1st Sunday of Advent Cycle B November 30, 2014

Watch! Be alert! Return!

And so the Season of Advent begins with Jesus’ call to attention. Attention of the mind, heart, and soul.

With the word “Watch,” Jesus is obviously not referring to Timex, or Rolex, or Omega. They all make for nice watches, especially the Rolex. Our Lord’s use of the word “Watch” is not for the purpose of owning an instrument that tells time, but for the purpose of being prepared for a certain time, whatever the time of day happens to be. Jesus’ “Watch” is not, as he says in the Gospel, not directed at evening, or midnight, or cockcrow, or in the morning, or even lunchtime at Noon. That’s for the Timex’s, the Rolex’s, and the Omega’s. Jesus’ “Watch” is meant to direct our gaze at a Person. When is that Person returning? When are they showing up? It’s more than times of the day, or days of the month, or months of the year, or even years of the decade.

Our Lord’s purpose for the word “Watch” is that our souls not be caught sleeping. In this regard, the first thought that comes to mind in today’s religious thinking and in this time of religious indifference is the person who views Church as not being necessary for the salvation of their souls. Such a person would be a sleeping soul who has stopped “watching.” There’s no effort, no participation; it’s not necessary. I know I’m preaching to the choir. But I say it anyway because I’m sure we are all familiar with people we know, be it family, friends, fellow workers, who live this false testimony in their lives. They are presently sleeping. Their souls are slumbering, where “Watch” is a word, not for the coming of Christ, but for the Rolex Watch, looking for when the next event begins that draws their soul into an even deeper sleep. For the deeper the sleep, the greater the distance between God and us, where there is no watching.

Our Lord’s “Watch” is for him. And for him alone. Not a piece of metal with second, minute, and hour hands. Jesus’ “Watch,” when open to it, is a watching for his presence in our lives. And that simply cannot be underestimated in importance.

In order to recognize his appearance, Jesus then says “Be alert.” Being alert is for us to take on the purpose of this short season known as Advent. When you’ve been out driving, and your sitting at a light somewhere, be it Gold Star Blvd, or West Boylston St., or somewhere along Park Ave., and you’re in a small line of traffic (or a long line) where our vehicle is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or further back in line, and the light changes from red to green, and the car in front of you doesn’t move… They’re too busy talking on the phone, or sending a text, or, God forbid, they’re having a medical emergency. And…you wait a few seconds, which seems like an eternity, you want to lay on the horn, and…finally, they start moving. What a relief! That’s putting it the nice way.

For myself, I count to three very quickly, and then I lay on the horn. UPS taught me well. Seconds count! But that driver in the vehicle in front of you (and it’s always them because we ourselves never do this!), they are not very alert for the return of the green light that means “Go.” The person was not sleeping; they were wide awake; but they were not anticipating the change from red to green.

Spiritually, being alert in regard to how Jesus uses this two-word phrase is to be aware of our surroundings. To not fall into traps set by the Devil. It is to be wise enough to see a danger for what it is. And to avoid it. Sin and slumber, along with texting while driving, weakens our being alert for Jesus Christ.

But what to do if we get slothful with our faith and soil the soul? Jesus says, “Return.” This word opens the door to the Season of Advent. The Season of Advent takes on for us this spiritual aspect of Lent; return to the Lord.

As Catholics, how do we do this? Returning to the Lord always starts with the undeserved grace that comes to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Which, by the way, our 2nd grade religious education class will be receiving next Saturday.

There are a couple of present spiritual concerns associated with the word “Return” as connected to our Lord, and us returning to him. First, is what I would call the danger of expanding time, where the Rolex watch goes on and on and on, and the person wearing it does nothing for the cleansing of their soul. I had someone say to me just this week, where the topic of Confession came up quickly in our conversation (it just popped up out of nowhere…Thank you Holy Spirit!) that she hadn’t been to Confession for 25 years. That was probably a conservative estimate. I said “I’m available right now!” After a chuckle or two, the conservative estimate of 25 years continues. But it’s not a joke.

Returning to the Lord is made whole through the grace and power of this Sacrament. I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s necessary. It’s necessary in order to fully return to God’s banquet.

