My name is – James. And you just heard part of my letter proclaimed as your second reading — and you will be reading parts of the short letter I wrote for the next four weeks. So, just think of this September as the month of James!
For those of you who know your Apostles – let me just say I am not James the Greater, nor am I James the Lesser — rather, as the Acts of the Apostles refers to me — I am the James known as the “brother of the Lord” – which just means I was a relative of Jesus – as in our day almost any male relative was known as someone’s brother. As in, “hey, bro – how’s it going??”
I was in charge of the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem – and I end up writing this letter because so many in my congregation left Jerusalem after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. So I am writing to those I describe at the very beginning of my letter as the “12 tribes in the dispersion” – that is Jews who are away from their home: especially those now living throughout Palestine and in Syria.
So, I am writing them because they are now out on their own – but they are far from mature disciples – so they are still struggling with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular Roman empire. . .
Sound familiar?? I’m just saying you might be able to make a connection as YOU struggle with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular American society. Never think the Scriptures are just about someone else – and don’t have anything to do with you!
I mean that’s why you have the Scriptures read to you in your liturgy – to give you some insight – some guidance and direction – in how to live your life now that you are Baptized – or as your man at the ambo has recently been saying: once you receive the Eucharist – and carry Christ within you – you have to live differently than before — but how is that done?
That’s what his preaching should be about Sunday after Sunday – helping you figure out the HOW of living the Christian life – but I digress.
So what insights and guidance and direction was I trying to give my posse as they struggled to live as Christians?
Well in what you heard today – I was simply telling them, asking them really – to be constantly open to the “gift” of God’s word that has been “planted” within them – and to ACT upon that word by works of generosity and compassion. “Be doers of the word – and not just hearers” as I bluntly tell them.
Does that sound like something you can do also? Let me just say, it is a little more difficult than what it sounds like: be doers of the word and not just hearers. . .
Next week, builds on this principle. If you are doers of the word – than one thing you have to do is not show favoritism to those who try to impress you with their wealth or status. The gospel of Christ calls us to see all men and women as equal sons and daughters of God – with a clear preference given to “those who are poor in the world” which God has made “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.”
Then after that — really comes the heart of my message: the relationship of faith to good works. Faith that is alive naturally shows itself in action. Dead faith produces no good works, inspires no loving response to the Word we hear – and possesses no power to save. It is not faith at all. It is dead. Living faith, on the other hand –
rejoices in God’s word and celebrates that presence in acts of compassion and reconciliation. Now a little advice – use this to judge only yourself – not others — is your faith dead or alive?
You obviously should recognize a theme building from one week to the next – as I then exhort my dispersed Christian community – which would include all of you – to put ones’ own individual passions and interests aside –
for that which is good for the whole community. Conflicts and disagreements and arguments all tear down the body of Christ rather than build it up – our Christian faith calls us to “cultivate peace & unity” – first among ourselves – but then radiating out to the world.
In my final words to the twelve tribes in dispersion that you will hear read —
I give harsh criticism to the rich – those same people I talked about earlier who may try to impress you with their wealth of status – but those who have defrauded workers of a just wage, who live lives of luxury at the expense of the poor – don’t know anybody like this – do you?
My intent was to echo many of the prophets – who my Jewish audience would know so well – warning them that riches will one day decay into nothing and that God will judge us all on our exploitation of the poor. . .
So my time is running out – let me just say a few more things: 1st your faith and mine is all about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us —-
it is NOT about rules and regulations as Jesus tries to point out to the Pharisees today. Rules and regulations are a means to an end –
they are meant to guide us in our relationships – not determine them. My letter is meant to also guide you, my dear friends, in your relationships.
Also the words in your celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the sick come directly from my letter: “If there are any sick among you, then let them send for the priests of the Church. The priests will pray over them and the prayer of faith will raise them up. If they have committed any sins their sins will be forgiven them.”
Be sure to take advantage of this sacrament when it is offered again. . . It simply calls the grace of God into your life during a time of hardship or affliction.
