Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Wednesday, April 3.

The tie-in in today's readings is sight.

Peter and John are walking towards the Temple in our First Reading, when they stop to see the man begging.  Before he heals the man, what does Peter say?  I never noticed this before.  He says, "Look at us".  He wants the man to see that Peter and John are not dressed wealthy.  They don't have a kit with medicines or a book with incantations or spells.  They have nothing, but the promise Jesus Christ gave them, "I am with you always".
Eye contact is a lost art.  Look around the next time you are on a train, in a diner, or at your family's dinner table, and you're bound to see 50% of the people there looking down towards some display screen.  Because of that, besides the art of conversation, we've lost the art of making eye contact with other persons.  A family I knew in a previous assignment always amazed me, because the dad made a point of teaching his young children (especially the boys) how to greet someone: with a firm handshake, looking the other person in the eyes, and a greeting made in a clear voice (not a mumble).  These boys are now high school and college ages, and I'm sure they've benefited from dad's lesson.
The Responsorial Psalm today hints at sight: "Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord."  Seeking the Lord; looking for God in our life.  Look at our church, beautifully decorated for Easter.  During Lent, it was empty, stark, the statues covered.  Now, it looks like there isn't a place here that doesn't have a plant or flowers on it.  The only "empty place" in Easter is the tomb that used to hold Jesus.  It's empty because Jesus stepped off the slab and out of it, because He is alive and present to all of us.  He's had a bit of a day this first Easter Sunday: from the early morning conversation with Mary Magdalene, to an appearance to Simon Peter, to an appearance to the ten (Judas was dead and Thomas was absent), and now on the road heading out of Jerusalem.  Risen from the dead, he is no longer bound by time and space.  He can be in many places at once, which he does even now, like the prayer says, "in all the Tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time."  Jesus is present everywhere; we just have to have a heart that seeks Him.

Now the Gospel.  How many times in Scripture does Jesus put Himself in the middle of two people?  James and John want (and their mother wants them) to get the seats on the right and left of Jesus.  He spends time refereeing between the sisters active Martha and contemplative Mary.  He gets crucified between two thieves, one demanding a jailbreak and the other asking to be remembered.  Now He is on the road to Emmaus, between two men.  We only know the name of one of them, Cleopas, and he has no trouble letting his anger and frustration out.  They're walking with Jesus, but they don't recognize Him; they don't see Him.  Only at the end, when He breaks the bread, do they see who was with them all the while.  What a lost opportunity.  "If only we recognized Him sooner", they must have thought.

The Church just gave us six weeks to look for Jesus Christ in our lives.  Now we have eight weeks of Easter to show Him to others.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reflections on Today's Gospel: Tuesday, March 26

At the beginning of Lent, on the first Sunday, the Gospel reading told us of the Devil's temptations of Jesus: "Turn stones into bread", "Throw yourself off the parapet", and "Worship me and these Kingdoms are yours".  Jesus fought them all, and won, and the Devil went away "for a while".

Today, in the Gospel passage about the Last Supper, we can see that the Devil is back.  He is a cunning fighter, and this time, he's not going after Jesus, but rather those close to him: namely Judas and Peter.  It's the next step in the battle against Christ; if the Devil can't hurt Jesus, he can certainly hurt those around him.  And yet, Jesus is not defeated, because he sees beyond the battles to the whole war.

The word that ties both readings together is "glory".  Isaiah tells the story of the servant sent by God to restore glory to Israel.  Jesus is about to be beaten, humiliated, tortured, killed, and yet glorified.  Neither will be easy.  It's not easy to be a Catholic, if all we want is a good time.  But glory is found in the fight, even when popular opinion is against us.

Look at how Facebook is inundated with these equal signs, showing support for same-sex marriage.  Who can be mad at an equal sign?  It's the perfect symbol, though my inner math-geek says the congruent sign would be a more accurate logo.

To some extent, the gay community has a valid argument.  But not so much because the love of 2 men or 2 women can be exalted as a "marriage"; their argument has validity because more and more today, many marriages between a man and a woman have such lowered expectations and are so watered down, so superficial, and so non-committal that they may as well be civil unions.

The Scribes and Pharisees were the moral compasses of their time; their elite class claimed to show Judaism how one was to live in right relationship with God.  Then along comes Jesus, who challenges their authority and begins to poach at their flock with talk like, "You have heard it said..., but I say to you... ".  You can bet those who abandoned the Pharisees in favor of Jesus were called all sorts of names: "traitor", "hater", etc.

