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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  When things are going well, those words seem to perfectly depict our life with God.  But things do not always go well.  We know our prayers are not always answered.  Anyone who has had it rain every day of their vacation knows this.  There is not a fan of the New York Mets who believes that every prayer produces a positive result.

(Long aside.  People always think that I pray for the Mets.  That is inaccurate.  When I was ten years old, I told God that I would ask just once in my life for something for the Mets and I expected the correct response.  I waited until I was 21 years old and the sixteenth inning of the National Championship series.  The Mets had taken the lead in the top of the inning but looked like they were about to surrender it.  At the end of my rope and with a 3-2 count on Kevin Bass, I took my shot and prayed, “Lord make this a strike, or please just take me now.”[i])

Of course, of far greater concern is when we pray for those things that matter most:  a loved one’s illness, an addict’s disease, an issue of seemingly simple justice ignored by others.  When those prayers go unanswered, it hurts. We wonder, “Where is God?”   What happened to this promise to ask and receive, seek and find, knock and have the door opened when we have asked and been denied, sought and not found, knocked and had the door slammed in our face.

 I want to give you a few reasons why our prayers are not answered, or at least not answered the way we want them to.  But each reason is not an excuse to not pray, but to pray all the more.  The first reason we do get what we want in prayer is freedom.  God allows us to do our thing, even if our thing is bad or even evil.  Freedom is the price we pray to love, for we cannot love if we are controlled.  Love and fear can be placed side by side and often enough we will choose fear.  We can pray that the addict will not use anymore.  But God will not force them to stop.

Conversely, this challenges to pray all the more.  Because the only way for behavior to change is through love and prayer.  Prayer opens up the possibility of true freedom and true life, of better relationships and better health.  The choice cannot be forced, but without prayer there would be no choice at all.

Secondly, there is the challenge of perspective.  God sees more and knows more than we do.  We see what we want and focus on it.  God sees everything and knows what is best.  A wise person once said that we will spend all of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered!  We need the space to allow God to be God and do what is best for all.  But there is a need for prayer here as well so that we might align our perspective with God’s.  For how can we see with God’s eyes and hear with God’s ears without being in tune with God?  Isn’t that why we come to church, to hear more, to think of the other, to get away from ourselves?

Finally, we have a God wise enough to give us what we need, not what we want.  It is a lazy lover who only gives their beloved what they want.  What kind of parent gives their children everything they ask for other than parents whose kids are stuffed with chocolate and only know video games?  What kind of friend would you be if you never shared a challenging word of helped your friend to grow?  Giving people what they want all time is not love; it is bribery.  Doesn’t God know our needs better than we do?  Shouldn’t we trust God more than ourselves?

Still, we are left with the promise.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  For all the legitimate reasons God does not give us what we want in prayer, how can this still be true?  The last line of the Gospel gives us the answer.  “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”  God is never fails is giving God’s self in the Holy Spirit.  God dwells within us.  God might not give us everything, but God gives us enough.  I have seen the impossible happen through prayer – miracles of courage, strength and unbending hope.  People who should have been defeated rise up in faith.  Causes that had always been rejected but triumph by the will of God placed in a faithful people.  Here are prayers that when asked for in faith never fail.  “Lord, help me to love more.”  “Lord, let me trust in you.”  “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”  When we ask God to change us, to give us what we need, to build the kingdom, to share divine love, we understand that what Jesus said is true.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

[i] Jesse Orosco threw a slider for a swing and a miss and the Mets went on the win the World Series in 1986.

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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

At my parish on Long Island, a new prayer group had started and it was greatly influenced by the charismatic movement.  My mother joined and heard of amazing spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues.  Mom said she did not share in those experiences, but she felt closest to God in serving the poor.  A person in the group said, “Some of us are just Marthas.”  It was not a compliment.

Inevitably, the story of Martha and Mary plays out as a choice between two ways of life; as kind of a Catholic personality test.  You are either a Martha (practical and task driven) or a Mary (contemplative, spiritual and prayerful.)  The history of the interpretation of this passage has favored Mary.  However, for most of us, our sympathy flow toward Martha.  We have all felt we are doing all the work and someone else is reaping all the benefits.  When Martha makes her famous complaint, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” we want Jesus to say, “Of course.  Get up Mary and so some dishes so Martha has a turn.” However, Jesus says the contrary.  “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Now there would no “better part” for Mary unless Martha took the bold step to invite Jesus as a prestigious rabbi to a home led by a woman.  And if you are going to invite Jesus over for dinner, someone should make it for him. It is not that some are called to be Martha and others Mary.  We are all called to be Martha and Mary.

