13th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B June 28, 2015

Why do you follow Jesus Christ? If you sat down and came up with a short list of benefits on why you follow Jesus, what would that list look like? What would you write down?

Because, the truth is, we wouldn’t want to follow anyone unless there are advantages and benefits to following that person. It would be better and much healthier to just stand on our own. I could come up with a long list of people I would not follow for 5 seconds, never mind a lifetime of placing hope in them. If I was driving behind them on the interstate, I would either slow down or speed up to get away from them. My “Do not follow” list is very long in the year 2015. My “I will pray for you” list is also very long in 2015.

So, why do you follow Jesus? Have you ever reflected on that question? There’s a couple pretty good reasons in the Gospel: healing and power over death. If you knew someone in this world who held that kind of power, would you follow them? Would you become their disciple? I certainly would. Just touch their tunic and be healed of that cancer or high cholesterol. Or, have them touch the hand of someone who just died, and have the dead person brought back to life. No tricks, no magic, no fooling, no deception. Just pure power over death.

As we know – I hope – there are many benefits and good reasons to follow Jesus. But it’s good to remind ourselves of some of those reasons lest we come here and go through the motions, fulfilling our Sunday obligation, moving on to breakfast until we return next week, I hope. It’s good to remind ourselves why we choose to continue to be Christian – for it is a daily choice at most of our ages – in a world where skepticism and doubt play a prominent role in the lives of so many people. Maybe even some of us.

To use some tennis language, advantage to Jesus in the life and death department. In fact, there is no other person who has lived and ever will live who holds the keys to life the way Christ does. When Jesus says, “Talitha koum,” his voice is the only voice the spirit of that 12-year old girl will hear, obey, and return to her body. And Jesus doesn’t even say, “Spirit of this young girl, whoever and wherever you are, return to her body.” The tender command is given directly to the girl like…she’s sleeping, and not dead. “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Very similar to the words, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus talks to the person, and the spirit knows what to do.

But, she is dead. Which is why all the people at the synagogue official’s house get angry at Jesus when he tells them she’s sleeping. So, who’s right? Who’s got the advantage, to use some tennis language? They’re both right! The people are correct in saying she died. But the higher truth is that she is sleeping because Jesus fully knows that he is going to raise her to make it appear to all present that…she was sleeping. He woke her up…from the other side of life.

Advantage Jesus in the category of life and death. If this reason is not on the very top of our list for following Jesus Christ – that he, and only he, has power over death, our greatest enemy – then the priorities of our faith are mixed up. Jesus’ power over death is the very first reason why I do what I do, and why I follow Jesus Christ the Savior of the world. Because I want life after my death, and, when Jesus returns in all his glory, I want it forever and ever in the resurrected body. Whatever that looks like! I don’t need to know all the details, but to trust in the number one reason why we follow the Christ.

A second reason to follow Jesus is the woman afflicted with hemorrhages. When I get to heaven I want to personally thank her for having the courage to, first, have the gall to touch the tunic of this God-man; second, to believe it was actually going to make a difference in her condition; and third, to possess the humility and honesty that she’s the one that touched Jesus’ garment when Jesus whipped around and said, “Who has touched my clothes?”

By the way, as a short aside, this question of Jesus, “Who has touched my clothes?” is why we cherish and hold dear relics of the saints in the Catholic Church. Because they are connected to the holiness of the person they belonged to.

Back to the woman I want to thank in heaven. The result of her touching the clothes of Jesus, which is her being cured, is why I want to follow Jesus. However, she had a great advantage over us. Her advantage was to live at the same time as Jesus in that short 3-year window of his public ministry; being present in the same location as Jesus, which most of the living world at that time was not; and, being fortunate enough that Jesus, while speaking, turned his back on her so she could sneak up and touch his clothes with faith in her heart. Her advantage was that she was there, in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Our present disadvantage, if you will, is that we have to wait. Yes, there are miracles each day, where God’s generous Spirit touches and removes diseases and ailments to the human body. But the advantage of following Jesus is that, just as that holy woman’s hemorrhaging stopped immediately upon touch, so will every attack on our bodies be done away with in the presence of Jesus. She waited 12 years for the Lord to show up. We wait also. We wait for this certain power of Christ to touch us. For most of us, not until after death.

