Today’s Thoughts: “If God is for us who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31b) This verse and the verses that follow in today first reading (Romans 8: 31b – 39) is one of my favorite passages in St. Paul’s letters. The verses Romans 8:38-39; “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” sits on the wall over my desk. It is a passage in St. Paul that we should read every morning before we do anything and every evening as we close our eyes to sleep.
Think about it, Paul’s question to us is – “if God is for us who can be against us?” Paul’s answer is nobody and nothing! A second question is – “who or what can separate us for God’s love?” It seems that Paul’s answer to this question is the same, nothing and no one! However, that is not really true because for me Paul leaves out one thing – us. We are the only ones who can separate us from God’s love. We are the only ones who can get in the way.
Our challenge today and every day, if I can paraphrase Jesus in today’s Gospel, “[We] must continue on [our] way today, tomorrow, and the following day.” (Luke 13: 33) but we do it knowing that God is for us and nothing but ourselves can separate us from God’s love. Thus if we are true, faithful, joyful, hopeful and committed to our friendship with God it is always going to be a great day!
Have a great Thursday everyone!
Today is the Eighth Anniversary of my mother’s passing from this life into eternal life. It is always a bittersweet day and a time to remember her gift in my life and in the life of the world. I thought I would share with you today a little something that I wrote a few weeks after my mother death eight years ago. It is a little reflection honoring Mom and her life… and so I share it with you again.
These past few weeks have been filled with great emotion. For those of you who don't know, my mother past way on October 30, 2011 after 94 plus years of life. At first glance one might say, "Hey, 94 plus years, a nice long life, you cannot ask for anything more than that!" You would be right. My mother had a very good life. There are many wonderful stories and memories about her life from early on as a child growing up in Pittsburgh to her wonderful ministry at St. Edna Parish in Arlington Heights, IL and finally to these last years when she struggled with dementia yet add to all our lives through her struggles. She lived life to the fullest, she was a wonderful mother and a gifted woman of faith. She had her own struggles, her own faults and failings but amid them she touched the lives of many people throughout her life!
As I said above Mom struggle with dementia the last 7 or 8 years and on October 30th there was part of me that was glad she had finally found peace. There was no more confusion, no more struggle to remember. Yet, I feel guilty about this feeling. I feel selfish. It was difficult to go and see her sometimes knowing she might not know me or not be able to talk about things that were happening in her life or in the family because she could not remember. Knowing she would often tell the same story or ask the same question repeatedly. It was hard to know that when we would take her out for her birthday she would not remember the celebration, the next day, the next hour or even five minutes later. Yes, it was hard for me and I find it hard to feel good about my feelings of wanting her to be at peace.
Also in the days and now weeks after her passing my memories often center on the times that I was not the best son that I could have been. Times as a child when I made life rather difficult for her. Times when I thought about myself and not about what Mom needed, wanted or deserved. Times when I just was not present to her in her struggles and difficulties. Times when I put myself before Mom, Times when I let her, my dad and my family down because again life was about me!
In the days leading up to Mom's passing as we were sitting around as a family my sister-in-law asked the question, "What is your favorite memory or story about Mom?" I could not come up with one. I could not think of a funny story or a special moment. Mom was Mom. I would like to think that I feel every moment with her was special, a favorite, but I know that is a cop out. My mother was a serious woman, who had a determination and purpose to her life. She wasn't a comedian or jokester. She didn't have humorous sayings or funny mannerisms. She was a woman of faith, substance and of great love in her own way.
Perhaps being part of the "Greatest Generation" as Tom Brokaw put it defines the purpose and determination of my mother's life. She was born at the end of WWI and grew up in the decade of the Roaring 20's top off by the Great Depression. Her young adult life was colored by the stresses and struggles of WWII and then the prosperity of the 50's only to be challenged by the revolutions of the 60's. She saw many wars or conflicts, assassinations, the growing influence of television and the explosion of technology. Her life was filled with one era of change after another but through it all Mom stood firm always eager to learn, wanting always to grow and certainly knowing the value of life and the need to work hard.
Mom was a woman who stepped beyond the usual image of the women of her time. Yes, she was a home maker, a stay at home mom, who never wore pants until the last years of her life. She was always in a dress whether cleaning the house or entertaining guests and every moment in between. Mom was always dressed properly and with dignity, respectful of people, places and situations she found herself in.
Yet, I think of my mother was a woman ahead of her time, a woman who brought respect and dignity to the place of women in the world and in the Church. Now she did not burn her bra or protest for women's right. She was not a "women's libber" or a card-carrying member of NOW. But she was a woman who challenged just what and who women are. She was educated when education for women was not seen as a value. She went to college as a science major when few if any women were science majors. Throughout her life she sought to learn, understand and be a part of the world and her faith all while taking care of a home and family just like many other women. She was a true maker of the home!
