Pastor Blogs, Musings, and Homilies
Here Fr. Jim offers some reflections on the world and the Gospel. The pastoral constiution, Gaudium et Spes, calls upon the Church to read and interpret the "signs of the times"
in light of the good news of Jesus Christ.
These are his humble and sincere contributions.
How to keep our promise of prayer
When someone tells us of a great need in their life, such as an illness or an important decision, we often quickly respond “I will pray for you.” Let’s make sure that we keep our promise! Here are a few suggestions. First, offer to pray together with the person in need. For example, say “Why don’t we pray about this now together?” You might offer to hold hands and start the prayer, but then ask the other person to pray as well. You might be surprised to find that their prayer priorities were not exactly what you thought. For example, a mother with a terminal illness might be more worried about her children than her own health. Give her a space in which to voice that prayer, and then make it your own. Second, write down the person’s name and need in your prayer journal or diary, so that you won’t forget. Offer up their need in your regular morning and evening prayer. Third, send up little “prayer thoughts” during the day for this person, saying for example “God, please be a companion to Mary during this difficult time.” In this way, we connect both to her and to God. At the beginning and end of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul wrote “I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (1:16) and “Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up. Pray always for all God’s people.” (6:18). We are all part of the one communion of saints, the Church Militant, Penitent, and Triumphant. The members of the Church Penitent are being cleansed in Purgatory while those in the Church Triumphant are rejoicing with God in heaven. We are of the Church Militant who support and encourage each other in our struggles on earth. Let us keep our promise of prayer. - - - Fr. Jim
Whatever happened to Jane Roe?
In 1970, Norma McCorvey had already lived 22 years of a mostly troubled childhood. Her parents were divorced, her mother was a violent alcoholic, and she robbed a gas station when she was only 10. Her happiest days were when she was sent away from home to a State School for Girls in Gainesville, Texas. She would often do bad things so that she would be sent back there! At the age of 22 she found herself unmarried, troubled, and pregnant for a third time. She sought an abortion but this was illegal in Texas at the time. Two lawyers took her case, gave her the pseudonym Jane Roe, and made her the plaintiff in a case before the Supreme Court that argued for abortion as a fundamental right. The case, Roe v. Wade, ended with the Court deciding that the legal right to an abortion should be upheld in the first trimester (24 weeks) of a pregnancy. It was only after the decision was made that Norma revealed herself as the real Jane Roe and that she sought an abortion because she was unemployed and depressed. In the meantime, she had given birth to the child who was eventually adopted. Norma spent the next 20 years supporting abortion rights. But while working in a Dallas abortion clinic, she had a revelation. She writes: “I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week embryo, and I said to myself ‘That’s a baby!’. . . I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. . . Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. I was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.” Three years after that experience, McCorvey entered the Catholic Church and became a committed pro-life activist, working to overturn the Supreme Court case that she helped to launch. In today’s reading, Paul writes: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12). We must never give up discerning what is good and pleasing and perfect. We must never give up discerning what is the will of God. - - - Fr. Jim
Two saints for us
The town of Genoa, on the western Riviera (coastline) of Italy, is known for its lively port, its beautiful beaches, and for being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. But it was also home to St. Catherine of Genoa (d. 1510), whose life may speak to many of us today. She was from a prominent, wealthy family, and wanted to become a nun. But instead she was married off at the age of 16 to a young man, Julian Adorno. Julian was a gambler and a spendthrift, and he soon left the couple in poverty. Catherine tried to find happiness in the social scene of her time, but felt empty. At the age of 25, in the depth of chronic depression, she went to receive the sacrament of Confession. There she was overcome with an infusion of divine love which revealed to her both the immensity of her sins and the goodness of God. “No more world. No more sins”, she was heard to say. She threw herself into work at the local hospital, doing all kinds of filthy menial labor in the midst of a cholera epidemic. She almost died herself after tenderly kissing a dying woman. Eventually she became the hospital administrator, a reward for her dedication and hard labor. Her husband, Julian, was converted by her example and became a lay Franciscan. (See, ladies, there is still hope!) Catherine became ill many years before she died, but continued to experience mystical ecstasies. She teaches us to give our life totally to Christ, in spite of very difficult circumstances. (Next week – St. John Neumann) - - - Fr. Jim(posted January 24, 2016)
The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic
The Dynamic Catholic Institute (led by Matthew Kelly) did a large study of Catholic parishes. They determined that, on average, about 7% of Catholics are actively engaged in their parish – attend Mass regularly, go to most functions, and are the most dependable volunteers. The bad news is that it is only 7%. The good news is that there is incredible potential for improvement! If only 7% more people got involved – it would double our impact! They then studied this group of highly engaged Catholics. They found that they had four common characteristics. First, they were people who prayed – both in community and as individuals. They had a daily commitment to prayer, and could speak of being in relationship with God and His Son, Jesus, and sometimes to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Second, they were continuous learners. They spent an average of 14 minutes a day in learning more about Jesus and His Church. Open a good spiritual reading book, and you will be amazed at what even 10 pages a day will do to change your spiritual life. Third, they were people who were generous with their giving of themselves and their treasures. No surprise here. The more we invest in something, the more return we will get, and the more we re-invest. And finally, these Catholics were evangelizers. They often invited others to God, through sharing a book or DVD, inviting them to prayer or an event (such as the upcoming Lenten Day of Reflection), or simply bringing a God-ly perspective into a conversation. If you are not already engaged, why not decide to become an active Catholic this new year? It’s not hard, and the rewards are everlasting. - - - Fr. Jim(posted Januray 17, 2016)
My New Year’s Resolutions
I know that we often repeat the same old resolutions from the previous years, the ones we never actually accomplished. So, of course, I will carry those forward – answering ALL of my emails, flossing my teeth regularly just like the dental hygienist has shown me (repeatedly), and, once more, getting earnest about the Mediterranean diet, which includes large portions of legumes, fish, vegetables, and German chocolate cake (my slight modification). But, in addition, I will listen to my own homily. A wise priest once told me “When you preach the Gospel, first look and see what the Gospel has to say to you. Preach to yourself first.” And so I will listen to my homily from Epiphany. I will look in earnest for God in nature on my prayer walks, by closing my eyes and listening to the gentle breeze that is the always-comforting presence of the Spirit. I will listen for God in the Sacred Scriptures, by reflecting on the power of a single phrase, such as this passage from Isaiah 60: “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” When can I remember that my heart has throbbed and overflowed? I will pray with that memory. And, finally, I will seek the face of God in His Son Jesus, with whom I will talk in prayer. I will center my prayer with the divine name “Jesus”, and allow him to companion me in my journey through the coming year. And if I have to repeat these resolutions every year while I live, I think that will be okay, too. - - - Fr. Jim(posted January 10, 2016)
From the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops
Solemnity of the Epiphant of the Lord
Meditate on the Gifts of the Three Kings - In Matthew's Gospel reading today (MT 2:1-12), the birth of Jesus is heralded by the arrival of mysterious visitors from the east. Traditionally identified as three kings, because they spoke directly to king Herod, or as astrologers because they followed a star, or as wise men because they know of Christ's birth through some hidden wisdom, the fact is we know virtually nothing about them; not even their number, although that's traditionally been fixed at three, because they brought three gifts: Gold - a symbol of wealth and power identifies the recipient as a king. Frankincense - the crystalized resinous sap of a tree used as incense and as an offering, is symbolic of prayer. Myrrh - another resinous tree sap was used in healing liniments, an as an embalming ointment. Myrrh is an odd gift for a child, unless you know that this special child will through his death and resurrection, redeem the world. At the beginning of jesus' life on earth, this gift foreshadows his death. (posted January 3, 2016)
. . . And on earth peace among people of goodwill