Combining Martha and Mary is the perfect depiction of the Christian life.  We need to welcome Jesus into our lives and into our homes as Martha did.  And as Martha literally served Jesus, we need to serve him by reaching out to him in the guise of others.  But we also need to sit at the feet of Jesus as Mary did and soak in his wisdom, truth and love.  The dichotomy reminds me of one of my favorite phrase about prayer. “Prayer without action is powerless.  Action without prayer is chaos.”  Prayer without action cannot open us to service and cannot bring us or others closer to Christ.  Action without prayer prevents our activity in the world with being informed, motivated and infused with the love of Christ. Our prayer should be grounded in our reality and our reality should be grounded in our prayer.

I will never forget the homily Bishop Hubbard gave at my ordination.  He said the prayer life of a parish priest rests in the lives of his people.  How true that has been. Today I have prayed for my friend Earl who passed away in thanksgiving for his life and for the family struggling with their loss.  Then my prayer was elevated with joy as I baptized four babies.  I have been experiencing Christ in the people God has given me.  Isn’t that true for you as well?  Isn’t your prayer about your family and your friends, the people God has given you in a special way?  Isn’t it about the problems you have and the issues you care about whether it be the unborn or migrants on the border?  I believe our prayer should be grounded in reality, in the lives of those around us and the circumstances that surround us.  This is the Martha and Mary way of prayer.

We need to pray.  God knows we think about things enough; we think them to death.  But there is a difference between prayer and thinking.  When we pray, we bring Christ.  We are connected by the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit brings us closer to Christ and the object of our prayer.  The prism through which we pray is the love that Jesus has for us, the faith he has shared with us and the peace he promises us.  Everything looks different and carries more hope when we pray.   And clear eyed and confident, we can know what to do next as our prayer leads our actions.

Take a moment to hold in your heart someone or something you would like to pray for.  Just close your eyes and bring that person or issue to your heart and to God.

 

Let Christ color that picture of that person or that concern so you can have more forgiveness, more power, more peace and more love. Let the love in which we are rooted lift up, console and bring hope for there is always hope in our God.  Feel the love that binds us to Christ.  Feel it bind us to others.  What a powerful gift we have in our prayer.  Don’t think. Pray.

If you drive on Union Street in the mornings in the nice weather, you will spot me at my favorite place for private prayer.  I have powerful experiences before the tabernacle. My favorite prayer is the mass, a wonderful blend of contemplation and action.  But I love to pray on my porch as cars go whizzing by and I sense the pulsating life of Christ whirling around me.  My life and my ministry are built on those prayers.  We can be Martha.  We can be Mary.  And we are both, we are Jesus Christ.

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” There is where I should and traditionally would launch into a plea for more priests, deacons and more men and women in religious life. And of course we should pray for that. But inevitably, whenever I hear this quote, my mind goes to the very honest St. Gregory the Great who, with this Gospel passage in mind, once wrote, “Indeed, see how full the world is of priests, but yet in God’s harvest a true laborer is rarely to be found.” Snap!
When Nathaniel first came to our parish, I would give him a weekly pep talk and the first one was, “The Church does not need more priests, it needs great priests.” The time of the mediocre priest is over. Can you imagine a worst job than being a mediocre priest? Giving up all manner of things for what? A status that does not exist anymore? It reminds me of something the great Rev. Lovejoy of the Simpsons once said, “There is a lot more to ministry than simply not caring about people.” The heart of a vocation of a priest is to know your people and to serve them. To know the smell of the sheep as Pope Francis is fond of saying. My vocation is not just a title of an ontological state. My vocation is to be found in the work of giving my life to yours, to journey with every high and low, to ensure that Christ is present in our lives. And it is beautiful work.
It occurs to me this is true of any vocation – the joy and the success is in the work. For example, it only takes a biological act to become a parent; it takes everything you have to become a Mom or Dad. That you have not achieved until your child is at the very center of your life and you would not hesitate to give everything over for your child – your happiness intrinsically is linked to theirs.
I decided to ask people what was the work of their vocation; the marrow of doing what God has called them to do. A single person pointed out something I had not thought of before. She has less support than others and the same responsibility, but she must continue on to serve. A lay minister wrote, “Being a lay minister is much more than joining a group. It means joining forces with God and taking action to serve the needs of others.” A married person resisted the idea of work and thought of it as an invitation to celebrate the sacrament in joy. She said the key to their vocation was to put the other absolutely first, (P.S. as a celibate that sounds like work to me!), setting aside time together and growing in faith.
The work of every vocation has the same starting point – our baptism. In those waters, we were given the assurance that we could love mightily and like Christ we could give everything for those we love. We were buried with Christ so we could do as he did and lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Whoever God has given us through our vocation of spouse, friend, child, or leader deserves and must be given all that we have. We are called to be poured out for one another.
Jesus gave a mission to spread his name to seventy-two disciples who go out before him. They return amazed over the power of the name of Jesus had in the towns they visited. Jesus exclaims to them, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” No one will be saved by a title or a position. It is only through sacrifice, compassion and presence that those whom God has given us in a special way will come to know the glory of God.  It is how we will build the kingdom of peace.