Mom saw her faith as the most valuable part of her life and when she lost Dad it took on a new dimension. With time now on her hands she made ministry within her local parish a priority. It was her way of giving back. It was her way helping others and herself see the grace of God at work in life each day. Often in my early ministry as a priest I would talk about the fact that I thought my mother did more ministry than I did! Mom was never the voice of protest in the Church. She didn't voice an opinion about whether the Church should have woman priest or that women should have a more active voice in the Church, she just went about and lived her faith. Ministering to the sick, the dying and families grieving the loss of a loved one. She read faithfully at daily mass, she was always ready to help where ever needed. Her morning walk to and from daily mass was the beginning of her day, it was what started her day much like a first cup of coffee. Once she even got up on Mother's Day and gave a short reflection at mass about being a mother and a woman of faith!
I still have feelings of guilt, of selfishness and I suppose I will always have them. I was not always there for my mother and thank God, I had a family who was. My brother and his family took wonderful care of my mother and my sister and her family while not always able to be there were very important in my mother's life. I cannot go back and undue any of those moments that come to mind often when I was not the best son that I could have been. I guest these thoughts and feelings will be with me always. But I will always remember what Mom taught me and the love she gave me unconditionally. I will remember her dignity, her determination, her purpose in living life. I will remember her faith and how she made the grace of God present to me and many others throughout her life.
I have one consultation amid my feelings of guilt and selfishness and that is that I was gifted, honored, privileged and graced to be able to celebrate her funeral mass, to preach the homily and to lay her to rest. For me as a son and a priest that was the greatest gift I could give to her. I might not be able to call to mind a favorite story about Mom, but I will always be able to remember a great woman of faith whom I will always call Mom!
Thanks Mom, for a Wonderful Life!
Today’s Thoughts: “Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice; turn to the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face.” This is the entrance antiphon for today’s mass and I have to admit I do not often pay attention to the entrance antiphon. Some parishes where I have celebrated daily mass will always stand and read the entrance antiphon as I enter others do not. I have to say I rarely even read it. Yet at I was praying with today’s readings earlier this morning my eyes stopped at this entrance antiphon because I think in a few phrases it captures the essence of our readings today.
In our first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds the community at Rome where prayer begins and ends, with the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says we cannot really pray as we ought. There are too many things that get in the way of our prayer, so we need to turn our prayer over to the Holy Spirit. St. Paul challenges us to let the Holy Spirit enter our hearts so that we will always seek the Lord.
In the Gospel Jesus is confronted with questions about who will be saved and his answer is that to be saved is a hard journey which is not always predictable. Entering the Kingdom is fraught with many challenges and what is necessary is strength. The best way to find and enter through the narrow gate is to trust in the presence of God in life and to draw upon the strength we are graced with through our friendship with God. For Jesus it is all about the lens we look through in life. Do we see things as the world invites us to see things or do we see things as God asks us to see things?
If we chose the world’s way of looking at things the road is wide and easy but the end leaves us outside in the cold. If we chose God’s way of seeing things the road is narrow, difficult and challenging but in the end we will find ourselves safe and warm in the Kingdom.
We do not make this journey alone we make our journey through life with the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul tells us to let go and let God as we pray. Prayer is about letting the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwell within us.
So let us be a community, a Church of joy because our hearts seek the Lord; let us rely on God for strength for the journey; let us constantly be focus on the face of God – with the Holy Spirit directing and enlivening our prayer today and always!
Have a great Wednesday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can [we] compare it?” We might stay that these questions have been asked over and over again down through history. We are always trying to figure out what the Kingdom of God is like. What does Heaven look like?
We are always trying to compare it to what we know. Even Jesus does it today in the Gospel (Luke 13: 18-21). Jesus uses two images out of nature to teach us about the Kingdom of God. He compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed and yeast not exactly what I would compare the Kingdom to but Jesus has a reason for picking these two examples. He compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed and yeast because they are things in nature that are alive. They are growing, ever changing. The Kingdom of God is ever alive growing and changing. Paul seems to tells us in the first reading (Ephesians 5:21-33) that the Kingdom is like the committed, loving relationship of marriage. The Kingdom of God as about respect, commitment and love. The Kingdom of God is like a wife and a husband who find God in their relationship.
Our challenge today is to look around at the people, places and things of God’s creation that are a part of our lives and be thankful for them. When we ask the question what is the Kingdom of God like, to what can we compare it? All we need to do is look around because the Kingdom of God in alive in our life.