I am convinced that the primary activity of Satan is to promote suspicion and hatred among peoples of the earth. From the beginnings of history, people have fought with each other on the basis of skin color and ethnicity, over access to resources (food, water, oil for fuel), over religion or beliefs, and over grudges held over from the past. And they are still fighting over these things. This is exactly what the devil wants! But on that first Christmas night, the angels sang above the shepherds in the field (Luke 2:8-14). What were they singing? "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among people of goodwill." Their message was the antithesis, the opposite of what the devil strives for. Their message is peace and harmony among all peoples on the earth, even among peoples of different religions, skin color, languages, or histories. Each Christmas, we get a little bit closer to this goal of peace, but we still have a long way to go. When Jesus was born, God reached down to kiss the earth. And he kissed it by saying "Peace among all peoples." This is God's desire. May it also be your desire and mine. Merry Christmas! - - - Fr. Jim(posted December 27, 2015)
Prayer that moves you
For almost ten years, my older brother Fr. Tom Chamberlain (“my brother the father”), served in a parish in Arteaga, Mexico. One year I was able to visit him during the week before Christmas. I remember walking from house to house with a large group of people and two children dressed as Joseph and Mary, riding on a real donkey! In front of each house we would sing a song asking to be let in. Mary needed a place to have her baby. The people inside would sing back “There is no room for you here. Go away!” Finally, at the last house, we were allowed in when the people inside sang these words: “Joseph, dear Joseph, why am I so blind? Blind not to see her, the virgin so fine! Enter, blest pilgrims, my house is your own. Praise be to God on his throne! Please come in, please come in!” Las Posadas is a kind of “stational” liturgy, a liturgy that moves from station to station. Already by the fourth century, Christians were praying at the holy places of Jesus in Jerusalem. During Holy Week, they would walk from the Mount of Olives to the hill of the Ascension to the garden of Gethsemane and then to the tomb of the Resurrection, praying a series of prayers at each station. On Good Friday they followed the way of Jesus carrying the cross. Our Stations of the Cross are a contemporary version of that prayer, prayer that moves us from one sacred space to another. In these days leading up to Christmas our parish is praying Las Posadas, a prayer of the sacred journey of Mary and Joseph to find a place to give birth to our Savior, Jesus Christ. May this prayer move us, and move us to a deeper faith. - - - Fr. Jim(posted December 20, 2015)
The Joy of Putting “Christ” back in “Christmas”
As I reflect on the past several weeks of Advent and look forward to the coming of Christmas, I am reminded of what it is like to be a child. Four weeks of Advent always seemed like forever as a child and though the wreath, the candles, and the advent calendar were always exciting, it was Christmas Day that I looked forward to the most. Today, on Guadete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we are to look forward joyfully and longingly for Christmas day, the day when Christ comes. I think in contrast to this, people sometimes become jaded when they see Christmas things before Thanksgiving. ‘Merry Smerry!’ says the scrooge inside. ‘Keep your Christmas doodads until the proper season.’ With all the reindeer, snowmen, and Santas, I sometimes wonder where the Christ is in Christmas. If uninhibited by commercialism, however, an attitude of expectation is quite appropriate. We should look forward to and long for Christmas! We should be filled with joy at the coming of Christ! What more joyful event is there? With the exception of Easter, there is no more joyful event in history. Ever. Period. This is it! This is the most joyful event in history! And we have the opportunity to participate in that event by allowing the coming of Christ into our lives. Certainly this should fill us with such joy that we too would cry out “Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!” ~ Elizabeth Grim, Youth Ministry Coordinator(posted December 13, 2015)
Faith, water, and the Tarahumara
I spent the week of Thanksgiving living and working in Creel, located in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. A very active mission, run by the Jesuit fathers, provides a clinic (Santa Teresita Hospital) and water systems to native Tarahumaran Indians living in the mountains. Before the coming of clean water and health care, the mortality rate among Tarahumaran children was 75% (3 out of 4 dying) before the age of 5. In 1992, the mission began to drill wells and supply the community with hand pumps, in addition to building rainwater catchment systems at some homes. The Catholic faith is very much alive and well among these native Indians. Their churches have no pews or chairs, as their prayer is expressed in dance and song. On big feast days, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12), their prayer-dancing will last all night long! The forests of these Canyons are filled with varieties of pine, oak and Mexican Douglas-fir trees, providing shade, firewood, and timber for Tarahumaran homes. The prophet Baruch writes today: "The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command." May God's command include a blessing today for the peoples of the Canyon. - - - Fr. Jim(posted December 6, 2015)
When I was a child, my father used to have a saying, when we would find excuse after excuse for not doing something we knew we should be doing. He would say, “You are just playing the Yes-But game.” He was right. All of us play it at one time or another. Today, the world is sad place after ISIS attacks in Paris and elsewhere. Worse, it is a place of fear and anger. Every time ISIS makes a move, they increase the anger, fear, and hate ten-fold. In that respect, they win. However, we can change that. The words of Mother Teresa have been flitting around in my head for days. “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other – that man, that woman, that child are my brother and sister.” We know this in our deepest hearts and yet how many of us immediately think “yes-but. . .”. So how do we drop the “ but” from our thinking? Mother Teresa tells us . . .pray, put great love into all of our actions, smile especially at those we don’t want to smile at, and serve in love. For the fruit of service is peace she tells us. She urges us to be love to the world. She writes, “Each time anyone comes into contact with us, they must become a different and better people because of having met us. We must radiate God’s love.” So, smile! – At everyone!---Dr. Lauren Cleeland(posted November 22, 2015)
My last day on earth
Last week I read a beautiful poem by Lawrence Raab, “Last Day on Earth”. [You can find it by searching “The Writer’s Almanac” for Nov. 7, 2015.] He describes a beautiful day, walking with his dog in the woods, and ends it by saying “it felt as if I’d been allowed to choose my last day on earth, and this was the one I chose.” I can think of several such days in my life. If I could choose my last day on earth, it might have been the night that my best friend, Todd, and I backpacked down silently off Roan Mountain in the cold, crisp snow that shimmered magically in the dark twilight. Or it might have been the dinner gathering with good friends after a full day of sea kayaking in Mobile Bay, a dinner in which I felt I was being hugged by God. Or I might choose one of the days in seminary when a group of us ran our favorite 6-mile route around Twin Lakes in the brilliant Fall color and afterwards collapsed down in a pile of orange and yellow leaves and stared up into the blue sky, and talked about home and God and how happy we were. Any one of those days I would choose to be my last day on earth. You have had one of those days, too. It was on that day that you, too, were being hugged by God. - - - Fr. Jim(posted November 15, 2015)
Saints, Souls, and Halloween
On October 31st, we celebrated All Hallows Eve. This tradition originated from the Celts who’s New Year began on November 1st. Documentation has shown that Celts believed that on the night before the New Year the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. Seasonally, this was a time of harvest and dark cold winter months associated with scarcity and death. As Catholism and Christianity spread across the world, these traditions blended, broadened, and became Halloween (All Hallows Eve 31st), All Saints (All Hallows 1st), & All Souls (The Day of the Dead 2nd). These days are a time to celebrate the faithful and loved ones who have left this Earth. This can also be a time of remembrance and reflection as we head into Thanksgiving and Advent seasons. While we mourn those who have passed on, we should also be grateful for those who are still here with us. Perhaps one can give his or her time to another less able, donate food to those less fortunate, or share his or her faith with someone less confident. Use this season to reflect, remember, and celebrate life, family, and humanity.----Amanda Cummings RE Director at St. Catherines(Pauls Valley) (posted November 8, 2015)
As a child before the Lord
When children find something they like to do, they want to do it over and over again! I remember holding the hands of my little nephew and swinging him around and around as he screamed with glee. He would have gone for hours, but Uncle Jimmy got very dizzy. One niece wanted to read her favorite book over and over again, and another niece would watch ”The Little Mermaid” continuously until we had all the songs memorized. When we read the Scriptures again and again, when we place ourselves each day in silence before the Lord, and when we pray a repetitive prayer such as the Rosary, we are like a child before the Lord. We want to hear the stories again and again. We want to hear those words of the angel: “Hail Mary, the Lord is with Thee.” We want to remember the stories of Jesus and his Mother – the birth in the stable, the presentation in the Temple, the wedding feast at Cana, the sorrow and death of Jesus – over and over again as if we will never tire of these. The stories and prayers don’t change, but we do. Each time the encounter will be slightly different because we are different. Each encounter has the potential to draw us, his children, closer into the bosom of our Father in heaven. - - - Fr. Jim(posted November 1, 2015)
