Reflection - April 7, 2019

“‘Let the one among you who is without sin 
be the first to throw a stone at her.’
...And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
‘Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?’
She replied, ‘No one, sir.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’”

Before I was ordained a priest and was serving in a parish as a deacon, the one thing my pastor at the time (now Bishop Spalding of Nashville) required me to memorize was the formula for absolution. These are the words the priest says at the end of your confession which begin, “God, the Father of mercies...,” and end with, “...I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He admonished me, “You’ll need this right away, best be ready.” How right he was! Less than half an hour after I was ordained, at the reception in the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Assumption, a man pulled me aside and asked, “Father, will you hear my confession?” Okay. Gulp. Here we go.

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Reflection - March 17, 2019

“The Lord God took Abram outside and said, 
‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,’ he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’
Abram put his faith in the LORD, 
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

From an elevation of 6,700 feet on a trail near the Philmont Scout Ranch base camp in northern New Mexico on a crystal clear night with low humidity, no moon, and little light pollution, I looked up at the night sky overwhelmed by the beauty of the stars and the amazing swath of brightness from horizon to horizon that is the galactic plane of the Milky Way. It was awesome in the most profound sense of awe inspiring. I felt both insignificant in the face of such beauty, immense distances from the stars, and the time necessary for light to travel so that I could see it on that night, and connected to the universe in an intimate way, there at that moment in that place. I sensed who I was and who I wasn’t. It was a personal experience of the transcendent and I cried (just a bit). I counted it as a gift from God.  

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Reflection - February 24, 2019

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?

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Reflection - January 27, 2018

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.”

Author’s note: I made a mistake. Last week I wrote my reflection on this week’s readings. In order to get back on track, this article is based on last week’s readings. Next week, provided I don’t make the same mistake again, we should be back on schedule. Thanks for reading!

Sometimes we can think of our spiritual journey as an individual call to holiness: my relationship with God, my growth, my struggles with sin, my gifts, my meaning, or my purpose. There is a necessary and good sense in which our spiritual lives are personal. We should realize that God’s love is personal and we should take a certain ownership of our own actions and engagement with God, the Church, and all the world. The problem arises when we think of this aspect of our faith as the only or primary lens through which we look. We can end up setting ourselves up as the central beneficiary of the actions of God and everyone else. It becomes all about me. We can experience our faith as simply consumers or customers and judge everything based on how it benefits me. How I spend my time, use my talents, or give my money become a type of exchange for what I feel I have already received. Is it worth it? Was it earned? It is sort of like tipping a waiter. 

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Reflection - March 10, 2019

“Moses spoke to the people, saying: 
‘The priest shall receive the basket from you 
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God...
‘Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil 
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God, 
you shall bow down in his presence.’”

Lent has begun: ashes on our foreheads, purple vestments, fasting, abstaining from meat on Fridays, giving something up, adding some prayer or reading, preparing for the Easter sacraments, going to confession, and not singing alleluia! These are the familiar marks of this season, but they are not the journey. Our journey through Lent should be more personal and profound. How do we encounter God, grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus, trust more fully in the work of the Holy Spirit? Where will this journey of Lent take us? And where do we start?

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Reflection - February 10, 2019

“‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’
Simon said in reply,
‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.’
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. 
They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’
...Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.’
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.”

We can feel it. Family members have left the church. Friends who had been very active rarely come to mass or volunteer at the parish any more. Children or grandchildren have no time or interest in traditional faith or practice. Many studies from a variety of organizations such as Gallup, Pew, the Barna Group, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Notre Dame, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), and Dynamic Catholic confirm it. More people are leaving the church: some become Protestant, but a growing number simply disaffiliate from religion all together. This is especially true for younger generations where 39% or more claim no religious affiliation. Among those who remain affiliated, fewer are going to mass weekly or monthly by nearly a percentage point per year. Engagement is down and less than 7% of Catholics account for 80% of volunteer time and financial contributions. Taken as a whole, few fish are in our nets and more and more are jumping out of the boat. 

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Reflection - January 20, 2019

“He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

If our reader on a Sunday walked up to the ambo and happened to be reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah quoted above and instead of saying, “The Word of the Lord,” that we’re used to hearing at the end of the reading, said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” we would probably think he or she was delusional. We would probably be right. This story from the gospel today is a unique moment in Jesus’s life. It indicates Jesus’s self understanding of both who he was and what his mission was. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. Luke emphasizes in Jesus’s mission the reversal of fortune associated with the Kingdom of God. Good news has come for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Jesus knows who he is and why he’s here. In this moment, he proclaims truth to all of those gathered in the synagogue. He is the messiah sent to proclaim the good news and usher in the kingdom. You and I, or our reader, are not the messiah. We are not the anointed one and we do not have his unique mission. 

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Reflection - March 3, 2019

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

It’s easy to get caught up in appearances or externals. We certainly do so in relation to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the companies we work for. We often get caught up in the symbols of our success, our salaries and bank accounts, the schools we have graduated from or sent our kids to, our favorite restaurants or where we go for vacations. We can sometimes do so in relation to matters of the heart and our behaviors: the quality of our families, the care we provide children or parents, the marriage anniversaries we celebrate, our long lasting friendships or our progeny. We can even do so with our spirituality, the prayers we pray, the service we render, our commitments and faithfulness, our contributions or history. 

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Reflection - February 3, 2019

“Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.”

Truth. In the generic sense, I am a skeptic. I don’t hold a philosophical position that knowledge is impossible, but I do tend toward greater trust in rational thought and verifiable data. I am slow to accept popular opinions just because they are popular and I question common assumptions. I would probably be the guy that wants to put my finger in the wound in Jesus’s side. I am suspicious of pat or easy answers, emotional decisions, and extraordinary claims. I cringe at superstition, secret knowledge, or magical powers. I explore and test ideas from multiple perspectives, evaluate possibilities from every angle, and rejoice in concrete solutions. I desire to learn, expand my knowledge, and do what works. 

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