Perhaps Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ said it well when he wrote: “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers”
Or maybe Thomas Merton said it a little differently when he wrote: “When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash - at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance [a glimpse of the Kingdom].”
Have a great Tuesday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: As we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude today, two apostles, two friends of Jesus, the thoughts I would like to offer you today come from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara writes about what it means to be a priest. Her thoughts have given me food for thought recently and so I offer them to you today.
“...a priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another's love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy, and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are.”
I hope I live up to what it means to be a priest most of the time. I know at times I do fail and I pray that my failures do not hurt others or keep them from God. I do know that things are not as they should be and I hope and pray that I do care for all the way they are. Though the intercession of St. Simon and St. Jude may we all be blessed today!
I have a great Monday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: In praying with the Gospel the last few days in preparation for today it was important to notice to whom Jesus’ parable was offered. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the usual suspects and all others who are convinced of their own righteousness and spend much time affirming themselves by judging and reducing others with false, but self-flattering comparisons.
The first person in the parable happens to be a Pharisee and he gets up close and personal with God and prays to “himself”! This is the very word Jesus uses to express how self-centered and self-righteous this person is as he pretends to pray. He spends quite a bit of time being grateful that he is not like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest and adulterous, and he is thankful that he is not like this tax collector standing in the back of the temple. He then recites and recalls how he does the rituals of fasting and tithing. He is the perfect person of faith or so he thinks.
As I have often referred to over the last several months as we have read Luke’s Gospel each Sunday, Luke often uses a little literary device, called the “Great Reversal.” Luke presents things upside down and the usual becomes unusual. Jesus’ ways are contrary to worlds ways. As the story continues, we have a tax collector who stands at a safe distance from God and reflects on his imperfection, his sinfulness. He prays, not to himself, but to God and with words reflecting his truth.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Peter, the first to be called, came close to Jesus and asked Jesus to depart, because he, Peter, was a sinful man. Jesus didn’t deny that truth but didn’t deny Peter either. Jesus’ call Peter to follow him in his sinfulness. In today’s parable, Jesus stays consistent. He sends the tax collector out of the temple justified in his humility while the Pharisee seems to stay there all wrapped up in his self-righteousness.
Jesus is catching the attention of both the self-righteous and the self-condemning. Jesus is blessing the truth, but obviously not the sin. He is challenging the former concepts of legalistically based holiness. Jesus is consoling those who know their truth of fallenness and faithfulness at the same time. It can be assumed that both men will be back in their same positions; one patting himself on the back, the other kicking himself a little bit lower. Being forgiven and sent forth does not mean perfection. It does seem that the Christ-right person will return begging for and again receiving healing and mission. It does take the grace of humility for us to be missioned by the sacrament of Reconciliation knowing full well that we will be coming back for more and new healing graces for our recovering from the old fractures. Jesus is never ashamed of us, bored with us, fed-up with us. Jesus doesn’t change in what we call time. God’s love is ever-lasting, always new and always transforming with the opportunity to transform our lives if we dare.
Have a blessed and joyful Sunday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: Seeing Jesus to be a wise person, people ask him to help them understand the meaning of some recent catastrophes—Pilate’s slaughtering of some Galileans in the temple precincts and the death of eighteen people crushed under the collapse of the Siloam tower. Were these people singled out for catastrophe as punishment for being extraordinary sinners? No way, says Jesus, opposing the popular view that bad things only happened to bad people. Then Jesus takes the occasion of their questions to make the paradoxical point that they themselves will suffer catastrophe if they do not repent. To understand what he means, we only have to read further in this chapter to the place where he speaks of the disaster of being locked out of the banquet of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:24- 30).
The parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6- 9) speaks about a fresh chance. When the owner of the orchard wants to cut down the unproductive fig tree, the gardener urges him to allow a little more time: fertilize it a little more, and maybe it will produce fruit. If we look at this story from our perspective at this moment in time we might say that Jesus is telling us that we still have the opportunity to act as people of faith and realize that the command to love our neighbor (even our enemies) requires that we voice our convictions regarding what our country, does in our name. In responding to the Gospel means that we always need to examine our conscience on the matter of justice, respect, fairness and compassion and that we communicate our values and conscience to those who lead us. Our faith calls us to always find Christ even in the most difficult of moments and situations. The tragedies of life are often difficult to explain that is why faith is so important.
