Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Focus (Sunday homily)

As I reflected on these readings from Scripture, one word came to mind: focus.

In the first reading, we have Saint Elijah seeking out the man 
God had chosen as his successor, Elisha. Elisha is focused: 
by slaughtering his oxen and giving away the food, 
he shut the door on ever going back 
on his resolve to be the Lord’s prophet.

Then in the Gospel, we see Jesus totally focused on Jerusalem. 
He knows what will happen there: 
he will give his life as a ransom for many. 
James and John’s focus is somewhere else. 

They remind me of a saying a friend of mine has: 
“Keep your eye on the main chance; 
don’t stop to kick every barking dog.” 
James and John are stopping to kick the Samaritans; 
Jesus is keeping his eye on Jerusalem, 
and the Cross, and the salvation of the world.

And what Paul says in the second reading is likewise about focus. 
His advice could be restated as following: 
the reason you don’t want to give into temptations 
and be drawn aside by pleasure, and desires of the flesh, 
is because they will keep you from gaining eternal life.
Keep moving! Keep focused! 
Keep your eye on the main chance, which is heaven!

So when we see Jesus’ conversations with people in the Gospel, 
we might be a little put off by what he says. 
“Let the dead bury the dead,” he says to one man. 

Was Jesus saying that the man shouldn’t care for his dying father? 
Or, if the father was already dead, he shouldn’t give him a funeral? 
That is, after all, one of the corporal works of mercy.

No, I think what’s going on is that Jesus sees these folks’ hearts. 
He knows the man’s heart is divided. 
He kind of wants to follow Jesus; but he holds back. 
Remember, Jesus had a conversation like this with another man – 
a rich young man, who wanted to follow the Lord. 
And Jesus told him: go, sell all you have, and give it to the poor – 
then, come and follow me. And you will have treasure in heaven.
And do you recall what happened? 
The man did not go away and sell his things; 
instead, it says, he went away sad – because he had many possessions.

It’s all about focus. Jesus tells us: 
if you set your hand to the plow and turn back, 
you aren’t fit for the Kingdom. 
I shouldn’t talk about these things, 
because the closest I have come to putting my hand to a plow 
was driving Dave York’s combine – 
but I was driving over stubble, where I couldn’t do any real harm! 
But I noticed when Dave drove that combine, 
even as he was explaining about his farm, 
he kept a steady eye forward; 
he was making sure he didn’t fail to gather any of the corn. 
And I would imagine, when plowing, you want to look ahead, 
to focus on the task, 
rather than looking back to admire your handiwork. 
And in the process, make a mess of things.

What is the task Jesus has for us to focus on? It is the Kingdom. 
You and I are united with Jesus in this life, heading for eternity. 
Don’t let anything slow you down! 
Don’t let sin and bad habits and distractions 
come between us and Jesus.

Our mission is to get to heaven,
and bring as many others with us as we can. 
To the extent that we can, 
we bring the law of the Kingdom into this world – 
because Jesus isn’t just king of heaven, 
he is the rightful king of this world as well.

But we keep our focus. 

So, for example, a lot of us are paying attention 
to national and world events; 
there are elections later this year that are important, 
and we have a voice and a vote. 
God calls us to live in this world according to the truth of Christ, 
but you and I are in this world as wayfarers, as pilgrims. 
We aren’t going to make a paradise on this earth. 

So, while we pay attention, we don’t get bogged down. 
Don’t get angry; don’t get worked up. 
If you find that happening, turn off the TV, and instead, get prayed up! 
Keep our focus on Jesus! 
He is the only one who will save us, no one else.

Last Friday, I was so happy to see 
over a hundred men and boys of all ages come out 
for our first Men’s Prayer Walk. 
It was a good time of friendship; and the cookout was great, 
with good food and games. 
But what was the focus? 
Prayer; and lifting up Jesus Christ before our community, 
and praying for him to bless the people of our parish. 

I walked right behind the older boys 
who were taking turns lifting up the Cross. That was the focus. 
And it seemed like all those taking part understood that.

This coming Friday, we have a group of folks 
who are going to be keeping vigil in the church, 
after the First Friday Mass. 
They will be praying for conversion, seeking to consecrate themselves, 
and our world, more deeply to the Two Hearts: 
the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 
You are welcome to come and join in. 
Our focus is Jesus – bringing him, as much as we can, to our world; 
and bringing as many people in our families, 
and our community, to Jesus. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

First 'Men's Prayer Walk' a Success!