A guide for our journey of faith
In the Old Testament, King David listened to Nathan for spiritual advice (2 Samuel 12). Ruth, the non-Jew, loved her mother-in-law, Naomi, very much. She said to her “Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”(Ruth 1) When Mary was found to be pregnant with child, she hurried to the house of her cousin, Elizabeth. She needed someone, another woman, to talk with and to share her deepest hopes and emotions (Luke 1). Two of the sacraments of initiation – Baptism and Confirmation – involve the selection of a sponsor or godparent. The role of the sponsor, especially at Confirmation, is one of spiritual friend, of support and care. This is a person with whom the candidate can talk freely about his / her faith. The two disciples can meet occasionally, oneon-one, to talk about questions of faith, of the Church, of prayer, and of life. A good sponsor is someone who is a practicing, confirmed Catholic who can talk honestly about her own faith life and spirituality, and who is open to listening to the questions of another person on the journey of faith. None of us has all the answers. But each of us has the same desire to grow in knowledge of our God. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.” (Psalm 27). If you would be willing to be a sponsor for an adult in RCIA or a young person in Confirmation, please give us your name and number at the office. This is a great ministry, and you yourself will reap many benefits. You, too, will be guided farther along on your journey of faith. - - - Fr. Jim (posted October 25, 2015)
The flaming fire of Truth
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 3). He noticed a very peculiar site. A small bush was on fire, but it was not burning down. It continued to flame up like a torch, like a beacon of light. He crept closer to it, removed his sandals, and bowed to the ground, covering his face. He knew that this was very holy ground. The God who spoke to him said his name was “I am who am.” That is, “I am Being itself, I am Truth itself”. Moses had encountered Truth, and it was both awesome and wonderful at the same time. As I write this, I am beginning my 3-day retreat with the other priests of the OKC Archdiocese. We are facing Truth each in his own way. I am here to confront my own sinfulness and failings, and to also listen for God’s mercy. I know that I have sinned, have fallen short of the glory of God. I have offended people in my parish. (That is why we have two Communion lines. If you are angry at the pastor you can always get in the other line. Ha!) I come to the sacrament of Reconciliation as part of my retreat, to seek peace, to seek wisdom, to ask permission to start over again and live my life in a better way. The truth about my life demands that I take off my sandals and get down on my knees. It demands that I stop and listen and allow the flaming fire of Truth to burn a hole in my heart, a hole that is large enough for God’s love. - - - Fr. Jim(posted October 18, 2015)
Who are the real heroes?
I like watching college football. But I am always amused when I see a television segment about a particular star player, showing his statue-esque body and talking grandly about his abilities on the field. But who are the real heroes in my life? The real heroes are the married couples who have stayed together through good times and bad times, each person allowing himself/herself to be molded and shaped for the greater good of their commitment to one another. The real heroes are the moms and dads who work long hours so their children can get new clothes, go to summer camp, and perhaps one day go to college. The real hero is the young woman who joins the convent to give her life completely over to Christ, only slightly aware of the life that lies ahead of her. The real heroes are the couple who loves their children but decide to have only two because they are keenly aware of the burden of the rising global population on the earth, our common home. The real hero is the lawyer who works to get innocent people off death row. The real heroes are the ones who give of their free time to teach the faith to our children in early Sunday morning R.E. classes. These are all people who have impacted my life more than any football player. Fr. Stanley Rother returned to Guatemala after receiving death threats. Why? Because “a shepherd cannot abandon his sheep”, and his heart would not give him peace apart from them. These are the real heroes in my life. - - - Fr. Jim(posted October 11, 2015)
We are all on this earth together – one human family
Last week I served as Co-Director for our big OU International Water Conference in Norman. About 180 people from 27 countries gathered together to talk about water, sanitation and health issues across the globe. We often noticed how our water issues here are now becoming very similar to those of other developing countries. Rural residents in Oklahoma have contaminated wells and surface water just like our brothers in sub-Saharan Africa. They are forced to drink bottled water, just like our sisters in Vietnam and Colombia (when they can afford it). U.S. citizens are now learning how to harvest rainwater in their homes, just as people in Cambodia have done for centuries. Droughts and flooding do not honor national boundaries; the rain falls – or doesn’t fall - on the just and the unjust alike. When Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress or the United Nations, he speaks from a different perspective – the perspective of the whole human family. Cain asks “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord responds “Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” (Gen. 4:9-10). Nation-states are a modern phenomenon, and they do not give us permission to ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters in need – in our homeland or in other parts of the world. We are our brother’s keeper and the earth is our common home. - - - Fr. Jim(posted October 4, 2015)
Feelings too deep for words
There are some things that are too deep for words to express – the death of a child, the sudden death of someone we love, the awareness of my own sinfulness, the feeling of being in love. When the sinful woman began bathing the feet of Jesus, she was given no pitcher of water (Lk 7:36-50). She had only her tears, her kisses, and a few drops of fragrant ointment with which to bathe his feet. The Gospel says she was “weeping”, her heart-tears were “raining” down upon him. She was so aware of her own sinfulness and shame in the presence of such Goodness. All she could do was cry. I wonder if Jesus cried as he washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, knowing that he would soon be leaving them, that he would soon be murdered on a cross. I wonder if Jesus remembered, at that time, the woman who had washed his feet. I wonder if it was then that he realized that some feelings are just too deep for words. When we close the door behind us in prayer, when we are face to face with Goodness, it is then that we become aware of the many broken fragments of our lives. It is then that we know feelings that are too deep for words. It is then that we rain down our heart-tears upon our God. - - - Fr. Jim(posted September 27, 2015)
Respecting life – both in and outside the womb
Everyone recognizes that a fetus within the womb is already in the early stages of life. The legal question becomes “when does this life deserve to come under the full protection and safety of the law?” One benchmark is the point of “viability” – the point at which the child can live outside the womb. A recent proposal by the U.S. House of Representatives is not as radical as it seems – to ban abortions after 20 weeks. After all, many European nations ban abortions after 13 weeks. In order to get this ban passed through the Senate, the group Democrats for Life has offered a combined bill that includes both the abortion ban and a law providing paid maternity leave for a mother to care for her child. The hope is that fewer abortions will result if mothers know that they will receive support from society in raising their children. Regardless of current law or policy, as Catholics we strive to respect life both inside and outside the womb, including the mother who may often be raising the child by herself. Our morality is sometimes consistent with the law; sometimes it goes a full step further. We don’t wait for laws to be passed. We live the Gospel of Life in the here and in the now. - - - Fr. Jim(posted September 20, 2015)
Introducing Our New Youth Minister - Lizzie Grim
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Grim is a recent graduate of St. Gregory’s University where she obtained degrees in philosophy and biology with the aim of doing work in bioethics. While at St. Gregory’s she worked with the Buckley Team to coordinate and facilitate retreats for Catholic high school students, especially students preparing for Confirmation. Elizabeth became interested in this work after her own Confirmation in 2011 when she began to recognize the importance of living out in her own life the apostolic nature and mission of the Church. Her love of Jesus and passion for teaching about Catholicism lead Elizabeth to continue work on the Buckley Team for all four years in college and to continue this work as a Youth Minister at Our Lady of Victory and Saint Catherine of Siena parishes. Elizabeth has also worked closely with St. Gregory’s pro-life team and Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary. Additionally, she enjoyed playing piano at student Masses and singing for St. Gregory’s choir. Her favorite hobbies are playing piano, reading Church documents and other works, and eating watermelon. Welcome, Lizzie!---Fr. Jim(posted September 13, 2015)
