One of the first prayers many of us learn as small children is the Our Father. We pray

it every time we participate at Mass. We pray it every time we say the Rosary. But like so

many things that are repetitious, we can recite this beautiful prayer taught to us by Jesus

Himself and not really think about the words we pray and the relationships they imply.

The Gospel this weekend is a kind of commentary on one part of the Our Father:

and forgive us our debts / as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12 NABRE), but it is a

commentary with a twist. In the Our Father, God’s forgiveness of us is dependent

on our forgiving others ...

     In the TV show, Undercover Boss, the CEO of a company changes his or her

managerial style because of direct experience with the lives of the employees. The

boss adopts a disguise and works among the employees to get a feel for what they

live through day-by-day. An experience of the plight of the low person on the totem

pole, in this TV series, brings the top person to have a change of mind and attitude ...

to grow in appreciation of how some people work ... to do a 180-degree turn in

relating to others ...

Parents do not wish bad things to happen to their children. Good business-people do not

want the economy to go sour. Healthy people do not want illness. We don’t want it to snow

in April or May when the flowers begin to bloom. We don’t want it to rain on our picnic or

outdoor celebration. We don’t want the person involved in an automobile accident to die.

We humans have a natural instinct for avoiding what we perceive as bad for us. We want

the good things in life. We want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And yet we

hear this weekend a Gospel in which Jesus is seemingly telling us to act contrary to our

human instincts ...

     Hearsay or gossip is repeating what someone has heard from another. It is not permitted

in court testimony because it is not eyewitness. So, the truth of what another has said who

is not present cannot be proven. Its reliability cannot be cross-examined. Court testimony

requires the presence of a person who can be questioned and challenged. What the witness

says must not only be true, but the witness must have a commitment to what is being told.

Otherwise, very quickly, the lawyers can unravel the story and prove the witness unreliable,

blowing the case wide-open. Think about that next time someone tells you something that

sounds a little sketchy. This weekend’s Gospel, on the other hand, involves the disciples as

witnesses to Jesus’ identity. Jesus does not let the case rest on their hearsay response. He

wants truth, revelation, and commitment.

     In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is acting within the religious tradition of the

times ... God’s favor was for the people of God ... for the “house of Israel.” He is

quite harsh in His words to the Canaanite woman. I think any one of us would

recoil at such a snub. In the face of such conduct, what fed the woman’s persistence

in her request?

     I remember when I first learned how to swim. I had no fear of the water in the pool.

But when my family first went swimming at a lake near my grandmother’s house, I

wouldn’t venture much beyond the water knee-deep. As the water got deeper, it got

colder and thinking back, the deep water really frightened me. It is interesting to

watch children learning to swim. When he or she is paying attention to the instructor

and looking toward that person with confidence, the child tends to do well – first

floating, then stroking, then beginning to move forward in a splashy swim. But if

fright takes over, the child instinctively reaches out a hand to the instructor. The

instructor is the solid body of protection ... help ... rescue from seeming peril. In

this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is the solid body of salvation.

During the summer months while in the seminary, we were often assigned to different

parishes in the Diocese. Quite often, one of my responsibilities would be to assist the

Eucharistic Ministers by going to the nursing homes within the parish boundaries and

bringing the residents Holy Communion. Several of these facilities had wings for the

patients with Alzheimer’s. Many no longer knew their families or those around them,

could not feed or dress themselves, and in some cases, could barely speak or see.

On a personal level, I would barely get a reaction from them. However, as soon as

I began to say the “Our Father,” there was an immediate and profound change. I

could see the recognition in their eyes as they began to recite the prayer they probably

knew from childhood. That was one point with reality that these patients somehow

managed to maintain and it was a truly wonderful experience to share the Body and

Blood of our Lord with them. I truly believe that they knew and understood the gift

they were about to receive.

