I don’t know about you – but I need Mary!
Because sometimes I have a tendency to look at my life and my accomplishments and want to proclaim: What a great job I’ve done!
Like most Americans these days – I tend to validate my life by pointing to what I have done – and this validation leads to self-affirmation and sometimes even boastfulness and pride.
Influenced by American secularism and individualism – I sometimes even view my existence as independent from God. And when that happens – my tendency is to ignore God’s role in my life, and see myself as a self-actualizing individual – putting myself – not God – at the center of the universe.
And then I really become self-inflated – and then am tempted to look at others as less successful than myself. . .
Yes, influenced by an ever more dominant secular culture, I am tempted to ignore God’s role in my life. I ignore the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb, who gave me my gifts and talents, who sustains me in my existence, and who showers me with the Holy Spirit enabling me to use those God-given gifts and talents.
And that’s why I need Mary – to remind me that this woman God blessed above all other human beings –
whom God chose to be at the center of salvation history and who was faithful to Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary – always kept things in perspective.
That Mary, at all times, realized that the source of her blessings was the Almighty and not herself and whose blessings made her not proud – but humble and grateful.
On this feast of the Assumption – when we believe Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life — I pray for Mary’s intercession that I may become more aware of the source of all my blessings –
That I may join her in her humility, praise, and gratitude to our God: “The almighty had done great things for me and holy is her name.”
Yes, I need Mary – and perhaps you do also – to keep me grounded. To keep me humble. To keep me focused on God. So that I can as readily as Mary – to God’s will in my life.
I began with the children’s book: The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric. (Scholastic Inc.)
After the book: I think the message of the book is that there are just a few words between encountering a stranger – and having a new friend. The kingdom of God is built one person at a time – one kind word at a time. . .
St. Paul in our second reading from the Ephesians said:
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [Now this doesn’t sound like any family or parish we know of – does it?]
Paul continues by saying:
And be kind to one another: compassionate and forgiving.
This is how we are to treat one another in the Body of Christ – and it begins one person at a time.
It’s not always easy – and we are able to do it only because we have received and have been strengthened by the Bread of Life – that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist.
And incidentally, that’s why we treat each other with respect – because we are all little tabernacles carrying the presence of Christ within us. . .
Another Matthew Moment:
If it is true that good things come in twos – then I have some things going for me:
-when was asked by Bishop Johnston to come to St. Patrick – it was the second time a bishop asked me to move when I wasn’t quite ready to move: 1st time when Bishop Finn asked me to move from Holy Family to Odessa & Oak Grove
-My second time, then, in the Northland – as Holy Family is just up the street a bit.
-The second time I have followed Robert Stewart as pastor – the first time was when I followed him at Holy Family.
-the second time I’ve had a connection with St. Patrick school. I’m sure it isn’t often when a former teacher comes back 25 years later to be the pastor. . .
-my second time at a parish which had St. Patrick as its patron – 1st time was St. Patrick in St. Joseph.
- 2nd time with a school – as St. Patrick in St. Joseph had a school.
And just incidentally – some of my closest friends today I first met at St. Patrick –
Fr. Mike Roach, of course – but he had his priest support group over once while I was teaching – and so I met Fr. Rick Dierkes, who is now deceased, here at St. Pat’s — and Fr. Lloyd Opoka.
I certainly want to thank you for welcoming me to St.
Patrick in a much better way than Lazlo was first greeted
at his new school. You have been very welcoming, very
understanding and patient as I’ve gotten settled in – and
I just look forward to spending some great quality time
with you as we continue to build the Kingdom of God
here at St. Patrick. . . .
So our guest speaker last week, 12 year old Joe – told us he had a cat, Phoebe, who he once tried to give a bath to. . . I also have a cat, a nine year old black cat named, Samantha – Sammy, for short – who I have never tried to bathe. . .
Sammy is good company for me, she makes very few demands, and is unconditional in her affection. One thing I have noticed about her over the years, though – is that she always seems to be hungry.
My routine is to feed her first thing in the morning – when she is patiently waiting by her bowl in the kitchen when I get up. Then I eat breakfast — and go out for a walk. When I come in – Sammy— is patiently waiting by her bowl in the kitchen.
I go off to the office and come back for lunch – and Sammy — is patiently waiting by her bowl in the kitchen.
