Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Very Special Easter

Alleluia!  He is risen!  We come to another celebration of the great Easter event - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It is our great feast of hope and faith as we know that Jesus has conquered death once and for all and opens up for us the way to an eternal life of peace and joy when our journey on this earth is finished.
We know that there are many troubles in the world today - from wars to persecutions, natural and man-made disasters, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and the list can go on and on.  Yet we look to this feast of Easter to remind us that now matter how difficult things can be, there can be hope because of Jesus' resurrection.  Let us continue to pray that the peace that Christ wants to bring to the world will find its place and bring an end to all the strife that surrounds us.
For me, this is a special Easter.  It was 79 years ago today that I came into this world (and it happened to be the Vigil of Easter).  I have now come full circle with my birthday falling on this Easter Sunday.  I give thanks to God for all the blessings he has bestowed on me during those years - from loving parents and a wonderful brother to my wife of over fifty years who has been such a great support and companion for me.  I give thanks for my children of whom I have been very proud.  Last year, we suffered the loss of our younger daughter, but I know she is waiting for us to join her in that place of eternal peace when our life on earth is over.
It was twenty years ago this fall that I was ordained to the order of deacon by my bishop and great friend of 56 years, Bishop Howard Hubbard.  It has been a privilege to serve with him in our diocese and I wish him only the best for his retirement.  God and our Holy Father Francis has blessed this diocese again with a wonderful pastoral shepherd in the person of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger.  I was privileged to be in attendance at his ordination to the episcopate and I look forward to serving with him in the days and years ahead.
Yes, this is a special Easter.  I pray for all who read this that you will be filled with the joy and hope that Jesus' resurrection has brought to the world.  May God bless you all.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Growing Closer to Jesus

I admit that I am a "cradle Catholic."  The Church has been a part of my life since my earliest years.  My parents were devout people who were daily communicants and both my brother and I became very used to being around the church and being involved in church activities.  I served as an altar server in my youth, attended a Catholic high school (we did not have an elementary parochial school at that time) and then spent some time in the seminary.
My wife of 50+ years and I were married at a solemn high Mass celebrated by my uncle who was a priest of the diocese and we exchanged our vows with the officiating priest who was my brother.  We were then blessed with three beautiful children.  In 1994 I was ordained as a permanent deacon in my diocese and have served in a variety of ministries since then.
To say that Jesus was an important part of my life would be an understatement.  But as with anyone of our friends, when our friend in not around we may not always think of him or her but we know that he or she would be there for us when needed.  We are often challenged by our spiritual directors or in homilies we hear at church to develop a "personal relationship" with Jesus.  I believe that I have that relationship but it can always be strengthened.  There are times when the relationship is heightened by certain events in our lives.  As I have moved through another Lenten season, I have had the opportunity to experience two events that I believe have strengthened my relationship with Jesus.
The first was the opportunity to read a remarkable book.  It is entitled Jesus, a Pilgrimage and was written by a talented and prolific writer, Father James Martin, S.J., culture editor for America magazine.  The book took me through a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that Father Martin experienced and was so well crafted that you could feel yourself at the various places where Jesus ministered in his time on earth.  It was a great Lenten reading and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about Jesus and how Jesus can affect our lives.
The second event took place this week and at first it may seem strange to some.  It was a presentation of the Stations of the Cross in the company of clowns.  Clowns, you say?  Yes, clowns.  Some at first may feel that this is diminishing the importance of the Way of the Cross or denigrating it in some way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A group in our diocese has been presenting this drama for the past twenty-eight years.  Clowns have been a part of our Christian history for centuries.  In the fourth century, there was a clown named Philemon who would not obey an imperial edict to worship the pagan gods of the emperor.  For this he was executed - he had become a "clown for Christ."
The clown ministry in our diocese in their brochure present the question: Why use clowns for such a highly devotional setting as the Way of the Cross?  One of the priests of our diocese gave this as a response to that question:
Certainly the clown is "an ageless reality...."  A clown is that anonymous and yet very personal figure who has appeal to persons of every age.  There's something about the figure of a clown that can draw us in, because that clown becomes the figure of everyone....If there is any way of helping us to identify, if there is any way to kind of pull us in to the full meaning, to the full celebration of the events of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, then certainly there's a benefit...there's a value.
These two events have certainly drawn me closer to Jesus this Lent.  My prayer is that you will find people and events in your lives that will continue to draw closer to him because there is no better friend that we can have.  May you have a prayerful remainder of Lent and a glorious Easter to come.