     As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that by simply observing what is in and around their

home, I can usually discover what they truly value. If every corner is filled with things,

the person values inanimate objects … things. If the walls and tabletops are full of

pictures of family and friends, the person values relationships. If there are healthy green

plants about (maybe even fresh flowers), the person values growth and life. If the space

is uncluttered, the person values simplicity and silence. The Gospel for this Sunday, the

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks to the value of the kingdom of heaven. How might

that be captured in a person’s home? Well, maybe by a crucifix on the wall or a piece of

religious art or a statue. But I think more importantly, we might know the kingdom of

heaven is present when God is present … manifested in the “treasures” of God …

hospitality and kindness … joy and love … wisdom and understanding. These

expressions of the divine presence are no less real than the furniture, decorations, and

things about the house.

     This weekend, we continue reading from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, specifically

Chapter 13, the chapter on parables. This is the primary chapter in the Gospel of Saint

Matthew where Jesus speaks in parables, and He speaks seven (7) of them. That alone

should tell us that we are dealing with Saint Matthew’s evangelical hand in editing and

placing these parables where he does in his story about Jesus.

     Only the seed that sinks into rich soil can produce fruit. I think it was very appropriate

that as I was looking over the readings for this weekend, my brother texted me a few pictures

of our property in upstate Pennsylvania. To my Mom’s family, it was known simply as

“The Farms.” It is a nice-size property that has been in the family since the late 1890’s.

My maternal grandmother and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up there.

     Whenever there is a discussion about prayer, the questions I most often encounter are

the ones about distractions. We all have every good intention to keep ourselves focused

on God, but sometimes our mind has a mind of its own! Our thoughts wander. We begin

to think about what we forgot to buy at the grocery store, but need to make for dinner,

why the children aren’t home yet, the harsh words we exchanged with someone, how tired

we are, why we are having trouble with a new cell phone or an app on our tablet or

computer. Our behaviors and our choices can wander, too. We are serious about following

Jesus’ commandments to love God and love neighbor, but then we find ourselves slipping

when we choose to spend too much time watching TV rather than spending time with our

parents, grandparents, or someone who is lonely. Or how about when we stretch a fifteen-

minute break into a half-hour (or longer), or when we needlessly tear into someone over

some small annoyance. It is so difficult for us to be consistently single-minded about prayer

and about Gospel living. In fact, it’s pretty difficult for us to be single-minded about anything

now-a-days with all of life’s distractions. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is calling His

Apostles (and all of us) to single-mindedness.

     Whenever there is a discussion about prayer, the questions I most often encounter are

the ones about distractions. We all have every good intention to keep ourselves focused

on God, but sometimes our mind has a mind of its own! Our thoughts wander. We begin

to think about what we forgot to buy at the grocery store, but need to make for dinner,

why the children aren’t home yet, the harsh words we exchanged with someone, how tired

we are, why we are having trouble with a new cell phone or an app on our tablet or

computer. Our behaviors and our choices can wander, too. We are serious about following

Jesus’ commandments to love God and love neighbor, but then we find ourselves slipping

when we choose to spend too much time watching TV rather than spending time with our

parents, grandparents, or someone who is lonely. Or how about when we stretch a fifteen-

minute break into a half-hour (or longer), or when we needlessly tear into someone over

some small annoyance. It is so difficult for us to be consistently single-minded about prayer

and about Gospel living. In fact, it’s pretty difficult for us to be single-minded about anything

now-a-days with all of life’s distractions. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is calling His

Apostles (and all of us) to single-mindedness.

   Sometimes concealed and secret things scare children (and maybe adults sometimes,

too!). Little ones are afraid of the dark because it conceals too much – they can’t see what

might be trying to get them, so they look under their bed or in the closet for the boogey-man.

They become frightened when they see their parents whispering together with knitted brows

and worry written all over their faces. Our natural tendency is to avoid whatever frightens us,

right? I think that’s a fair statement to make about children and adults. Fear paralyzes us and

keeps us from acting and growing. Fear sometimes robs us of our freedom and hinders our

judgment. Fear, however, can also at times be positive. A healthy fear can bring caution to

a hasty response, can prompt us to go to the doctor when we don’t feel quite right, or can bring

us to install an alarm system in our homes to protect body and possessions. In this weekend’s

Gospel, Jesus talks about fear – whom and what we should fear and whom and what we need

not fear.