Have a blessed Saturday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: A I read today’s Gospel (Luke 12:54-59) as I prepared to celebrate mass this morning I could not help but think of one of my favorite says by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J – “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Jesus seems to be saying the same thing. As human beings we seem to get caught up, become fascinated, with the things around us and in doing so we often miss the most important. We know what will happen when the wind blows out of certain direction. For example, on Saturday here in the east we will have wind out of the northeast meaning it will blow in off the ocean, so we will most likely have a nor’easter rain storm. Now there is nothing wrong with knowing and understanding how nature works however, Jesus’ and Fr. Teilhard de Chardin’s points are that there is something great, something more important, something more value to life and because we are busy about other things we miss it.
If as a Church, a nation, a culture, a society, a world we could put our efforts into harnessing the energies of God’s love we would discover fire for a second time in history and how important was it the first time! The energies of God’s love are all around us, but we are so busy with other seemingly important things that we most often miss the chance to encounter God’s love. We miss the opportunity to make God’s love part of our lives.
My suggestion this Friday morning to all is that we take sometime today to pause and look around ourselves. Look past the obvious, the usual, the everyday. Look for the gift of God in our lives as it comes to us in so many different and life-giving ways. Discover it. Acknowledge it. Breathe it in. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for it. And share it!
Have a great Friday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: After praying with today’s Gospel last evening before heading to bed it was on my mind as I opened my eyes this morning. I can’t help but hear Jesus’ words in all the articles, headlines and reflections that I have read in recent years about the Synods on the Family, Youth and now on the Amazon. Just by reading the headlines one might surmise that the Church is in trouble. That we seem to be amid confusion and unthinkable divisions – bishop against bishop, cardinal against cardinal, cardinal against pope, traditionalists against progressives, conservatives against liberals (well these last two are quite thinkable), but hopefully you get my point. In all the chatter especially from within the Church about the good and bad of the synods you would think the “End Time” is just around the corner.
Yet, my response to all this chatter, media and hysteria is – in the immortal words of Aaron Charles Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, as the Packers got off to a slow start a few seasons ago – “Relax!”
Jesus tells us in the Gospel today (Luke 12:49-53) that there will be divisions, conflicts and struggles because of his presence, message, ministry and call. He tells us that he has come to set the earth on fire and through the centuries that is exactly what has happened from time to time. There is no reason to believe that it will stop anytime soon unless God has other plans. As long as there are two people on this earth there will be disagreements, struggles and challenges.
The Synods on the Family, on Youth and on the Amazon called for by Pope Francis were never meant to be something, at least in my opinion, that would shake the world or come to definitive conclusions. Those gathered for the synods were told by Pope Francis to speak frankly, honestly, truthfully and to look for ways to move the Church forward. It seems that is what they have been doing. Hopefully people gathered have been listening to one another. Hopefully during the synods people have been expressing their opinions, listening to each other and trying to formulate documents that will reflect thoughts, feelings but most importantly the work of the synods so that the Church will be able to move forward with better focus on the needs, issues and life of the family, of youth and the people of the Amazon region of our world.
Unfortunately for the Church, like a football team that plays a bad game, everyone stands ready pounced on them, the international and national media, cardinals, bishops, priests and laity alike. What are they saying? What aren’t they saying? What do they really mean? Was the translation, right? Is the process, right? It all too confusing! It’s a mess? This confusion is of the devil! They have challenged doctrine! Their using the wrong language. They are praying to pagan idols! And so on and so on and so on!
Let me send this memo to the team, fans, media, to all cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, whomever – “Relax!” The synods are works in progress, yes, they can be messy, yes, there will be fights, disagreements and divisions but let’s all have some faith in the Holy Spirit. Let’s all have some faith in the processes. Let’s all believe in the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ love!
Have a great Thursday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” This is a demanding and challenging reflection by Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 12: 39-48). Each time I hear this Gospel especially these words from Jesus I always pause in thought. Am I using the gifts and talents that I have been entrusted with to the best of my ability? Perhaps more importantly, am I using the gifts and talents that I have been entrusted with to further the Kingdom of God? Am I using them not only for myself but for others?
If I am honest with myself then at times my answers to these questions is no! I have been graced, honored and entrusted with many gifts and I have to say at times I do not use them to the best of my ability. Sometimes I am selfish in my approach to life and in sharing what I have been given. At times the challenge of the Gospel especially the challenge in today’s Gospel weighs heavy on me.
I want to be the best person of faith I can be, and I want that to be reflected in how I live my life and how I use my gifts. I was reading a reflection the other day that said, “If we have been given a keen mind, we must think. If we are filled with compassion, we must serve. If we receive a voice, we must sing. God will not ask the impossible but will expect our talents to be used.” Perhaps the question for all of us today is what are my gifts and talents? Are they being used to make present the Kingdom of God?
Have a great Wednesday everyone.
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...