Saturday, May 14, 2011

How can we love one another in the parish family if we don’t give ourselves...

Fourth Sunday in Easter-"Good Shepherd Sunday." May 15th, 2011

Today is commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday, since all the readings, antiphons, and the alleluia verse have a pastoral theme. In fact, the word “shepherd” or “sheep” appears in all the readings and verses except the first reading. In the first reading, though not mentioned, they are however implied, because Peter and the Apostles were the first shepherds of the sheep chosen and led by the Chief Shepherd Himself, Jesus the Good shepherd.

By the way, our English word “pastoral” comes from the Latin by the way of an Old English word which has to do with the task of leading, safeguarding and nourishing flocks, especially flocks of sheep. And so early in Christianity, “pastoral” was applied to the priestly work of bishops and priests chosen by Christ to be our visible and audible shepherds and so the visible sign of His presence and His audible voice. This is why scripture uses this concept of shepherding so evident in today’s readings…Jesus is the good Shepherd but He continues His work of shepherding the sheep of His flock, the Catholic Church by and through bishops and priests who are in union with the visible Chief Shepherd the Holy Father, the Pope.

The word “pastoral” is also related to the word “Parish” which is also a Latin derivative, through it reflects the Greek. The original meaning of “parish” interestingly, is “alongside one’s house.” The parish is our home alongside our earthly homes. In fact, it is really where we can encounter our true home, heaven, alongside our earthly homes; and so, it is even more deeply our home and our family. This is why the early Christians viewed themselves as strangers passing toward their true home, heaven; heaven which is reflected in a unit of the Church in miniature, namely the parish. This means that the institution of the parish is at least 1500 years old, its structure dating from the emergence of the Church from the catacombs during the early fourth century.

A parish is truly a spiritual sheepfold wherein the work of the Good Shepherd is carried out by an ordained priest who acts in the authority and in the name, and so in the Divine Power of the Good Shepherd. The faithful and the active sheep of the parish are called to assist the priest, so he can faithfully share in the work of the Good Shepherd. If the shepherd and the sheep are faithful to the voice of the Good Shepherd, shown by their faithfulness to the Chief shepherds on Earth, the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him, then by its nature, the parish reflects all dimensions of Jesus’ loving care for us.

Thus, it is in a parish, our parish, that Jesus says, as He does in today’s Gospel, “I know my sheep….” And “ mine know me…” For it is in a parish church, such as this, that we gather every Sunday as a whole, as a family, and diligently listen to His voice in the readings. And then listen to the readings explained in the teachings of the Church expounded in the homily.

And so it is here in our parish family where we allow Jesus to “know us” which really means to love us. And in His love He feeds
us by His word; and gives us, by His word become flesh, the Holy Eucharist which is the source of all grace and love because it is Him, Jesus, the Good Shepherd in Person in his Risen Body and Blood. Known by His love, we then come to know and so love the Good Shepherd in return.

By the Holy Eucharist, if we participate with faith, and so with full, active, conscious participation, we can actually enter into a Holy Communion of Love with the Good Shepherd, thus being filled with His love and life, with His very being, in order to be shepherded and come to bear good fruit, the fruit of love. In our lives we can then share this fruit of God’s love, life and Communion with others, helping one another in the parish get to heaven, and helping even those not of our flock get to heaven. As Christ’s flock, as His family, we are truly called to be a “Family of families helping one another get to heaven!”

It is here in our parish church that we first enter Christ’s sheepfold, through the spiritual rebirth of the waters of baptism. Here we achieve maturity in faith, through Confirmation and so through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is here that we come as prodigal children when we suffer an illness of soul cause by our sin so that we may experience God’s loving mercy, His forgiveness and healing. Here marriage vows are taken. It is from here that the oils of the Last Anointing are brought to the seriously ill in order that they may be healed, primarily spiritually; and if it be God’s Holy Will, even healed physically as I have myself witnessed on occasion.

