Saturday, March 26, 2022

4th Sunday of Lent @ Ss. Francis & Clare

MARCH 25/26, 2022

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent.

We’re past the half-way point of the six weeks of Lent. The vestments are rose-colored as a sign … giving us an opportunity to re-evaluate our Lenten practices. Are we being too hard on ourselves? Or have we missed out on the past 25 days, and maybe need to step up our game.

Today is known as “Laetare” Sunday, from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, which begins, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. * Be joyful, all who were in mourning; * exult,” taken from chapter 66 of the Prophet Isaiah.

Also, today, we heard the Gospel reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I spoke about this on Ash Wednesday, borrowing the acronym AHA to give us a formula for repentance: Awakening, Honestly, and Action as a means to change our spiritual situation for the better.

That lengthy reading, which is most likely almost too familiar to us, presumes some things that may escape us 2,000 years after its first telling.

In the Jewish inheritance laws, the older son gets double what his siblings get. So, in this case of the two sons, the younger Son made off with one-third of the Father’s estate. Oddly, this is not only legal – to request your inheritance before your Father’s death – but to cash in and spend it was also legal. 

Legal, but not necessarily the most loving thing to do, and speaks to a broken relationship.

Continuing in the Law, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says: “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen . . . bring him out . . . [and] all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death.” 

This is not the Pharisees and the Scribes adding extra burdens to the Mosaic Law. This is the Mosaic Law. 

What was due to the Prodigal Son on his return to his home town? Death.

Which raises a question: Why did the Father run out to meet his Son? To get there first? Before he was stoned to death? Is the Father’s embrace a paternal human shield to keep his Son alive?

After all, wealthy Middle-Eastern patriarchs don’t run as a rule. But here, the Father ran out not only to meet his wayward Son, but possibly to save his life.

The Son’s plan was to return as a servant – as a slave – on his Father’s estate. But slaves don’t wear sandals, robes, or rings.

The Father’s actions make the point that the Son is his Son … no matter what has happened.

This is the joy of the Son’s return.

This is the joy of the Father’s forgiveness.

But, the flip-side of this is seen in the actions of the older Son. 

Here the sin is not external, but internal.

The older Son is offended by the generous love shown by his Father, while he also refuses to forgive his errant Brother.

The older Son’s un-forgiveness also speaks of broken relationships.

The Father is free to do as he pleases with his possessions, but the older Son is not justified in his un-righteous anger, pride, or selfishness.

Forgiveness is the key here. Forgiveness heals relationships … brings joy … and restores what was lost. 

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ; let us pray to forgive. Five weeks ago, we exercised the Eastern practice of asking for and giving forgiveness – “Forgive me, a sinner.” and “God forgives, and so do I.” 

As we move through the central point of the Lenten Season, may we engage and exercise the graces of forgiveness in our own lives and our personal situations. 

Let us experience the joy, healing, and restoration of forgiveness as we move closer to Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, and Easter.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

6th Sunday of OT @ Ss. Francis and Clare

FEBRUARY 12/13, 2022

The 1987 movie, The Princess Bride, was produced and directed by Rob Reiner (Meathead from All in the Family), and had among its cast Andre the Giant, Peter Falk (Columbo), Fred Savage (The Wonder Years), and Billy Crystal (Saturday Night Live.)

The movie is the acting out of a book that a grandfather reads to his sick grandson – who is not at first impressed. It’s a love story, after all. And it’s dull – all that mushy stuff – until the sword fights, soldiers, and pirates.

Eventually, at what seems the end, the future princess Buttercup is about to be wed to the evil prince Humperdink. And a character known only as “The Impressive Clergyman” in the credits begins the ceremony.

MAWAGE is wot bwings us togeder tooday,
MAWAGE, that bwessed awangment,
that dweam wifin a dweam...
And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva...
So tweasure your wuv.

Thankfully, the wedding is interrupted before the vows are completed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup is kidnapped by the pirate, who turns out to be her childhood love, Westley. After a sword fight and a seeming loss, Westley chases off the prince, and our lovers ride off on horseback … assumedly to a life lived happily ever after.