I go out for the afternoon – and guess where Sammy is when I get back home? Patiently waiting by her bowl in the kitchen.
Now she knows she is only going to get fed once in the morning – which leads me to think – either she is a hopeless dreamer when it comes to food — or she is just always hungry. . .
What about us? Are we hungry people? And I’m not talking Big Macs and fries (which incidentally turned 50 this week – that is, the Big Mac).
Are we hungry people? Because in today’s Gospel (and for the next three weeks) Jesus calls himself THE BREAD OF LIFE – and he wants nothing more than to feed us that bread — so are we hungry?
Now this is not just bread to keep us physically alive – like the five loaves and two fish of last Sunday’s Gospel. . . even though that’s what the crowd following Jesus is after – more food — it’s not what Jesus is offering them now. . .
I am the bread of life. . . this bread Jesus is offering is to sustain our spiritual life — the life that was given to us at Baptism –
The life we sometimes hide from others or ignore in ourselves – but a life which is much bigger and more important than we realize. It’s the life that remains even after our earthly life ends
Our bodily, physical lives need food to nourish them – and so does our spiritual life. . .
But the Bread of Life which Jesus offers to sustain our spiritual life —- comes with a huge challenge.
With earthly bread and food – the biggest challenge is how much we have to exercise in order to keep those Big Macs and fries off our waistline.
The Bread of Life, on the other hand, comes with a commitment to live differently. For when we receive the Bread of Life in Communion – we become like little tabernacles – storing the presence of Christ within us. And so when we receive the Bread of Life, we’re expected to live that presence of Christ — in a way that gives evidence to the world that Christ is really there within us.
St. Paul talks about this in our second reading: “Put away the old self of your former way of life corrupted through deceitful desires — and be renewed in the spirit of your minds – and put on the new self.”
Going to Communion is not something we should do lightly and without intention – without putting some thought into it – for when we receive the Eucharist – it unites us to Christ!
And, I think, sometimes that’s why we do it so automatically – because we don’t want to take the consequences seriously – we want to continue living life the way we’ve always lived it: focused on the things of this world, focused on the things that make us feel good, focused on the things that really don’t challenge us —- rather than focusing on the fact that we now carry Christ within us – and because of that – we have to act differently.
So are we hungry people??
I think within us all – there is a part of us that isn’t very hungry for the Bread of Life. It’s the part of us that longs for the passing pleasures of the fleshpots of Egypt – like the Israelites in the first reading – even though we know the price of that pleasure —- is a life of slavery. . . This is the part of us that sees the Life God call us to— as too challenging, too rigorous, too difficult.
It’s the part of us that goes to Mass on Sunday – but then trash-talks a coworker on Monday, or lies about something on Tuesday… or ignores the cry of the poor and the needy of Wednesday.
It’s the part of us that when presented with the Bread of Life, the food which Jesus himself promises will bring us eternal joy and happiness —- says: No thanks – I’m doing just fine. . .
But hopefully we have a much larger and more dominant part of our lives which actually does hunger and thirst, that longs and pines for – the bread which will last forever.
It’s that part of us that’s kind of like my cat – always hungry – never getting enough.
It’s that part of us that has experienced other foods and other forms of nourishment and find they come up short.
It’s that part of us that wants to hold the Life of God within our hearts like living tabernacles –and then making the commitment to live differently.
It’s that part of us, that despite our limitations and our sinfulness wants to give the life that Christ demands of us – everything we’ve got!
It’s that part of us that cries out with Jesus’ followers in the Gospel: “Lord, give us this bread always!”
And the greatest thing about this – is that Jesus does always give us this Bread – each and every time we come to the Eucharist! —- and the more we open our hearts to receiving him, the more we can live our lives in conformity with him.
and the more the part of us that longs for fulfillment and which hungers for something more – will be satisfied.
And Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Let’s never tire of thanking God for this great gift of the Eucharist – and never tire of letting the Eucharist transform our lives. . .
So, I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, by telling you I have a cat. Samantha was given to me by some Holy Family parishioners who rescued her from a dumpster. So she is a joy in my life.
I also find joy in reading – almost anything except westerns and romance novels. So far this year I have read 47 books – which puts me a little behind as my goal is always to read 100 books a year – but remember, I never have the radio on in my house and seldom watch television – which gives me the time and the quiet to read.