Yesterday afternoon, Saint Remy Parish revived a tradition from medieval England, and brought it to the fields surrounding the farm community of Russia, Ohio.

Over 100 men and boys answered my invitation to exercise spiritual leadership and guardianship over the parish with a "Men's Prayer Walk." So, yes, this was specifically pitched to men. (One girl did make it, however: a father brought his infant daughter along.)

Where did this come from?

Some time back, I came across an ancient practice -- still observed in some parts of England and Wales -- called "Beating the Bounds." As Wikipedia describes it, "A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands." Mindful that I was pastor in a rural parish, this idea struck me as something we could do.

It also occurred to me that this would be a great way to call men -- of all ages -- to exercise spiritual leadership; to exercise their tasks of guarding, guiding and giving. And, I thought it might help build friendships and comraderie.

So, several months back, I began describing the idea to a few people, and they liked it. They helped me develop it further. At one point, I planned it for a Saturday morning; but I was persuaded that a Friday evening would work better. So, we settled on the following plan. We would meet by 5:30 pm behind the priest's house and climb onto a hay wagon, which would take us out to the northern boundary of the parish. There we would begin our walk. Anyone who couldn't walk could stay on the wagon; and we also had a couple of other vehicles available. After walking for an hour -- during which we prayed ten decades of the Rosary, two litanies, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and a consecration to the Sacred Heart -- we climbed back on the hay wagons, and headed back to my back yard for a cookout.

I involved several men of the parish as my "wise men": one took charge of transportation; one took responsibility for food and drink, and a third handled set up and clean up. Several others pitched in with help and ideas -- such as games for the boys (what a great idea!).

My hope and plan was for 50 participants; we more than doubled that. Several men who took part didn't walk; instead, they rode in a golf cart. A number of the boys were in strollers, and some ended up riding their dads' back part or most of the time.

One of the ideas I came up with was to give the boys chalk, and a diagram for them to draw on the street as we went along. What I came up with looked like this:

S.     R.
 2  |  0
 1  |  6
O. P. N.

And in case you are wondering, that is meant to show a cross, surrounded by this year's date, and the words, Sancte Remigii, ora pro nobis, or in English, Saint Remy, pray for us.

Well, the boys really took to that, as I hoped! The only miscue on my part was I didn't plan for enough prayers; I prepared a handout, and we ripped through those prayers in about 35 minutes. So with the help of our recently ordained deacon, we added another set of mysteries, and sang "Immaculate Mary" and "How Great Thou Art." And we had some silence in between.

After an hour, we'd walked about 2.5 miles, then got back on the hay wagons and rode back for a cookout, with the last stragglers leaving after 10 pm. Everyone had a great time. Several young, unmarried guys were really enthusiastic, saying that they were going to see that more of their friends joined us next year.

And there will be a next year: I haven't set the date, but it will be June, and we'll pick up roughly where we left off, and walk another 2-3 miles; and so forth, until we walk the entire circumference of the parish, which is about 25 miles. I figure it will take 9 years or so.

There were many blessings, which make me thing the Lord looked with favor on our endeavor. The weather was perfect; there were no traffic problems (or any others), and a parishioner came to me the day before, offering some fresh ground beef for hamburgers -- as much as we could possibly want.

I might here explain, especially for the benefit of St. Remy Parish, that the actual northern boundary wasn't the road on which we walked, but a quarter-mile north; but that ran through the fields. In olden days, I imagine they would have walked through the fields, because it was rather important to know and maintain those boundaries in those days. The exact boundaries matter less to us today, but it is still worthwhile to have a sense of responsibility for the people of the parish.

And, for the benefit of our parishioners, here are the boundaries of our parish. The northern boundary extends from a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby County Road, and a quarter mile north of Redmond Road. Beyond State Route 48, that line continues until it meets Loramie-Washington Road, which is the eastern boundary. The line continues all the way south to Miami-Shelby County Road; and the southern boundary runs along that road, until it reaches a point a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby. For those who know the area, this means that our parish includes Dawson, Houston and Mt. Jefferson areas, as well as Russia and the surrounding areas.

Of course you want pictures. Here are some. This first one shows all the men, with the boys running ahead. I'm in there somewhere.

One of our boys carrying the cross. They took turns.

Here's one of our boys using the diagram I gave them to "chalk the walk."

Another of the boys letting people know we'd been there.

Here I am, with the deacon to my right, and the seminarian to my left. If anyone wonders why we didn't wear vestments...well, it was about 85 degrees, and we were in the sun for over an hour.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Jesus spent A LOT of time with the poor and overlooked. Do you? (Sunday homily)

The similarities between the first reading, 
with Elijah, and the Gospel, with our Lord, 
are obvious and striking. 