   “Forever” is a very long time! So long, in fact, that it is not measurable. For little

children, “forever” is as long as it takes for their birthday party to begin. For youth,

“forever” is as long as it takes for them to be able to drive on their own. For adults,

“forever” is as long as it takes to pay for a home, achieve job security, or have a

well-funded 401(k). For me, “forever” was the amount of time between March 15th

and today ... a Priest unable to walk into a church and celebrate a public Mass because

of COVID-19. Still, these “forevers” are measurable ... time passes. In this weekend’s

Gospel, Jesus asserts twice (at the beginning and at the end) that “whoever eats this

bread will live forever.” This forever is not a measurable forever and cannot be

grasped by passing time. This forever is Life in communion with Jesus Christ ...

with God ... that never ends. This Gospel presents in a most astonishing way how

we participate in Jesus’ forever ... in eternal Life. It also presents, in a most

astonishing way, the very core of the mystery we celebrate today ... Corpus

Christi ... the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ ... the mystery of Jesus

giving us His Flesh and Blood as our eternal food and drink.

   “Grown Men Don’t Cry” has been a witticism around for a long time ... popular enough

to have been a TV show and a song. In truth, however, it is regularly called into question.

Loving husbands and fathers about to be separated for a time from their families do cry.

Sons and grandsons cry at funerals. To be honest, I shed more than a few tears over the

past three months, especially during Holy Week and Easter when I couldn’t commemorate /

celebrate those events with all of you. And then there was Mother’s Day when I tried

visiting my mother’s grave in the cemetery and was turned away because the cemetery

was “closed” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe men cry because they experience

a loss of the nearness of those they love deeply. When we love, we choose to be near the

beloved. And even when separation occurs, steps are usually taken to assure some modem

of nearness is continued. I remember when my Dad was away on a business trip. He called

home frequently. (Today, he probably would have texted.) While I’ve never used them

myself, Skype or Facetime can bring a sense of nearness to loved ones. Pictures and

other mementos of a deceased person can keep that person near in spirit. Similarly,

we seek the experience of God’s nearness and God’s abiding and overwhelming love

for us. To the extent that we love God, we attend church and seek the divine Presence

and communion with Him through the Sacraments. Kind of hard these past three

months with closed churches and live-streaming, huh?

     COVID-19 has disrupted and forever changed the landscape of life as we knew it. It

has added stress. In today’s challenging, busy, stressful, corrupt, violent world, finding

peace is difficult. And yet, that’s what our Lord offers us in this weekend’s Gospel. “Peace

be with you.” Even our homes tend to be filled with TV and stereo sounds, maybe

children doing schoolwork ... pre-COVID perhaps eating on the run, hurrying to the

next sports practice or event or rushing out to work ... and all of these things conspire

against an inner sense of peace. Not once, but twice in this Pentecost Gospel, Jesus

wishes peace on the gathered disciples. It seems as though after eight weeks or more

of COVID and beyond, Jesus was (and is) well aware of the turmoil in our lives and

our need for peace. His gift to us is the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is the Spirit of Peace.

     I hope that this finds all of you and your families safe and well! I can’t believe we’re

almost to the end of Easter Season, today celebrating the Ascension of the Lord, and

we’re also celebrating the unofficial beginning of summer, as Memorial Day Weekend,

is upon us. It seems as if the cooler weather has finally decided to retreat and nicer,

warmer days are here. There is also some optimism that some of the restrictions

surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic will be eased as businesses, restaurants, and churches

begin to reopen.

