Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

First Day of School

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Debbie, Lauren & Me

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Debbie & Me

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At Camden Yards

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Debbie & Marisol

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Debbie & Me

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Marisol's Graduation Day

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Lauren & Marisol

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Canaanite Woma

This past Sunday's gospel (Mt.15:21-28) found Jesus and his disciples in foreign territory - the Canaanite areas of Tyre and Sidon. Being strangers, they didn't want to call too much attention to themselves. They hoped to just do whatever they needed to do and make their way back to familiar territory. If they had been in a car, they would have rolled up the windows, locked the doors and made their way to the nearest highway exit trying not to make eye contact with anyone. So, you can imagine the stress it caused them when the Canaanite woman recognized them and started calling out for Jesus. They wanted her to go away, and they wanted to get away themselves.

But, she refused to let up. She wouldn't let her one opportunity to meet Jesus slip through her hands. And, she was in desperate need. Her daughter was afflicted by a decision with no hope of cure in site - until Jesus somehow found his way across the border into a foreign village. She had the home field advantage, and she wasn't about to let up.

After talking to the woman, Jesus surprisingly refused to help her because she was not Jewish. But, she would still not give up until Jesus, recognizing her faith, granted her request to relieve her daughter of her affliction. The woman's great persistence was a reflection of the depth of her faith - a depth of faith which Jesus could not ignore.

Now, it may shock us to think that Jesus would be capable of ignoring a woman in such obvious distress. It goes against the compassionate image of him that we so often encounter in the gospels. Could it be that Jesus was really not going to help her? Could it be that Jesus was really willing to allow her daughter to continue suffering just because she belonged to another race and another religion?

On the contrary, I believe that Jesus pretended to ignore the woman to teach a lesson to his disciples who were with him that day and to us who hear this gospel proclaimed today. Jesus must have sensed the woman's distress and seen the faith in her heart. Jesus somehow knew she wouldn't take "no" for an answer and that she wouldn't give up. By forcing the woman to pursue him, he wanted to teach us about the need to persevere in prayer, to not give up even though it seems that our prayers will never be answered and our needs will never be met.

The history of the Church is full of stories of mothers who, like the woman in the gospel, persevered in praying for their children over many years. One of the most moving stories is that of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, though a bright young man, lived many years of his life without direction. He was seeking happiness and peace, but didn't know where to find it. His mother, Monica, prayed for him consistently as he looked into different philosophies and different ways of life all looking for the joy and peace his mother knew he would only find through faith in Jesus. Eventually, after many years of intercession, Monica finally saw her prayers answered when Augustine embraced the gift of faith and turned his life over to Jesus. He was ordained a bishop and became known for his powerful sermons and writings, becoming one of the Church's greatest saints.

The prayer of mothers is very powerful indeed, because it is motivated by deep love and faith. Many of us can point to the prayers and examples of our own mothers and grandmothers as reasons why we came to take our faith seriously. And, I can attest that mothers are in church daily on their knees in prayer for their children who may be having difficulties in school, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, having difficulties in their marriage or struggling with illness. Thankfully, mothers never give up in their prayers for us and for the world.

Last week, we celebrated the feast of the great Mother of the Church, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like a good mother, she never ceases to bring our prayers to her son for us. No matter what we may need and no matter how long it may take, a devotion to the Mother of God assures us that Jesus will hear and answer our prayers.

Our families, our Church and our world have many needs. There is much pain and suffering everywhere we look. With the love and faith we find in our mothers, we must never give up in bringing our prayers to Jesus. If Jesus delays in answering us, then we must pray even harder. Jesus hears us and sees the faith in our hearts. Jesus will answer eventually if we do not let up. We can be especially assured that he will answer if we enlist his mother, Mary, as our ally.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Sign of Jonas

Over the past 15 years, I have been reading Thomas Merton's book, The Sign of Jonas off and on. It contains excerpts of his journal from his first years in the monastery between 1946 and 1952. Because it reminds me so much of the introspective beatings I used to give myself during my own years of formation at Saint John's Seminary in Brighton, I can only make my way so far into it before having to put it aside. Last week, I pulled it off the shelf to give it another try and have found some gems within. This prayer, in particular, struck me for its candor and truth:

Take my life into Your hands, at last, and do whatever You want with it. I give myself to Your love and mean to keep on giving myself to Your love -- rejecting neither the hard things nor the pleasant things You have arranged for me. It is enough for me that You have glory. Everything You have planned is good. It is all love.

The way You have laid open before me is an easy way, compared with the hard way of my own will which leads back to Egypt, and to bricks without straw.

If you allow people to praise me, I shall not worry. If You let them blame me, I shall worry even less, but be glad. If You send me work I shall embrace it with joy and it will be rest to me because it is Your will. And if You send me rest, I will rest in You. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement's sake, to unsettle everything You have ordained.

Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for Your glory. This is what I live for. Amen, amen.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


"Eureka!", Archimedes is said to have shouted as he stepped into his bathtub and realized a way of weighing objects using water. From then on, the term "eureka" (Greek for "I have found it") has come to express the joy of discovery. It was the cry of the '49'ers panhandling gold in the streams of California. It was the cry of untold numbers of scientists who stumbled upon the secrets of the natural world. It was the cry of doctors who, after many years of failure and frustration, finally discovered cures for diseases. "Eureka" expresses the elation we experience when we attain a long-awaited goal or the solution to an elusive problem.

