Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Dcn.

Shepherds for God

16th Sunday of Ordinary ~ 18 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 23; II: Ephesians 2: 13-18; Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34

The Light of Scripture shines brightly this weekend on a topic of great relevance, that of Shepherds for God.

The Old Testament reading in Jeremiah confronts the pain and damage inflicted by false shepherds who scatter and divide the flock belonging to God. As the prophet addresses this cruel reality he also affirms that God will provide His Shepherd / King who will bring the faithful to their place of peace and justice.

St. Paul in the epistle brings our focus on the heart of Christ our Shepherd who longs for the church, the family, the flock of God, to be one. It is clear that enmity and strife, the spirit of “them and us” have no place in the flock of God. Jesus, through His cross, would gather together into His peace and holiness all, making us one in Christ.

And it is in our Gospel reading from Mark we see Jesus, shepherding His disciples to rest and renewal but also seeing the immense need and hunger of humanity for the grace and love of shepherds for God. These three readings challenge and encourage us to recognize that very real perils exist in our world and that there would be those false shepherds who would lead, not for and into Christ and His Kingdom but for their own agendas, designs, and gain.

For many people, especially in the “developed” world, there is a difficulty about knowing and understanding the role of a shepherd. Perhaps it would be better for some if the popular term “influencer” was used instead. The role of an influencer is evidently quite the rage among some people. The use of social media, internet outlets, and social prestige play an immense role in the degree and extent of the power exercised by these new-style shepherds. We may be tempted to dismiss the concept of influencers. But even for those of us who are older, or for those who avoid cyber-settings, the role and power of these 21st century shepherds is very real and pervasive. Whatever term we prefer we need to realize the impact shepherds, or influencers, have in life.

As we read and meditate upon our readings today we may tend to think of the recognized shepherds of the church, our pope, bishops, priests, and even deacons. Many use technology and internet tools and resources to seek to shepherd and influence the flock of God. This is often for great good, but can also be for evil. The gifts and grace of social media provided tremendous help for the faithful during the pandemic.

As we consider these realities we need to allow our hearts to be always aware and practicing the power and promise of the responsorial for today, Psalm 23. In many ways we need to allow this ever-familiar psalm to be a frequent confession as we seek to follow Christ and true shepherds for God. For this psalm gives us strong grace and wisdom for all the days of our life.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. God’s true shepherds will lead us, together, to Christ our Shepherd. God, in the grace and wisdom of the Church, leads us to the fullfillment GOD KNOWs we need, not what We think we should have.

In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me. He refreshes (restores) my soul. As sheep we may decide, or think, we know the best pasture and not want to change. We may feel “this is what really feeds me” so we resist our shepherd as He would seek to bring us to new places. Thankfully the ever faithful angels (perhaps God’s sheepdogs?) will push and show is time to move on. It is time to grow. God will provide rest. Our shepherd will restore our soul…with Him. In the holy times and places of His choosing. But not necessarily in those places and times of the past where we sometimes think we should be.

He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake. God will guide us. The Church today is being led by the Shepherd of our souls, through the shepherds of His choosing. God is faithful to His promise. While some false shepherds and influencers may arise, in all matter of status and garb, we must pay attention. Is the flock of God being brought together, even if diffcult matters are being dealt with? Or is the focus upon set specific agendas, spiritualities or liturgy?

Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. God’s shepherds bring us ever closer to the side of Christ. And together in His Presence we need to fear no evil. False influencers and shepherds nurture division, the sense of “them vs. us”. The practice of assumed spiritual superiority is pervasive. As is the attitude that others are not worthy or properly reverent and thus must be excluded from the table set before us. If we look to the Gospels, to the entirety of Scripture, we learn it is to the very table of God that healing, restoration and grace, so urgently needed, is found as the anointing of the Holy Spirit sets us free to be all we can be for God. And it is there, we His sheep, discover the abundance of mercy and goodness in God. We see our cup overflowing, not to be withheld, but to be shared.

Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. This great psalm is written in the singular. It applies to each individual sheep. But it is helpful to remember that sheep are the only common livestock where the individual and the flock are all called by the same name. SHEEP. For individually God’s shepherds seek to minister and guide that TOGETHER we may grow in the fullness of His Body, His flock. God’s shepherds, following the Great Shepherd themselves will leave a legacy of growing in God, TOGETHER. There may be difficult times and places. They may indeed lead us out of places where the entire flock is unable to flourish. They, with God, will lead through sorrows and struggles but ever closer to Jesus.

God is leading, Let us follow.

God’s Calling

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 11 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Amos 7: 12-15; Responsorial: Psalm 85; II: Ephesians 1: 3-14. Gospel: Mark 6: 7-13

Jesus Sending Out the 12 Apostles

The theme, the lesson from our Scripture readings today is quite simple and clear. It shares the truth of the calling from God of a prophet, and the apostles to go and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, the Good News. It is the lesson of the essential place, plan, and power of the proclamation of God’s call to repentance, mercy, and healing, in Christ. The Greek word, kerygma, to proclaim, is used to teach this vital truth of genuine Christian faith.