     In our pre-COVID-19 world, short-term leave-takings are not usually given much

thought – husband and wife kiss each other before leaving for work and hug the children

off to school. Most long-term leave-takings are pretty difficult, especially when those

parting company love each other deeply. It is always heart-rending to hear military

families talk about the leave-taking of their loved one … how much a hole in family life

this absence creates. On the other hand, even perfect strangers get teary-eyed watching

young children or spouses run excitedly up to their soldier-parent-spouse at the airport

or watching a long-deployed ship anchor in safe harbor with the sailors lined along the

decks waving exuberant greetings. Long-term leave-takings leave us sad. Homecomings

bring joy to our hearts.

     In our pre-COVID-19 world, short-term leave-takings are not usually given much

thought – husband and wife kiss each other before leaving for work and hug the children

off to school. Most long-term leave-takings are pretty difficult, especially when those

parting company love each other deeply. It is always heart-rending to hear military

families talk about the leave-taking of their loved one … how much a hole in family life

this absence creates. On the other hand, even perfect strangers get teary-eyed watching

young children or spouses run excitedly up to their soldier-parent-spouse at the airport

or watching a long-deployed ship anchor in safe harbor with the sailors lined along the

decks waving exuberant greetings. Long-term leave-takings leave us sad. Homecomings

bring joy to our hearts.

Gates can reveal a lot about what is beyond them. A broken-down, vine-covered

gate suggests an abandoned house or one where the occupants don’t care much about

keeping up their property and appearances. An easy-swinging gate suggests that many

people pass through it. A decorative  gate with an artistic “Welcome” sign suggests

that whatever lies beyond is pleasant and hospitable. The word “gate” appears five (5)

times in this weekend’s Gospel. Twice, it is personified. Twice, Jesus says, “I am the

gate.” Jesus is ever the compassionate, welcoming, protecting gate. That He is the

gate suggests that what is beyond is more than pleasant and hospitable – what is

beyond is eternal life … abundant Life … His risen Life.

     Have you ever had someone come up to you and begin talking to you like they knew

you and you have no idea who they are? And maybe you feel bad about it and as the

conversation continues, you hope for clues as to the other person’s identity.

    The popularity of roller coasters at amusement parks, haunted houses at Halloween,

and horror shows at movie theaters all attest to the fact that sometimes we like the thrill

of a good fright. Fear overtakes us when we perceive mortal harm, face the unknown, or

encounter what is utterly different and threatening. When the fear is caused by temporary

or unreal situations such as those mentioned above, our fears are quickly allayed. We

climb out of the roller coaster car with our stomach back where it belongs. We emerge

from the haunted house all in one piece. We leave the theater to re-enter familiar and

safe surroundings. A sense of well-being and peace comes over us as we laugh at the

entertaining good time and its now dissipated fears. Sometimes, however, the fears are

real and not so easily swept away, like the fear of the Disciples in this weekend’s Gospel.

They were well-aware of Jesus’ fate. Their fears were well-grounded. The locked doors

were a sensible protection. Unlike the peace we make in the face of roller coasters,

haunted houses, or horror shows, the Disciples could not make their own peace. They

had no power. Did they?

     On that first Easter, Mary went to the tomb “early in the morning while it was still

dark.” When she arrived, she saw the stone rolled back and nothing but emptiness, no

doubt reinforcing the darkness and sadness in her heart. It would take an encounter with

the risen One for her and the other disciples to understand that Jesus had risen. And then

their darkness would give way to glory, to light, to Life, to believing, to unmitigated joy.

Emptiness would become fullness. He has risen! Today, more than 2,000 years later, on

this Easter 2020, our faith tells us Jesus, our Savior, has risen and no viral pandemic can

tell us differently!

     The reality of this coming week does not change because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week is still the holiest week in the Christian calendar. Our celebrations may be a bit

different this year. But we are called to enter into it as best we can … by watching live-

streams … by reading the Gospel accounts … by praying … by knowing our God loves

us and wants what’s best for us, even when some of us might have forgotten.