Imagining youth ministry
Our young people, those from middle-school to high-school age, are not only the future of the Church, they are the “now” of the Church! They can be potential evangelizers of us “old folks”. Their energy and enthusiasm, when directed by the Holy Spirit, can enrich the lives of our parish in ways that we have not yet even imagined. So let’s try to imagine it now. Imagine that every Sunday evening our young people gather together to break open the Word of God. Then they play volleyball and laugh and talk in the courtyard (Purcell) or under the pecan trees (Pauls Valley). Imagine that on Saturday mornings, once a quarter, they would do a service project and then have a picnic lunch to talk about the things they did and how Catholic social teaching helps them to understand it from the light of faith. Imagine a youth Mass in which ALL of the ministries were performed by the youth, including a reflection after the Gospel reading. Imagine skits and liturgical plays that help the Gospel story come alive with real people talking and role-playing. Imagine our young people coming back from retreats, twice a year, all aglow with the Holy Spirit, so on fire with faith that they struggle to “come down from the mountain top”. Imagine having a young person on our parish staff with whom they can talk and share their fears and intimate concerns. This is what it might mean for us to develop a youth ministry in our parish. Are we ready to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit? - - - Fr. Jim(posted September 6, 2015)
God’s experimental workshop
Once a week, and sometimes more often, a very diverse group of families and individuals are thrown together in one place. They may cook a meal, serve on a committee, plan a garage sale or a bake sale, select a contractor, teach and lead the children of other families, decide how to spend a common pool of money, and, oh yes, pray to the one God that they all believe in. There is no screening or selection process. Anyone can come and be part of it. There is no training in conflict resolution. Some speak Spanish and some speak English, all of them with different tones of inflection and accents. Welcome to our parish! It is no wonder that sometimes we (including the pastor) say things that are unintentionally taken the wrong way, or that hurt someone’s feelings. It is no wonder that sometimes there are misunderstandings. We are like two college roommates who are thrown together randomly in a dorm room and expected to live together in perfect harmony. It is no wonder that St. Paul had to write these words to a Catholic parish, much like ours, many years ago: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” (Col. 3:12-13) Our parish is a workshop of God’s love. When we hurt each other, we make feeble but sincere attempts to “forgive and forget”. We practice how to say “I’m sorry.” We practice reconciliation, because reconciliation is where God is found. And it does take a lot of practice! This workshop of people . . . frail and sensitive and well-meaning and diverse . . . is nothing less than the Body of Christ. - - - Fr. Jim
(posted August 30, 2015)
Care for our common home
Globally, most people are living longer and healthier lives. The average life expectancy (worldwide) has grown from 47 years in 1955 to 69 years in 2010. However, these gains in the present have often come at the cost of jeopardizing the health of future generations. The ocean is becoming acidic, forests are being cut down, air temperature is increasing, fisheries are being depleted, and fresh water is becoming scarce. Our actions are driving species to extinction at a rate that is 100 times faster than ever observed in the geologic record. Soon the world will have only one remaining species - humans - if we survive. The earth has a magnificent capacity to renew itself naturally, but only within limits. Our ever-increasing population of peoples is stressing our earthly home to beyond its capacity to renew itself. This is the occasion and reason for the Pope's recent encyclical on the environment. We are responsible not only to each other, but also to our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This Fall semester, starting in September, I will be leading a lunch-time discussion group at St. Thomas More parish (Norman) on the Pope's encyclical - "what does it say?" and "how can we best respond?" Please join us if you can. Send me an email and I will put you on our list. Our common home is like a "sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us" (Laudato Si', #1). May we understand how to better care for our common home, the Earth. - - - Fr. Jim(posted August 23, 2015)
Angels in our midst
One of the primary ways that God takes care of us is by sending angels to deliver his message or to do his work. Most often, these angels do NOT look like angels from medieval paintings, with flowing wings and haloes. Most often they look exactly like ordinary human beings, at least at first. Abraham was visited by three men in his tent (Gen. 18) and Jacob wrestled with a man until the break of day (Gen. 32). None of the angels were recognized, in the beginning, as angels. When I was on my last flight home from Ethiopia to Chicago, I became ill with fever and nausea and diarrhea. The couple sitting next to me, from La Crosse, Wisconsin, gave me their blankets and kept good company with me. (I was still chilled covered with 3 blankets!) When we landed, Bridget and Reggie stayed with me the whole time, helping me with my baggage and getting me through customs. They walked with me to an airport clinic where two more of God’s angels took wonderful care of me. We all had a great laugh when we realized that a Catholic priest was being cared for by a Jewish doctor, a Muslim nurse, and a couple from Wisconsin who were evangelical Christians! It was quite the ecumenical affair. But it was through these people that God showed me great care and love. I am extremely grateful for the blessings of angels in my midst. There are surely angels in your life as well. - - - Fr. Jim(posted August 16, 2015)
The saints who were sisters
In this past month (July), the Church celebrated the feast days of two of my favorite Biblical saints. Sts. Martha and Mary of Bethany were sisters, and were very good friends of Jesus. But, like many sisters, they were very different! Martha was someone who takes charge and gets things done. She was talkative, probably an extrovert, and sometimes even impatient (Luke 10:38-42). Mary was a listener and a thinker. She was quiet, contemplative, and patient. And Jesus loved them both! But one point that is often missed also separates these two sisters. Martha underwent a kind of conversion with Jesus. The next time we see here is when her brother, Lazarus, has died. Martha rushes out to meet Jesus and says to him “Now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (John 11). Jesus replies: “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” Martha says, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha reveals that she has been changed by knowing Jesus. And it is from her lips (and not Mary’s) that we hear such a bold confession of faith. If I were ever asked to start a brand new parish, I would ask to name it “Sts. Martha and Mary Catholic Church”. These two sisters, together, represent the vast differences among believers. They also represent the different seasons of a single person’s life. Perhaps when one becomes ill, or aged, and can no longer take care of themselves or others. Perhaps this is a time when God is saying “You have always been anxious about many things. Now is the time to be still and listen to the word of God, to be attentive to the love of Jesus in your heart.” Sts. Martha and Mary, pray for us!- - - Fr. Jim(posted August 09, 2015)
What is an encyclical?
The Bishop of Rome (the Pope), together with all the world’s Catholic bishops, constitute the “teaching authority” of the Church. One of the ways that they teach us is to write encyclical (circular) letters that bring the light of the Gospel to address particular issues in the life of the Church. These letters are intended to circulate throughout the church and be read and studied by all the faithful. A papal encyclical is written in the Latin language, and takes its name from the first few words in the letter. Pope Francis has just published an encyclical on care for God’s creation, and it is entitled “Laudato Si”, which means “Praise be to You!”, from the Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi. The first modern encyclical is attributed to Pope Benedict XIV in 1740, but one could say that several letters of the New Testament are in the encyclical style. The Epistles of John and Peter (1,2,3 John and 1,2, Peter) are meant to be read by all Christians in general, rather than one specific church. These are often called the “catholic” epistles. Modern encyclicals have addressed topics such as war and peace, birth control, social inequalities, the economy, and the respect for human life. Together, these letters form the bulk of “Catholic social teaching” and are meant to be studied, prayed over, and reflected upon. Towards the end of his encyclical on creation, Pope Francis writes: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” To this we can say: “Laudate si!” - - - Fr. Jim(posted June 28, 2015)
Love is found in all the little details
As I said last Sunday, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught us about her "Little Way" of following Christ. This is not an easy thing to do, and takes much practice!
But here are a few ideas:
· Love listens to the same story again and again and again when old age or illness has damaged a person’s short-term memory.
· Love spends hours making those frustrating phone calls to agencies, medical personnel, relatives, and anyone else who can help to supply information and services
· Love offers a ride, shops for groceries, picks up a child from school, or throws together a big pot of spaghetti for unexpected guests.
· Love listens more than talks. It offers presence more than advice.
· Love can be tough and feisty when necessary.