In this weekend's first reading (1 Kgs 3:5-12), King Solomon has a eureka moment. God is offering him whatever he wants - wealth, power and lands. But Solomon realizes that all these things are worthless if he lacks wisdom. He realizes that God has anointed him as king so that he may rule justly over the chosen people. Rather than accumulate riches to impress others and gratify his pride, he chooses wisdom so that he may please God by ruling justly. Wisdom will help him accomplish God's more than wealth and power can. God not only answers his prayer, but also grants him in abundance the wealth and power he did not ask for. With wisdom guiding him, Solomon can now use these riches to a good purpose.

In this year dedicated by the Holy Father to Saint Paul, we also remember the dramatic eureka moment the apostle to the gentiles experienced on the road to Damascus. The Risen Lord appears to him, blinding his eyes with the radiance of his glory but giving vision to his soul so that he might recognize the Light of the World. Paul would come to write that he considers all things as garbage in the light of the knowledge and power which comes from the gospel. In this weekend's second reading (Rom 8: 28-30), Paul reflects on how God makes everything work for the good for those who have been called to discover the plan of God revealed in Jesus.

Finally, Jesus in the gospel (Mt 13:44-46) likens the kingdom of God to a treasure which is happened upon by accident and a pearl which a man finally discovers after much searching. Shouting "eureka", these men sell everything to attain the treasure. The kingdom of God is a joyful discovery, a wonder to the one who stumbles upon it. It makes everything else we may have been searching for or clinging to seem empty and useless. Any follower of Jesus will recognize how this works. Even when we are baptized as infants and raised in the faith, a moment comes when it finally all makes sense. It could be a moment of deep prayer or something we read or hear that gives us insight into what our faith means for our life. It was a moment of joy - a eureka moment - as we discovered the deep, personal love God has for us and his presence and action in our lives. At that moment, we made a more conscious decision to follow Jesus - we attained the treasure at the cost of putting Jesus, rather than ourselves, at the center of our lives.

Of course, that wouldn't be the end of it. That big eureka moment would be filled with other eureka moments in which we are called to recognize the joy of God's presence in our lives and to give more of ourselves in his service. As the men in the parable find, the eureka moment comes at a cost. It requires us to part with something. But, it is done with great joy because we are getting a bargain - giving up something earthly and material for the everlasting life of heaven.

The opening prayer at Mass this Sunday sums it up perfectly:

God, our Father and protector,
without you nothing is holy,
nothing has value.
Guide us to everlasting life
by helping us to use wisely
the blessings you have given to the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Look at the man

The statue of Senhor Santo Christo has a long history in the Azorean island of Saint Michael's. As the story is told, two sisters traveled to Rome to seek permission from the Pope to found a new convent in the town of Caloura. The Pope, impressed by their zeal, not only gave his blessing to their initiative but offered them this statue. Over the past 500 years, it has resided in the church of Our Lady of Hope in the city of Ponta Delgada where it has served as the center of the island's devotional life.

The statue depicts Jesus in Pilate's praetorium just after being scourged and crowned with thorns. Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, perhaps in hopes of sating their cruelty, and says to them: "Behold the man."

It challenges us to come face to face with the man who died to save us.

Looking on the statue calls to mind these verses from the prophet Isaiah:

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our suffering that he endured....
He was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.

Over the centuries, many suffering people have looked on this statue and found comfort and strength. Many sinners have looked on the bloodied face of their Savior and have been moved to repentance.

No one has ever looked on this statue and has failed to be moved by the love which drove Jesus to accept such a cruel fate.

One cannot help but reflect on the scene at the praetorium that day. What different men are Pilate and Jesus. Pilate is a minor official in the Roman hierarchy, while Jesus is the center of all history. What a farce that this man, Pilate, should stand in judgment of Jesus! And yet, how great is the humility of Jesus to endure Pilate's haughty and contemptuous questions!

Jesus, no doubt, may have felt some pity for Pilate. He was a pagan, unversed in Hebrew Scriptures. He held out no hope for a Messiah. The debauched Caesar was the closest thing to a "god made flesh" that he would ever serve. And yet, Pilate knew enough to see that there was no guilt in Jesus. Though he meant it derisively, he also recognized Jesus to be a king.

In some ways, Pilate is like Herod who felt moved by the words of John the Baptist but allowed palace intrigues to result in the prophet's beheading. Pilate knew of Jesus' innocence and even feared the consequences of putting him to death. Nonetheless, he succumbed to the wishes of the crowd, cowardly washing his hands of the matter as if it would lead history to absolve him of his complicity.

How must Pilate have reacted upon his own death to find the roles reversed? What a shock it must have been for him to look upon the one he had scourged and learn that not only was he King of the Jews but Judge of the Nations! How he must have feared that Jesus would wash his hands of him as he washed his hands of Jesus. As he came face to face with the truth he denied, could he have had any hope for mercy? And yet, we can have no doubt that Jesus showed mercy on one who knew not what he did.

We look today at the same man - the man who for our sins was scourged to the point that he no longer appeared human. We look not at a man who comes to condemn us, but to save and heal us. Looking at the man, we can see why the Azorean people are so devoted to the image of their Savior depicted by Senhor Santo Christo.

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