     Hindsight is always 20 / 20 and is usually filled with “If only …” statements. If only

I had studied harder, I might have done better on my test. If only I had not spent so much

money eating out, I wouldn’t be so far behind on my bills. If only I had paid more attention

to the traffic signal, I wouldn’t have a ticket to pay for running the light. If only I could lose

a bit more weight, I would fit into all these clothes in my closet. If only … If only …

If only …

     There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding when a Priest should be called

to visit someone. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Sacrament of Anointing and

“Last Rites,” there seems to be a great range in the level of understanding – perhaps

even some confusion – about the reasons why the Priest is there. Hopefully I can

provide you with a bit more understanding in the next few paragraphs.

Conversations can be life-giving. They can bring about new insights. They can call

forth a new self-understanding. This weekend’s Gospel conversation begins with a

Jewish man who is thirsty, a well, and a bucket. It leads to something much deeper

that brought the Samaritan woman to new insight … a new self-understanding.

This conversation came to be life-giving for her … and for us. Indeed, the whole

Gospel unfolds as an insight into who / what is life-giving … encountering Another

who takes the time to speak to us … having to face the truth of one’s way of living …

doing God’s will – the most satisfying “food” … proclaiming the excitement of

discovering Jesus as the “Savior of the world” … coming to belief upon hearing the

Word … and desiring with all our heart for Jesus to “stay with us.”

   We’ve all met individuals in our lives who we could say are a stick-in-the-mud.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or twenty-foot waves couldn’t move them.

Content and satisfied, they stay put doing the same things, eating the same foods,

and / or watching the same TV shows. Often these individuals have few friends.

However, for most of us, our natural instinct is to move on … searching for new

experiences, new possibilities, and new challenges. Peter, in this weekend’s Gospel,

is acting like a stick-in-the-mud. His first response to Jesus’ transfigured glory is to

simply stay put. “Lord, it is good that we are here.” He wants to erect tents and he

wants to stay on the mountain top. Jesus, quite simply, has other plans.

     Vulnerability opens us up to being wounded (from its Latin root vulnus

“wound”), exposed, or harmed. I think it’s safe to say that none of us likes to

be in this situation. We all like to be in control, sometimes not only of ourselves,

but also of others. This, we might think, is the best protection for us. In this weekend’s

Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert. Here, Jesus spends forty days and forty nights

fasting and praying. Yes, Jesus walked every aspect of our human journey, even

submitting Himself to temptation and death. At the end of His desert experience,

He would have been hungry. He would have sought companionship. If He were like

me or you, maybe He would have wanted a shower and a haircut. After forty days in

the desert, Jesus was vulnerable … was ripe for temptation … was ripe to be led

where under other circumstances, He might not have gone. So the devil was smart.

He knew how to hit Jesus where He was most vulnerable. He tried to pull Him

with tantalizing temptations.

     In the first part of 2019, I was quite taken aback after allowing several viewings

to occur in both Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Clayton and Nativity Church in

Franklinville. During one of these viewings, the family brought coolers of food, soda,

and other beverages into the main body of the church. During another, all kinds of

beverages were brought in and individuals were allowed to play cards in the

Chapel / cry area. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it myself. Perhaps

those sorts of behaviors are permitted in a Funeral Home, but in a church? Jesus

Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle in the Sanctuary of the

church and granted, people might not be able to see that with the casket open in the

front of the altar, but our Lord is present, nonetheless. After several of those viewings,

I personally also had to spend 1-2 hours cleaning up all of the stuff that was left behind.

In my opinion, these behaviors were unacceptable for inside a church building.

     We are sometimes more like the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time than

we sometimes care or like to admit … that is, we fulfill the law perfectly, but have

little regard for what the law is calling us to actually do. One easy example … many

cities have erected speed and red light camera at critical intersections that have

caused serious accidents in the past. The law gives us a speed limit and asks us to

stop (or slow down) when the light is red or yellow. The reason for this law is to

save injury and lives. Yet, so many of us disregard the law. We step on the gas when

we see a traffic light turning yellow and we regularly exceed the posted speed limits.