· Love has to just sit down and cry sometimes, or go into an isolated room and scream!
· Love never underestimates the value of a surprise treat, such as homemade brownies.
· Love holds the crippled hand, embraces the diseased body, kisses the forgotten cheek.
St. John has written: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." (1 Jn. 4:16) Perhaps God is found in the many little details of life. St. Therese would surely agree. - - - Fr. Jim
(P.S. I owe much of this blog to Vinita Hampton Wright, an editor for Loyola Press.)(posted 6/20/2015)
How do I learn more about my faith?
How do I learn more about my faith? TEACH! At our end of the year gathering with the Religious Education teachers of our little ones in the parish, I asked: “Have you found that your knowledge of the faith has grown stronger through teaching?” They all nodded “Yes!”, and talked about how they were sometimes asked questions in class that they couldn’t answer. They learned both from the students and from looking up the answers on their own. Why is our church sometimes decorated in green and sometimes in purple or red? TEACH! - and you will find out. Why does Jesus often preach in parables, or little stories about the Kingdom of God? TEACH! - and you will find out. Of what beauty is the sacrament of Reconciliation? TEACH! - and you will find out. How can the Bible help me live my life as a Christian? TEACH! - and you will find out. Why do we dip our fingers into holy water and make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves? TEACH! - and you will find out. Why do we genuflect in front of the tabernacle? TEACH! - and you will find out. If you want to learn more about your faith, offer to help us teach our children and young adults in the coming year (Fall). If you feel inadequate, you will be given the title “Catechist-in-Training” and you can be a helper and shadow a teacher the first semester or two. If we have a group of Spanish-speakers who want to teach, then we can offer the sacramental preparation totally in Spanish. Ask the Holy Spirit if you are being called to learn more about your faith. If you are, then TEACH! You will learn so much! - - - Fr. Jim (posted 6/13/15)
Why go to Mass?
The Diocese of Cleveland conducted a survey of parish life and, among 39 items, Catholics ranked as first in importance – “Masses that are prayerful, reverent, and spiritually moving”. Second in importance was “the parish as a supportive, caring community”. America magazine recently asked readers why they go, or do not go, to Mass. They received many enthusiastic responses! Here is a sample (with my brief comments). “I go to Mass to give something – my love, my gratitude, my needs, myself to God…At Mass I enter a sacred place, more than a building – a communion.” (Beautifully said.) “I go to Mass for the Eucharist. What keeps me away? Nothing – certainly no mere man in the pulpit.” (That’s for sure.) “There are folks around the world who cannot attend Mass without risking their freedom or even their lives. I go because they can’t.” (Solidarity with our oppressed sisters and brothers.) “Nothing turns off people faster than having a priest read a sermon from a script”. (Amen, sister.) “I am a faithful Mass attendee and often feel uncomfortable at Mass when I have been making poor choices in my life. But I always find that if I ask the Lord to speak to me through the word and heal me through the Eucharist, he never fails.” (The grace of this sacrament.) “The people need the readings to be applied to their daily lives…that leads to the application of the Scripture passage to a person’s heart and life. If the homily speaks to people’s hearts, they will keep coming back.” (We will keep trying.) - - - Fr. Jim (mere man in the pulpit)
San Romero, saint of El Salvador
Five years ago, on a trip with college students to El Salvador. we met with a Jesuit priest who told us the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Fr. Dean Brackley told us: "People who knew the Archbishop personally would say - this guy is the real thing." That is to say, Romero was not just another left-leaning liberationist who was angry at the central government. He loved both the people who suffered and the soldiers who were fighting in the army against their own people. When Fr. Rutilio Grande was assassinated in 1977, the Archbishop canceled all Sunday Masses in the Archdiocese and had one big Mass in the cathedral in honor of the slain priest. Hundreds of thousands of people came, and the Archbishop delivered a powerful, courageous homily against the violence that was tearing apart his beloved nation. He listened closely to poor workers who had no voice in their government and who were being mistreated by plantation owners. Romero would deliver a weekly homily over the radio, and one could walk through the villages and hear the homily being played in every household. In his homily of March 23, 1980, he appealed to the soldiers to lay down their weapons: "No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God....In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, I beg you: Stop the repression!" The next day he himself was murdered by a soldier's bullet while saying Mass. Last weekend, on the eve of Pentecost, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified by Pope Francis. He may now be venerated by the people of El Salvador as "San Romero". San Romero, pray for us. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 5/27/15)
A stargazer ahead of his time
As part of its History of Science collections, the University of Oklahoma has many original works by Galileo. Galileo (1564-1642) was one of the world’s greatest scientists and astronomers, and was also a devout Catholic. With his simple telescope, he studied the stars and planets at night and tracked their movements through the night sky. Up until his time, most people thought that everything, including the sun, revolved around the earth, and they could quote a few passages in Scripture to prove it! For example, Psalm 104:5: “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” Galileo used his telescope to prove that the planets, including the earth, travel in elliptical orbits around the sun. Galileo respected and believed that the Scriptures are correct in matters of salvation, but in matters that are not pertinent to salvation the Bible may reflect the constraints of the time in which they were written. Stargazers in the time of the Bible could only observe the stars and planets with the naked eye. In this sense, Galileo was ahead of his time. The Church today acknowledges that “in order to understand the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture”(CCC 110). Galileo was able to gaze up at the stars and marvel at the beauty of motion and order, reflected in all the works of God’s creation. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 5/20/15)
Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow
Regarding several modern social issues, the Catholic Church has historically taken the lead in moral leadership – respect for life at all stages, welcoming the immigrant stranger in our midst, advocacy for a living wage and the right of workers to organize, establishing religious hospitals, and forming parochial schools to educate children as moral citizens. But in one area – the compassion and acceptance of the homosexual person – we have fallen short. 1 John 4:18 reads: “Perfect love casts out fear … and one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” Even though both experience and evolutionary science tell us that the percentage of gay men and women will always be very small, we seem to maintain a posture of fear towards these sisters and brothers who are defined by much more than their sexual orientation. We are reluctant to bless their unions, which many times provide the most loving home environments in which to raise children by adoption. The Presbyterian Church has approved same-sex marriage, while still acknowledging that marriage is “traditionally between a man and a woman”. The Episcopal Church has approved an official blessing for same-sex unions, called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”. It seems to me that, in this instance, our Church is resigned to follow
rather than to lead.... Or so it seems to me. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 5/17/15)
Saints who were mothers; mothers who are saints
After Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the most famous saint-mother is probably St. Monica. She remained devoted to her faith while being married to a non-Christian man and raising a brilliant but stubborn son named Augustine. Finally, after praying for him for 33 years, Augustine converted and became a Christian. While awaiting a ship to carry them back to Africa, Monica and her son had a beautiful conversation about the mysteries of faith and the joys of heaven. Monica died a few days later. Her work on earth was done. Elizabeth of Portugal had more family problems. She had a husband who was unfaithful and a son who was in open rebellion against him. She served as peacemaker between these two, and later between Portugal and Castile (in Spain), preventing a war between the two kingdoms. As Queen of Portugal, she still found time to establish hospitals, orphanages, and halfway houses for “fallen women”. Elizabeth Ann Seton was raised in the New York high society of the late 18th century. At the age of 19 she married a wealthy businessman William Seton. About ten years into her marriage, William’s business failed, and soon after he died of tuberculosis, leaving Elizabeth an impoverished widow with five small children. For years Elizabeth had felt drawn to Catholicism, believing in the Real Presence in the Eucharist and in the lineage of the Church going back to Christ and the Apostles. She converted to Catholicism, alienating many of her strict Episcopalian family in the process. At the invitation of the archbishop, she established a Catholic girl‘s school in Baltimore, Maryland which began the Catholic parochial school system in America. These mothers did marvelous things in spite of very difficult circumstances. But strong Catholic women are still doing heroic works of grace – giving their children comfort and stability after a time of loss, remaining cheery and faithful in spite of brokenness in the family.On Mother’s Day this Sunday, you are very likely sitting next to a saint. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 5/5/15)
Death, yes, but also Resurrection
This past week we lost two parishioners who were loved by many. Rodolfo Escobedo was killed in an auto accident, and Joe Nabonne died peacefully in his home after months of heart failure. In both cases, my first response was the same. I wanted to spend more time with each of these lovely men. They were both so joyful in their own unique style, and fun to be around. Rodolfo was loud and expressive and adored his wife and three children. My fondest memory is playing volleyball with him at our parish picnic last Fall. Joe was a Creole, through and through, who liked to dance and play golf and work on his computer. I had hoped that we could collaborate more on the parish website, and let him manage it from his own workdesk. But God loved these men more, and called them home to Paradise. In one of the most beautiful scenes from John’s Gospel, Jesus has just come back to see his good friend, Lazarus, who has just died. Martha says to him “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11) But there were some deaths that even Jesus could not prevent. And Jesus wept. (John 11:35). His desire was always that the Father’s will be done. And, though the Father’s will includes death for all of us (including Jesus), it also includes resurrection for those of us who believe in the One who is “the Resurrection and the Life”. (John 11:25). The story does not end in death.