And second, the other danger associated with the word “Return” is the twisted thought that we have nothing to confess. “C’mon, Fr. Riley, start my canonization process right now! Tell Pope Francis to include me in the Communion of Saints even before I croak!” Well, such thinking proves beyond a reasonable doubt that pride is working is such a person’s heart.

Let none of us think we are sinless. That thought originates in the demon disguising himself as an angel of light. We are in need of “returning,” because we are all in need of constant conversion.

The 1st Sunday of Advent; “Watch,” not the metal kind on our hands, but the Divine Person who comes to us. “Be alert,” be ready for the light to change, and be alert for the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. And “Return;” come to the Sacrament of God’s grace and forgiveness. It sets the table for the Lord’s return to us.

Council Meeting Minutes

Parish Council Meeting  Minutes 24NOV2014

              Present: Steve Sycks, Barry O’Conner, Josephine Ferrie, Ann Marie Sheehan, Christopher Klofft, Polly Flynn, Deacon Kevin Deignan, Fr. Walter Riley      and Matthew Foster     

 

Opening Prayer, led by Fr. Riley              

              Financial Report:                                                                                                                                                         Steve Sycks addressed the fiscal year end for the parish as very strong and set the stage for a conversation on how to approach the upcoming yearly budget and continues to convert existing line items into QuickBooks in an effort to modernize the accounting system. 

              Fr. Riley Agenda Items:                                                                                                                                             Addressed the possibility of a sign provided by Catholic radio, presented schematics that were meant to help the council agree, but rather presented more questions as to the nature of the size and usage.  Father Riley agreed to clarify the remaining concerns with Catholic radio and return to the next council meeting with info for a final decision. 

Also discussed was the Church floor (around the Altar) and the sound system.  Father will be working with Mr. Derrick Stiles to test and define some requirements to solve the long running desire to improve the audio quality of the church.  Suggestion range a wide spectrum from carpeting to digital overhaul of the speaker system.

Spoke to the changes that would be made in transitioning the church lighting to LED in an effort to save the parish money on energy expense.  Discussed the impact and mode change that would be derived from this upgrade, as well as the benefits of improving the lighting.  This conversation evolved into looking into our current energy consumption and if changing the parish over to a fixed energy plan would be conducive and cost effective.

Also discussed the First Reconciliation and the Advent giving tree, as well as ideas for the parish giving back to the community in some way.  An idea of this that was popular among the council would be a hat/gloves/coat drive for the Christmas season.

Chair Agenda Items:  

Gave an update on the Ninth Division Memorial Archive project and estimated a release by the end of the year onto the parish website      

Closing Prayer: Offered by Fr. Riley                                                                                                                                           

Thanksgiving Day Mass

Our Mass for Thanksgiving Day, November 27, will be held at 9:00 a.m. We look forward to celebrating God’s countless blessings in our lives on this day for giving thanks. May God watch over our parishioners who are traveling this coming week to gather with family and friends, and may God bless our Christian community of Immaculate Conception.

33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A November 16, 2014

“Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into your Master’s joy. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.”

            That can be a little scary, coming from Jesus. And it certainly was for the Apostles when they all abandoned the Master at the end of his earthly life. They scattered like sheep when the Shepherd was struck. All except for the courageous John who witnessed the scene unfold on Golgotha. He was a good and faithful servant when push came to shove against the forces of darkness. When Cross-carrying became being nailed to it.

            But the rest of them? They were not so good and faithful servants in the bottom of the 9th inning of Jesus’ life. They were fearful, scared, shaking in their Apostolic boots, and buying triple bolt locks from Ace Hardware for their Upper Room doors. Along with closing the shutters and turning all the lights off because of the apparent hurricane of the religious leaders chasing after them. They wanted to be invisible, not visible good and faithful servants. And if there was any way whatsoever that being invisible was possible, they would have paid any price to have it done to them.

            But as we know in hindsight, they eventually became good and faithful servants who forever share in their Master’s joy, because, first, their Master is so generously forgiving, and second, because they embraced great responsibilities for the Lord.

            This is where this parable of Jesus gets so personal for all of us. The response of the master to the first two servants is a loaded response for us as servants of Christ, the one and only true Master.