When Christians think or speak of the holy calling of God, or vocations, it is often focused or relegated to priests, ministers or specific religious vocations such as a Carmelite nun, or Franciscan monk. It is sometimes applied to aspects of life, such as the calling of marriage, to be a spouse or parent. Each of those perceptions is correct. But often it is in this effort to organize and specify the grace of God’s calling we may actually project the grace upon others and away from ourselves. There is a long litany of saints who, perhaps initially, felt a calling from God in their lives was not going to happen. The reasons may have been a sincere realization of unworthiness or also sincere fear of what listening to God may bring. And of course, for some saints, there was a real desire to pursue what the world was offering instead of what God would bring, such as St. Augustine.

The Scriptures for this Sunday provide us powerful insight into the gift of God Calling. The Old Testament reading from the Book of Amos shares how the prophet did not see himself as a prophet. He was, simply a shepherd and farmer. He was not from the school of prophets. In the vernacular of today, Amos would have a profoundly inadequate and inappropriate resume for the job of a prophet. But, God called Amos to go and proclaim the message of repentance and hope in following God.

The Prophet Amos

St. Paul, in our second reading, from the Epistle to the Ephesians shares his deep faith and understanding that it was Jesus Christ who was calling and empowering him to share with the faithful in Ephesus. For Paul it wasn’t about him but about the proclaiming of the truth of who we are as the redeemed of God, who we are as disciples following Christ.

And the Gospel shares the short, but intense, sending out of the twelve apostles by Jesus to the surrounding communities. Working in pairs they shared the Good News. They healed the sick and set free those possessed by demons. They lived out the Gospel they shared.

These accounts might bring us to join with those who think that God’s Calling applies to those special people, the saints Christ chooses to do great works for Him. And in doing so we may try to comfortably avoid hearing the great gift that indeed, for each of us…God is Calling.

The Word of God, the history, and the teachings of the church all affirm it is all the people of God whom Jesus would call. While some are called to profound and great tasks for His Kingdom we cannot forget the simpler vocations that helped them hear God’s voice. The parents, the siblings, the people in their parish all can be a significant part in hearing and responding to God’s plan in life. (Sadly the opposite can be true. Many a vocation to the will of God has been thwarted or hindered by voices of doubt, ridicule, and fear.). The influence of family and parish in the ability of St. Teresa of Calcutta to hear God’s Call would be a blessed example.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

For all responding to God’s Call to live a life proclaiming the hope and healing mercy of Christ there are key steps in the journey.

It is God who calls and chooses for the work of the Kingdom. We may well realize our inadequacy, inabilities our weaknesses. Yet if we allow our hearts to be taught and reminded by the Holy Spirit we will see that God chooses, God calls us, beyond ourselves, and in spite of our faults, to follow with those who listen, hear and say…Yes to God. We may look at someone’s life and say..”no, God can’t call them. They are not as they should be”. But it actually is God who is calling and saying, “That soul, indeed with their faults and brokenness, I can redeem and enable to be an humble servant for me.” The Call is for God to make. It is for us to respond. One way or another.

As God calls so God will prepare. It is as we say yes to God we learn that with our Lord nothing is wasted. The Holy Spirit will use our talents, gifts, and abilities. But God will also use our failures, our weakness, those parts of life that seem all out of order, to become that specific servant, daughter, or son He needs in His work. The sinful doubt of Thomas Jesus used to both reveal to Thomas His resurrection but also to all people of faith ever since. The fiery zeal and murderous errors of Saul of Tarsus the Spirit of God would bring through the reconciling Blood of Christ to send out the Apostle to the Gentiles. So it is with each of us. Whether we think we are too young or too old, too strong, or too weak, with Christ we will be freed to proclaim Christ our life.

So… God Calls, God prepares and God then sends us outto experience His Presence and power as we never have before. As we allow our hearts to hear God’s Call, as we give Him our Yes and experience the Holy Spirit preparing us for what lies ahead we can know the hand of the Crucified upon us. Always. Jesus will lead us where, when, to whom we should go. And as we face each step, each opportunity to proclaim His Kingdom we can know His enabling, promised power, when and where we need it. St. Mother Teresa would never have known the immense graces and blessing in Calcutta if she had not said yes to God. The farmer / Prophet Amos would never have known the holy adventure that God had for him until he said yes to the Holy Spirit. The twelve apostles would never have experienced the healings, the deliverances in their ministry until they would be sent out by God.

Christ Calls, each of us, to follow Him. The path may not be easy or even clear all the time. But that is ok. It is in the hardness of the journey, it is when we can’t see the way, that we draw closer to Christ, to better learn to listen and follow… God’s Call.