I love to travel and one of my bucket list items is to make it to all 50 states – I am up to 42 at this point. I have been to Europe several times and want to go at least once more to see the D-Day beaches of Normandy – which will also give me my history fix. I absolutely enjoy cruises – and will be taking a cruise in January to Cuba. And for some reason – I enjoy caves. . .
My rural roots run deep – and so I enjoy drives in the country, walking, and time spent in the yard – and growing and nurturing things in the garden.
Woodworking is another hobby of mine – never anything too fancy although I have turned out a few pieces of furniture and have built lots of bookshelves in my day.
I enjoy trying new things – which got me to parasail on my last vacation, even though I don’t like heights — and got me to Chiefs training camp in St. Joe this past week — even though I’m not much of a sports fan.
I like supporting live music and theater events – so I saw Hairspray at Starlight this week and have season tickets to the Missouri Rep. and occasionally go to the symphony and the opera – but seldom the ballet –which was one of Fr. Robert’s favorites. . .
All of these pursuits hopefully nourish my soul and sparks my creativity. . . . all in all, I think I am a pretty simple guy who just enjoys hanging out with my friends & family – and of course, my cat.
So — next week we will have a story – and in the meantime be a worthy tabernacle for Christ this week!
I told you from time to time I like to invite a guest speaker to come and spend some time with us. I happened to have met someone who I thought might interest us all and so invited him to speak to us today.
My name is JOSEPH, but most people just call me Joe.
I am twelve years old and my family lives right outside the town of Tab-gha — which is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
It’s just a small place — even now – and certainly would have been long forgotten had it not been for something that happened there – but I am getting ahead of myself.
I go to the local school at our synagogue, but like many of you listening today – IT’S SUMMER – so I am as free as a bird. Well, almost.
While my older brother, Saul, helps my dad, a stonemason, while we are off from school – I help my mom – mostly by running errands for her —- like today – when she sent me into town to buy a few things for dinner: five barley loaves and two fish. . .
as you can guess from that menu – we aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, hence the barley loaves rather than wheat. . .
As I was making my way home today, I saw a crowd gathered on the hillside – and just like my cat, Phoebe, curiosity got the best of me.
The crowd was listening to a man talking … And as I began to listen to him – it hit me – this must be that man Jesus, from Nazareth – that everyone’s been talking about.
He was certainly captivating to listen to… And the longer I listened – the later it got – and the hungrier the crowd became.
At one point – this Jesus asked one of his followers to feed the crowd – and what a response that drew: “two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough” . . . Wow, was the crowd that big – or had he just become that cynical??
I had my five loaves and two fish – or I should say, I had OUR five loaves and two fish – since they were for my family. Should I or shouldn’t I —offer them to the man? I mean – obviously they weren’t going to be enough – but the rabbi at our synagogue always said that miracles only happen in times of scarcity and need – for where there is abundance, there’s no need for miracles. . .
And mom and dad always taught me to be generous – because after all, everything I have – is a gift from God — and so almost without thinking — I said, “Here – take these!”
The man Jesus took them and did something very important first – he gave thanks to God —
and then by golly, he fed that whole crowd – and there was even left overs – 12 baskets full – and Jesus gave one of them to me to take home – won’t mom and dad be surprised! Enough food for us to last a whole week!
I could not understand why the adults with Jesus were reluctant to do something. . . maybe they had lost their sense of awe and wonder – their sense of trying the impossible, their ability to dream —- like the adults in my family have done.
Like the day I was going to dig a hole to the middle of the earth – and dad said – can’t be done – well that just made me try even harder!
I mean, sure I found out it couldn’t be done – but what an adventure I had trying!
Or the time I was going to give Phoebe a bath – and mom said – it can’t be done – cats don’t like water — and of course it couldn’t be done —
but what fun I had trying – even if I did have a few scratches afterwards!
Don’t tell me it’s just a wooden crate – for me it can become Elijah’s chariot! A pile of dirt? For me it’s Mount Sinai and I am Moses. . .
I know I’m just a 12 year old kid and nobody wants to listen to me —- but how do you have faith if you lose your sense of awe and wonder or your ability to dream?
What happens when rainbows and sunsets and rain and the purr of a cat — become so ordinary – that we don’t even pay attention to them???
And isn’t having faith all about believing the impossible can become possible?