Body and Blood of Christ C

On this day when we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist, let us explore what it means by a visit to several tables.

Our first table is described in Luke’s Gospel.  It is the evening and the crowd is refusing to leave a deserted place and the disciples are concerned there is not enough food to feed the gathered throng.  Jesus has then gather into groups of about fifty.  Imagine being in such a group.  What would you be thinking?

Jesus has been feeding you all day with soaring words and his vibrant presence.  So much so that you are literally not worried about where your next meal is coming from.  You will not let pangs of hunger keep you from spending this precious time with Jesus.  But he cares about your hunger.  You wonder what can they do with two fish and five loaves as you settle into your group of fifty?  But as the disciples distribute the food, it becomes astonishingly clear that there is enough; even more than enough.  You eat and are satisfied and there are twelve baskets of leftovers!  You learn something new about this Rabbi.  He is a provider.  He is providence.  He will always ensure, whatever you face, you will have enough.

Let us move to a second table, this time there are only twelve.  It is the Passover meal and the night is thick with danger as the great confrontation between the Jesus and the authorities– the duel between good and evil, has an air of inevitability.   Jesus has one last chance to explain what is about to happen to his bewildered and frightened apostles.  He takes the bread and says. “This is my body.” He takes the wine and says, “This is my blood.”  Now you understand this gift.  It is not his words, as beautiful as they may be.  It is not his actions, as powerful as they may be.  The gift is himself.  He will give over his body on the cross.  He will be poured out so that we might have the forgiveness of sins.  It is his homily on his death and resurrection.  God holds nothing back.

Now to a third table – the altar.  For on that fateful night, he asked then to “Do this in memory of me.” At Passover, when every Jew is steeped in memory, Jesus commands we remember his Last Supper – to recall it and indeed, to re-present it.  Jesus’ desire is not that we re-enact a two thousand year old dinner.  He means to be with us just as was with his apostles that night. The living, giving, pulsating life of Jesus Christ before us now; every bit as much as was with the twelve in Jerusalem.  The gift is meant for forever.  The gift is meant for now.  “Jesus has an eternal, burning desire to be with us and in us. It was not for his own peace but for ours that he extended his arms on the cross. It was not for his own salvation but for ours that he rose from the dead. Deeply embedded in our very being is a desire to be with the God who always desires us. The Eucharist is the fulfillment on earth of that quest.”  (This is my Body, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger – June 2019).

The fourth table takes us beyond this realm, for there is a feast in heaven that does not end.  The citizens of heaven are always at the table of the Lord, delighting in his presence, his glory and his love.  It is the essence heavenly life.  My Mom and Dad are at the table and so are your loved ones. I believe that heaven intersects with earth at the mass.  What we experience for a moment, however clouded it may be, is the clear reality of the saints who have gone before us.  Eucharist is an opportunity to be as close as possible with our loved ones until we are with then forever.

For the fifth table, go home and make every meal an evening with Jesus.  As Bishop Scharfenberger reminds us, we are transformed by the Eucharist, a different person through the intimate encounter of Christ.  Make Christ present at the dinner table with words of love and mercy.  Bring Christ, if you dare, to the lunch table at the school cafeteria (where his peace is desperately needed!)  This past week, our staff served lunch at the Salvation Army, sharing food with Christ, one after another, after another.  I also saw an older friend of mine whose son passed away a few weeks ago.   She said how blessed she was to have her son for 63 years.  How sacred is that table?

We are the body of Christ through the gift of the Eucharist.  Let us bring Christ everywhere and to everyone.

Pentecost C

I asked the Lord for more peace.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit of consolation and joy, my closeness to you.

This is your peace.”

 

I asked the Lord for more strength.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

A Spirit strong enough for my Son to endure the cross.

This is your strength.”

 

I asked the Lord for more beauty.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The same Spirit that blew over the waters and created everything in its splendor.

This is your beauty.”

 

I asked the Lord for more understanding.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit will lead you to my will.