Death is but a prelude for greater things to come. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 4/28/15)
A little black prayer book
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “piety”. Piety is the gift of being present to the Lord in prayer, and it can take many forms. When I was a seminarian I would often visit my older brother, Fr. Tom Chamberlain, who was already serving as a priest in central Texas. This area of Texas had once experienced a great immigration of Czech and Polish families. We would visit elderly people in their homes or nursing homes, and often we would come upon them praying out of a tiny black prayer book that was written in their native tongue. (I once even studied a little of the Czech language, thinking that I might one day say Mass in Czech!) It was a picture of devotion and reverence, when words from a small well-used book were whispered softly in the silence and rhythm of a rocking chair. Recently a parishioner let me borrow her mother’s little black prayer book, called “The New Key of Heaven: a complete prayer book for Catholics”. Prayers for every occasion were included here, including a very thorough examination of conscience before Confession, devotions to Our Blessed Lady, and litanies to Jesus and the saints. In the book’s preface, the Catholic believer is cautioned: “To prattle from the printed page will avail us nothing…on the other hand, the printed page can be of great assistance to us in prayer.” These little prayer books serve us well by turning our hearts towards God, placing us in His divine presence, and then allowing us to set the book aside and rest in His love. When we can do that, we have been given the gift of piety. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 4/20/15)
BYOB - Bring Your Own Bible
If you are a Protestant Christian, you are accustomed to bringing your Bible with you to church on Sunday morning. If you are a Catholic, you usually do not do so. The irony is, however, that Catholics hear much more of the Bible on a typical Sunday than do non-Catholics! Our Mass has two parts - the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Liturgy of the Word, we listen to a reading from the Old Testament books, one from the New Testament letters or Acts of the Apostles, and one from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). The homily will usually focus on one or more of the readings that we have just heard. Why not really study and reflect on this reading(s) from the written Word of God? Why not "consume" it, just as we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus? Pope Francis has written: "God's word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life." (The Joy of the Gospel, 174) Bring your personal Bible to Mass. Find the passage(s) of focus for the day. I will post the primary Scripture reading for the day up on the music board (Purcell). Let's start a new practice in Catholic parishes across the South! - - - Fr. Jim (posted 4/16/15)
Temptations to violence
On Easter Sunday evening, a new NBC-TV series began that describes the turn of events following the death of Jesus. It is called “A.D. The Bible Continues”, and I recommend it. This kind of show can give us a feel for the political and social situation in the time of the Acts of the Apostles, filling in some of the context that the Bible itself does not give. After the death of Jesus, Peter and the other apostles hid out in fear of being themselves arrested by the Roman soldiers. At the time, there was a group of zealot Jews who wanted to organize and fight against the Romans and overturn the Roman army that had been oppressing the Jewish people. In one scene, they approached Peter and asked him “Why don’t you join us? They will likely kill you anyway. Why not fight against them and kill them first?” Peter answered with such peace in his eyes. “We are only fishermen. And we are following the One who has chosen not violence, but non-violence.” It must have been tempting for Peter and the others to fight back. Yes, many of them would also be crucified and die. But they remained faithful to the Lord’s way of love, forgiveness, and non-violence, to the very end of their lives. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 4/6/15)
A new way of knowing
I attended seminary at St. Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana, a beautiful Benedictine monastery that was built on a hill overlooking rich farmlands and wooded groves. When I was ordained, a monk friend of mine gave me a photograph of the monastery veiled in fog. The inscription on the photograph read: “On Easter Day, the veil between time and eternity thins to gossamer.” Today we have reached our celebration of Easter, the center of the Church’s liturgical year and the source of Christian life and faith. On this day we are confronted with an empty tomb – “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” The burial cloths were there, but the body of Our Lord was nowhere to be found. Easter really invites us into something utterly new. It is rather frightening because it transgresses all our ways of thinking, what we know – or think we know – about the world and how we live in it. We get used to ‘knowing’ in a particular way. We are uneasy with things we can’t master or that don’t match our categories. We’re always trying to fit things into something familiar to us. But the resurrection of Christ cannot be fitted in like that. It is not something that we can master; it is only something we can receive. We can only let it transform us and our whole way of thinking and seeing and being. All of creation sings the Easter glory: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice!” In the coming weeks, we will meditate on the mysterious resurrection appearances of the Christ. In each of these appearances, the disciples found themselves somewhere between time and eternity. This was no longer an earthly Jesus, but a risen Christ. He was recognized not by what He looked like, but by how He loved them. This, too, is how we experience the risen Christ. Happy Easter! - - - Fr. Jim (posted 4/1/15)
The Redemption Play
Along with Catholics from around the world, our parish has been praying the Stations of the Cross each Friday during Lent. The Stations (Via Dolorosa) is a long and beautiful devotion that began with St. Francis of Assisi as he and his disciples would literally walk the passion with Jesus, through fourteen stations, as he carried his cross. The prayer begins with Jesus being condemned to death and follows him as he collapses three times under the weight of his cross. Along the way, Jesus meets his mother, Veronica, and the women of Jerusalem who weep for him. To them, Jesus says: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and your children” for it is we who must carry our cross in a world of sinfulness and hatred (Luke 23:28). Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, and on her cloth is an imprint of sweat, blood and tears, the face of Our Savior. She surely carried that cloth with her for the rest of her life, a reminder of the world’s great sadness and sin. We do the same thing when, in our prayer, we are led into the darkness of man’s inhumanity against other men, of cruel prejudices, of children who lack water and nourishment and the ability to see a doctor when they are sick. We are reminded of the way that men destroy creation, the gift of earth and sky and water and creatures that fly, swim, and leap across the earth. In the Eleventh Station, Jesus is nailed to the cross. Is it the Roman soldiers who nailed his fragile body to the hard, splintered wood of the cross? Or was it our sins, our selfishness, our lack of concern for the little ones of the world? In the Twelfth Station, Jesus dies on the cross. John’s Gospel says it this way: “They put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ’It is finished’. And, bowing his head, he handed over his spirit.” (John 19:29-30) As a group we pray together: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” You have redeemed us, O Christ, by your great sacrifice. We kneel in front of the mystery. It is too great for us to comprehend. At the Fourteenth (final) Station, Jesus is laid in the tomb. We can do nothing more but wait now in silence. We wait in silence for that final act which will help us understand the mystery of our redemption. We wait in silence to wonder how we have been graced
to be part of this redemption play. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 3/24/15)
Not long ago, our homes and farms were places of production. To some extent, we grew our own food, built our own furniture, sewed our own clothing, and raised animals on which we rode into town. Now we are strictly consumers, and the people who make the things we buy are far away. We never ever see them. When she was seventeen, Lydda Gonzalez began working in a factory in Honduras that sells their shirts to Old Navy and Polo Sport. The shirts sell for as much as $40 each, but she is paid only 75 cents per hour. She had hoped to pull her family out of poverty. Instead she found herself working 12-hour shifts six days each week with mandatory unpaid overtime, sexual harassment, factory air filled with textile particles, and drinking water that smelled of sewage. When she and a group of co-workers asked for better working conditions, they were fired and later received death threats. One 19-year old girl literally worked herself to death at a sweatshop in China. The Chinese now have a word for “death by overwork”. As responsible and compassionate Christians, we must always be asking questions about the products we choose to buy – where do they come from, and how they are made? Somewhere, someone may be suffering. - - - Fr. Jim (posted 3/20/15)