            “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Jesus puts the words “good” and “faithful” in the same sentence intentionally. To be good alone is a good thing, but it’s not the best condition of service and praise for us Christians. To be faithful alone is a good thing too, but it doesn’t express the best condition spiritually for us. The spiritual condition we are called to in Christ is to be “good” and “faithful.”

            There’s a very familiar and oh-so popular secular thought today that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of many Christian men and women. Where it started and how it began is a job for the great theologians and philosophers to figure out. It’s next to impossible to pinpoint such thinking to an exact place and time. And the thought runs something like this; “As long as I’m a good person, then that’s all I need to be. As long as I treat people nice, respect their person and property, make no judgments about their choices, mind my own business while you mind yours, then that’s all I need to do. I’m not hurting anyone. And if I’m a good person, the reward that Jesus supposedly won for me on the Cross will certainly be mine. I will be singing with the angels and saints one day, praising God in heaven – even if I don’t praise Him here – enjoy the best Coney Island hot dogs I can find in eternity, and hang out with my family and friends because they’re good too. All I have to do is be good.”

            As far as whether such a person who believes this philosophy and makes it their own is going to make it to the place called the Banquet of Eternal Life, that’s God’s call, not mine. But one thing is without question; wanting to be a good person is good. But it’s not the best that Christ calls us to. Or the best a person can be. Jesus does not say in the parable, “Well done, my good servant,” unless we wish to circumvent Jesus’ parable along with its meaning and intention.

            If the Lord wants good only from our devotion and lived faith, then the servant who buried the talent entrusted to him would not be wailing and grinding his teeth. That doesn’t sound like a condition I would want for any of us. The servant who took the master’s talent and buried it was most likely a good person. Meaning, his heart was in a decent place. But more was expected and demanded of him according to his own talent.

            And there are some folks who think, “As long as I go to Church on Sunday, fulfilling my obligation, then I’m all set. I’m ready for heaven’s glory in case I get hit by a Sunday bus on Grove Street. I’ve been faithful to my obligation. I spent my hour in the holy space (35 minutes at the 7:30 Mass), responded to the prayers, received the Lord in the Eucharist, but when I walk out the door I separate the good from my being faithful.” Believe me, I preach to myself also here.

            This is a real spiritual danger for faithful people fulfilling our faithful obligation. The danger being we can take on Christian dementia the rest of the week with the goodness that our faith in Christ is meant to express all the time.

            The first two servants in the parable have it right. They’re entrusted with small matters, just as we are in Christ. There’s a hundred small matters every day that come into our lives. Jesus will make sure of that! And every now and then there are great matters, like the death of a loved one. The first 2 servants got it right because they were both good and faithful. Their goodness, their increase in talents, was accomplished because of their faith. The combination of the two, and not pushing either “good” or “faithful” aside, is why they could double the amount of talents for the master according to their capacity. Being just a good person was not good enough for them. Being just a good person pushes aside any demands on our lives by Jesus. In essence, it buries the talent we’ve all been given. This is why I shudder when I hear the good person philosophy. It leaves behind so much untapped and unused talent we have.

            “I’m good, you’re good. Let’s sing Cumbaya together and God will save us.” Maybe. Maybe not.

            But if one is a good and faithful servant, increasing our Lord’s presence and worth out there, then all maybe’s will be cast aside, as long as we seek God’s mercy.

            “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” That’s not a half-definition for servants of Christ. But the full definition of Christian servitude, which is what Christ calls us to.    

           

           

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica Cycle A November 9, 2014

I was asked recently by a Jewish man I know that if Jesus was a peaceful man, then why did he go into the Temple and become aggressive, turn tables over like they were filming an old Western movie, drive out the money-changers like they were stealing from the elderly, and so forth? Why did Jesus’ actions seem “out of character” at this one moment in his life for someone who is supposed to a peaceful person?

I answered this fine gentleman by way of justified anger. It’s not so easy explaining Christian theology to a Jewish man in the year 2014, but that’s pretty much what is needed to understand our Lord’s reaction the day he walked into the Temple and saw a farm and a flea market. Jesus’ anger was justified because the Temple is the holiest site in all of Israel, a place where God dwelled with His people most intimately, and that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish, and that any Jewish person should have been “filled with zeal” when witnessing the actions of those abusing the sanctity of the sacred space where God was present.