Today’s second Reading recalls that through we were once scattered, we are now one in Christ. We are now gathered into this parish; in other words, it is Christ the Good Shepherd who has gathered us as one flock, as one family. Here as well we are connected to the larger flock of Christ, as found in the Diocesan family and the family of the Universal Church. Here at this parish, in this flock, the portion of Christ’s larger flock in the world, we encounter the life of which today’s Gospel speaks; here we can receive this life if we open ourselves to it in faith and love.

To bring all this down to a very concrete level, three basic expectations can be assigned by the Good Shepherd to each member of a parish flock. They are: 1. Registration; 2 involvement, and 3. Support, which includes both spiritual and financial support. Too, there should be concern for outreach; a thrust beyond parish limits that can be implemented by social service such as through St. Vincent de Paul, and a thrust for social services by ecumenical activity and education programs.

One Archbishop said that, “The real purpose of parish is, in fact, to develop saints who praise God together, who as a community, who as a family, carry out the two great Commandments…” And what are the two great Commandments? First and foremost is the Adoration of our God, which means to love Him with our whole heart, and with our whole soul, and with our whole mind, not only as individuals but together as a family. And the second springs from the first and is like it; because of this love of God we must then love our neighbor as ourselves.

These two Commandments are carried our principally through Holy Mass and our presence and active participation in it. It is here that we encounter the Good Shepherd, as we can nowhere else; and through this encounter here we can enter into a loving intimate encounter with our Heavenly Father. And so it is here that through our encounter with God, our Communion with God, we can then enter into a Communion of love with one another, a loving communion which has it’s source in the Communion of Love of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

It is only through this encounter, brought about by encountering, listening to and following the Good Shepherd, that we can have life and have it more abundantly and share that abundant life with our world. It is through the Holy Mass and our Communion with Good Shepherd and through Him with the Father in the Communion of love of the Holy Spirit that we follow the spirit of the first generations of Christian and all the other faithful Christians up until our own time. In our parish we and they are one, in the Oneness of the Most Blessed Trinity.

This oneness in the God who is three in One, and the God who is Love, allows us and empowers us to love one another. Again, this love of one another begins first and foremost in our parish family, for Charity begins at home. Love is shown by deeds. Full, active and conscious participation in the Sacred Liturgy must, MUST be followed by full, active and conscious participation in our Parish family life. This is not an option in our Catholic faith or in our efforts to “love one another.”
Somewhere along the lines of the past decades came the erroneous idea that to be a faithful Catholic all one had to do was to show up for Holy Mass. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, we must celebrate the Holy Mass, but then we must live the Holy Mass, giving of ourselves for the love of the other; and this begins right here in St. Patrick’s parish family.

But, how can we love one another in the parish family if we don’t give ourselves, if we never volunteer, if we never give of our time, talent and treasure to support the parish family, if we never participate in our parish family’s life out side of Holy Mass?
The fact is, is that it is an active parish life that helps us to love one another in our individual families and in our community. Our world will only be transformed when our parish families are renewed. And or parish family will never be renewed until more and more families and family members of the parish family revolve their lives around the Good Shepherd truly present in the Holy Eucharist. And from that source of Divine Love and Mercy, revolve their lives around the parish family’s life.

Our parish family of St. Patrick’s is a piece of heaven on earth because here is Jesus the Good Shepherd in the tabernacle and on the Altar at Holy Mass and Holy Hours of adoration. Where Jesus is there is heaven because there is love and so there is the God who is Love!!! The Eucharist is the Good Shepherd and so it is only through Belief, adoration, trust and love of the Holy Eucharist that we enter into the flock of the Good Shepherd.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Mother of our parish family, pray for us sinners, help us all to grow closer in love to your Son, the Good Shepherd, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.

For anyone has not seen all that as gone on in the past week, we could ask them the question found in this week Gospel… "Are you the only visitor…who does not know of the things that have taken place… in these days?" In this past week we have all been witnesses to unbelievable historical events. I am not speaking here of the death of Bin Laden, that was indeed big news. But, I am speaking of an event that has even more ramifications for our world and our future, and that is the Beautification of John Paul II.