It’s available on Hulu and Disney+ if you have a subscription, or for $5 on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Vudu. YouTube wants $14,99 … but I don’t recommend spending that much money for a 34 year old movie.

Today is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

It is also World Marriage Day.

And our first two readings sort of make that really difficult. But maybe not.

Yes, Jeremiah speaks of curses, but he goes on to speak of blessings. 

Paul speaks of futility and death, but brings us back to eternal life in the midst of faith and hope.

And the Gospel. 

The reading of the Beatitudes may seem to be so familiar that we don’t really listen. Out of the four Gospels, they are only found in Matthew and Luke.

This reading from Luke only occurs twice in the entire Lectionary. Today, once every three years, and on a Wednesday some time in September.

Matthew’s version, on the other hand, would have been two weekends ago last year, and on a Monday in June. 

It is also read on All Saints Day and All Souls Day; at Funerals, Ordinations, and Confirmations. And last, but not least, it is one of the many options for celebrations of Matrimony.

The word translated here as “blessed” has also been rendered as “happy.” Depending who’s approving what translation, it goes back and forth every 20 or 30 years. Blessedness – or

Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good,
from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.

At least according to the 4th century Saint, Gregory of Nyssa. And he goes on to say that Beatitude – being blessed – can only be fully understood in comparison to it’s opposite: misery, affliction, and suffering. 

And so, our readings may very well have a point. There are blessings, and there are curses. And hopefully you are married to the former, and not the latter. There is at times futility, and we all do die; but faith, and hope, and love help us to chart the stormy waters of the messiness of life … leading us to resurrection with Christ. 

And, of course, there are blessings and woes … but in the end, eternal life and in-between some happiness.

As we approach this altar to receive the Most Holy Body and Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, may the graces we receive in this Sacrament empower all the other Sacraments we have received … for a deeper outpouring of Faith, Hope, and Love … and may we receive, at the table of the Lord, many blessings … and much joy and happiness.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

5th Sunday of OT @ Ss. Francis and Clare

FEBRUARY 5/6, 2022

Regula Sancti Benedicti The Rule of Saint Benedict, was written in 516 AD by Saint Benedict of Nursia. It followed most community rules up to that point, but it sought to moderate monastic life between personal zeal and institutional formalism. In its original Latin, it consists of 13,317 words, 638 sentences, in 73 chapters. It’s not that big of a book. My own copy is only 111 pages, including the table of contents and the translator’s notes.250 years after it was written, Charlemagne had it copied and distributed throughout western Europe to encourage monks to follow it as a standard. Perhaps its most important influence was to set forth the idea of a written constitution and a rule of law.

The majority of the text covers the “how, what, whys, and whens” of operating a Monastery. Who gets what, how much, when and why. Everything from food, clothing, work, prayer, sleep, and punishment.

There are two chapters which perhaps we can take up on our own – Chapter 4 and Chapter 7.

Chapter 4 provides 73 Tools for the Christian Life, and Chapter 7 lists Twelve Steps of Humility.

Both of which are going to get really important in 3-1/2 weeks when Lent comes around!

The twelve steps of humility from Chapter 7 of the Rule are:

i. Fear God, ii. Follow God’s Will, iii. Follow Church Authority, iv. Even When It’s Hard, v. Confess Sins, vi. Reject Entitlement, vii. Esteem Others, viii. Stay in Community, ix. Listen Before Speaking, x. Don’t Be Silly, xi. Watch What You Say, xii. Be Your True Self.

And far from being a “self-help” chapter, the emphasis throughout is that it is God’s work in us … not our own work … that can help us grow in humility.

Today is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

Our readings today have an undercurrent of Humility.

Isaiah has a vision of God, and in this vision he receives an insight – who he is before God Almighty:

Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips.

Yet, God sends a seraphim – the angels that burn with a passion and love of God – to remove any wickedness and purge any sin. And at that moment, Isaiah responds to God: “Here I am, send me!”