The list is very long on the benefits of why to follow our Lord and Savior. These are only two of them at the top; power over death and freeing us from all disease, granting us peace. Know what Christ has planned for you for being faithful to him. And trust in the Lord at all times, for he is an eternal Rock.

 

 

12th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B June 21, 2015

God’s ways are not our ways. How many times have we heard those words? God’s mercy and forgiveness far surpasses the human capacity to forgive and show mercy.

God’s kindness and generosity far surpasses human kindness and generosity. We should take comfort in this divine truth.

Truth be told, none of God’s ways are our ways, because we can never reach the depth of virtues our Lord grant to us. Can anyone of us die for all people? Of course not! Yet St. Paul writes in today’s reading that “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.”

Can we set the limits and boundaries of the earth and sea? Of course not! Yet, there it is in Job; “Thus far shall you come but no farther.” No wonder why people love the ocean so much. Because where the water kisses the land is found the direct handiwork of God. The voice of God that said, “No farther than this.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Can we command the storm at sea to be still? Of course not! But there’s Jesus, speaking to destructive weather like it’s a child who fully obeys their parents. The weather has ears. It hears the voice of Christ and obeys.

Even though this Gospel is unlike last week’s Gospel, which was a parable (mustard seed), for this Gospel is a real story, it’s necessary to tap into the rich symbolism evident here where nature obeys the voice of God. And the revelation of these readings is that God has put limits and boundaries to nature. Contrary to popular thought, boundaries are a natural part of nature. “Thus far shall you come and no farther.” Why? Because if you go past this boundary, you are going to destroy your body and soul.

This is an important understanding for us today as we live in a time where many think that freedom means to do whatever we feel like doing with nature and elsewhere, as long as we don’t hurt anyone. Instead, God draws a line in the sand and he says, “Don’t go any further. If you go past this boundary I’ve created for you, then you will destroy yourself. You will be the cause of your demise.”

Now what’s important to understand here is that God has placed these boundaries not only for nature, but also for human nature. There are situations today, however, in our culture and world where human nature has crossed the boundary that God has created for us so that we do not destroy our bodies and souls. Where Jesus has said, “Quiet, be still!” but we’ve said to our Creator and Savior, “No, we won’t be quiet and still. We will cross the boundary because we can.”

 

 

A couple of examples. First, one boundary that many nations, communities and individuals struggle with today is the boundary of peace. Some nations and communities remain at war with each other. The courts are overflowing with business. And individuals are at war with themselves.                                    There are also many good people who yearn for peace in their lives, who seek peace on the level of nations and communities, who just cannot capture it. Where peace is like a loose, wild animal we cannot control and tame. Where peace is elusive. But they try.

Whichever one we are, whether we desire peace and cannot capture it, or we live lives of internal strife without any regard for the dangerous consequences, our Lord has established a boundary of peace. The boundary is his Cross. Be as quiet and still as the dead body of Jesus on the Cross, which makes no sound and does not move. What does this mean, that the boundary of peace for us is his Cross? The answer is familiar. It means that in dying for all, as St. Paul writes, our boundary for personal peace and world peace is realized in his sacrifice for us. This is why Paul glories in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s where he finds peace in the midst of all the violence perpetrated upon him for preaching the Good News. How is that? Because he knows without hesitation or doubt that Jesus has conquered the world through his death. To not fully embrace this fundamental truth of our faith is to invite war and strife into our lives. Where the boundary of peace Christ has won for us will be crossed into an area he wishes us not to go.

In the words of St. Cyprian from the 3rd century, “The greatest offering we can make to God is our peace.”

And second, in about a week or so, the U.S. Supreme Court filled with a majority of Catholics will reveal their decision on the topic of marriage. It’s almost a given they will decide – or have already decided – that marriage is a constitutional right for all relationships between two people, which opens the door for three and four people. Nine men and women in need of salvation will legally decide what the definition of marriage is. If that doesn’t place some fear into your heart, then it should.

In the words of the well-known Protestant, John Calvin, “Marriage is not a thing ordained by men. We know that God is the author of it.” Do we really know that today?