It's easy to be a Catholic when a new Pope is standing on a balcony and he's smiling and waving and seems like a nice guy.  It's easy to be a Catholic when you get, as it were, palms stuffed into your palms.  But it's hard to be a Catholic in standing for the truth even when the world will call you names like "bigot" and "homophobe" and accuse us of hate, all in an effort to get us to keep silent (or at least confused).

Feeling down because you're not willing to change your Facebook profile picture to an equal sign?  You're not alone.  Peter is the perfect patron saint of caving into the crowd's whim, just to get them off your back. Judas, though, he's got more to answer for.  He's not only doing what the crowd wants; on the inside, he has come to think that it's the right thing to do.  Only after the fact, when the deed is done and realizes both what he has done and how it cannot be changed, does he despair of his choices to the point of suicide.

Holy Week continues, and the time for Jesus' Passion is getting closer and closer.  Will we stay or will we run?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What was discussed?

Today's Vatican News Service blog reports about today's historic meeting between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.  In it can be found this blurb:
After a short time of prayer they went to the apartments' library where their private meeting began around 12:30pm. It is the library where the Pope normally receives important guests at Castel Gandolfo. Their meeting lasted around 45 minutes.
The world wonders what the two discussed, and I am proud to say I have a source at Castelgandolfo who has given me the highlights of the meeting:

  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have promised to pray for each other and remember each other at their respective Masses.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed to continue speaking by telephone.  No one can counsel the Holy Father better than the man who held the job himself.
  • The Holy Father and Pope Emeritus have agreed on joint custody of Abp. Gänswein.  Each gets 2 weekends a month, plus their name days (both Baptismal and Papal).  Vacations will be discussed as the situation arises.  Since Pope Francis and the Archbishop share the same given name, he gets first shot at birthdays, though Benedict will certainly be invited.  The two promised not to fight in front of him.
  • The two decided that Dick York was the best Darren, Sean Connery was the best James Bond, and Cheers was never the same after Shelly Long left.
  • Pope emeritus Benedict let the Holy Father know which bathrooms in the Papal Apartments have drippy faucets, and presented him with a collection of menus from restaurants in the Borgo Pio neighborhood that deliver.  Pope Francis presented Pope emeritus Benedict with a carton of cat food for the Castelgandolfo kitties and boxes of piano sheet music.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Weds, March 20

The day after St. Joseph's Day, and we jump back into Lent.

The readings today revolve around freedom.  We all love the idea of being free.  It is engraved into our American thinking that we are a free people in a free society.  Just don't smoke a cigarette in public or pour yourself a Big Gulp in Manhattan.

The Scriptures present us with a contradiction.

Jesus is confronting the Pharisees about their supposed freedom.  They think their devotion to the law has given them a freedom.  Really, as Our Lord points out, their freedom is a slavery.  It's not new, really.  My desire for junk food could make me a slave to either the treadmill or to Insulin (the choice is mine).  I might choose to smoke or to drink or to waste hours on the Internet in search of pornography, all in order to claim, "I am free!"  But the reality is that, after a while, the thing takes hold of chooser and makes him/her a slave to it.  How many people swore they would give up smoking when the cost of a pack of cigarettes reached a certain level?  Those Scribes and Pharisees are so proud of their status and supposed intelligence, that they feel they'll spot the Messiah before everyone else (or, because they're so special, the Messiah will naturally come and seek them out first before revealing himself to the rest of the world).  Their ignorance is on display for us to see.  The Messiah is close enough that they can smell on his breath what He had for breakfast, and they don't get it.  Sad.  For so many Catholics, pride has them thinking they know better than the Church.  That's it: they are slaves to their pride.

Then there are the three slaves: Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednago (Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael). In the words of Phil Esposito, "no doot aboot it", they are slaves, the property of the King.  Their disobedience has earned the King's wrath.  Being burned alive.  When they do polls every so often about the way people would least like to die, burning to death is always in the top few.  Come to think of it, why does this King have a furnace big enough have a party in?  The three see this furnace in front of them.  I'm sure they can feel the heat from it, just being in the room with it.  Yet they consistently refuse to act like slaves.  They are free, no matter what society or the King or his guards think.

Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin".  Imagine sin as one of those leg irons with the lead ball at the end.  That's what sin does to us: weighs us down, keeps us from moving freely.  Some people have so many of those irons on, they can hardly walk.  Some have been walking with one of those things on their leg for so long they have forgotten it's there and come to believe that's as fast as they can walk!  How many have let pride stop them from coming to Confession to get the chain broken?  What was that song from the Eagles?  "So often times it happens / that we live our lives in chains / and we never even know we have the key."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reflections on today's Gospel: Sat., March 16.

We know we're getting close to the end of Lent because the tones of the Gospel readings have changed.  At the beginning of Lenten season, the readings' themes were things like prayer, mercy, forgiveness, humility, almsgiving, etc.  Now, especially in this past week, the Gospels are confrontational.  All this week we've read the confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees.  "Who do you think you are doing this healing on the Sabbath?"  Who is he?  He is the Son of God, only you can't see that.

Now, in today's Gospel, we see them continuing in their anger, trying to get the Temple Guards to do their dirty work.  They find something to hang on to: The Scriptures say the Messiah will come from David's family and from David's town of Bethlehem.  Now they feel justified in not becoming followers; now they feel good about themselves, all over that one fact.  Why didn't anyone in that crowd say, "Let's go ask him where he came from"?

Nicodemus diffuses their momentum by asking, "Do we always condemn someone without hearing from them first?" He is one of those great characters of Lent through whom we see a progressive conversion.  In the 3rd chapter of John, he sees Jesus at night, not wanting to be seen publicly with Him.  Here he is now willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but still won't publicly support Him.  Finally, Nicodemus comes totally to Jesus in Passion account of Good Friday, how Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimethea in caring for the Lord's body, bringing with him costly spices to anoint His body and helping lay Him in the tomb.

So, they don't want to know where he is from; they've hung their whole argument against Jesus on one fact, and do not want to know anything different.  How many people do that today?  How many people (including out own Catholics) continue to criticize the Church for one issue or event, which they justify their whole disinterest or lack of involvement?

When I was a child, our neighbor had an angry dog.  But there was a big chain link fence between my yard and the dog's yard, so I knew the only thing the dog could do to me was bark at me.  Some Catholics have decided to stay on the other side of the fence, far away and uninterested from the Church.  More than a few like to straddle the fence, close enough to jump in if they want something from the Church, but also positioned far enough that they can jump away if the Church asks something from them.  Lent is the time to jump inside the fence, because that means I'm forced to deal with the dog I've been avoiding for all this time.

Who knows?  Maybe the dog will lick your face.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some random thoughts on Pope Benedict's upcoming resignation

I thought it would be a quiet Monday.

First, let's all take a breath and realize how unprecedented this is.  Yes, I know this has happened before, centuries ago, but nothing like it has happened since before America was discovered.  These are uncharted waters we are about to go through.  Scary?  Yes.  Uncertain?  Of course. Interesting?  You bet your bippy.

Canon Law allows for this to happen.  Canon 332, paragraph 2, says that the Roman Pontiff may validly resign his office if he does so "freely" (no one can hold a gun to his head and force him to resign) and that it be "duly manifested" (he can't do it secretly - the universal Church needs to know).  His resignation does not need to be accepted by anyone.  He essentially resigns to himself.

Now, to the haters, the conspiracy theorists, to those who pretend to advocate things like "tolerance" and "acceptance of all beliefs" (providing you agree with them), I say just shut your pie hole.  This isn't about some nasty scandal that is about to break.  This is about bad health.  Nor is this your foot in the door to open up your old playbook of, "Now can we have a discussion about ______?"  This isn't about what doctrine(s) will change.  They won't, even after the new guy is elected.  What, you can have a shifting paradigm every five years, and the Pope can't have one?

OK, so let's talk about bad health.  The Ratzinger family has had some bad health in it.  The Pope's father died two days after suffering a stroke in 1958.  The Pope's mother died from stomach cancer in 1963.  His sister is already gone.  He and his brother have had health scares in the past. Also, don't overlook the Holy Father's timing of the announcement.  He announced this on the Church's World Day of Prayer for the Sick (emphasis added).  In the announcement, he hinted to health setbacks in the last few months, saying that in order to perform the functions of the Pope, "...strength of mind and body are needed, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me...".  Yes, he is keeping the particulars private, but he is a sick man.  JP2, even at the last moments of his life, could communicate to aides in soft, mumbled tones.  How would the Church function with a Pope who has had a stroke, whose heart beats on but who cannot communicate with anyone?  He would not want the Church to endure that.