Beautiful creatures, and ugly sin
As my last flight home from Africa (Atlanta to OKC) was about to embark, two people got in a shouting match on the row across from me. The man began shouting obscenities at the young woman. I offered to change places with her, so she would not have to sit by him. I talked with him on the flight home. He had been drinking in an airport bar, and had another beer on the plane. He was 39 years old, angry and cynical and bullying, and seemed to respect only two things in life – his job as construction foreman and his 5 year-old daughter who lived with his mother. I tried to ask him about both of these things. I wanted to see some good in this man who seemed to be stuck in adolescence. It was the ugliness of sin. What a contrast to the majestic creatures of Africa that I had just seen! – the awesome elephants who wandered across our path, the curious baboons with their little ones, the hippos who huddled together for protection in the Nile River water lilies, and the gentle giraffes who gazed at us from under the tall canopy of trees. St. Paul said it best: “Ever since the world was made, his invisible power and deity have been seen and known in the things he has made.” (Rom. 1:20) These creatures cannot sin; they can only give praise to God in their very being. But people have chosen against God, and now have a darkened heart (Rom. 1:21). Sin is an ugly, ugly thing. Nowadays, it is all too easy to slander or spread falsehoods about another person through email and social media. The person has no way to respond against these false charges until the damage has been done. Whenever we pass on a rumor or a baseless lie about anyone – whether a Presidential candidate or a classmate at school – we are participating in the ugliness of sin. We have chosen a darkened heart. - - - Fr. Jim (posted July 5, 2016)
A Modern Saint with Modern Courage
In our Confirmation class this year, we learned about Blessed Chiara Badano (1971-1990), a teenage girl whose nickname was “Luce” (which means “light”). In so many ways, she was just like any other Italian teenage girl – she loved to play tennis, listen to pop music, and have coffee late at night with her friends. She even failed math one year. She never did anything “big” like found a hospital or religious order, but she went to Church regularly and tried to love God and live the Gospel in her life. As a young girl, she joined the Focolare movement, a lay spiritual group that focused on the image of the Forsaken Christ (Christ on the Cross) to help us through difficult times. When she was 17 a sharp pain in her shoulder was diagnosed as osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. The prognosis was grim and Chiara Luce struggled to say “yes” to this will of God for her, but she did. Each time a new, painful treatment was performed she would say, “For you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it too!” Despite her pain she refused to take morphine so that she could remain lucid and offer all her suffering up to Jesus. Paralyzed in her bed, she stayed cheerful and kept loving. People who visited her in the hospital would notice the bright light shining in her eyes. While undergoing a painful medical procedure, Chiara was visited by a lady, ". . . a lady with a very beautiful and luminous smile came in. She came up to me and took me by the hand, and her touch filled me with courage. . . . my heart was filled with a immerse joy and all fear left me. In that moment I understood that if we're always ready for everything, God sends us many signs of his love.” During her final hours, Chiara made her final confession and received the Eucharist. There has already been one miracle from her intercession, and she is one step away from sainthood. I pray that I may have the courage of this humble, cheerful, modern saint. - - - Fr. Jim (posted June 5, 2016)
Why was the tomb found to be empty?
In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene arrived first to the tomb and found that it was empty. She ran back to tell the others “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” Peter and the beloved disciple (presumably, the apostle John) ran also to the tomb and looked inside. They saw only the head and burial cloths, “rolled up in separate places”. Why was the tomb found to be empty? Because the risen Christ is not in the tomb. He is now out and among us! He is alive and real, walking on this earth. He is alive in the people who work so hard to plan a weekend retreat to introduce others to the love of Christ and the joy of the Holy Spirit. Christ is alive in the young men and women who decide to give their lives to a religious vocation, in service to the Church. Christ is alive in the teenagers who throw themselves into the practice of their faith, trusting the words of the Good Shepherd that those who follow him will “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Christ is alive in the men and women who commit themselves to making their marriage work, even through rocky times of distress. The risen Christ is not found among the dead. He is found among the living! Happy Easter! - - - Fr. Jim (posted March 27, 2016)
The Uncertainties of the Cross
When we say that Jesus was “true God and true man”, we must admit that he experienced all of the same fears, anxieties, and uncertainties that we do as part of being human. A big part of being human is the “fear of the unknown” – what is going to happen next, and how will I endure it? Jesus, as fully human, experienced this fear in the last week of his life. Today we begin our celebration of his last week. We call it “Holy Week”, the holiest week of the year. We walk together with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem with songs of praise (Palm Sunday), shares a final meal with his disciples (Holy Thursday), and is made to carry the cross upon which he is crucified (Good Friday). But Jesus had to make a choice to enter Jerusalem, knowing that he would likely be killed. His last temptation was surely to give up the project, to return to Nazareth and live a quiet life as a carpenter, like his father Joseph. How frightened he must have felt as he turned towards Jerusalem! None of us wants to face his own death. My sister, Jeannie, began treatment last week for Stage IV lymphoma. She turns, like Jesus, towards the unknown, with fear and uncertainty. We will all, one day, have to carry our own cross, if we are not already doing so. Let us pray that we have the courage to turn our face towards Jerusalem, take up our cross, and walk, with Jesus, the Way of the Cross. - - - Fr. Jim (posted March 20, 2016)
Leaving Captivity for the Desert
When I graduated from college about a year ago, it seemed like a dream in many ways. I had been working for so long to accomplish that one goal! For years, my entire life was centered on completing my degree. Over and over again I could hear the words of the psalm running through my head, “When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.” This was how I felt. I felt that my entire life had changed, and though I had gradually worked towards this for four years, I felt as though my life had changed in an instant.
Lent is also like this. During Lent, we are called to newness of life. We are called to change our lives, to change ourselves completely, to “gain Christ and be found in him” as Paul writes to the Philippians. And as scary as it may be, this entails giving up the old way of life and the captivity of sin and bad habits. When Easter comes, it may seem like a dream after looking forward to it for so long; and Jesus’ forgiveness may seem like a dream also, but it is truly more real and more life giving than anything else. God’s grace and forgiveness is worth the uncomfortableness of leaving our old selves behind. It is worth the gradual work to overcome our weaknesses. It is worth our time. It is worth our effort. It is worth everything! Because in that moment like a dream when we can look God in the face and say that we have entered the desert of repentance and left the captivity of sin behind I think there will be an exhilarating and unsurpassable joy that will banish any doubt and fear.- - - Lizzie Grim, Youth Ministry Coordinator(posted March 13, 2016)
Jesus, and other good storytellers, tell stories that draw upon their own real lived experience. Sometimes the greatest truths about life appear in stories and works of fiction. One of the most popular books in the U.S. during the Great War (World War I) was "Mr. Britling Sees It Through". It was written by h. G. Wells, a British intellectual who was known for his distrust of organized religion. But the book carried a powerful religioius message that resonated with family after family who was losing a son on the battlesfields of France. In the book, the main character, Mr. Britling, loses his son in the War and experiences a conversion. He comes to realize this:
"Religion is the first thing and the last thing, and until a man has found God and been found by God, he begins at no beginnin, he works to no end. He may have his friendships, his partial loyalties, his scraps of honor. But all these things fall into place, only wit God. Only with God. . . .It was as if he had been groping all this time in the darkness, thinking himself alone amidst rocks and pitfalls and pitiless things, and suddenly a hand, a firm strong hand, had touched his own. And a voice within him bade him be of good courage. God was beside him and withing him and about him." Then, after a time, he said: "Our sons have shown us God."