In our second reading, St. Paul speaks of the proofs of the resurrection – Salvation, Scripture, and the many witnesses. And although Paul, himself, is an Apostle and a witness of Christ, he downplays it, calling himself:

the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
... [a persecutor of] the church of God.

Like Isaiah, Paul’s solution comes from above … God’s effective grace working within him.

And in the Gospel, Luke chapter 5, Jesus calls His disciples. But the story is perhaps too familiar.

If we place ourselves in the story, what do we see? 

A local carpenter walking on the beach gets into somebody else boat, talks for a while, and then starts to tell a group of fishermen, who are done for the day, what they should do to improve production. After an initial protest, they comply. And the result is “a great number of fish … that filled both boats.

St. Peter sees this for what it is – a miracle – and falls “at the knees of Jesus and [says], ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’

Humility. Humility. Humility.

Humility can be defined as “the virtue that … leads people to … a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and … neighbor.”

Isaiah, St. Paul, and St. Peter all found themselves in the Presence of God … whether in a vision or in the flesh. And all three were led to a humble recognition of who they were … and through God’s power were called to a greater mission.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ – when we find ourselves in the Presence of Christ Jesus under the appearances of Bread and Wine – may we gain the strength to truly appreciate who we are before God … and through God’s love and grace and mercy, may we recognize who He is calling us to become … as we strive to follow Him … He Who is our Way, our Truth, and our Life.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

2nd Sunday of Advent @ Ss. Francis and Clare

OCTOBER 30/31, 2021

Born in Birmingham, England in 1849, Frederick Langbridge studied at King Edward VI’s School, and then matriculated at Oxford University, earning his Bachelors at St. Alban Hall, and his Masters from Merton College. 

He was an Anglican cleric, ordained in 1876; and was a canon of St. Munchin’s, as well as rector of St. John’s in Limerick, Ireland. 

He was a poet, an author, a playright, and a noted preacher.  

He is credited with the couplet:

Two men look out the same prison bars; 
one sees mud and the other stars. 

Langbridge retired in 1921 due to ill health, and died in 1922 at the age of 72.  

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.

Our first reading is from the Prophet Baruch, who was the secretary of the Prophet Jeremiah. The book is considered apocryphal by non-Catholics, but is similar to the writings of Jeremiah during the Babylonian captivity.

In today’s reading, from the last chapter of Baruch, we hear the prophet admonishing the people to move from “mourning and misery” and look toward a future of “glory from God forever.” He speaks of “justice,” “peace,” “joy,” “mercy,” and “light.” 

In the second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Paul also is in custody. Yet, he too speaks of “joy,” “confidence,” “good works,” “affection,” “love,” “knowledge,” “discernment,” “purity,” “righteousness,” and “glory.”

Two men, indeed, both held captive in a prison of sorts … both calling upon their listeners – and us as well – to look up from mud, and see beyond the starts … to the glory of God.

St. Luke speaks of St. John the Baptist, quoting Isaiah 40, which parallels sections of today’s reading from Baruch:

God has commanded
    that every lofty mountain be made low,
that the age-old depths and gorges
   be filled to level ground.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ … let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus … gazing beyond the heavens to the glory of God … promised to us through, with, and in Christ.

And as we continue to proceed through these 4 weeks of Advent … may we draw ever closer to Him … glory to glory … grace upon grace … as we prepare ourselves for the three comings of Christ … historically at Christmas … imminently in the Sacrament of the Altar … and ultimately when we meet Him face-to-face.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

31st Sunday OT @ Ss. Francis and Clare

OCTOBER 30/31, 2021

Barbara Woodhouse was born in 1910 in County Dublin, Ireland. She is best known for her 1980s British television show, and her series of books on Dog Training. Her motto was “no bad dogs,” and her particular style of Obedience Training continues to be taught in Britain and the US to this day. 

Obedience training for dogs has its roots in pre-history. Over 100 years before the time of Christ, a Roman farmer recorded advice for training dogs to herd livestock.