The Wandering Path, Photographer: Piotr Halka

Seeing Jesus

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 4 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Ezekiel 2:2-5; Responsorial: Psalm 123; II: II Corinthians 12:7-10; Gospel: Mark 6: 1-6a

“Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” – So sings the refrain from the responsorial Psalm for today. To have our eyes, the focus of our life upon God is an holy call the followers of Christ share. It is, in so many ways, the path and the goal of our pilgrimage of faith. To see Jesus in Heaven, but also to “fix our eyes” upon Him this side of eternity can seem to be an impossible quest.

The Scripture readings help recognize the immense difficulty of this call. But the light of God’s Word also provides us clear guidance to grow ever clearer in our vision of Christ.

One of the most important graces we need to better see Jesus is to realize that to behold God, in the beauty of His holiness and the power of His love, is to allow the Spirit of God to heal our vision, to remove the cataracts of this life that blind us of the reality of God. Jesus, in the beatitudes, said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. These words, so simple, so powerful also seem so…impossible. To see God my heart must be pure?!?! If we take the Words of our Lord as a destination to be reached prior to seeing God, then yes…without complete sanctification, it would be…impossible. But when understood within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and the other beatitudes we realize it is a journey to which we are called. With Jesus. And as we walk, as we follow Him His mercy can cleanse our hearts. The Spirit of God can heal our cataracts that we may see, bit-by-bit, more of God.

The Pilgrimage of Faith ~ The Quest to See Jesus

To see Jesus we must be growing in faith. An hiker climbing up a tall mountain may experience a long path, perhaps perilous, perhaps shrouded in clouds. And to see the destination, the mountain top may be blocked for most of the way. In fact as most hikers know from a distance the peak may be very clear. But the closer one is to the actual top the more the view, the peak may be obscure. S it may be in our longing to behold our Lord.

St. Paul in the second reading and Jesus in the Gospel each relate some of the difficulties we may realize in the journey. For it is as a of people of faith we are learning to see as our vision is being healed. We are learning:

  • To see beyond our senses: The people of the hometown of Jesus were crippled in their faith, and blinded in their ability to see Him as the Messiah because the cataracts of their senses crippled them to see Jesus beyond just the carpenter, or Jesus just the neighbor with His family. They were so focused on THEIR VISION and THEIR UNDERSTANDING. They could not grow to experience His fuller Truth. We should always be learning to realize our senses, our feelings are not the same as our faith.
  • To see beyond our issues: The prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, was called by God to preach to the rebellious Israelites in exile, in Babylon. There were for the people, and Ezekiel, an abundance of issues that were challenging them to see God and His mercy. For the prophet he would have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and heal him beyond his fears and uncertainties. For some of the Israelites they would allow their vision to be healed and they would experience restoration and renewal in God. We too, in our personal lives, our families, in the church and in the nation must recognize the temptation to focus, not on Christ, but on the faults of another, the guilt within our own soul, the seeming impossibility of the challenges, or simply some sacred cow of an issue we may face or even cherish. Whether it be our senses, our understandings or our issues we are always called to see, yes they are real, they are valid, to a point. But they are not God. For if we are to see Jesus we must look beyond our own small horizons. We must learn:
  • To see beyond self. As humans we find it easy and comfortable to live within what we sense, (see, smell, taste, feel, hear). We also become quite comfortable within our closley held understandings and issues. The people of Europe, prior to the age of discovery were certain and deeply settled in the visible truth that the world is flat. All their senses, understandings, even their religion upheld that perspective. It was only as some few courageous souls believed and chose to exercise their faith and courage to explore did the bigger truth come to be known. So it is with our vision of God, of Jesus.

As Catholics, we believe Jesus is truly and fully Present in the Blessed Sacrament. With eyes of faith, we can see the consecrated bread and wine as the true Body and Blood of God, of Christ, of Jesus. But His very Real Presence in the Euharist will empower us to see even more of Him in His Body, the entire people of God. We also rejoice in the holy revelation of Truth found in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. But in humility we must also accept the fullness of Truth is found IN CHRIST and it is in a growing relationship with God incarnate that we grow in seeing…more and more of Jesus, His holiness, His mercy, His love.

Seeing Jesus is the quest we share. To behold the eternal peace and glorious joy of God is the call we share in our Psalm: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord…” But it is, simply impossible. IF we depend only on our holiness or perfection. To see our Lord we must draw close to Him. And we must remember that if we walk with Him there will be the crosses of our life.