In the eyes and heart of Christ, our Lord saw his heavenly Father being abused and neglected in a place that called for prayer, honor, glory, and reverence. Jesus took it personally. Very personally. And he had every right to. Thus, the reaction.

Our Lord’s actions in this Gospel story from John’s 2nd chapter leads us to the understanding and teaching that there are such places as sacred spaces. And that no open and obvious profanity is meant to be carried out in that area. That’s easy enough. We all know this. This is why we gather here to praise God as an assembly of faithful.

But Jesus, in his reaction to the question asked him in the Gospel about what sign he can show them for creating an unholy mess with their businesses, he points to something greater and more significant. And it involves all of us. He points to his own resurrection. To his resurrected body. “Destroy this temple – which they will successfully do – and in three days I will raise it up.”

This most fundamental of Christian beliefs concerns not only our Lord. As I said, it concerns each of us too. What Jesus pointed to that day in the Temple where his zeal was present for all to see, and got angry about, was the day when we also will be raised in the temple of our bodies. And this is why the body is sacred. Because Jesus made it so in his resurrection.

If his body had decayed, and stayed in the tomb, and he never walked out and met Mary Magdalene in the garden, and never ate breakfast with a few of his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, then I would never have an answer that makes any sense for the Jewish man who asked me why Jesus, a man of peace, got angry in the Temple. Instead, the answer would have to be, “”He’s mad! He’s nuts! He’s crazy! He lost it for no good reason! He hit one bad golf shot so he picked up his whole bag of golf clubs and threw it all in the water! Including his wallet and cell phone!” This is the difference the resurrection makes. It makes our zeal for God explainable and reasonable.

All the readings this Sunday in our celebration of the Lateran Basilica in Rome reflect the importance of the body. Pope Francis caused a little stir – or not so little stir – recently when he said that evolution can be consistent with the concept of creation. With God’s plan of creation and growth. And, if evolution is the blueprint for God’s plan of creation, then at some gradual point in the present process, this is what we have come to look like. Where the body is our sacred visible piece of priceless property. It is our Temple. And St. Paul tells us so. That we are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us.

So how we are to treat our bodies can be understood in two ways in relation to these beautiful readings on the image of Church. First, the way God treats our bodies – our basilicas – is consistent with the expectations of Jesus walking into the Temple on that fateful day. The expectation of Jesus was that he would walk in and see prayer, and worship; praise being given to God in the body of the Temple. This is our Lord’s expectation for us also. That our bodies will be used for the purposes for which they were created. Our bodies are not created for abuse, profanation, or disrespect like Jesus saw that day. They are created for proper love.

What is our Lord’s reaction when our bodies are used for selfish behavior; from assisted suicide to immoral sexual practices; to laziness, violence and abuse? Does our Lord enter and start turning over the tables of our sin and vice and throw us out of our own bodies? Or, does Jesus invite us to reconciliation? Does he invite us to go to the field hospital of the Church and turn over our misused tables, and replace them with tables of mercy, forgiveness, and good healthy choices? Yes, he does. Why? Because of the resurrection. We are destined for something greater in the body, but now is the time for preparation. Contrary to what today’s culture promotes, our bodies are not selfish entities. Instead, they are made for good works now and something much larger later.

And second, we are to treat our bodies in ways that reflect the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within. When Jesus walked into the Temple that day, the Spirit was far from the money-changers and bird-sellers. Our bodily choices reflect the nearness or distance of the presence of the Spirit. When we are guided by the holy teachings of our faith, and take them seriously, the Spirit is truly within. If we choose to allow the false teachings of our world to be our guide, then the Spirit is strangely absent. We become subject to the spirit of the world, and not the Spirit of Christ. There is much in the way of confusing the two spirits today, when there doesn’t need to be. Follow our faith.

So, a very nice Jewish man asks a question about another Jewish man’s reaction in the Temple. The answer is found in his resurrection. The answer is also found in our bodily connection to the one who is raised.

All Souls Day Cycle A November 2, 2014

John’s Gospel, chapter 6 could well be one of the most compelling and loving chapters in the entire New Testament. Not only does Jesus give us the Bread of Life Discourse toward the end of the chapter, where we hear our Savior speak the words that we accomplish every Sunday, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.” Words that are the deepest joy for those present, and an unspeakable loss for those who are not.