Like how God led our ancestor through the Red Sea without any of them getting their feet wet. . . Impossible? You would think – but God can find a way when there is no way – because all things are possible with God!
Or how God fed our ancestors in the desert with mana and quails. Impossible? You would think – but with God all things are possible!
And feeding five thousand people on a hillside in Tab-gha? Impossible? You would think –
but with a freely offered gift of five loaves and two fish – God did it— because with God all things are possible!
Ironically my name Joseph – means “increase” in Hebrew – and that’s what happened that day – there was an increase in the gifts I gave away. . . and maybe that’s the ultimate lesson for you: if you want a miracle in your life – give something away to make room for one.
Impossible? Better become a kid again and rediscover, or discover for the first time, a sense of awe and wonder in your life and your ability to dream.
– Recapture, or develop for the first time –
your sense of the impossible becoming possible — because all things are possible with God. . . that’s what faith is all about. . .
Maybe that’s what this Jesus means when he says, “Unless you become like little children, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. . .”
Smart man, this Jesus!
So, gotta go. Mom needs me to run some soup over to Miss Ruth, our neighbor who is a bit under the weather. Mom never tires of trying to teach me to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Seems like Jesus says something about that too. . . So take the advice of a 12 year old kid – you would be wise to listen to Jesus. . .
So, back to reality – and back to a Matthew moment — after teaching a year here at St. Pat’s – I knew I could be happy just teaching for the rest of my life – and yet, something was missing.
So I met with Bishop Boland and we decided that perhaps a parish assignment would help me to do some additional discernment – so I went to St. Mark’s in Independence as an associate pastor where Fr. Jim Healy was the pastor.
It was only years later that I found out Bishop Boland thought this would be a good assignment for me – because if I could survive Jim Healy – I could survive anything!
Bishop Boland took a liking to me because within a year he asked me to also take care of coordinating the continuing education of priests for the diocese – a position Fr. Justin Hoye currently has. I must have been good at it—- because I did it for 11 years for Bishop Boland.
He also gave me my first pastorate – which was St. Patrick’s in St. Joseph and St. Joseph parish in Easton.
I learned a lot from Fr. Healy and learned a lot in those 8 years I spent in St. Joe – and then Bishop Boland asked me to go to Holy Family – an assignment I absolutely loved for 9 years. . .
And then there arose a Bishop who did not have a liking for Matthew. . . Within a year of Bishop Finn’s arrival, I resigned my position of continuing education director – since I found out I just could not have a healthy working relationship with him.
And this was about the time Bishop Finn decided to send me to St. George parish in Odessa and St. Jude parish in Oak Grove. And even though they were much smaller parishes, I kind of liked the slower pace – and actually did not realize how physically tired I was after the 9 years at Holy Family, until I had a chance to slow down. “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while” I was truly living those words of Jesus from last week.
So while I think that assignment was supposed to be a punishment of sorts — I thoroughly enjoyed it — and again – learned a lot.
And just about the time I was getting super comfortable, and perhaps a bit too content – Bishop Johnston asked me to come to St. Patrick’s. And I was thrilled to accept the invitation.
So I will see you next week! And in the meantime — take the advice of the 12 year old kid, Joe —- work on your sense of awe and wonder, your ability to dream this week.
A long time ago – when there were kings and queens and castles and kingdoms – there was a particular kingdom that was very, very, very, noisy.
It was filled to its borders with the continual shouting of people, the pounding of hammers, the squawking of animals, and the crying of children.
One year the young prince, who had grown up loving all of this commotion – declared that for his birthday – he wanted to hear the loudest noise in the world – even louder than Arrowhead Stadium after a touchdown. . .
So the royal decree went out that at precisely noon on the day of his birthday – all the citizens of the kingdom would gather before the palace balcony and shout at the top of their lungs – for one minute – to produce the loudest noise in the world.
In the far corner of the realm, however, one old woman found the decree would give her a chance at rebellion.
She did not like the oppressive royal family, and certainly wasn’t going to give the young prince what he wanted for his birthday.
She told her husband that when everyone else gathered at the palace to shout — she would merely open her mouth and pretend to shout.
Well, she also told her best friend, and her husband told his best friend – and they in turn told their families and friends – and all thought that this act of rebellion was a great idea –and all thought they would be the only one’s NOT shouting at the top of their lungs.