God set the boundaries and shorelines on marriage with Adam and Eve. It was with Adam and Eve that Jesus said, “Quiet, be still! Know your limits!” Well, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that man has gone way past those limits. And if I had to take a guess, I would say that nine men and women in need of salvation are about to take the beautiful Sacrament of Matrimony and push it even further past the boundaries of human nature established by God in the Garden of Eden.

In the meantime, marriage as ordained by God must be preached and taught as the one and only true form of marriage. Any other “marriage” is a government marriage, which is not a marriage in the eyes of God, but a creation of man.

Jesus tells the wild storm, “Quiet, be still!” Stay within the loving boundaries God has set for our own good purpose. We can trust those boundaries, because they are not human boundaries, but divine boundaries and limits that lead to peace, healthy relationships, and eventually eternal life.

 

Parish Council Notes June 14, 2015

Present: Deacon Kevin Deignan, Matthew Foster, Ann Marie Sheehan, Josephine Ferry, Pauline Flynn, Christopher Klofft, Stephen Sycks, Fr. Walter Riley                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Fr. Riley opened the meeting with a prayer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Stephen Sycks reported on the finances of the Parish. Steve said the parish is doing better financially than last year, which was a good year. There are no outstanding bills, and the parish at this time is in a good financial place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Fr. Riley reported on a number of topics.                                                                                                                             On Partners in Charity, he said the Parish is at 86% of our goal. This would be consistent with past years when the goal was reached at some point in July. He said he’s hoping for the same this year, if not sooner.                                                                                                                                                                                        The Pope Francis Fundraiser for our youth was a success. The amount raised for the trip in September just about covers the cost for the youth and the chaperones who will be attending.                           There will be a $500 scholarship in memory of Francis X. Mahoney on behalf of our Parish Activities Committee. Fran was a member of this committee. The scholarship will go toward a college age or parochial school student with questions they need to answer and forward to the committee.                 Fr. Riley is hoping to start a Bereavement Group in the parish. The hope is that this will assist those who are presently struggling with the death of a loved one.                                                                                        Our Parish will be hosting a group of men and women connected to Fr. Connors’ 9th Division. They are relatives of veterans of the 9th. They will be here at Immaculate Conception for the 4:00 Mass followed by dinner on Saturday, July 25. This group meets once a year in different places throughout the country, and this year their desire is to visit the memorial, of which many of them have never seen.                                                                                                                                                                                                        Our Parish secretary Sharon Rainville is retiring on June 30 after 20-plus years of dedicated service to Immaculate Conception. Parishioner Bob Noberini will be the new Parish Office Manager.                           It was suggested that a memorial garden be established somewhere on our parish grounds. An announcement will be placed in our bulletin soon for anyone who may be interested in maintaining a garden for our deceased loved ones.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Chair Agenda Items (Matt Foster):                                                                                                                                          A new phone system is being installed in the rectory with the end of the present lease on June 30 at the cost of approximately $2000. The new system will be an updated one with easier features to understand and implement, and will pay for itself over the course of a few years, eventually saving the parish financial costs from the present system.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Other Council Members:                                                                                                                                                             Christopher Klofft has approached Bishop McManus regarding the topic of the canonization of former Pastor Fr. Ed Connors into the Communion of Saints. The Bishop was supportive of it, and would initially like to speak with members of our parish who knew Fr. Connors.                                                 Dr. Klofft will also be giving a talk on sexuality and marriage in our Church basement on Monday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                             Stephen Sycks suggested a group be formed in our parish for the purpose of mutual marriage support and possibly be mentors for couples who are newly married.                                                                                               Steve also brought up the idea of putting air conditioning into the Church. The idea was tabled until the next meeting. He also brought forth the idea of creating a ministry work chart that displays the many different ministries in our parish, with the hope that others will become involved in various ministries.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Our next Parish Council Meeting will be held in September. Happy summer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Deacon Kevin Deignan closed the meeting with a prayer.                                                                                           

               

               

11th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B June 14, 2015

All I know is that if I planted a mustard seed, it would not spring up and become the largest of plants, where all those birds could nest and create their home. The reason being I have the opposite of a green thumb, whatever color it happens to be.

But not to worry, God is the one who does the planting. Or at least enough of it.