So, just remember that being a Christian isn’t all that complicated: do your best in loving God and loving your neighbor. Strengthen yourself through the Eucharist, read and meditate on the words of Scripture so that you can be doers of the word and not just hearers — and then remember one of my great one-liners:
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
Oh, you will have trials as a Christian – but you will also know great joy!
Storyteller Fr. John Shea – tells of a father who brought his four kids to an ice-cream parlor. Only three of them came inside. The teenage girl remained in the car sulking – because she was at the age of life at which teenage girls like to sulk.
Meanwhile, the two boys in the group fought over which one of them could choose first: because they both wanted garlic-chocolate-fudge-with-cookie-crumbles – and one of course could not order what the other already had – that would just be unthinkable. . .
So the two of them almost came to blows when the older boy ordered the favored ice cream — and the younger one was reduced to settle for orange-ripple-pizza-flavored ice cream. . .
Meanwhile, the little girl of the family who couldn’t have been more than four — wept because all of the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chip was gone – and nothing could console her – not even a triple scoop of peppermint-fudge-raspberry-mango. She sobbed all the way through her destruction of the cone!
Finally, the teenager in the car came in and sulked because they did not have “anything” – though actually there was more than 80 flavors –
all except, of course, chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chip. She finally settled on a single scoop of vanilla yogurt “in a dish” as a protest against the injustices of the human condition – especially teenaged girls who had to go out with her younger siblings AND her father – all the while hoping she would not be seen.
When they got home, however, the father told his wife how much fun he had on the outing, and he was speaking the truth. . .
For you see – they were his children – and he loved them — and he delighted in feeding them. In spite of the sulking, fighting, and crying. . .
[The Book of Love: Andrew Greely & Mary Durkin, pg 183]
Are we hungry people??? Because, you see, we are God’s children – and he loves us – and he delights in feeding us. . . even though we certainly can be a bit like the kids in the story: sulking, fighting, and crying.
Taking our cue from the second reading: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – God knows that sometimes we do watch carefully how we live – not as foolish persons but as wise ———– but there are also times we do NOT carefully watch how we live — and we are foolish persons rather than wise: BUT GOD STILL LOVES US!
God knows, and we do to – that at times we do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord —
but many times we choose ignorance so we can do what we want to do – rather than the will of the Lord: BUT EVEN THEN: WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN AND GOD STILL LOVES US.
God knows, and we do to – and so do others around us – that sometimes we get drunk on wine (or whatever our alcohol of choice is), and we lie in debauchery and fail to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. And sometimes we don’t make those unwise choices — -and do fill ourselves with the Spirit: BUT GOD STILL LOVES US.
Sometimes we do sing and play to the Lord in our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father — and sometimes our hearts are far from the Lord: BUT EVEN THEN: WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. AND GOD STILL LOVES US. AND HE DELIGHTS IN FEEDING US!
“I am the bread of life — and my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”
Hopefully we have come here hungry – even though we may be sulking, fighting, and crying. . . But still hungry enough to fill ourselves with Christ today in this Eucharist – and come to believe in him — and be convinced that he is the holy one of God
Remarks made after Communion:
The second collection today is the annual diocesan collection for Life and Justice issues. . .
As we found out again this week – an area the Church still needs much improvement on in the life and justice department — is the protection of youth from the sexual abuse of clergy. . .
St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians: “watch carefully how you live – not as foolish persons – but as wise.”
Our church in its leadership is still filled with too many foolish people – set on protecting abusers— rather than protecting and helping the abused.
You and I are no doubt deeply hurt and disturbed by such horrific crimes done by clergy – and covered up by Bishops —- and must continue to assure that in our parish – our youth feel safe, protected, and cared for.
I certainly agree with the statements of Bishop Johnson – the time for words is over – it’s time to see action.
May we continue to pray – AND WORK HARD – so that these evil actions of the past – don’t happen again.
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.