Present at His beautification were about 1.5million people. Present at His funeral by the way, was, it is estimated, the largest crowd of people ever gathered. Blessed John Paul when He lived was a man who was seen by more people in person than any other man in history—He was a man who had convened the largest gathering of humanity ever in one place and at one time.

As sure all of you remember his funeral just six short years ago. I remember that the overall press coverage was positive. And many of the networks at the time even had priests & theologians as guest commentators. But I also remember that this niceness in some of the media outlets very quickly changed after the funeral into a type of cynicism. Shortly after John Paul’s funeral some of the media pundits began saying, “You know the pope was a nice old man but he was really out of touch with modernity. He was just too conservative, not with the times.” They began then to say the same old tired line, “You know, the Church needs to change; it needs to go along with rest of the world, with the current opinion polls.”

The world here was trying to apply political titles to a man that didn’t fit into “political titles.” John Paul wasn’t conservative or liberal. The fact is John Paul gave us the truth, and truth is also neither conservative nor liberal, it is just the truth; it is the way things are; it is reality as it is.

John Paul, when he was alive, listened to all of his and the Church’s detractors-he listen to the pundits. He was intelligent enough however to critique their viewpoints and point out where these viewpoints were wanting and untrue. He pointed out all of the errors in these so-called expert’s modern views very clearly, and he showed why they were false. And for those who take the time and effort to read them, his many writings continue in our day to point out the errors in our day and point to the way to happiness and life…to Christ.

One only has to read these works, where he responds to the hard issues such as homosexuality, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, open divorce, woman priests, the dignity and sanctity of the human person, marriage; love and responsibility, etc., to see his responses show clearly and definitively by the light of the Gospels, why so many of the modern viewpoints and ideas are just plain wrong and will always be plain wrong no matter if the vast majority thinks differently…for right is right if no one believes it and a wrong is wrong if everyone believes it.

I remember during the funeral coverage of John Paul II, one reporter upon interviewing Fr. George Rutler, a regular on EWTN television, posited this question to Fr. Rutler, “If only the pope was for birth control, if only the pope was more modern, if only the pope wanted woman to be priest. Tell us about your thoughts in hearing that, Fr. George Rutler.” Fr. Rutler responded. “If only the pope had done all those things… nobody would be covering His funeral…”

Fr. Rutler went on to say, “For a man who is so out of touch with the times and so irrelevant he is getting the biggest funeral in human history. No other funeral has been bigger, period, bare none. Mother Theresa, some of the others, the big ones, the other heads of state, Ronald Reagan, they pale in comparison to Pope John Paul the second. That would not have been the case if he would have just gone with the flow. Look at all the religious sects and denominations which have fallen apart because they have follow exactly the prescriptions of some of those commentators.

Isn’t this so true what father Rutler said. One hears commentators in the media even today who come off like theologians with no idea or understanding of the teachings of the Church, or reality for that matter. Even worst, are those priest and theologians in the Church, who deny the unchangeable teachings of the Church, as if they themselves were the pope teaching dogma to us. They speak so authoritatively and knowledgeable but they have neither authority nor knowledge. Fr. Rutler went on to say, “These issues that people talk about very glibly have been tried and failed miserably. That is why John Paul II has said we are living in a culture of death. Some of these issues have been reduced to political terms that they cannot be. They are not political matters.” In other words, John Paul the II taught us, and our current Pope, Benedicts continues to teach us, that you just can’t take a poll in order to find the truth. And so, truth doesn’t come from a majority view; it comes from God. The majority can be wrong, and in many cases it is. The fact of the matter is, is that truths of our Beautiful Catholic faith are true because they come from God, not from Man.

This all just underscores the fact that all of us need to learn and understand our Catholic faith more and more so that we can overcome the current attacks on our faith, attacks, which will become even more severe in the days to come. Ordinary Catholics will not survive what is coming down the pike.