Also, from the start of his pontificate (when everyone assumed the new pope would be called John Paul III), the choice of his name showed he did not see himself as another John Paul II.  I'm sure he thought it heroic that Pope John Paul remained in office until his death, but it doesn't mean he felt obligated to do the same.  Every Pope is his own man.

Scott Hahn had a great anecdote/insight into the Holy Father's thinking on this:
Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed.  He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!
Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V.

Few people, however, noticed at the time.

Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.

In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.

Now let's talk a little about the Papacy.  Matthew 16:19 is the big passage - Jesus giving Peter the keys, meaning authority.  It refers back to Isaiah 22:22 and the taking away of the keys (aka stripping of authority) from one steward, Shebna, and giving it to another, Eliakim.  The keys are an office that can move from person to person, depending on whom the King chooses.  In this case, the keys are not being taken away, they are being given away.  But the idea is the same.

What happens to him afterwards?  He will NOT be an ex-Pope the way we think of former Presidents of the United States, showing up to give speeches and open shopping malls.  We probably will never see him again.  He most likely will not write publicly any more.  There is only one Peter at one time in the Church, and he knows a Pope and a visible former Pope would be confusing to the Church.  He will go back to being what he was, an ordained Bishop of the Catholic Church and a member of the College of Cardinals, though I'm sure he will not be at the Conclave that will elect his successor.  Because he is over the age of 80, he would not be allowed to vote for his successor, and even if the Cardinals elect him again, he may validly refuse election.

Despite what is being said on some stations (including some Catholic stations), the Pope has not resigned yet.  He has announced that he will do so on February 28 at 8:00pm.  Until then, he is fully the Pope.  Technically, he could change his mind and remain Pope.  He still has all the powers a Pope has ("supreme, full, immediate, and universal") in the Church.

What will happen next?  On the 28th at the proper hour, he will probably sign a document attesting to his renouncing of the Petrine office.  Perhaps the Dean of the College of Cardinals (Card. Sodano) and the Cardinal Camerlengo (Card. Bertone) will be present.  At that time the Cardinals assume trusteeship of the Church, and the Cardinals of the Church will be called to Rome for a conclave.  Without a funeral first, they can go right into their general meetings to handle the business of the Church.  They will have Mass every day, though this time not for the repose of the Pope's soul, but for guidance of the Holy Spirit on their conclave.  We will probably have a new Pope by Holy Week.

Maybe the Cardinals will start to arrive in Rome on their own.  Maybe he will resign in the presence of every Cardinal?  Again, this is new territory we're in.  If you want some reading on the topic, read Pope John Paul's 1996 Apostolic Constitution on the election of the Roman Pontiff.

How will the world respond to this?  Our culture says promote yourself.  Heck, why else would I be writing this blog?  Pope Benedict is voluntarily choosing to walk away from celebrity and power for the greater good.  He's not being paid to do so.  He won't write a book about it or tell Barbara Walters or Katie Couric about it.  The world won't get this because what the world holds up as success and happiness is not about anonymity or humility.

What a moment in the life of the Church.  I can't watch, but I can't not watch.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On the Feast of the Angelic Doctor

Pope Benedict dedicated three Wednesday Audience discourses to St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Directory page is HERE.  Look for them on June 2, 16, and 23, 2010.

Talk 1 is an overview of his life.
Talk 2 is his fusion of faith and reason.
Talk 3 is about the Summa.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jesus, the leper, and what hit me today

Today's Gospel reading at Mass tells a story we just heard last week about the encounter between Jesus and the leper that wants to be healed.  Well, okay, it's not the same exactly; today's passage is from Mark and last week's was from Luke.

Lepers lived a pretty rotten life.  Besides the results of the disease, they were expected to live a life away from society.  Leprosy was feared to be contagious, and so in order to not be killed for the good of society, you had to promise to "stay away".