However, if we know the camera is at a particular intersection, we slow down and

stop … and then when we hit an intersection without the camera, we stomp on the

gas. Yes, we keep the law. But our heart isn’t in it … our wallet is.

     SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – has been diagnosed as a real condition. It

is especially prevalent in the northern hemisphere during the winter months, when

there are many dreary days. It is recommended that we have at least ten (10) minutes

of sunlight or other high light each day for our bodies to have sufficient vitamin D to

be able to absorb calcium (even in addition to eating vitamin D-supplemented foods).

Our inner self needs light, and without it, we can become depressed and exhibit

symptoms of SAD. People with high blood pressure are recommended to limit their

intake of salt. But who eats popcorn or French fries without salt? Or if a baker forgets

to put at least a little bit of salt into the pie dough, it can ruin the whole pie. Light and

salt tend to be parts of our everyday living. Without them, life isn’t quite the same.

     I remember when my brother and sister-in-law announced they were expecting.

Waiting on the first grandchild is an exciting event for grandparents. It is almost as

good as waiting for their own first child. And my parents were doubly-blessed when

on their wedding anniversary, they were presented with twin granddaughters. In this

weekend’s Gospel, we might consider Simeon and Anna as “grandparents” in the

Jewish faith tradition of Jesus. How long have they patiently waited for this Child!

Yet both recognized that this Child did not belong to them alone, but to all peoples.

This Child was not theirs to coddle and spoil, but theirs to announce that redemption

is at hand. This Child came to fulfill all law and promises.

     We all like feeling secure, don’t we? We like to be without anxiety, with no care in

the world. Security gives us a sense of certainty, safety, well-being, serenity, and peace.

This weekend’s Gospel suggests that perhaps Peter, Andrew, James, and John all had

that sense. They had jobs (fishermen). They had each other as brothers for help, guidance,

and support. They even had the things they needed to secure a livelihood (nets and boats).

Even with the limited details of this Gospel, we might conclude that these four men were

content with their lives. Then a stranger walks up to them and invites them to leave

everything and to follow Him “at once” and “immediately.” And they do! Why in the

world would they do that? Why leave the security of a good life they know for an

unknown ministry to people, invited to follow an unknown, lone man? At the beginning

of Jesus’ public ministry, the mystery of what He is about is revealed … something new

is happening. Jesus has a command about Him, a persona, an immense Presence that

brings forth response.

     On any given day as we are out and about, we might see hundreds of people coming

toward us. Most of them we pass by and hardly notice. Perhaps we might notice a flashy

scarf or a designer handbag. We might notice a tired or worn face or a furtive look. We

might notice someone struggling to walk steadily or perhaps someone with a seeing-eye

dog. What we notice tends to be external marks or traits. A casual passing by would rarely,

if ever, bring home to us an inner quality of a person … a set of moral values … a family

tree. In this weekend’s Gospel, John the Baptist notices Jesus. But he doesn’t note that

He has long hair or a beard, or that He has a seamless cloak and sandals, or that He has

a crowd of people around Him. John gets to the heart of things – he notices who Jesus is.

Water is the most abundant substance on the earth. We drink it, we wash with it,

we play in it, we transport on it, we grow food with it, we dilute with it, and we

even sit on a shore and dream with it. Consider any given day and how often

water comes into play. Yet unless the water is shut off to our homes or places of

work, we seldom think about it. It’s just there – everywhere and all the time. Water

is so easy to take for granted. Given the substance and usefulness of water, it ought

to be no surprise that our first Sacrament of Initiation, Baptism, uses water as its

primary symbol. And just like the water around us, we can so easily take our

Baptism (and often our other Sacraments) for granted. This weekend’s festival

and Gospel can be a reminder for each one of us that we can never take either

water or our Baptism for granted. Too much is at stake.