This why the Beautification of John Paul is so important to us; we still need him to help us from his place in heaven. And we need to study John Paul the II’s writings to learn the truth from them in order that truth may save us and set us free. We need as well to read Pope Benedict’s writings and learn the truth from them as well. God as given us these two great pontiffs at this very pivotal time, to use the words of JPII, “this decisive time” in the history of our world…This is part of God’s Divine Mercy on us and on our world.

This brings us to why I personally loved John Paul the Second. I didn’t love him because of his charismatic personality or that he was the people’s pope. I loved him because he gave us the truth, the truth that I need and you need to reach heaven and our eternal salvation. John Paul not only preached the Gospel to the entire world with superhuman strength, but he brought the very light of Christ to all whom saw him, heard him, and touched him. In the end, this is what attracted people to John Paul II and this is why the Holy Spirit led the Church to Beatify him.

What people saw in John Paul II was the same Person the disciples on the road to Emmaus saw in the breaking of the bread—Jesus Christ. People saw JPII, but what they really were attracted to was Christ Himself--they saw Christ and His truth and love alive in JPII; and were our hearts not burning when he explained the scriptures to us.

And John Paul saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread. And there at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, along with the Sacrifice of Jesus to the Father, John Paul throughout His life offered Himself as a sweet oblation of love. The Holy Mass, the Holy Eucharist was His entire life, and from it He derived all His energy, love and his deep prayer life. From His willing sacrifice of self on the altar of Sacrifice John Paul was able to bring the Light and the life of Christ to a world ever more steeped in darkness, but at the same time, a world so hungry for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We must follow His great example. John Paul showed us that humans are capable of imitating the very being of God—Who Is Love- in the giving oneself in a total gift of self for the love of the other. In his pontificate John Paul went out to the world, and Benedict continues to do the same, all in order to show us the way of living this type of love so that we can have life and have it more abundantly.

Shortly before his death, John Paul proclaimed 2005 as the year of the Holy Eucharist. By doing so he gave us the very secret to, I don’t say his success, but to his holiness, his deep prayer, his power to bring hope, joy and love to everyone he met. His secret was the Holy Eucharist; The Holy Eucharist was and is the secret of all the saints.

The Eucharist has the power to transform us into the light of Christ for the entire world—It is the power, divine power of the Risen Christ Himself. But it requires--demands, a response on our part—a yes on our apart…a total yes. The Eucharist calls us to conversion, to turn away from the old self to a new self in Christ. It requires a death to self, a contempt of self in order to arise to new life, one which allows Christ to live anew in us, to love God above all else.

As John Paul II wrote in the Encyclical on the Eucharist, the Eucharist leads us to conversion and penance. And conversion and penance open our hearts to the transforming power of Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist. Only in, through and with this power, the power of the Risen Lord--His own power, can we truly change, becoming the Light of Christ to the world, to every one we meet. This is the calling of the Second Vatican council, the universal call to holiness.

We must see Christ in the breaking of the bread so that He can change our hearts into His Heart in order to take Him and His love out into the world, into our homes, our work, our schools, yes even our sports. This is the great example John Paul the second showed us; it is the same example that our currently Holy Father Benedict shows us.

Let us then follow JPII's example and give God our total yes, at this Holy Eucharist. Let us beg him for the grace to accept the divine mercy He gave to us in our beloved Pope, in his life and in his death and now in his beatification. And let us offer it through the heart of the immaculate one, just has John Paul did. The Holy Father found the purest reflection of God's mercy in the Mother of God. And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ. Totus tuus (Cardinal Ratzinger Funeral homily for JPII).

Blessed Mother, help us to do the same. Here is our yes, our whole lives take it and offer it for us to your divine Son Jesus. Totus tuus, Mother, totally yours.

(Let us end with the last part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s, now Pope Benedict, funeral homily for John Paul the II.
“None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Cardinal Ratzinger Funeral homily for JPII).”

Blessed John Paul II from your place in heaven, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”