STs. Peter and Paul Cycle A June 29, 2014

That sure is an awful lot of power to give to a fisherman; “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It’s a good thing Peter never went to Foxwoods! Or buy scratch tickets!

But, once again, that’s an awful lot of persuasion, influence, and power to hand to one person, fisherman or no fisherman. Yet that’s what Jesus does. Either Jesus is a little off the mark with Peter, or, he completely trusts his disciple and lead Apostle. Either Jesus is speaking words of wishful thinking here, giving all this binding and loosing to Peter and believing it is somehow going to work out, or, he knows that Peter will be fair, just, merciful, and kind.

Just like Pope Francis, the present Peter, was recently fair and just with the Mafia. He was honest, caring, just, and forthright when he declared them excommunicated for behavior not becoming of a human being. For behavior that is downright evil. It’s good to know that the binding and loosing that Jesus handed to the first Pope is still in effect with our present Pope.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, let’s do so by studying closely why it was that Jesus called both of these Apostles, each in their own way; why our Lord gave them so much power and authority, an amount of power that even the worst dictators can only dream of; and what they did with such responsibility.

First, whenever we commemorate this day in the Church every June 29, no matter what day of the week it falls on, I always think of the well-known German theologian known for his own martyrdom at the end of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think of his words that ring so true as connected to Peter and Paul; “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Women are not exempt from those words of Bonhoeffer. “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” To self? Yes. But sometimes also to one’s death in the body. Those words are a stark reminder of Saints Peter and Paul. But really, all the martyrs in the Church. But I’m drawn to these two most especially because these are the two who held the most authority and responsibility. And we learn from them.

Peter, because he answered correctly the most significant question in all of Scripture, “Who do you say that I am?” If it was me asking someone the question about myself, the answer would be, “Who cares who you are!” But it’s Jesus asking. And Peter answers correctly. He probably thought he was going to get a gold star on his apostle forehead. Rather, Peter got the Cross for his correct answer.

And Paul, because he was so gifted, talented, successful and so good at persecuting Christians, Jesus had to personally intervene, knock him on his rear-end, and infuse Paul with unmerited grace and mercy. And the irony with Paul is that, as he persecuted, so in turn was he roundly persecuted for the sake of the name he once despised. It is believed he had his head chopped off, in like manner of John the Baptist.

First, why Jesus called Peter and Paul from their unique backgrounds, in his own way, is rather easy to understand. They were both simple. In the best meaning of the word “simple.” A fisherman and a tentmaker. They were like you and me. I’ve been saying this to the parents of most of those baptized since I returned from visiting a number of the saints in Italy in April. All those great saints were simple, ordinary, regular men and women – with issues like the rest of us – that God did extraordinary things with. And that there is no reason their child – or any of us – cannot be a saint for the Church. Don’t look for your children to do great things. Pray to allow God to do great things through them. This is Peter and Paul, and all the saints, martyrs or not a martyr. Be open to God’s will, and simplicity and its loving power will be realized.

Second, why does Jesus give them so much power? Why does our Lord entrust Peter with binding and loosing on earth, thus allowed in heaven? And Paul, why is he entrusted with such authority to preach the Good News after his many evil actions against God’s people? You would think Paul to be the last person to be entrusted with such an assignment.

There’s a word that St. Paul uses a number of times in his epistles, and it’s the word “imitation.” He writes, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Now imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But here it doesn’t mean to mimic a person for laughter’s sake. Paul uses the word for Christians to mimic, to a tee, the Master and Savior of the world. So why so much power? Because Jesus knew they would mimic his divine power, and not abuse it and play some worldly game of power. Pope Francis is not playing a power game with the Mafia. He’s using divine power granted to him by Christ to draw some people away from their evil ways and learn how to love.

Jesus could give keys to Peter that open and close heaven’s door, and give persuasion to Paul through the Spirit, and know they could be entrusted to use them for the right purposes of salvation. Power is made perfect in weakness, writes St. Paul. Meaning, our power is made perfect when our will seeks to be perfectly in sync with Christ.