This is your understanding.”

 

I asked the Lord for more forgiveness.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit of reconciliation, the salve that mends what is broken.

This is your forgiveness.”

 

I asked the Lord for more justice.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

That makes wrongs right and builds the kingdom of blessedness

This is your justice.”

 

I asked the Lord for more friendship.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The connective tissue that makes every relationship possible.

This is your friendship.”

 

I asked the Lord for more wisdom.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

Whose very name is wisdom and holds the secrets of the universe.

This is your wisdom.”

 

I asked the Lord for more patience.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

Which exists beyond time and grants us the gift of perspective.

This is your patience.”

 

I asked the Lord for more harmony.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The same Spirit to be honored in each person.

This is your harmony.”

 

I asked the Lord for more healing.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit that mends, consoles and brings life.

This is your healing.”

 

I asked the Lord for more unity.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The same Spirit in each which makes us one.

This is your unity.”

 

I asked the Lord for the truth.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

Who will teach you all my Son wanted you to know.

This is your truth.”

 

I asked the Lord for more respect of life.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit sees me in every unborn child, every refugee, every dying person.

This is how we respect life.”

 

I asked the Lord for healing of a suffering Church.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

Only by giving itself to the Spirit can the Church be made whole.

This is your Church.”

 

I asked the Lord for more love.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

The Spirit that is the bond of Love between the Father and the Son, between God and humanity and each of us with each other.

This is your love.”

 

I asked the Lord for more holiness.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

God is within you.

This is your holiness.”

 

I asked the Lord for more control and power.

God said, “No. I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

Why would you take these things from me?   Be led by the Spirit and surrender to me.

This is you real power.”

 

I asked the Lord for everything.

God said, “I have sent my Holy Spirit to you;

I have given you everything.”

7th Sunday of Easter C
This week we hear some wonderful and indeed startling things from Jesus in the Gospel as we “listen in” on his prayer to the Father. To begin with, Jesus is praying for us with all his soul. We are absolutely central in his life. No parent could pray with more fervency for their children than Jesus does for us. And what he says is remarkable. Jesus prays, “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.” Jesus promises to be as close to us as he is with his heavenly Father! “And I have given them the glory you gave me.” Ours is not a diminished grace of Christ for God does not know how to give in half measures. Jesus has given us everything he has received from God. And finally, Jesus says, “Father, they are your gift to me.” Jesus delights in this unruly people of God. He literally glories in his relationship with us.
If we know and understand the depth of God’s love for us, we will not doubt God or ourselves. We are stronger, braver and more joyful than we could ever imagine. This is the best of the good news. But I have a frightening question. What is no one knew about how God loves us? What if the story of God’s grace went silent? For if the story is not shared, how will it transform lives?
That is the point of “Reigniting our Faith,” a $43 million dollar campaign to spark evangelization in the diocese of Albany about which you will be receive mail this week. Our goal is $1.127 million. (If any of you would like to give $1million, we can cover the rest.) When Bishop Scharfenberger proposed this campaign, he wanted something different. He wanted every aspect of it to touch the lives of people and the mission of the Church. Every penny spent must be related to welcoming people and inviting them to a closer relationship with God. Thirty percent of the money raised will go to the diocese for priorities that are important to all of us. We have a great influx of seminarians like our own Nathaniel who will hopefully sustain the Church for years to come, but they are expensive. At the other end of the spectrum, our “retired priests” are doing so much of the work. They deserve a decent pension to honor their service. And there is money set aside for Catholic Schools and faith formation, which is very dear to my heart. We need these funds to develop new ways of growing the faith so that our young people and adults are formed into the best of disciples.
This campaign is different from the Bishop’s Appeal as it funds new priorities. The Bishop’s Appeal supports the ongoing day to day work of the diocese, the people I work with a Vicar for Catholic Faith Formation and Education, who pour out their lives to bring our people closer to Christ. Your contribution to the Bishop’s Appeal allows this critical work to continue.
But I am most excited by the 70% coming to our parish. It will be a game changer. We will update our worship space with our first priority being our struggling sound system. The precious words we heard today do little good if they are not heard. We have enlisted the help of the man who does the sound systems when the Pope comes to the United States. And you can always hear the Pope! A new system will also enable us to have devices to enable the hard of hearing to participate fully in mass. We will also add screens to our church. I do not want everything word uttered written on those screens. We pray enough to screens in our daily lives. But how great would it have been to add an image of The Ascension last Thursday? It would be like adding a new stained glass window every week. We could also place new music up there and have announcement and birthday greetings before and after mass. We do not intend to make our worship space a rock venue. Our goal is to retain the feel of our church while have a look a newer generation might expect.
Another great priority is our school. When I die and am met by St. Peter at the gates of heaven, he will ask me why I should be allowed in. I will say. “Well, I was a priest.” And he will tell me that is not enough. Then I will share the story of our little miracle of our school. We take it seriously when Jesus said “Let the children come to me,” and he never asked if they were rich or poor. You can feel the difference when you walk in the door for our mission is not just to educate, but to love. Our school has a poverty rate of nearly 80%. Your generosity now and in the future ensures these kids will have a safe, loving and faith filled community. And if you can give a $1000 a year over the five year commitment period, you will have the opportunity to adopt a student, who will write you and let you know what is going on in school and their life. You can even meet them for they just don’t need your financial support, they need you.
Also, we want the things that make us feel like family. Wouldn’t it be great to have comfortable spaces to gather, talk about your week, and complain about the homily? Wouldn’t it be great if teens went to our lounge after school rather than Starbucks because it is cheaper and this is where they know they belong? A pavilion could be a great place for our families to meet and maybe even have outdoor weddings. And a van would be great for field trips, service excursions and best of all to provide a ride to church for those who want to be here but can no longer drive. Don’t they deserve that for all they have done for us?
Finally, we can make this word come alive. I have been blessed to hear some of the greatest speakers on our faith and it always moves me and opens a new window on God’s love. If we can bring those people here, it will touch and transform lives. And we have the best staff in the diocese. They should have the training and the professional opportunities to serve you better.
Imagine this gift of faith echoing for generations and new people hearing these words of grace anew. Imagine this light not fading away but dispelling the darkness. Imagine the peace of Christ enveloping his world and the forces of hate and violence forever banished. We can renew the mission. We can reignite our faith.