There are some sets of readings during the course of the Church year that call us right back to the basics of our faith. Where the message never gets old and tired of hearing. This week we have one of those sets of Scripture readings.

When Jesus starts talking in parables, interpretation can go in many different directions. But at the heart of all parables is a central theme and message that is consistent with the life, death, and resurrection of the One who is teaching the parable. In the case of the mustard seed, the theme is always about growth.

The mustard seed, if you don’t mind me using a metaphor about Jesus’ parable, the mustard seed is like our conception in the womb of our mothers. We all remember that, right? So, in a real sense, everyone of us is a mustard seed. We have all come forth from the womb of our mothers. The growth of the mustard seed that we are took place over the course of 9 months – some of us a little early, some of us a little late, some of us right on time. And then, after 9 months or so, our mustard seed began its growth outside the womb, but within the confines of this great big world we live in.

Now, if our image of our mustard seed is the growth of our bodies over time, then that’s understandable. But I wish to change that image. At some point, the mustard seed that Jesus talks about in the parable shifts from the growth of our bodies to the growth of our souls. This is the fascinating part of our humanity. That our mustard seed, at some point in life, is a meant to be a natural growth from the physical to the spiritual, where the spiritual becomes the essence of our growth, and what it means to grow.

Yes, we may gain a pound or two or three if we enjoy a hearty meal at Wright’s Chicken Farm, or a cookout with way too much food to enjoy. We may grow physically in the wrong direction after a day of consumption. But as adults, we’ve pretty much reached our limit as far as physical growth goes. Where the physical mustard seed has maxed out, even though the battle is constant.

But the mustard seed of growth that Jesus refers to is the continuous growth of our souls. What makes this possible? What makes it possible for each of us to be the largest of spiritual plants where birds of the air can come by and feel comfortable enough to build a home on our branches? This where we go back to the basics.

All of Jesus’ parables are centered in faith. Faith in him, and not in the world. There’s a big difference. One will bring our mustard seed to full growth, while the other can easily crush the plant and destroy our souls.

Faith in Jesus Christ, the basics, means that we believe in our heart of hearts that he is the Word made flesh, that he suffered and died for each of us, that God raised him from the dead, and that we will be given the same reward. Such faith waters the mustard seed, whatever the size of our bodies, allowing that spiritual plant within us to grow, and grow, and grow, until the day of our transformation from life to eternal life. Without such faith, where there is doubt and too many unanswered questions that limit our trust in God, then as the body gets bigger, the mustard seed shrinks. Where there is skepticism and doubt in the love and teachings of Christ, then the mustard seed returns to the womb of our mother where it cannot be seen because it is too small.

After faith, there is the second part of what Jesus’ parables are centered in; that being good works. The basics of our faith. St. Paul calls this faith working through love. And since love is not a feeling but an action in Christ, then love is best manifested in the good works that reflect the presence of God within. Faith alone is not good enough. Faith alone restricts our spiritual growth. Faith is faith when it is alive and working toward spreading the kingdom through acts of love.

How is this connected to the mustard seed? The good works we perform in our lives, with a genuine desire to perform good works, is essential to the growth of our mustard plant. Not faith alone, but faith working through love is the two-fold formula that deepens our personal relationship with Christ. Mother Teresa was not even 5 feet tall. But she was the largest of plants in the 20th century, was she not? She probably never weighed over 100 pounds, but she was the biggest of Christian plants.

And finally, this image that Jesus gives in the Gospel of birds of the sky dwelling in the shade of the mustard tree…It’s a wonderful image in the parable of others coming to us and not fearing us. The birds are those brothers and sisters who are loved and made comfortable by us. For Blessed Mother Teresa, the birds would be all those homeless and unwanted children in Calcutta she held in the shade of her tree, in her arms. Do we make a home for the sick and suffering? Do we make our mustard tree a place where gathering peacefully in Christ is the goal?