And third, what did they do with their power? They drew people to Christ, through tenderness and truth, and at times through toughness.  What God started through them continues today. Which is why Pope Francis can excommunicate the Mafia. Tell them that their lives are outside of the Body of Christ. That their money is blood money. And that they need to reform and convert, otherwise, in the words of the Pontiff, they will be going to hell. This is a clear example of binding and loosing, of caring for souls in ways they will understand. They may not like it, but they will understand it.

Peter and Paul; simplicity; living for Christ and not ourselves; and leading others to God, even with tough language at times if necessary.

We would do well to imitate those who imitated Christ so well.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ June 22 Cycle A

I’ve heard a number of Catholics over the years say that whenever they happen to be in another state, or in another country throughout the world, and they attend Mass, even if it’s in a language they do not understand, that they know they are still receiving the Eucharist in all its truth. They may not understand the language spoken at the Mass if it’s celebrated in a foreign country. But because of certain positions, be it standing, kneeling, or sitting, they understand at what point the Mass is at. And even more, they understand that they truly receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior that flow from the Prayers of Consecration in whatever language in which they are spoken.

It’s an awesome and telling sign of how the Church is Catholic, meaning universal, in its scope. That when our Lord instructed the Disciples to go out and teach all nations, and baptize the world with his baptism of love and life, and to bring the Good News of salvation to all people, they took Jesus literally by spreading the geography of the Church to encompass all nations known to them.

And at the heart of what they brought to all nations is what we celebrate today; the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, without the memorial that Jesus instructed us to do in remembrance of him, then our journey cannot be a fulfilling journey of preparation for meeting the Lord. With the Eucharist, we become sharers in the life of Jesus, right now. This food, his Body, is truly the gate that grants us passage into a life that is more than just human. We don’t live for this world. We live in this world, and for a short time at that. But the effect of our receiving the Eucharist is meant to point to something much greater than what we see and experience here.

The Eucharist binds us to Jesus is ways that nothing else can. Some of us come forward to receive what looks like a small, round, piece of bread with a cross on it. “Gee, what a lovely design” some may think. For those who receive in such a way, with such a mindset, I challenge you to expand and enlarge your approach to reception. Rather, approach with eyes of faith, and know in your heart that our Lord is truly consumed in our reception of Communion, and what that means for each of us.

I remember a friend one time was complaining to me about a homily she heard.  (Of course it wasn’t mine. No one complains about my glorious homilies. Right?)  She was complaining that the replacement priest in her parish, who was an older, retired priest filling in on a weekend Mass (because we do need vacation once in a while), that he was boring and she couldn’t get anything out of the homily. In all honesty, the complaint is well and fine. I say that because the good, God-fearing people of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church deserve good homilies. And I mean that sincerely.

However, I had to ask my friend the question, “Did you receive the Eucharist?” “Well, yes I did.” “Then what are you complaining about because you heard one bad homily from an older, retired, probably very holy replacement priest  filling in for your Pastor so he can enjoy a little respite. Some R&R? Were you not satisfied for one Sunday in receiving our Lord along with a bad homily? Maybe Billy Graham can fill in for your Pastor next time! You might hear a good homily, but you won’t receive the Eucharist!”

Anyway, my friend won’t tell me anymore if she hears a bad homily.

Preaching and listening and hearing the word is important beyond description. The word of God feeds us. Preaching is easily one of the most important things we do as priests and deacons. Even Pope Francis spent much time, effort, and energy writing in The Joy of the Gospel about the essential importance of preaching. That priests need to spend more time in preparation for homilies. Even if it takes us away from other responsibilities.

But, nothing comes before the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Our faith begins and ends with the Person of Jesus Christ, who is consumed in the Eucharist.

Listen to these words; “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Whoever hears a good homily will live forever.” My friends, tell me what I preached about two weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday. A short two weeks ago. Now tell me if you received the Lord in the Eucharist on that day.

In the Gospel Jesus says “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Our faith is so rich and varied that there are numerous ways to “feed” on Jesus. We are richly fed and satisfied through the word, as already mentioned. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where the Spirit has touched us deeply through reading and hearing the word of God. Such moments of feeding on Jesus taste better than a Lobster-fest on the beaches of Maine.