In World War II there was a middle-aged Dutch spinster lady who lived with her elderly father and sister each of deep Christian faith. When the Nazis came they took to helping the Jews to hide and escape. They all were captured by the Gestapo. The two sisters were imprisoned in a concentration camp. Their father and other family members were all killed while incarcerated. The elder sister, Corrie Ten Boom, watched her sister beaten and fall gravely sick. She watched her slowly die at the hand of her captors. From that place of deep evil and darkness, Corrie was miraculously released just prior to being executed. She would go on, for many years to witness to the mercy and peace of God. She would witness of Jesus she had learned to see in the darkest of places as she grew beyond her senses, her issues, her self. She would go on to encourage others to look for and see Jesus, even as we carry our crosses.

Corrie Ten Boom

Called for Healing, By and With God

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 27 June 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom1:13-15, 23-24; Responsorial: Psalm 30; II: II Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15; Gospel: Mark 5: 21-43

We have lived through a prolonged and difficult time of great sickness with the pandemic. Intense afflictions have infected the social, political, moral, and spiritual health of creation. The suffering, the losses have been very real. But we must remember, with Christ we find hope, we find, healing. The Scripture readings we share are messages of that hope, messages, and lessons of healing for anyone afflicted in spirit, soul, or body. We are urged to realize we are called for healing, by God, and with God.

Yet this call to healing seems challenged by the seeming conflict expressed by our first reading from the Book of Wisdom where the harsh reality of death and its source, in evil, are shared. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the same painful truth in telling us “all are appointed once to die and after that, the judgment”, Hebrews 9:27. It is vital to realize, that with Christ, death is but the final gateway to eternal life and the ultimate fullness of healing we find with our Savior.

But the Gospel today is clear. We are called for healing, by and with God. In this account in Mark’s Gospel we read of Jairus frantically coming to Jesus seeking healing for his young daughter. By all indications she is critically ill. Her father, a leader in the local synagogue, in intense and desperate faith seeks that Jesus would but come and lay his hand upon his beloved child. How encouraged Jairus must have been as Jesus came with him back to his home and the sickbed of his little girl. But his prayers were interrupted.

While enroute to the house, with a great crowd pressing in and following to witness the drama, a woman, sick for over a decade comes as well. Her exhausted faith believes if she can but touch the hem of the cloak Jesus was wearing she would be healed. Pressing through the crowd she succeeds. Coming from behind she touches his cloak. She knows, at once she is healed. And Christ realizes, at once, grace, power have flowed from his Body. To the dismay of Jairus, Jesus stops and seeks who has touched his cloak, in such faith. It is worthwhile to note the reaction of his disciples. People are pressing in upon Jesus from all sides. They wonder and question…Jesus, don’t you realize what is going on? What follows is a powerful part of our call to healing.

The woman realizes she is caught. In fear and trembling, she falls down before Jesus and confesses the whole truth. This is a poignant reminder that often healing involves great courage and humility. This woman, by the standards of the Law and Hebrew people, was unclean. Her issue of blood excluded her from close contact with others and especially someone like Jairus, as a leader of the synagogue. She was, as it were, deemed unacceptable to seek or receive the healing and graces of God without proper following of the liturgy of that day. Her fear was well-founded. But she shows us courage, faith often cannot be fully experienced except in the face of great need and fear. Jesus speaks. He commends her faith and affirms her healing with the blessing to go in peace. Great is the healing. Great is God’s blessing.

And great must have been the heartache of Jairus as he watches this delay. So often we fail to realize our prayers are not shared in a singular dimension. Our faith, our prayers are a part of a much larger environment of petition and praise to God, shared by many. We are reminded delay is not necessarily denial. Jairus, Jesus, the disciples, with the crowd once again press on to the sick little girl. But in the eyes of the world, it is too late.

Before arriving at the home of Jairus they are confronted by mourners. The little girl has died. But Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear. Believe!” In the house Christ makes the doubters, the mourners leave. He takes the father and mother, with Peter, James, and John, and goes to the girl. He takes her by the hand and calls for her to arise. She is healed. God, has again, called out to, and for healing.

There are some vital elements to this lesson from Christ. First Jesus, the Living Word, speaks, calls us for healing. Even in the Gospels when Jesus is rebuking sins He speaks and shares in the Spirit of hope and healing. The Gospel, “the Good News” is meant to be words of hope and healing. Secondly, it was the hand, the Body, even the cloak upon His Body, that brought healing. In His holy and sacred incarnation, Jesus came to deliver and heal His creation, His creatures. The Body, the Blood of Jesus, His most sacred and Holy Real Presence is intended to be a place of healing…of hope. As our Gospel today affirms, this is for the well-placed, the faithful. And it is for the unclean, the frightened, those on the fringes of humanity. This does not just apply to the incarnate Presence of Jesus in the Gospels. This sacred Truth applies to the Body of Christ today, perhaps now more than ever.

The Epistle today seems out of context, at a glance. St. Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church and to you and me. The message is essentially of the self-emptying, the kenosis of Jesus. Paul proceeds that this same emptying of self and selfishness is the call of God for all the people of Christ, the Body of Christ. We are called for healing, by God and with God.