In the 19th century, a British Army Officer published a book titled: “Dog Breaking: The Most Expeditious, Certain and Easy Method, Whether Great Excellence or Only Mediocrity Be Required, With Odds and Ends for Those Who Love the Dog and the Gun,” intended to train hunting dogs.

And in 1911, a German military officer published his book, titled: “Training Dogs: A Manual,” still used today to train police and military dogs.

Woodhouse died in 1988 at the age of 78; but her method lives on. Her American protege, Brian Kilcommons, is an expert trainer and counts among his clients Diana Ross, Morley Safer, and Diane Sawyer. 

Today is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Our Old Testament and Gospel readings both focus in on a single prayer, known to Jews as the Sh’ma.

Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

Looking at the original languages for the two readings it would appear that something has gotten lost in the translation from Hebrew to Greek to English.

The English word, hear, is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “to be aware of sounds with your ears.” And, interestingly, this comports pretty much with the Greek word used in the Gospel for ‘hear’ which is “akoue” and is where we get the English word “acoustic.”

Both the Greek and the English words imply what appears to be a passive event – mere sounds flowing into our ears.

But the Hebrew word “sh’ma” means more than just ‘hear.’ It also means to ‘listen, consent, understand, and obey.’ To hear God is to conform your will to God’s and to act on God’s word and to obey God’s word.

Hearing implies obedience, and obedience implies action.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear at the end of the reading the phrase “the word of the oath” which points back to a covenant. And the covenant for us is found in our encounter with Christ in the Sacraments of the Church … and in the superabundant sacramental grace provided by the Sacraments in order for us to live out our lives in the world by leveraging the Supernatural virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, may His “once for all” offering on the Cross “always … save [us] who approach God through [H]im,” with Him, and in Him. May the graces we receive this day in the Sacrament of the Altar help us to hear, listen, obey, and act upon the Word of God in our daily lives by what we say and do out and about in the world.

Monday, October 25, 2021

30th Sunday OT @ Ss. Francis and Clare

OCTOBER 23/24, 2021

In the United States, roughly 1 million people are blind. There are an additional roughly 3 million people who have an uncorrectable visual impairment, and another 3 million who have a correctable visual impairment, but are unable to obtain medical intervention. Meaning, nearly 7 million “blind people” in the US.

While there are many things that can cause blindness, three of the top several diseases are (1) Cataracts, (2) Age-related Macular Degeneration (or AMD), and (3) Glaucoma. These aren’t the only causes, but for the point of illustration, they are the three I’ll be discussing.

Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the lens or lenses. AMD is caused by a degeneration of the back of the eye, obstructing the image coming into the eye right in the middle. Glaucoma, on the other hand, damages the optic nerve, causing the edges off the image to be lost to the viewer.

Blindness is in the top 10 disabilities, ranking at number nine, falling just before stroke (at number 10) and after diabetes (at number 8.)

Today is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Our Gospel Reading is the story of the blind man known to us as Bartimaeus … which is Aramaic for “son of Timaeus.” 

The story in itself is remarkable. He is a beggar. And when he hears that Jesus is passing by, he begins crying out. The crowd tries to shut him up … not a very nice thing to do … especially when the person passing by is a noted healer. And when he does go to Jesus, he gets up and throws aside his cloak … which is his coat, his umbrella, and most likely his home.

This chapter from St. Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus speaking about the divine plan for marriage which was stricter than the practice of the time. The disciples shooing away children, and Jesus reversing that and allowing the children to come to Him and blessing them. Next, Jesus sets a high bar for a rich young man, who goes away sad … not willing to come to Jesus with nothing. Jesus then begins to speak of His passion, death, and resurrection.

As if oblivious to this, two of the apostles ask for top spots in the Kingdom of Heaven … ticking off the other 10 apostles who wish they had thought of it first. And then we have today’s story of Bartimaeus.
Why this story here?