We are fed Jesus in our commitment to a solid and consistent prayer life. The same Jesus who taught us the Our Father, the greatest of all prayers. Praying just one Our Father in a solemn and reflective manner is such a beautiful way to slowly feed on Christ.

We are fed Jesus in the preaching of the word, even when it causes some people to fall asleep. We are fed Jesus in the gathering of believers in his name. Our combined faith is a spiritual food-fest for Christ.

But the most intimate feeding of Jesus is in the Eucharist. The words that John records of Jesus in today’s Gospel are the most personal, deeply-held convictions of our Savior. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is indescribably personal. It is our Lord’s most profound sharing of himself. It is the gift that keeps on giving, for those who are blessed to receive with eyes of faith.

Homily The Most Holy Trinity June 15, 2014 Cycle A

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This opening verse of John’s Gospel, chapter 1, verse 1, is a religious teaching and statement for the great minds of theology and philosophy. That leaves me out!

But this above verse takes us to the point I wish to travel to on this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The point being “the beginning.” Because is we hope to gather personal information about the God who created us, loves us, and sustains us, then we must travel for a moment back to the beginning.

In the old Baltimore Catechism, which some of you may remember –we won’t discuss how old that makes you today – it asks the question, “Why did God make you?” A good question. Thought-provoking. Intuitive. Inquisitive. Curious. I won’t ask anyone to raise their hand with the answer, although I’m sure a few of you have memorized the answer all these years. But you’re safe. No give and take here. But the answer to the question, “Why did God make you?” in the Catechism states, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

We have been made, not only to give praise and glory to our Creator, but to share the joys of heaven with those we know and love. This reminds us that there are no enemies in heaven. Jesus’ commandment to love your enemies has no need of application in heaven. It’s an earthly commandment that prepares us for heaven.

In the beginning, when God created time and space, there was a major void in God’s creation. Something was missing. The best part of creation was missing. It’s like a Red Sox player running out to his position at Fenway Park missing one Red Sock, a shoe, and his hat. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of baseball. Something was missing from creation. Something so personal that would reveal God’s very self. More than the rest of creation. That missing link, the missing part that made God’s creation whole, complete, and satisfying, was fulfilled in Adam and Eve. God found the special possession he was looking for and gave it life. In the beginning.

Not long after the beginning, we showed the bad side of our colors – but not our true colors – and we fell down. We fell into sin. When another person falls down in our presence, the instinct is to help them get up. But we don’t want those who fall to simply get back up. We want them to stay up. So that they don’t fall and stay down, forever. But rather that we be raised up, forever.

Thus, the beautiful, familiar words of today’s Gospel, where God so loved the world, he so loved what he called forth in the beginning, that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes that God loves us unconditionally, they might not perish, but might have life eternally.

These words that St. John wrote long ago reveal to us God’s true colors from the beginning. That our Lord is faithful to us and consistent with us. He is not a God who wavers. He is not a mind-changer, nor does the elevator of his heart go up and down on us. God is consistent. If we want to see what being inconsistent looks like, then all of us can take a peek in the mirror.

The coming of Jesus back then, and our Lord’s coming to us in a liturgical setting, and outside these holy walls when we leave, was and is ordained for the purpose of picking up a fallen race –from near the beginning, shortly after an apple episode – and making sure we stay up, even if we fall again.

At the heart of Trinity Sunday is the symbol of the Cross. The Cross of Christ is the purest symbol of unconditional love. The symbol of the manger at Christmas is also pure love. But the Cross, which is not possible without the manger, (the death cannot happen without the birth) is the reminder we need that we have been lifted up. That we don’t fall down and stay down.

For those times where we do fall momentarily, may we fall back on the words of Exodus today, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Of one thought we are sure; we like a God who takes an awful long time to get angry. If there were lightning bolts for every sin we committed, the hair on our heads – or what little some of us have – would be standing 24/7 like a Swiss Guard protecting the Pope. We like a God – Father, Son, Spirit – whose mercy triumphs over justice, while keeping justice on the table.