Great is our own need of healing. As we listen to Christ, His holy Word, and as we allow His Real Presence, His Body and Blood to touch us we shall be healed for and in the will and designs of our heavenly Father. But the healing is never meant to end there. We are called to be healing, WITH God. Do our Words proclaim the hope, the healing, the faith that brings others to know Christ? Do we act and live, as individuals and as the people of God witnessing to the truth that we are the Body of Christ? Do our words and our hands bring hope and healing to the many wounded and damaged by this world? Do we allow our lives to be interrupted for the moments of grace when Jesus wants to help someone through us? Or do we focus on the sickness, the wounds, the perceived unworthiness of those in our world?

May we, together, realize and live, as the Body of Christ, for holy healing, by and with God.

Summer Solstice & Christianity

Summer Solstice marks the day when the earth is at the maximum tilt for the respective hemisphere allowing for the longest hours of daylight. Throughout the world it is a time of celebration that goes back to the most ancient of times. In ancient cultures and religion it is infused with great spirituality and hope for light, fertility and life. Since the growth of the Christian faith it became a time of Midsummer Festivals, often with bonfires as a celebration of light.

Some would claim that this is another example of Christians taking from the pagan religions and making them their own. That is certainly one way to look at it. However it also can be realized to be a very natural GROWTH of the human soul to LIGHT. The correlation between light and growth is something very sacred and precious in the pagan religions. It is also a grace that the Christian Church holds in great fervor. In the ancient world as pagans entered into a relationship with Christ and His Church it was seen as only proper that this relationship would be a step of growth, of greater light. Of course for some it was seen as blasphemous to leave the beliefs of the ancient ones. But for many places, especially like the Celtic regions it was seen as the next step with their Creator.

In our present day, in some regions, the growth and resurgence of the pagan religions is often seen. The old arguments of Christians stealing from the pagans is seeing a resurgence. There are profound differences in the celebrations, to be sure. But there are also values that are shared.

As we enjoy this midsummer season, the summer solstice, we might look to the example of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis and many others to help us better understand and celebrate the beauty and graces of Creation, to learn and respect the ancient lessons of the past as they anticipated the coming Light of the world. To borrow from the soul of St. Francis we can celebrate the great gift we have with Brother Sun and Sister Moon as a part of this good world God has made. May we all grow in the eternal light and life who is Christ.

From ancient portals the light of Christ dawns

Jesus and our Storms

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 20 June 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Job 38: 8-11; Responsorial: Psalm 107; II: II Corinthians 5: 14-17; Gospel: Mark 4:35- 41

This 12 Sunday of Ordinary Time, prayerfully, we seek our Lord. It is also the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Tomorrow the days will, ever so slowly, start to decrease in the amount of daylight. We are reminded of the cycles of life of which we are all participants. We encounter days of calm and blessing, secure, at times, in routines of work, relationships and life as a whole. As Catholics we cherish the blessed peace and strength we find in our liturgical cycles centered in Christ and His Body. The sacramental dimensions of our faith provide great joy, solace and grace as, together, we share our pilgrimage of faith. We seek to follow the steps of faith-filled discipleship with the first followers of Christ and all those who have preceded us in the way of the Cross with our risen Savior. But as our readings from the Word of God this day indicate we will not always know days of tranquil joy or quiet faith. The simple reality is storms, of many kinds, are a part of life.

As we encounter our storms we are faced with choices. Will we choose to allow these storms cause our faith and love for God, His Church, and others to be wounded or destroyed? Will we realize our divisions and strife add further wounds to Jesus?

Or will we remember we share this voyage, this journey of life and faith with others and that, WITH CHRIST, we will prevail to know His peace, healing and love?

The light of God’s Word is greatly needed in our communities, families and church at this time. Many are the storms that threaten, storms of the environment and our shared earthly home. And storms of soul and spirit beat against families, communities, the nation and the church. Easy would be the temptation to say enough! and seek to escape the conflicts. Easy to the temptation to play the blame game and seek to dump our fears and anger upon whatever targets may be close at hand.

In our Gospel we read the great story of Jesus bringing His disciples to sail, at night across the Sea of Galilee. This was no challenge as there were seasoned fishermen among them who well knew the ways and risks of sailing. With Jesus asleep in their boat they sailed. Peacefully. Until the violent squall broke upon them. I can only imagine the stress and blame that could have been playing out as they confronted the wind and the waves. IF ONLY, someone would have listened! If only we had waited until daylight! If only someone had explained to Jesus how this was a bad idea! As the storm wore on they realized they were losing the fight. In fear they awoke Emmanuel, God with us, and begged His intervention.

Christ awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” He then challenged His followers: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith”? As it was in that boat on the Sea of Galilee so it is with us today.