     I remember growing up and having today, January 6th, come around. There

are many good memories. In the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church, the church / rite

in which I grew up, today is a major feast day. In the tradition of this day, lots of

water is blessed and our Pastor would begin his annual visits to every home in the

parish, blessing each one with some of that Holy Water. We would anticipate his

arrival in our home in Marlton sometime around January 13th. We would sometimes

call today “Little Christmas” because today is the day the Orthodox celebrate

Christmas ... many traditions still do. And if you’re counting ... according to the

song, January 6th is first day after the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Over the past

few years, people have calculated what the 12 gifts would cost ... and it has gotten

more and more expensive ... or should I say lavish? ... because many of those gifts

are pretty extravagant.

     Today, on the Fifth Day of Christmas, no one can doubt that families have many

challenges. Parents are faced with job insecurity, value challenges, time constraints,

and many other demands. Children are faced with peer pressure to do unhealthy

things, media pressure to put pleasures before God or responsibility, and the inner

pressure to be popular. This weekend’s Gospel shows us the way to deal with these

challenges and pressures, and to be holy families, like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

     Some events are so momentous that they effect immediate and dramatic

change. Hurricane Sandy changed the New Jersey coastline all the way up to

New York City forever and Hurricane Katrina did the same to New Orleans.

Both changed the way FEMA responds to disasters. Tuesday, September 11,

2001 changed our sense of national security, brought about a new cabinet position,

and the eroding of an absolute right to privacy. Death physically separates us from

loved ones and calls us to spiritual love and memory. Marriage ends being single

and unites a man and woman as one. The birth of a child creates a new family

and brings untold responsibility and joy to the parents. Who in the world would

ever solely trust a dream to guide a momentous event? … Joseph does! His life is

about to change immediately and dramatically. Rather than taking Mary “into his

home” to lead a quiet life … to look forward to having children to enter into old

age with his beloved, Joseph must make an unselfish and mystery-laden decision.

When we limit what we are looking for, we limit what we might find. If we are

only looking for coins with a metal detector, we might miss finding a primitive

tool from the Iron Age. If we are only looking for a six-figure-salary job, we might

miss the job that can be at hand to pay our immediate bills. If we are looking for a

movie-star type Mr. or Mrs. Right, we may miss an opportunity to spend a lifetime

with someone who loves deeply and faithfully. Life is limitless when our horizon of

vision is expanded to include the unexpected and the extraordinary.

     Many of us during the weeks of December prepare for the coming of guests into

our homes at Christmastime. We clean, hang decorations, bake goodies, buy gifts,

and prepare meals. What we can easily miss is that these preparations are our way

of “coming” to our guests. Our very preparations are a kind of presence to and of

attentiveness to our guests even long before they arrive on our doorstep. The care

with which we prepare for Christmas celebrations is indicative of the care we have

for our family and our guests and our desire to be truly present to them. It is also

practice in how we “stay awake” for God’s comings to us and how we prepare

ourselves to come to God. Attentiveness is an essential ingredient of presence.

This is no less true of our discerning God’s Presence in our midst than it is of

anticipating the presence of family and friends.

     Illness tends to make people feel grumpy. When we don’t feel good,

we naturally turn inward upon ourselves. We want this to be all over. We

want to feel good again and to get on with the tasks and challenges at

hand. Prolonged illness keeps some people grumpy all the time, while

a surprising number of other people seem to be able to rise above their

pain and distress and, sometimes even because of it, reach out to others.

I know individuals in both situations and while I keep the first group in prayer,

the second group amazes me. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is hanging

on the cross. He was scourged, beaten, and crowned with thorns. It’s pretty

safe to say that He is in pain and distress. He’s being “sneered at.”He’s being

“jeered.” He’s being “reviled.” Was Jesus at that point grumpy and did He turn

inward upon Himself? NO!

     This is the interview with Diocese of Camden Priests Fr. Adam Cichoski

and Fr. Ed Kennedy concerning the recent PA Grand Jury Report and the Sexual

Abuse Scandal.

     Catholic parishes generally have their fair number of funerals each

year. Priests are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and

to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time ...

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