May this Lent be for each of us a time of "life falling into place", a life with God whose firm strong hand has touched our own, and has helped us to be of good courage in times of darkness. - - - Fr. Jim (posted March 6, 2016)
My daughter Samantha has a gift for photography. She is able to capture the essense of a thing. I marveled one time how beautiful she had made a dilapadated old house look in a photo she had taken. She turned around to me with the most beautiful smile and said, "Oh, mama everything has beauty." That reminds me of a saying by Confucius, "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." We hear a lot of discussion about gratitude and reminders to be grateful for everything we have, but somewhere beauty has taken on conditions and srings ad we forget to look at the world and see the beauty in it. American Cinematographer, Conrad Hall has been quoted as saying that, "There is a kind of beauty in imperfection." The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Never lose the opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is tha handwriting of God." I think we should train ourselves to see and seek beauty in all its forms, the imperfect and the exquisite and then be grateful for having had that opportunity. Some people like Samantha have an eye for the hidden beauty of the world and a talent for capturing it. Others have to make a conscious effort to see beyong the surface, to see God in everything on this earth, every person, every plant, every animal, and every tehnological achievemnet. I for one, want to experience that gasp of awe, followed by joyful delight when my eyes capture that which is not readily aparent. I hope you do as well. So take a moment and just observe the handwriting of God. You won't regret it. - - - Dr. Lauren Cleeland, RCI Catechist, Purcell (posted February 28, 2016)
Soon we will celebrate the Last Supper. I often envision this to resemble the The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Catechist Mark Kelly tells the fascinating history of the painting: Leonardo da Vinci was living in Milan at the time he painted the last supper. He decided to find thirteen men to pose, one for each of the disciples and one as Jesus. He wanted each of his models to look how he envisioned them. His search began and soon he found a young man in the church choir loft whose voice was so angelic. He perfectly matched how da Vinci had visualized Jesus. After church Leonardo asked the young man if he would pose as Jesus. He agreed and the following week he spent four days posing for da Vinci in his studio in Milan. Da Vinci’s search continued and he quickly found someone to pose as Peter, Simon, and Matthew. Within eleven months he had found and painted all the persons in the scene except for Judas. Da Vinci could not find his Judas. He looked everywhere for eleven years then he finally realized he had been looking for his Judas in the wrong places. Leonardo thought to himself, if I am to find a man who has the qualities and appearance of Judas, I must look where such men are gathered. With that in mind da Vinci went to the prisons in and around Milan, searching for a man with pain and anger in his eyes, with harsh impatience on his face, with the scars of pride and bitterness on his cheeks, and the marks of brokenness in his features. After many prisons, he came across that man. DaVinci asked the man and the prisoner agreed. Leonardo made arrangements for him to be brought to his studio in Milan under guard. As he painted, da Vinci noticed that the prisoner was growing more restless and distressed. Da Vinci observed that the man would look at him, and then at the painting, and every time seemed to be filled with a certain remorseful sadness. Leonardo was so disturbed by what he was witnessing in his model that he stopped work and said to him, “Is there something wrong? Do you not like my work?” The prisoner said nothing and da Vinci inquired once more saying, “You seem very upset and if I am causing you pain in any way perhaps we should stop.” The man looked at the master painter and then at the painting, he lowered his head, lifted his hands to his face and began to weep inconsolably. After several minutes da Vinci was finally able to settle him. “What is it?” he asked. The prisoner looked expectantly into the artist’s eyes and said, “Do you not recognize me, Master?” In confusion, Leonardo replied, “No, have we met before?” “Oh yes,” the prisoner explained. “Eleven years ago I posed for you, for this same painting, as the person of Jesus.” This story leaves me realizing we all have Jesus and Judas in us and the battle we face daily is choosing to always listen to Jesus. - - - Amanda Cummins, DRE, St Catherine of Siena, Pauls Valley (posted February 21, 2016)
We Begin With Ashes
I was working as a Catholic chaplain at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, and one of my first patients was a teenager, about 18 years old. He was dying of leukemia, and his body was thin and frail. But as I spoke to his family and saw the photos around his room, I realized that he had once been a strong, healthy football player for the high school team. His journey was quicker than ours, but all of us will make that same journey, from ashes to ashes, from dust to dust. Our bodies are only the fragile vessels into which God has poured the spirit of Joanie or Maria or Mike or Jimmy. If I could, I would mark not only our foreheads with ashes, but also our entire face, our hands and our feet. And I would ask you to do the same to me. But if cancer causes death to the body, sin causes death to the spirit. When the beautiful Tamar had been deceived and humiliated by her half-brother, Amnon, she put ashes on her head and tore her clothing (2 Sam. 13:19). Her grief was not for her personal sin but for the sin of the world and how that sin affected her. We begin the season of Lent with ashes because we begin with the harsh realities of life. There IS sin and brokenness in the world. There is our own sin, and the sin of others. We need a Savior to walk with us in this world of sin because it is too dreadful to do it alone. If we can begin at this place, in this state of dreadfulness, then our own small discipline of Lent will begin to have meaning, meaning that will lead us one day to the Resurrection. - - - Fr. Jim(posted February 14, 2016)
Thought from Parish Staff
The readings for this Sunday call upon us all to be aware of discipleship. When we hear from the prophet Isaiah or from St. Peter in the Gospel from St. Luke, it is very clear that God along with his Son Jesus Christ has called on us as children of God to take an active role in following our faith. We are all as unworthy as Isaiah feels or St. Peter when he says “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man”, Jesus responds to Peter by saying “Do not be afraid”. How many times have we missed opportunities to serve God, our Church or our fellow man because we see ourselves as unworthy or afraid?
As we begin our Lenten preparation this year, let us ask ourselves in what capacity does the Lord want us to serve? As a Parish family we have many opportunities to serve including ministries that teach youth, young adults and adults. Another ministry is serving as a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which helps those in need in our local community. You may also take an active role in our Altar Society to prepare (and clean-up) after caring for a family with a dinner after the funeral of a loved one. Join the Knights of Columbus who among other things tend to the landscape and buildings that have offered us all a place to worship. Or you can assist with our Youth Group to bring snacks or help with special events.
Let’s listen to the word of God and ask, “What can I do?” Our time, treasure, and talents may change over time as our lives change, but there are many ways to participate with our Church family. Most importantly, we must always pray for one another, that we may not be afraid to hear the Lord’s call. Debbie Clagg, Director of Religious Education, Our Lady of Victory, Purcell. - - - Debbie Clagg, Director of Religious Education, Our Lady of Victory, Purcell (posted February 7, 2016)
Another saint to follow
In 1836, when John Neumann sailed across the ocean from his native Bohemia (Czech Republic) to America, he was already fluent in six languages. He had studied theology, botany, and astronomy, but wanted to be ordained a priest. His bishop at that time was having no more ordinations. There were already too many priests in the Republic of Bohemia! As a priest in the U.S., he worked first among the immigrant farm families who had settled in upstate New York, helping them to feel more welcome in a faraway place with a different culture and language. People laughed at the clumsy way in which Father Neumann rode a horse; because he was short, his feet did not reach the stirrups. He traveled the countryside—visited the sick, taught catechism, and trained teachers to take over when he left. But his loneliness led him to join an order of priests, the Redemptorist Fathers, who were based in Pennsylvania. After being appointed bishop of Philadelphia, he started Forty Hours’ Devotion in parishes, a practice in which prayer is offered in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed on the altar, for 40 continuous hours. He soon realized that these good people needed schools for their children, and started the first Catholic school system in the U.S. in the diocese of Philadelphia. He built many Catholic schools and churches in his lifetime. May we learn from the example of St. John Neumann – to welcome the immigrant among us, to pray with devotion, and to instruct our children in the faith. - - - Fr. Jim(posted January 31, 2016)