And so right before noon on the day of the prince’s birthday – the whole kingdom was gathered before the palace balcony. And as the clock struck twelve – the kingdom, for the first time in anyone’s memory – fell completely silent. And the young prince heard not the loudest noise in all the world – but the greatest sounds in the world. . .
For the first time in his life – the prince heard a bird singing. . .
The creek rippling by . . .
The wind blowing through the trees.
And instead of being upset by the decree not being obeyed — the prince wept for joy!
Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for awhile.” Come away from the shouting of people, the pounding of hammers, the squawking of animals, and the crying of children. Escape the noise of the crowd—————— in order to hear and be refreshed and renewed—– by the voice of God. . .
And remember – Jesus was saying this long before radio and television and cell phones and video games and cars and horns and sirens — and all the other stuff we hear non-stop — day in a day out.
Come away—— and be refreshed.
As Joseph Campbell – who was a professor of literature and comparative religion once said: “You must have a place to which you can go in your heart, your mind, or your house, almost every day – where you do not owe anyone anything — and where no one owes you – a place that simply allows you —- to blossom into something new and promising.”
Where is that place for you?
Because IF you are going to grow in holiness, which is what God desires of all of us – we have to have such a place – in order to hear and be refreshed and renewed by the voice of God.
For me – that place — is in the car – where I seldom have the radio on – and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet as I come and go from many places throughout the course of the day.
That place is in my house — where I never have the radio on, and seldom have the television on.
It is in the yard where I work and sit and read – and occasionally take a nap. . .
It is on daily walks in the neighborhood in the early morning and late at night.
That place is specifically a chair in my bedroom where I have everything I need to spend some quiet refreshment time with the Lord – my prayer book, the Bible, my rosary – and usually the cat in my lap.
It’s why I faithfully take a day off a week, and go on retreats and vacations — would anyone want a priest to lead their parish who was not doing his best —— to listen to the voice of the Lord????
Come away and be refreshed. My challenge to you — is for you to create such sanctuary places in your life – so that you can hear not the loudest noises in all the world –
but the greatest sounds in the world – like silence – and the still quiet voice of God speaking to you. . . so that you can be refreshed and renewed . . .
As an incentive to create such a place in your home, which remember is the domestic church – I have two things to give you today –
First – a prayer card of St. Patrick – who is pretty important to us around here – with the reminder on the back to HUG in the coming year:
Grow in holiness.
To be united in what we say and do.
So that we can become great as individuals and as a parish.
Second – is a little gift from Bishop Johnston who is initiating within the diocese listening sessions to hear what direction you think this diocese needs to move in. He asks you to pray for the success of these sessions and invites you to attend one — the prayer card also has those sessions listed. . .
And I say, thank God — we have a bishop who is going to listen to us first — before he decides what he needs to do to best serve our needs.
So take the prayer cards, create a sacred space in your home – and place the cards there as a reminder, and perhaps as an invitation – “to come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – this week’s: Matthew Moment.
So as I told you last week, while at Subiaco — one morning I woke up and decided that I did not want to be around teenagers for the rest of my life.
I also would look around the dining room and notice that I was a good 20 years younger than anyone else – so the future was looking kind of bleak.
Because of the schedule I had to keep in the school, I very seldom got to participate in the prayer life of the community which I had been drawn to.
And, in a place you would expect would be filled with silence to be able to hear the voice of the lord calling to you — I lived next to one guy who practiced the banjo every night – no doubt, he needed the practice, but did not really show much improvement – and lived beneath I guy who loved the St. Louis Cardinals and was listening to baseball games every night.
Of course this was in an un-airconditioned building where if some sneezed two floors away — you heard it.
So, I decided to leave – and went home to southern Indiana to think about things for awhile.
I quickly found out that living with your parents after being away from home for almost 20 years was not the ideal place to figure things out –
So I came to Kansas City — where a classmate from seminary, who did not go on for ordination – lived – and offered me a place to live and found me a job.
I worked for a year at Stroud’s – here, north of the river – doing landscaping and maintenance – and then landed my teaching job here at St. Patrick’s.
After that year, I knew I could be happy just teaching — but also thought there was something still missing in my life ————- so I made an appointment to see Bishop Boland.
So we are not quite finished with my story. So come back next week – when we launch into the reading of John’s Gospel for the next 5 weeks — and you can hear a little more about me.
Enjoy your week — and be sure to seek out a little quiet. . .