Category Archives: quote

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2018

During the 20 years I was pastor of a north Jersey church, one of our excellent catechists and her husband, both educated, intelligent Catholics, welcomed into their beautiful home about a dozen of our teenagers twice a month for two years. The purpose of these meetings was to teach the children and discuss openly with them matters of faith as they were making their way toward the sacrament of Confirmation.

Naturally, I would inquire regularly how things were going. After the expected reports on both the funny and the insightful things the kids were saying and doing, their mentors more than once told me of their concern that many of their students did not feel that they are loved by God. Their image of God, I was informed, was of a distant, judgmental, overseer who has no personal relationship with them, no intimate involvement in their lives, but who is constantly scrutinizing their behavior from afar and, as they put it, “taking notes” to hold against them.

Where did those young people ever get such notions? Where does anyone get them? I believe the process starts when we who grew up in religious homes were told by well-meaning parents that God won’t love us – in fact, that God will punish us – if we did not behave as we were told to. The lesson got reinforced a little later when we learned that we can commit a sin called mortal, like murder or missing Mass on Sunday (seems ridiculous now, doesn’t it, to place those two side by side?), a sin for which we would be punished in everlasting fire!

And then we find out that certain Catholics are barred from the sacraments of the church because they married again after a failed marriage ended in divorce.

And so on & on & on…

Add to all of that the possibility of a childhood under stern, unaffirming parents, and it is almost inevitable that one’s image of God will be forever malformed accordingly.

But the church was established to spread throughout the world a revelation called the Gospel, the Good News. The Good News it proclaims is both a person and a primary fact of human life. The person, of course, is Jesus, and the fact of life revealed in and through him is that God is pure, unconditional love! While we may be obsessed by or worried about our human weaknesses, God sees in us what God has made – and loves us.

You remember Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking. (Susan Sarandon played her in the movie by the same name.) Sister Helen’s ministry was to prisoners on death row and to the families of their victims. I met her once and asked her advice as I was about to fly to Georgia to meet with a man on death row with whom I had been corresponding for years. Among the gems of wisdom she gave me was this: “Tell him over & over that people are far more and better than the worst thing they’ve ever done; and that’s what God sees.”

Yes, we are far more and better than the worst thing we’ve ever done, and that’s what God sees.

We are loved just as we are – and just because we are! That unconditional love has the power to inspire us to achieve as best we can our human potential and to find ever-increasing peace and joy in the process of daily conversion.

How are we supposed to commune with the Creator of this unfathomably immense universe? What language do we use? What concepts do we think with? Jesus solves the conundrum by telling us emphatically that “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” We converse with the mystery we call God through the one who has penetrated the mystery as no one ever has – and, for the time being, that is more than sufficient.

The Easter we continue to celebrate assures us that the lines are open – and never closed.

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4TH SUNDAY IN LENT 2018

I once heard two Baptist ministers on TV say that anyone who does not profess Jesus to be his or her Lord and Savior is doomed to everlasting damnation. No exceptions. Innocent ignorance and good intentions notwithstanding, anyone who does not accept Jesus as the one and only Savior is condemned to everlasting torture.

Here we are once again with a Gospel reading that seems to say what we find impossible to accept, something we know to be unreasonable and untrue. You just heard the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, this time St. John, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as God’s only Son and the Savior of the world has already been condemned. What are we to make of such a statement? Well, I suggest that this is what we do with it:

1. We start with the fact that through the entire first century, the infant church did not have the bible that we have today; there was a word of mouth tradition, the faith being passed on from person to person and generation to generation under the leadership of the apostles and their successors. The church was like a classroom that had a teacher and an eager body of learners – but not yet a textbook. The formation of the Christian faith community came first; the textbook — the bible — was being developed and refined at the same time.