As we seek to obey and follow Christ we can, with deepest faith, trust Him to lead us to where we need to be. He will bring us to great blessings and… to great storms. The disciples that night were trusting, they obeyed the Lord. But the storm came. Yet Jesus was not troubled or surprised. He slept. Peacefully. Until He was awakened by His panicking disciples. Our storms we encounter, illness, great need, wildfires, drought, strife in our relationships, discord in our parish, or in the larger Church none of these storms surprise Christ. There is no step we take of which Christ is unaware. Yes we may stumble, even fall. We may even stray. Yet the Shepherd of our souls knows where we are and knows what it will take to bring us into His healing, safe, holy love. Even for souls who may not be in accord with as sound of understanding of matters of faith and morals are loved and sought by Christ. None of us, this side of eternity, will fully realize or agree with the full Truth who is Christ. That is why it is imperative that, TOGETHER we seek to draw ever closer to His Sacred Presence. It is why it is imperative that we seek not to exclude those with whom we may differ. It is as we allow the Holy Spirit to draw us to the Living Word, Jesus, that we will then encounter ever more fully, the Real and Sacred presence of His Body, In the Host, In the Chalice and, in each other.

It is in our human nature that we tend, so easily, to focus upon the storms, the strife , the noise and the fear. Yet it is the Spirit of God who brings us to, and through, these storms to know Jesus as we never have before. It is the love of the Father that calls us to cast into our storms our fears, worries and, yes our hates. It is His same love that then pours into our hearts His healing, holy calming love.

Our Bible readings, our lives remind us that storms are a part of our life, this side of eternity. And it is in those storms we realize the Presence, the Promise and the Power of God’s prevailing love. May we remember, may we realize that His Presence and Promise, His Blessings are given us to be shared with all He would bring into our lives.

Pax et bonum ~ Peace and all good

St. Anthony of Padua and the Lilies

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time and Feast of St. Anthony of Padua ~ 13 June 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass:

I: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Responsorial: Psalm 92; II: II Corinthians 5:6-10; Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

St. Anthony of Padua

This Sunday is the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. And, as it falls on the 13th of June, it is also the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. I do not consider it coincidental that the Bible readings for Mass are very beautifully explained and illustrated by the life of St. Anthony.

The readings from Scripture this Sunday focus upon the oft-used parables or metaphors of seeds and trees for the Kingdom of God and the life of faith. Reading of the sacred Word powerfully asserts the desire of God for us to be growing in all the fullness of His Kingdom whatever side of the threshold of eternity we find ourselves. The intent of the Holy Spirit to sow, nurture and bring to harvest this abundant life of faith is, again portrayed profoundly by St. Anthony.

St. Anthony was born in Lisbon Portugal in 1195. He came from a family of considerable means and standing among Portuguese nobility. His given name was actually Ferdinand and it would remain so until he became a Franciscan friar when he took the name Anthony. His life as a religious began early as a member and student of the regular canons of St. Augustine. While studying in Lisbon his hunger for Christ and the matters of His Kingdom brought him to ask to study at a smaller, more remote monastery less surrounded by worldly distractions. The request was granted and while there some Franciscan monks came and stayed. They brought with them relics of recently martyred Franciscans who had gone to Morocco to share the Gospel. This incident sowed holy seeds in the young man who soon entered the early Franciscan order with the intent of following the steps of these martyrs. It would be a lesson of both the sowing of holy seed and the graces of God nurturing Anthony beyond his immature longings.

The plans of young Anthony to go to Morocco were faithfully being pursued. Anthony landed on the coast of Africa but soon became very ill. It was decided he must return to Italy. Again the plans and providence of our Lord intervened to nurture and nudge the young saint on a better path. His ship was blown off course and after landing in Sicily he slowly began to recover. Word came of what would be the last full gathering of all Franciscans in Assisi for a general chapter to address the growing pains and strife the friars were sharing. Anthony went to Assisi and it is believed there he met St. Francis. The nurture and designs of the garden of God were growing, in spite and because of the storms and disappointments of life.

San Juan de Gazteluga ~ Zetgerre Argazkiak

Anthony was sent from Assisi to a small, quiet hermitage to study and regain his health at San Paolo near Forli. This would appear to be the place of God’s planting for Anthony. Yet again the providence and designs of our Master Gardener intervened. It happened that to Forli came a group of Dominican and Franciscan candidates for the priesthood arrived. A failure of their planning had the liturgy about to begin without a prepared preacher. Anthony was prevailed upon to preach. To the awed amazement of all gathered his eloquence and knowledge of God’s Word resulted in a profound blessing by the Holy Spirit. The course of St. Anthony would again change.

Moving to Padua Anthony soon was renowned for his preaching and teaching. He confronted the sins, divisions and false teachings of his day, yet with an humility and love that moved countless souls to grow in the gardens of God’s graces. Stories also were shared how, like his mentor and leader in the faith, St. Francis, he had a deep awareness and affinity of God’s work among all creatures and creation. Miracles of grace and healing resulted in St. Anthony being canonized within a year of his death, at a young age of 36, on 13 June, 1236 near Padua. His relics are cherished in that city to this day.