The leper is cured by Jesus, and is now able to rejoin society, probably loving the crowds he can now walk amongst.  The irony here is that Jesus began his public ministry out in the streets, in the synagogue, etc., and now that he has cured the leper (and the leper won't keep his mouth shut about who cured him) Jesus is the one who now has to stay away from the crowds and retreat outside of the city.  In essence, Jesus not only cured the leper's malady, but also took on his burden of solitude.

How appropriate a day to talk about solitude, celebrating the feast of St. Anthony of the Desert.

The leper sought out Jesus.  He came looking for God.  Anthony also went looking for God, wanting to get closer to the Divine.  His way was radical, even in those times: live in a cave, get away from the "things" that block God from us.

Ten weeks ago everyone around me lost electricity for days.  Our "stuff" didn't work; we lost it.  No cellphone reception, no internet, no television, no malls, no supermarkets, no movies.  We all had food and water (not one person died of starvation or dehydration from Superstorm Sandy).  Yes, I did what I was supposed to do as a Pastor: I kept the normal schedule of Mass and Confessions, and we provided meals and water to those who came for it.  But, when that was done, how much time I could have spent praying, reading Scripture, even reading my class notes from Seminary days, and I didn't.

God gave me some solitude, and I resented it.  How addicted I am to things.

St. Anthony, pray for me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Let's talk about Baptism and Godparents

This is my bulletin column for the coming weekend, the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.


How fast the time goes! We began this Christmas season thinking about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and now we’re at the point of Jesus’ life where Our Lord is about thirty years old! Still, if Baptism brings us into the life of the Church, then Baptism is a “second birth” for anyone baptized, whether as a baby, a child, or an adult. This also gives me a chance to remind everyone about some of the FAQs (“Frequently Asked Questions”) Priests and Deacons receive about the Sacrament of Baptism, most of which involving Godparents:

1. Naming someone a Godparent for your child does not officially make them the guardian of the child, should something happen to you. Church law says that a Godparent should be chosen because this is a person “who will help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism.” If you want to officially name someone guardian of your children in case of death, that’s what a Will is for. A Godparent has no rights in civil law.

2. A person being baptized may have either one or two Godparents. If one Godparent is chosen, they can be either male or female. But if there are two Godparents, there must be one male and one female. For the most part, infants being baptized tend to have two Godparents, while adults being baptized tend to have only one.

3. Godparents, ideally, should be Catholics, since their primary role is to help the parents raise the child in the Catholic faith. The Church does permit a baptized Christian (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.) to serve as a “Christian Witness”, but in this case there must also be a Catholic Godparent. Because Godparents and Christian Witnesses are asked to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, non-Christians may not be Godparents.

4. Now, the biggie! The Catechism (par. 1255) says, “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life.” A Godparent should not be chosen just because they’re your best friend or a sibling or because they cried because you did not ask them the last time. When you ask someone to be a Godparent, you’re asking him/her to take on what I wrote above: to help the child lead a Christian life. How can they do this if they’re not practicing their Catholic faith themselves? If you wanted to learn to play the piano, would you hire someone who used to play but hasn’t touched the piano in 20 years? I have to say that most of the “angry” calls received at the Rectory have been about telling someone I couldn’t give them a sponsor certificate. Yes, I know you were baptized here. Yes, I know you went to Catholic school or CCD.  It's wonderful that, back in the day, you were an altar server for Msgr. Fillintheblank.  But that’s not enough. What have you been doing since then? Are you registered at a Parish? Do you attend Mass regularly (each week)?  If you are married, is the marriage recognized by the Catholic Church?

5. This goes out to either expectant parents who are planning to ask someone to be a Godparent, or maybe you yourself have been asked (or you’re pretty sure you’re going to be asked) to be a Godparent. First, congratulate yourself; it’s an honor to be asked. Second, know what you’re committing to: in God’s eyes, you are going to be “bonded” to the person being baptized. Not just for the 20 minutes of the ceremony; for the rest of your life.  You will be asked by the Church to make a vow, committing to work with the child’s parents to help him/her to see their faith as an important part of their life. Yes, it’s work. On the practical level, it might mean driving your Godchild to or from CCD classes when you’d rather stay in. It should mean sending a card to your Godchild every year on the anniversary of their Baptism. But it could also mean challenging or confronting your Godchild’s parents if they begin to slip in their practice of the faith (for example, they’ve stopped going to Mass or they’re more faithful to their child’s sports leagues than they are to God and the Church).  It means helping them keep their faith through their teen years, when they're likely to rebel against any authority.  It means being there when they're thinking of marriage or a religious vocation or need to be talked out of living with their boy- or girlfriend.  Hey, no one said this was going to be easy. So if you’ve been asked to be a Godparent, and you haven’t been that good at practicing your faith, you can always begin again. As soon as you’re asked to be the child’s Godparent (even if the baby has not been born yet), start attending Sunday Mass. Make sure you’re registered at a parish. Make sure the parish clergy know you’re going to Mass each week (either by making a point of stopping and shaking their hand after Mass each week, or by making sure your offering envelope is in the collection so it can be logged in, showing you were at Mass).

