his Son and the peace that the Son brings to us; openness: open to all who come to worship with us; wonder and awe at the great mystery of the Eucharist; freedom and vision:  the freedom to be the people God wants us to be and the vision to act accordingly; and finally, authentic stewards of gifts: we need to be good stewards of all that has been given to us particularly our health and the environment in which we live.

Some years ago, I was challenged by a houng man after a Mass at which I preached about the Eucharist as family meal and how we join in communion.  He chided me because I had not used the term "sacrifice" in my remarks.  We do believe, of course, that the Mass is a true sacrifice - that of offering Jesus to the Father in an unbloody way using the gifts of bread and wine.  But let us remember where the word sacrifice comes from: from two Latin words - sacrum and facere - meaning to "make holy."  This is what Eucharist does for us - it makes us holy.  It challenges us to be a Eucharistic people with the characteristics noted above; it calls us forth to bring the message of Jesus to the world.  May the Eucharist always be for us the source and summit of our Christian life and may we always be people of joy, peace, wonder and awe as we give thanks to our God for his greatest gift to us - Jesus.