Faith and good works. Faith working through love. The basics of our Catholic faith. The formula for growth of our mustard seed that began in the body, is transformed into the growth of our spirits, culminating into our entrance into eternal life, where we rest in the shade of the mustard tree of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

 

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Cycle B June 7, 2015

One of the first things we teach our children is to share. Share the toy they are playing with. Share the food they are eating, which is always an interesting proposition. Some kids share their food naturally where they pick up a piece of Kraft’s macaroni and cheese and extend their hand to you. With their hands filthy and wet, along with their faces, the last thing you want to do as an intelligent adult who understands the world of germs is to take the piece of macaroni and cheese from their hand and place it in your mouth. So, you either take it and fake like you ate it, or, you say, “No, no, I don’t want to eat your food. That’s yours!” So we teach them how not to share. Good job! Congratulations!

Either way, sharing we know is high on the list of Christian virtues. It makes people, even children, feel good about ourselves when we do it. There’s something that reveals the heaven and the Spirit within us when we share our possessions. It allows for a genuine sense of caring, of giving a part of ourselves to someone else who is either in need or just wants some or all of what we have.

Sharing takes us out of our comfort zone at times, especially if we’re going to share our money or food with some person standing at a corner with a sign. You know if you do that, everyone else in the area is going to look at you and check out what you’re doing. “Is Fr. Riley giving that guy some money, or is he giving his some grief about his sorry plight? Looks like he’s giving him some cash.”

Everybody looks when you do that, which is only one of a long list of reasons why some people can’t be bothered to share in that situation. “I don’t want anyone looking at me sharing!” I’m glad Jesus didn’t say that about us. In fact, he wants the whole world to see him sharing himself with us.

The feast of Corpus Christi is a feast of sharing. And it happens at the most meaningful feast of all; the Last Supper. Today is a celebration of the most Catholic form of sharing and the most loving form of sharing we can experience in our faith. So make it a point to share something of yourself today that we normally would not do. Go out of your way to imitate the holy meaning of this most holy day, and make a difference in the life of someone.

Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Jesus Christ, is best seen in our actions towards others.

I was at a gathering this past Friday evening at Worcester State University for what is called the 365Z Foundation, named in memory of Zachary Ford by his family, who sadly passed on to God’s glory a few years ago. The purpose of the foundation, at the heart of it, is the message of performing one kind act every day in memory of Zachary. 365Z. You name the act; you choose the act; you decide the implementation of the kindness performed. And when I reflect on this foundation, I can’t help but notice the symbolism and close connection to the Eucharist we consume; an objective to share the light within us; the goal of giving oneself to another in word and deed. For all acts of Christian sharing brings home the meaning of Corpus Christi.

Mark’s Gospel this Sunday takes us to the place that can only be called the epicenter of all sharing, the Upper Room. It’s where all meaningful sharing in our lives come forth from, and where it is sustained over the course of our journey with Christ. As Catholics, we are incredibly blessed with a distinct spiritual advantage in our reception of the Eucharist.

The Gospel’s conversation begins with the Disciples asking Jesus where can they go in Jerusalem and prepare a place “for you,” Jesus, to eat the Passover. They do not say “for us” to eat the meal, but “for you,” meaning Jesus alone. It’s a nice expression of ministry. It’s almost like they are deacons, doing the work of setting up the altar, before they become Jesus’ priests that same night.

And the words “for you” also express how we do not incorporate ourselves into the body of Christ. Rather, Jesus invites us into the body of Christ, the Church. What makes this possible are the words of our Lord in the Gospel, “Where is my guestroom that I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” With our Lord, it is never about him alone. It’s never about just caring and being concerned for himself. Or eating by himself. His Passover is our Passover, thanks to his sharing.

And what does he share? “Take it; this is my body.” 365Z, every day; this is my body. Share his body. If we profess to be Catholic Christians, we will share his body in all parts of our lives, and make it a point to do so. There is no part of our lives that leaves aside the power of the Eucharist for Catholics. And it shouldn’t matter if a million people are looking. The more, the better. Maybe they’ll copy your act of love.

And then what does Jesus share? “This is my blood of the covenant.” It’s a covenant of unconditional love. What makes it unconditional, meaning no conditions, is that it’s God’s blood. We receive that very blood in our reception of the Eucharist. Allow the blood of Christ to run through your veins and permeate our actions.

Corpus Christi is a feast day of sharing. Even most children know this. God has shared himself with us in the Upper Room so that we may transform this broken world. Every act of sharing is a true expression of Eucharist. Don’t be stingy, but be generous in the same way Christ has been generous to us by inviting to his table.