Elijah visits a widow, with a dying son. 
Jesus meets a widow at the funeral of her dead son. 
This is not an accident. 

There are a couple of things you can discover, 
if you are able to take time to read and really study the Gospels:

First, Jesus himself was deeply familiar with the Scriptures – 
what we call the Old Testament. 
Of course he is God, so that means, as a member of the Holy Trinity, 
he inspired the human authors. 
But if you approach the Gospels simply taking Jesus as a man, 
you can’t help noticing how fully imbued he was with Sacred Scripture.

Second, Jesus was very conscious of who he was, 
and what his mission was – and how everything he said and did 
represented a fulfillment of Sacred Scripture.

One of the things you will sometimes find people claiming – 
you’ll see it in films, or TV shows about Jesus, 
or even in scholarly articles and books about him – 
is that he only slowly became aware that he is God. 
So there was a recent movie about Jesus as a boy – 
I didn’t see it, but apparently it took this approach; 
it showed Jesus only gradually realizing he was the Messiah, 
and that he was God.

That’s not what Scripture shows, however. 
Here, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing, and why. 
By performing this miracle – raising a widow’s son from the dead – 
he knows he is doing something only the great prophet Elijah did. 

If this were an isolated case, this wouldn’t be so clear. 
However, look at the whole story of what Jesus said and did. 
He performed healings, which fulfilled what Isaiah foretold. 
He fed the multitudes, which recalls not only the Manna in the desert, 
but also a miracle by the prophet Elisha. 
He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – fulfilling yet another prophecy. 
I could go on, but you get the idea. 
Jesus both knew the Scriptures very well, 
and he very deliberately chose 
to do all manner of things in line with them. Why?

Because, of course, that is how he helps people to see 
that he is the Messiah, the hope of Israel.
But also, Jesus is saying, I’m like Elijah, only I’m more than Elijah. 
When Elijah performs this miracle, notice what he does. 
He calls out to God, saying, O Lord, please do this! 
Elijah has no power to heal this boy, and he knows it. 

But Jesus does not pray. He commands! 
Just as God said, “Let there be light” – and it was so; 
here, Jesus, God in human flesh, commands the boy to rise; 
and it was so!

There’s another detail here, and it’s the one I hope to leave you with. 
Notice, the widow did not seek out Jesus. 
In other miracles, people seek Jesus for help. 
But here, Jesus seeks her out. 

After all, it says he made a special trip to this place. 
I have no doubt he went there with this very purpose. 
And upon meeting the funeral procession, he seeks out the widow: 
he has compassion on her.

Even in our time, a widow who lost her only son would be in trouble. 
Those of us who have farms and businesses can appreciate that. 
But in those times, there wasn’t any Social Security. 
She would have been in a very bad way. 

And this recalls something that is also very clear in the Gospels – 
something Pope Francis has pointed out: 
how often and how insistently 
Jesus seeks out those who are poor and powerless.

Here in this community, you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 
We are a close community. 
We have a strong parish, strong family life. 
You or I may not consider ourselves “rich,” 
but compared to what so many go through…we’re rich. 

We are also rich in faith and devotion. 
Last week we had our Corpus Christi Procession, 
and the 11 am Mass was packed; the attendance was strong. 
We had high school seniors – graduating that day! – 
who were at the Mass, and took part in the procession.

So here’s the point I want to make. 
When Jesus walked the earth, 
he made a point to seek out those who were on the margins, 
those who might easily be overlooked, 
or who might be looked down upon. He sought out the poor.

You and I are his disciples. We want to be with him. 
So we might ask ourselves: am I seeking out those in need? 
Am I reaching out to those who might otherwise be forgotten?

About 800 or so people 
will come to Mass this weekend and hear these words. 
If every one of us accepts this mission: 
I will look around to see who – 
in my neighborhood, at work, at church, in school, in our community – 
is most in need, who might be easy to look past, rather than talk to. 
And I will reach out. I will seek them out.

And can we commit to take another step?
In this corner of Shelby County, there are people in need, 
but not a whole lot, and not the greatest need. 
Jesus didn’t just stay in Nazareth. 
He went looking for this widow. 
There are great apostolates to people in need in Sidney, 
in Piqua, in Troy and Dayton. 
I know many of us have helped provide food, and supplies, 
and donations; many have volunteered. 
What I’m suggesting is that we can do more. 

Jesus spent a lot of time seeking out the poor. A lot of time.