As we celebrate the mystery of God today, may we carry forth in our hearts the measure of God’s love for us. That the Lord has not only picked us up from our own awful fall in the Garden. But has promised to us in the sending of his Son and in the sending of the Spirit that we were not created to stay wounded on the ground.

Trinity Sunday celebrates the God of love. He loves to bend down and pick us up so we can move forward toward our inheritance. It’s a love that releases us from our own faults, and fills us with the desire to do good, which was ordained for us from the beginning.

Parish Council Meeting Minutes June 1, 2014

Present: Steve Sycks, Josephine Ferrie, Ann Marie Sheehan, Christopher Klofft, Polly Flynn, Deacon Kevin Deignan, Fr. Walter Riley                                                                                                                                                      Absent: Matthew Foster, Helen Vassallo

                Opening Prayer, led by Fr. Riley                                                                                                                                              

                Financial Report:                                                                                                                                                                             Steve Sycks mentioned that the Finance Committee is meeting periodically (about 4 times a year).                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The parish at this time is on budget for the present fiscal year, which ends on August 31.                    The topic of placing financial information on the website was addressed. Steve spoke with the Chancellor of the Diocese, Ray Deslisle, who said whatever is placed into the bulletin for a financial report is fine for the website also.                                                                                                                                                             The new budget for fiscal year 2015 will be addressed over the summer.

                Fr. Riley Agenda Items:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Church Basement Doors; when the custom made doors went to be picked up by Shankle Door Co, who is replacing the doors, one of the two doors was not in satisfactory condition, thus he refused them until it is fixed to his satisfaction. The doors should be replaced within the next month.                                            

                Deacon Jim Boland; Priesthood Ordination on June 7 at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Fr. Jim will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving here at Immaculate Conception on Sunday, June 15 at the 10:00 Mass. A reception for parishioners will follow in the Fr. Connors Center.                                                                            

                Cement Work in Front of Church; our maintenance worker Mark Cutler will be addressing the disrepair of the wall at the front entrance to the Church. If needed, a professional mason will be called to do the work that is necessary.                                                                                                                                                    

                Acoustics in the Church; Derek Stiles, a relative of parishioners, checked the sound system in the Church at the request of Fr. Riley who has received a number of comments regarding “dead” areas in the Church, especially when he preaches in front of the altar. He made minor adjustments to the volume at the altar and ambo. Still needing to be addressed is the portable microphone issue that Fr. Riley wears for Mass.                                                                                                                                                                                         

                Partners in Charity: The amount collected is inching toward our goal, being well over 80% at this time. The hope is to have the campaign finished by the end of June.                                                                                              9th Division Memorial: Work is being done to upgrade the condition of the memorial on our grounds. It is being paid for by the group associated with the 9th Division, led by William Sauers of California.             

                Chair Agenda Items:                                                                                                                                                                       Elevator/Lift for Church basement. Fr. Riley mentioned he would contact Lauring Construction for an estimate on such a project for the basement.

                New Items:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Vacation Bible School. The question was asked as to how we can draw more children to our Vacation Bible School, instead of the usual 6-10 children. Suggestions included using the Catholic Free Press, the Diocesan Dispatch, Opening Announcements at Mass, and letting parents know the camp has no cost.                                                                                                                                                      

                Closing Prayer: Offered by Deacon Kevin Deignan                                                                                                                                                            

Fr. Jim Boland’s Mass of Thanksgiving June 15 and Reception

The newly ordained Fr. Jim Boland will be here at Immaculate Conception to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, June 15 at 10:00. Fr. Jim will preside and preach. Following the Mass will be a reception of food and refreshments at the Fr. Connors Center where all parishioners, including those from the other two Sunday Masses, are invited to stop by and congratulate Fr. Jim.

Homily Pentecost Sunday Cycle A June 8, 2014

When a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife, their marriage in its earliest stages is a transition period. Ask any married person.

When a teacher who, for 30-40 years puts forth an effort that hundreds and thousands of students will never forget the impact the teacher made on their lives, as that teacher retires, there is a transition period from work to retirement. The same goes for many occupations.