But also chapter 6 of John’s Gospel is a testament to the promise of our being in God’s eternal possession. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, as Isaiah so eloquently tells us in the Old Testament. A prophecy that points to the One who is to come. But, we may forget or fail to see that Jesus is not only the Prince of Peace, but that he is also a fighter. He fights for what belongs to him: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me…This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.” Those are fighting words.

To not lose anything that has been given to Jesus, meaning, to not lose anyone whose ultimate destiny is life with the saints, takes a fight. And Jesus fights the evil forces present in his time. He fights the evil forces present today in our time – there are so many I wouldn’t know where to begin. And he eventually fights in his life the number one evil of all time, death itself.

As a priest, it fills me with joy when All Souls Day falls on a Sunday and the universal Church celebrates this day as a whole, and all that it signifies. If this commemoration is not on a Sunday, which most years it is not, them a lot of us Catholics are unable to gather in the sacred space because it’s not a day of obligation like All Saints Day is, except when that day falls on a Saturday.

I love All Souls Day, November 2, on a Sunday, because it’s a day that touches the lives of all of us to one degree or another. And I love it not because we are all going to die. That would morbid. But we are to love this day because we all have loved ones who have died from this world, who have come into the presence of God to receive their judgment. And, I suspect very strongly, in most cases, they are seeking our prayers, our intercession, and our holy worship on their behalf. All Souls Day is a needed and necessary reminder on the Church’s calendar that we recall those who have died, and that we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for them, and that we pray for the repose of their souls.

In today’s 1st reading from the Book of Wisdom, which is read at many funerals, we heard the very comforting words, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” I’ve heard this reading so many times I could probably recite it backwards with my eyes closed! They are such words of comfort at a time when comfort is needed. And the reading goes on, “They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead…But they are in peace.”

These words offer a mental post-death image we want so much for our loved ones who have gone to their eternal dwelling place, whether that place is A, B, or C. And I pray that none of them are in C. But these words from Wisdom are meant to express more than a post-death image in our minds and hearts. They express a real promise from the living and true God. But also, no pun intended, we can also fall asleep with such comforting words. They become so comfortable for us, that it is very possible and likely they can make us a bit too complacent toward our solemn responsibility of offering the Great Prayer of the Mass for their souls. We are to never forget the souls of those we have loved and lost in the practice of our religion, in the many actions that express the aliveness and presence of our faith, from Mass to prayer to evangelizing.

On the other side of the comforting words in Wisdom lies the danger of spiritual complacency. All Souls Day is heaven’s reminder that we do not know with absolute certainty that the souls of our loved ones are in fact in the hand of God in heaven. They may likely be in the hand of God in Purgatory, where souls are cleansed, crying out for prayer, asking for remembrance at the Holy Altar, saying across the chasm, “Don’t forget me!”

These are the souls that Jesus fought for. He fought not only for the saints already in heaven’s glory. But he fought for all the saved. He fought the Pharisees and the Sadducees; he fought the demons that possessed his good people; he fought the Sanhedrin, mainly through his powerful silence; he fought Pontius Pilate, again through silence because not everyone can handle the truth; he fought the pain and scourging and the weight of the Cross. Finally, Jesus fought death. He lost for a few days. Then he won forever. Jesus fought for the souls of the just, for our loved ones and for us.

On our part, an aspect of our faith in Christ is to “fight” for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. For those who have received the seal on their foreheads. Chances are pretty good that will be us one day. We’ll be yelling across the skies to our sisters and brothers, to our sons and daughters, to our grandchildren, “Pray for me. Pray for me so I can be in the hand of God in heaven.”

And if they’ve already come to their eternal dwelling place where they converse with Mary, Peter, Augustine, Francis, Clare, Catherine, John Vianney, Damien of Molokai, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Padre Pio, and John Paul II. If they are already conversing with all these Saints and many more that Jesus fought and died for, then the Masses we offer and the prayers we speak openly or silently will never be wasted by God who knows all.

He puts all spiritual devotion to the eternal benefit of those not to be lost, but raised on the last day.