6th Sunday of Easter C
There is a rivalry, a contest that spans throughout the Gospels. It is between Jesus Christ and Caesar, the emperor of Rome. The two figures could not be more different, but both desire the same thing – the allegiance and devotion of all the world. If they were introduced as boxers coming into the arena, Caesar would be carried by his followers and the announcer would thunder, “Now entering, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, the dominator, ruler of an empire that stretches from sea to sea, Caesar! And in the other corner, a scrappy young carpenter’s son from Nazareth, Jesus Christ.” It looks like a mismatch. All the power of Caesar is manifest in power, money and armies. So we are left with the question: how did Jesus win?
Jesus and the early church were very intentional in boldly setting up this contrast. He said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” (Matthew 22:21) believing that all things belong to God. His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday imitates a Roman general coming into a city that he has conquered. (A symbol sure to pique the interest of the Roman authorities.) And we recall Jesus’ warning, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24) The Church insisted that their members know their primary loyalty lies with the Lord and not the Emperor.
Two titles tell the story of the rivalry. The Roman Emperor was known at the Son of God because they proclaimed the previous emperor was elevated to divine status romping among the other pagan gods. This of course gave Caesar greater authority on earth because he would someday have power beyond it. Jesus too claimed to be the Son of God because he actually was, citing that unique relationship with the Father. His status allowed everyone to know and be like God. In the Roman religion, the Emperor became god. In Christ, we were all raised up to God.
The other title is “Prince of Peace.” The Emperor claimed the title because he enforced the “Pax Romana,”the brutal peace that suppressed any challenge to Roman power whether an uprising at the edge of the Empire or a poor Galilean peasant who posed a vague threat. The cross is a taste of the peace of Caesar, a peace only defined by what was best for Rome.
Jesus offers a different kind of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Not as Caesar offers peace. Jesus peace allows our hearts not to be troubled or afraid. It is the guarantee of God for if we keep his word the Father and the Son “will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” The peace of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very spirit that animated Christ and surges within us. This is done for us, not to us. This is the peace of promise, not the threat of violence. This is the peace that allows us to become our best selves; the peace that makes us free; the peace that will last forever. Rome would fall. The peace of Christ never fails. It can never be taken away.
Yet, there are times when I want the peace of Caesar. When I want everyone to bow to my will and simply know it would be better for everyone, especially for me. There are times when I want the elusive peace of Caesar which is control and nothing else will satisfy me. My heart then is always troubled and afraid for any loss of control threatens my peace. I am always anxious because my peace is so vulnerable.
The peace of Christ cedes control to God and we say, “I trust in you.” It reminds us that we are beautiful and strong. It is a promise that we are never alone or forgotten. It is the truest peace of all, knowing we can live forever. In the end, there is only one peace. Let us choose the peace of Christ.