Well, the apostles have been missing the mark so far, being confused on marriage, children, property, and power. The placement of a story of a blind man right after these seems to point to Spiritual Blindness.

There are three ways to look at Spiritual Blindness. One can be ignorant … not knowing, or not wanting to know about God or Jesus or the Gospel. One can be cynical … not seeing the goodness of God or thinking that everyone is out for themselves. And finally, one can have a hardness of heart … not wanting to love, or not feeling worthy of love.

These three causes of Spiritual Blindness … ignorance, cynicism, or heart-heartedness … do have cures. And the physician is Jesus … the Divine Healer … who comes to us with Faith, Hope, and Love.

Faith overcomes spiritual ignorance … Hope overcomes spiritual cynicism … and Love overcomes hardness of heart.

Finally, the last two stories in this chapter from St. Mark have Jesus asking the same question … first of his two power-hungry disciples and second of blind Bartimaeus. The question is:

What do you want me to do for you?

And that is the question I’ll leave you with. “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” 

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and DIvinity of Jesus Christ … as we receive Him … materially and spiritually … ask Him for whatever you want. And if you’re not sure what you want, ask Him for a deeper outpouring of Faith, and Hope, and Love. And as you receive from Him the graces of this Sacrament, know that “your faith has saved you,” and renewed by that faith … go on your way through, with, and in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

28th Sunday OT @ Ss. Francis & Clare

OCTOBER 9/10, 2021

Thin-slicing is a psychological and philosophical term that describes the ability to make snap decisions based on limited information or narrow windows of experience. Many studies have demonstrated that brief observations can be used to analyze complex situations at higher levels of probability than mere random chance.

These are what we might call  ‘hunches’ or a ‘gut feelings.’ There is the old saying that “the first impression is the most lasting,” and this, too – they say – comes from thin-slicing.

In his popular book titled Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell presents several examples and case studies where thin-slicing has proved more accurate than detailed research.

Thin slicing, however is not without its detractors. Prejudices and racial profiling also stem from drawing conclusions with limited knowledge. And research shows that emotions distort the accuracy of thin-slicing.

Gladwell acknowledges the limitations of thin-slicing, and argues that this type of intuition is developed by training, knowledge, and experience. 

Today is the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

In our Gospel reading from St. Mark today, we hear the story of the Rich Young Man. 

He has lived a life in accordance with the Ten Commandments, and proudly proclaims that he has “observed them [all] from [his] youth.

Jesus tells him that he is “lacking in one thing”, and tells him to go and sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor.

The Rich Young Man obviously knew about Jesus. He was most likely not unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching. And he revered Him, kneeling down before Him to ask his question.

He had a hunch that there was something extraordinary in these teachings … something extraordinary in the Person of Jesus Christ. And his first impression proves to be true.

But on second thought, he has misgivings. And he are told that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, the author – considered to be King Solomon himself – tells how he treasured God’s Wisdom above scepter and throne, riches and gems, silver and gold, health and good looks … pointing out that “all good things together came to me in [the] company [of Wisdom] and countless riches [as well.]

Too often we become creatures of habit, operating on instinct alone, and becoming immersed in the cares and concerns of the world.

God takes a back seat. His Wisdom is ignored for the ideas of society and culture. And God falls into second, third, fifth, tenth, or worse place.

What is that “one thing” that keeps us from truly following Jesus? For one person it might one thing … for another something entirely different.

The Letter to the Hebrews compares “the word of God … [to a] two-edged sword”. Slicing through our illusions and confusions to help us “discern [our] reflections and thoughts” in the Light of God’s Wisdom.

Jesus Christ calls each of us to follow Him. And to do this, we all must discern what that “one thing” is … give it up .. and follow Him. Otherwise we may end up going away sad.

As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us pray to slice through our thoughts and ideas … and clearly see in the Light of God’s Word – what is the one thing holding us back from a deeper relationship with God in Christ. May the graces of the Sacrament of the Altar truly “[f]ill us with [God’s] love” through all our days … every day … in the power and glory of the Holy Spirit.