It would be many years after his passing to eternity that the connection of Anthony with the lilies would come about. In 1680 someone placed in the hand of a statue of St. Anthony in a small church of Austria, a lily. The fragrant flowers stayed fresh for over a year. A year later, during the French Revolution, the Franciscans were forced to leave the island of Corsica. The residents were without the Sacraments and especially the Real Presence of Christ with Mass. On June 13th a shrine was made to St Anthony with many lilies. The cut lilies, for months maintained their life and scent. And lilies are often shown in the image of Anthony holding the baby Jesus. This is based upon a time when the young priest was staying in a home of some friends. The owner of the house went to Anthony’s room and unintentionally saw the saint holding the baby Christ while looking at him with fervent love.

The life and the faithful lover of Christ, and His Word, would result in St. Anthony of Padua becoming the first Franciscan Doctor of the Church. But it also resulted in the seeds of the Gospel, the garden of God’s Kingdom growing in blessing to this day. While a man of great intellect and talent he humbly sought to serve and follow His Lord in the path of eternal life. St. Anthony cherished the true tree of life, the Cross of his Savior. His journey brought heart breaking disappointments, poor health and much hard work in the harvest fields of God. His courage in encountering spiritual warfare was well known. But always it would be His love for Christ and His Word and for all creatures that would be the freshness and scent of God’s lilies that never die.

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Sunday – 6 June 2021- Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 24: 3-8; Responsorial: psalm 116; II: Hebrews 9: 11-15; Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ
The Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel at St. Peter Church, Cloverdale, California

This Sunday in June is the Solemnity (High Feast) of Corpus Christi, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is the celebration throughout the world, in the Catholic Church, of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread and wine that becomes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is for many non-Catholics and even some Catholics perhaps the most challenging of the beliefs long cherished in the Church.

The specific Feast is traced back to the year 1263 when a priest, en route to Rome, stopped in Bolesna Italy to say Mass. The priest had been struggling with recent doubts about this ancient point of faith as he went into the Church. At the prayer of Consecration, the priest was amazed to see the Host (sacred bread) stained with Blood. He reported this to the Pope and subsequent studies verified it was true flesh and true blood. From that time the specific celebration of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ has been a part of the liturgy of the Church. The actual belief in the Church in the Real Presence can be traced back to its early beginnings and the Gospel. Numerous other studied and verified Eucharistic miracles have occurred in continuing witness to this beautiful and holy affirmation of the Presence of Christ our Lord.

But many more doubts and challenges to this most holy and needed Presence of God have continued as well. And none of this is new. The promises of God regarding the Presence of His Son in the consecrated bread and wine are rooted in the Gospels. The Gospel of St. John, chapter six, shares this grace of Jesus with His followers. He makes very clear that the Bread, the Wine are truly His Body and His Blood as given in the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The other Gospels and St. Paul all affirm this witness with the sharing of the familiar word “This IS my Body…” This holy, sacred and beautiful moment occurs during the Eucharistic Prayer and the moment of consecration (the Epiclesis) in which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to change the simple bread and wine into the Real and True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Consecration of the Bread and Wine

But as it was then so it is now and will be until Christ returns. There are those who doubt this truly occurs. Doubt is often a part of a faith that is seeking and growing. Even among practicing Catholics faith may be distracted and weakened to focus minds and hearts upon matters of lesser significance. Some may simply be unsure of this very ancient teaching of the Church. Others may believe but are more focused, not on Christ being Present, but upon their perceptions of the lack of reverence in others or the unworthiness of others to receive Holy Communion. Some even become very troubled over receiving Holy Communion in the hand instead of in the mouth.

With all the great moral and spiritual challenges in our world, there is intense debate, among some, that unless one is in clear agreement and accord with the teachings of the Church one should not be allowed to receive Christ. It is seen as a matter of unworthiness and as a wrong St. Paul taught in his letter to the Corinthians. Indeed we should always seek to be worthy followers of Christ who died and rose for us in redeeming love.

But to say one must be in accord with all the teachings of the Church before receiving Holy Communion would first ignore the reality that our faith and understanding is a journey and we are not all in the same place in our seeking and following of God. It would also ignore the reality none of us at Mass is perfect. If we wait until that occurs before we receive Holy Communion it will be a long wait. To require that level of purity and maturity would also deny the lesson of those present with Jesus in the Upper Room when He gave the Eucharist as a sacrament. All the Apostles would flee, except, John the Beloved. Peter, the first Pope, would deny Christ three times. Judas would betray Him. Yet Jesus washed all their feet and shared His Body and Blood with them. It is in His sharing we realize this is a Sacrament of mercy, forgiveness, and healing. It is a Sacrament of God’s peace. For as we all acclaim prior to coming to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…”

The very Real Presence of Jesus does not qualify us to become judges. The Real Presence of Jesus would, instead, enable us, call us, TOGETHER, to be a very diverse group of people made one in Christ. In sharing Holy Communion we share in Holy Common-Union in and becoming the Body Of Christ. We are meant to be a people who would see as God would see, would forgive, as Jesus forgives, would challenge us to grow in the beauty of holiness and to welcome others into His holy, healing, and very Real presence.