6. The Catholic Church has never refused anyone a Sponsor Certificate because they don’t like him or her. We don’t give a Sponsor Certificate when we cannot, in good conscience, certify that the person is a practicing Catholic (remember, we answer to God, too). Finally, if we can’t give you or your loved one a Sponsor Certificate, please don’t say, “This is why people leave the Church”. Truthfully, the person who is not getting the certificate already left the Church, whether you want to admit it or not. Don’t try to convince us that, if you or your loved one get the Sponsor Certificate, that you or they will start coming to Church again. The certificate is not about what you’re going to do, but what you’ve been doing (or not doing). Don’t bring up the fact that someone else you know got a Sponsor Certificate and you don’t think they should’ve. Maybe we know something you don’t, or maybe neither of us know the whole story. Similarly, don’t express your displeasure by bringing up the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, annulments received by any of the Kennedys, or any other item in the past. None of them had anything to do with the fact that you’re not getting the sponsor certificate. Rather than storming out the door to tell everyone what the mean Church wouldn’t give you, ask calmly what the person could do in order to be a good Godparent. You might find out the solution is pretty easy.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

B16 on the Magi - and what can we learn?

One of the things I am grateful for is that we live in a time zone 6 hours (sometimes 5) behind Rome.  Pope Benedict's homily for the Feast of the Epiphany gave me the chance, early Sunday morning, to read what the Pope had said just hours earlier.  I liked it so much, I stole paragraphs of it and made it the bulk of my homily.  Shhh, don't tell him.

Here are the parts I liked and used:

"These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God."

"Looking for something greater".  Aren't we all?  We spend our life looking for a better lifestyle, a better hamburger, a better bowl of rice pudding, etc.  What about God?  Do we put effort into a better relationship with Jesus Christ?  Or are we just content with the "status quo", whatever that is for each of us: priest, deacon, religious, married, single, etc.?  Have we stopped looking for God's presence, and we haven't even noticed?  Let's move on.

"Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever."

Christmas time is probably the only time of the year when we think of the Magi.  We see them in most Nativity scenes, and in the occasional Christmas play or pageant.  But think about them.  Tradition tells us there were three of them, though we only guess at that because of three gifts are presented to Christ.  Maybe some began the journey, but backed out when it seemed to go on too long.  Imagine the courage it took to begin a journey like that?  Here the Pope says something I never thought of: the Magi were  mocked by others for what they wanted to do.  Today, parents have no problem committing to make sure they get their children to every baseball, football, basketball, soccer, cheering, martial arts, gymnastics, tumbling, or music lesson event, game, practice, competition, or recital, no matter how far away it is or what time of day.  But the family who gives up one of those events because Mass or religious education is more important to them had better be ready to be mocked.  Such is the world we live in.

"Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ."

Remember, at this Mass the Pope is ordaining Bishops, so parts of his homily are directed to these men.      I love that line, "The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ..."    He knows what's going on.  Heck, he's experienced it.  Maybe not physical beating (though we're not too far away from that), but beatings on TV, radio, newspapers, not to mention on blogs, Facebook, etc.  If we're doing it right, we're gonna be criticized.

"The Wise Men followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15)."

They made history by following a star, and through that, the Pope says, they became "stars" themselves.  Then he used a phrase he has used before: "the Saints are God's true constellations".  What a challenge for us, to become sources of light and guidance for others.  So many of our Catholic families do everything to teach their children that religious beliefs are not really that important (these are the same people that then shake their head and wonder why things like the Newtown shootings take place).  Like the Magi, our lives are a journey towards Christ.  One day, we'll get there, and see Him face to face.  What gifts will we give Him?  What can we give Him now?