2. We admit that both the Old and the New Testaments contain many vengeful statements, as they are called, that sound hard, even cruel, and we realize that they have to be understood in the context of love. I think no one has expressed that better than the authors of the brilliant little book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Listen to this quote from page 13: “…we use vengeful punishment language all the time in our homes and families. Such statements are exaggerations (hyperbole) that can be safely used only in a context where everyone understands that they are not to be taken literally…”

Later on the authors say that when Jesus intervened in the about-to-take-place stoning of a woman accused of adultery, he was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to interpret literally those words of Moses which commanded the violent execution of such a sinner.

3. We must read or hear the bible always with common sense! We can be sure that Jesus and the Spirit of God expect that of us. If I tell you that I am blue today, I assume you know that the comment has nothing to do with my skin color, but only with my mood. If you tell me that there were a million people at the dinner last night, I know you mean many, not a thousand thousand. Similar adjustments and accommodations that we make all the time must also be made when we are reading or hearing the ancient scriptures.

With these guidelines in mind, we can be certain that Jesus is not saying what the two ministers interviewed on TV claimed he was saying: that those who don’t know or follow Jesus are on their way to eternal damnation. No, what he was saying is that the first and most basic duty of every human being is to try to find the truth in all things and then to live by it, to look for the light and to walk toward it and then in it. Truth and light will lead us to goodness and love. Jesus is truth and light, and all persons, regardless of their religion, who make goodness and love the essential standards of their lives, walk in the company of Jesus, whether they recognize him or not.

Saints are in every religion – and many are in none! Let us love and respect one another, as Jesus wants us to.

3RD SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2017

With her lawyer husband, Patty Crowley, who died twelve years ago, was a founder of the Christian Family Movement and also a member of the birth control commission appointed by Pope Paul VI. Both of these distinctions, and many others, took place mostly in the 1950s and 60s.

Patty was the mother of four; she was a gentle, loving, caring person, whom Father Andrew Greeley called the most important woman of her time with regard to the involvement of the laity in the life and ministry of the church. She was, by the way, a great cook, constantly preparing and serving good meals for her family, their friends, and strangers as well.

Patty could be quite blunt, without offense or meanness: she wrote back in the 80s that she longed for a church “that is honest about its teachings, that admits its errors and faces the effects of rigidity with openness.”

In preparing this homily, I was reminded of something I had read about her around the time of her dying. The National Catholic Reporter introduced it with this beautiful description of her journey toward death and new life: “As her health declined over the past 10 years, she remained as long as possible an active member of Holy Name Cathedral Parish, reading the scriptures on Sunday and bringing Communion to the homebound; and always she warmly welcomed any visitor who cared to drop in on her, even on a moment’s notice. … (She) provided a blunt, typically pithy summary of the spiritual outlook that guided her life. (Quote) ‘I say the only important thing is Jesus’ message, and the rest of the rules are for the birds. So give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, help the sick and visit those in prison. That’s what I do.’ ” (End of quote)

I think that is so refreshing, especially as coming from a modern saint, a true follower of Jesus, who lived faithfully by his rules, which he said were essentially only two: to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

Patty Crowley may never be canonized, and I’m not suggesting that she should be. But she certainly was a prophet who, as we might colloquially express it, “cut the mustard” and focused on the essence of real Christian behavior both in what she said and in how she lived.

Of course, rules are necessary and helpful in their proper place and form; Patty would not have denied that, I’m sure. But she was right in insisting that our lives as Christians are not to be characterized primarily by obedience to rules and regulations invented by others for us to observe.

No, our Christian lives are to be defined essentially by relationships that are kind, patient, respectful, non-abusive, life-giving, forgiving, affirming, loving. As Patty expressed it, if those are not the qualities of our relationships, then all the rules that we so scrupulously keep are simply, in her exact words, as you just heard minutes ago, “for the birds.”

“Rejoice always,” St. Paul advises us in today’s second reading. “Never stop praying. Give thanks always…Don’t stifle the spirit. Don’t despise prophecies. Test everything; retain what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil.”

Our friend Father Roger Karban, whom we haven’t quoted for a long time, says, “Not a bad way to live – especially when we’re not exactly certain where our living is taking us.”