The Most Holy Trinity

Sunday – 30 May 2020 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40; Responsorial: Psalm 33; II: Romans 8:14-17; Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

GOD, Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. To understand, explain or illustrate what is one of the most sublime mysteries of our Christian faith is always a study of contrasts. On the one hand we have GOD, Holy Spirit, Son and Father. On the other hand we have our humanity with our futile efforts to try to confine and organize GOD into our comfortable little God boxes.

We form our God boxes with the materials we have at hand. Our traditions, our upbringing as children, our teachings of religion, faith, spirituality or whatever words we find fluent for our soul. As Catholics, we have the Holy Scriptures and the Traditions of the Church. Our Catechisms provide a wealth of materials that help us form what we believe and what we think of GOD. We also have centuries of sacred art and music that bring us rich, beautiful, if not always accurate images of our Heavenly Father, His Son, our Redeemer, and the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. While the concept isn’t sacred the forming of our God boxes is rather like going to a big box home improvement store and finding those materials with which we may build, remodel, enlarge or repair our perceptions of God. We often will also use other materials in working on our understandings. We might use soul wounds, fears, politics, or specific causes and agendas that emphasize or compliment our beliefs.

A God Box

And we become very comfortable and secure in our beliefs. We can develop great security and peace of mind. Our faith matures and solidifies into a strong dwelling place. In so many ways this is the intent and desire of GOD, that we are able to stand strong throughout the storms of life. The Psalmist said it well when he spoke of GOD as a stronghold to which we come in the trials of life. It is also from those strong places we are able to share the light of hope and peace GOD brings, even in the storms of life.

But our little God boxes are not meant to be where we are to live or grow, for eternity. If we seek to confine GOD only to those places of our understanding and design, those places where we are especially comfortable we would cripple our faith and our relationship with GOD. We are called not to be comfortable, but disciples. And it is especially with our Triune God, the Most Holy Trinity, we can realize the infinite holy joy to which God would welcome us to share in and with GOD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel for this Mass shares with us the commission from our Lord given to His followers to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:16-20]. The sacred formula for the Rite of Baptism is here given to the Church. The Divine Commission to teach and make disciples is also established. But Jesus never intended that His Words become just sacred liturgical trim in our God boxes. If we listen carefully we can hear from Jesus an invitation to share and grow in dynamic relations with each other and GOD as together we would journey in love and faith.

We are called to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES! Jesus is telling us we are to not just hide away in fear and worry but to go out and make disciples. This, especially when seen in the light of the Book of Acts, is about going and meeting people where they are, in their lives and then sharing a faith-filled relationship with GOD that will help them follow in the way of Jesus to the Father, through the graces of the Holy Spirit. This might mean doing focused work as missioners to places and peoples as we may be sent by God. But it is especially about going to family, friends, and even enemies and simply sharing the forgiveness, the mercy, the hope we find only in GOD. This may be done in words. It is always done in and through our life.

It is as we go and make disciples we are told by Jesus to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus would tell us that we are to immerse each other in the Name, the Presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Rite of Baptism is normally done by a priest or deacon. But the rite is always shared by parents, sponsors, God Parents, and members of the community of the faithful. We are all called, together, to share in the ongoing immersing of each other into the infinite graces and joys of GOD. Perhaps in prayer, perhaps in learning to cook a family meal, perhaps in sharing in forgiveness for failings, perhaps but always to grow deeper into all GOD would be.

Great minds and saints have spoken and written well on the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. I could, would, never presume to explain GOD. I believe I can only share that which I have experienced. I do not understand GOD. I continue to realize my little God boxes are, at best, humorous attempts to confine GOD. But what I also continue to realize is that we are not called to understand the Holy Trinity. We are called to know, to grow in our relationship with GOD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God who is pure and holy would cleanse and forgive our sins through the atonement of Christ, welcoming us into the healing embrace of our Heavenly Father to grow empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of souls and the glory of God.

It is as we grow in God we then can grow in what I have increasingly sensed is one of the most powerful and holy moments of the Mass. In the closing Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer we pray and share in a distinct sacred threshold of grace:

“Through Him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen”.

[Yes I am aware I have shared this point in other reflections. But I also sense it is so very urgently needed in our lives and Church.]

The Most Holy Trinity

This day, and always, as we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity may each of you grow, in the love of God the Father, the mercy and peace of Jesus His Son, and the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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