When a 27-year old gets ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, like Fr. Jim Boland did today/yesterday, the earliest stage of priesthood is a period of transition, from seminarian, to Deacon seminarian, to priest.

When someone loses to death a person they love, in particular a spouse losing their best friend, there is a transition of heart, mind, and spirit that will last, not for a short time, but more than likely for the rest of their lives. Until that reunification in heaven.

When one Pastor is in a parish for a long period of time, and he becomes familiar with the lives of many of his parishioners over the years, and a new Pastor comes in to replace him, there is a transition period for both the people of God he will serve and the new Pastor. Also, a few people see such a change as an opportunity to transition and travel to another community of faithful Catholics.

So, there they are. The Apostles are sitting in the Upper Room, where the doors are locked, bolted, slammed shut, with chairs, couches, televisions, refrigerators, washers and dryers, and the kitchen sink up against the door in such a way where even Jesus can’t open it, or an ant cannot crawl underneath. It’s a good thing Jesus is no longer subject to the laws of space and time in his resurrected state. It’s the only way he can make it into their presence, by traveling through objects, because even God cannot open that door.

Jesus appears before them with a message of peace and sending. The peace will remove their fear. The sending forth in its earliest stages is their time of transition. They will transition from being fishermen, tax collectors, and whatever else they did, to being the first priests and only Apostles. It’s quite a change. Just ask Fr. Jim next week. It’s quite a change from pulling in a net on the Sea of Galilee to leading souls to heaven. It’s quite a change from being a tax collector like Matthew who probably cheated countless people to traveling to unknown places preaching that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead.

How can they do such a thing, and be good at it? And I mean really good at it! How can they shift from a lifestyle and routine they were settled in and comfortable with, and begin teaching to strangers Christian doctrine that has held up for two millennia? And will hold up until the end of time? This can be said with complete certainty because of the answer. The answer being that the Spirit of God protects and secures all transitions in life that find their source in God’s will.

All transitions that happen over a lifetime, from the easy ones to the tough ones, the question to be asked in all of them is, “What is God’s will?” And, “How is the Spirit of God going to bring forth good, especially from the bad events?” When such questions are placed into the mix of our lives, especially lives in transition, then the Spirit is allowed to lead, we allow ourselves to follow, and understanding to some extent can be ours. But it must be dependent upon the Spirit of God.

All of us to one degree or another can relate to the events of Pentecost. Today is a celebration that tells us there is a great force, a sure power, and a firm conviction Who sustains our lives. To have such an awareness is a blessing. This is one of the things I love about Fr. Jim Boland; he knows it’s the Spirit who has guided and brought him to this place in his life. Where he will now stand at the altar and offer sacrifice; where he will preach the Good News of Jesus Christ; where he will lead others closer to their Lord in ways of faith and good works.

To have such an awareness is a blessing. Because our world is filled with folks who think they can go it alone. As hard as anyone tries to go it alone, they will never succeed. One cannot be considered “successful” when they leave out the most important Person on the stage. We can pretend he’s invisible, or non-existent, or on another stage in another world somewhere. But pretenders who reject the Spirit of God ultimately realize their lack of joy.

When the disciples saw Jesus, the Gospel tells us they rejoiced. They couldn’t contain their emotional high from heaven. They laughed and smiled and high-fived and sang “We Are The Champions.” They rejoiced! This was the start of their transition…and ours. From fear to rejoicing. And they will never go back to fear, or give in to it, or allow it to stop them from doing their Christian duty.

And neither should we ever fear such a thing. Don’t fear the world, my friends. Don’t fear circumstances and people who test your Christian mettle. Don’t fear those who tell us we are backwards, or living in the 50’s. Rather, invite them into God’s love and truth. Help lead them to a wonderful transition. We live in the resurrection. We are constantly in a state of transitioning closer and closer to looking on the face of Jesus, just as the Apostles did.

This Pentecost, allow the Spirit to help us through any darker moments that may be present. Have a heart that is open to God’s transforming presence. Know that each of us has been chosen to reveal the living Christ. Walk forth with courage and confidence. For the Spirit of God is alive, and he wants to live within you.

In this we rejoice, and give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love, his Spirit, endures forever.