Saturday, November 10, 2018

Nov. 11, 2018: 32nd Sunday B

Nov. 11, 2018: 32nd Sunday B

When you think of Lucky Charms cereal, glazed donuts, and sugar cookies, what do they have in common? These are some of the sugar-laden treats our children love. Can you imagine a child who would give them up if they were asked to do so? One day a four-year-old boy showed up with his mom at the entrance of Mother Teresa’s convent with a cup of sugar. For those of us living in sugar cane country, that doesn’t sound like much at all. These days we can walk into any grocery store and buy a pound of sugar for only a dollar. At the time when the little boy showed up, there was a sugar shortage in the city of Calcutta. The little boy said to Mother Teresa, “I did not eat sugar for three days. Give my sugar to your children.” Mother Teresa commented, “That little boy loved to the point of sacrificing.” We often think that giving is based on quantity or quality, but today’s gospel reveals the true measure of giving.

When Jesus directs the eyes of his disciples to a lowly widow in the temple treasury, he wanted his disciples to understand the meaning of true giving. There were many generous patrons of Herod’s temple who donated great sums of money to build and support an ornate temple. Yet, the disciples were asked to pay attention to a widow who was dropping a couple of pennies in the collection. What can two insignificant pennies do for the upkeep and building of the temple? Practically and financially, those two coins had no impact on the bottom line. However, for that destitute widow, the two coins represented her whole livelihood. For me, her gift meant that she relied on God for everything, including how she would provide for her next meal. The poor widow represented the true spiritual pillar of the temple by her spirit of total dependence on God. The generosity of her tiny coins mirrored the self-emptying generosity of God himself who did not hold back from us even his beloved Son. The widow was truly living out Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitude--Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Her whole treasure was not in earthly possessions, but in God.

How can we give our all to God and our neighbor joyfully? We need to remind ourselves that we are mere stewards of Our Lord Jesus during this earthly life rather than the owners of earthly goods. God has given us everything we own and possess, preeminently our life. How we use that life and return it to the Lord is our purpose. God points us to His Son, Blessed Mother, and the Saints as examples of how a gift of love can bring blessings to the multitude. Mother Teresa often said, “Give until it hurts, because real love hurts... You must love with your time, your hands, and your hearts.” Sometimes we avoid giving our resources, our efforts, or our time because of our fear of not having enough for ourselves. We are afraid of getting involved in other people’s lives because we fear that we won’t have enough time for ourselves. Certainly, it is a sacrifice to forego something of our own comfort, convenience, and enjoyment to help someone in need. Yet the time or the resources we give to others--out of love and gratitude--will become a blessing for the person and for ourselves.

The season of Fall and the changing of the colors of the tree leaves before they fall to the ground remind us of the shortness of our lives here on earth and how we depart this earth empty handed. The poor widow tossed into the collection basket the sign of her independence; her trust and dependence were on God. Her example of faith is grounded in the love of God. She teaches us that dependence on God can lead us to a life of simplicity, joy, and gratitude.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Nov. 9, 2018: Dedication of St. John Lateran

Nov. 9, 2018: Dedication of
St. John Lateran

By Deacon Greg Kandra

This is one of the more unusual feasts on the church calendar. It doesn’t commemorate a saint, or a biblical event. It celebrates a building. Specifically, the Lateran Basilica, in Rome. It’s the oldest of the four major basilicas in Rome, and as such serves as the official “home” of the pope – the seat of the bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s gets all the attention, but it’s the Lateran that is really the “pope’s church.”

A few years ago, my wife and I got to visit Rome and see the Lateran. You’ll find some remarkable objects – above the altar there are relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is also wood that is said to come from the table of the Last Supper.

But one of the most striking spots is actually outside the church. If you go to the square across the street, you’ll see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, with his arms outstretched. It commemorates an important moment in church history: the Lateran is where Francis went to ask the pope for permission to start a religious order. And if you remember the story, his inspiration was a voice that he heard in prayer, a voice that told Francis “Rebuild my church.”

Well, if you step back from the statue of Francis and stand behind it, and look at it from a particular angle, between St. Francis’s outstretched arms you see the Lateran Basilica. He appears to be holding it up with his hands.

It’s a great image – and a great lesson.

A church building is brick and mortar, wood and glass. But – ultimately – it is supported by the arms and the labor of those who love it.

Ultimately, it is people.

It is you. It is me.

“You are God’s building,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. “You are the temple of God and the Spirit dwells in you.”

And it is up to us to keep the spirit – and to spread it – and to help it to dwell in others.
This Sunday, we’re marking “Stewardship Sunday” or “Commitment Sunday.” You’ll be seeing a short movie about that at the end of mass. I think it shows in a beautiful way how our arms support this church – how we all, together, lift it up to God. And how we then become God’s building, His dwelling place. Indeed, when we receive the Eucharist, as we will in a few moments, we become living tabernacles.

And it all begins here, in this tabernacle, this temple of God.

Many of you may remember Gene Flood, a longtime parishioner here. Gene was an important part of this parish’s history: he was the first baby baptized in this church. And nearly eight decades later, at his funeral here, his casket was sprinkled with holy water from the same font in which he was baptized. It was a beautiful reminder of how we mark so much of our sacramental lives within these walls. From baptisms to funerals and a thousand moments in between.
We are church. But this church, in ways large and small, is us. It is where we measure and mark our lives. And it becomes a part of us.

But there is one part that cannot be emphasized enough.

In his autobiography, Thomas Merton wrote, “I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns…and yet now I tell you, it is the Sacrament…Christ living in our midst…it is He alone who holds our world together.”

That is what this is really all about. That’s why we are here. That’s why we have the youth programs and the choir and RCIA and pastoral care and all the things that stewardship supports. It is to ensure that this sacrament, Christ living in our midst, continues to hold our world together through all that the parish does, all our ministers do, all that we do, together.
We do it because of this: the One who draws us to this sacred place. The One who nourishes our hopes, and who calms our fears, and who makes of each of us – with all our flaws and imperfections – his tabernacle.

It is all because of Christ in the Eucharist.

Remember that. Cherish that. And celebrate it.

Because when all is said and done, that is really what we are supporting. And it is, by the grace of God, where and how we will find our salvation.

Our prayer should be that we do that with joy, and with zeal and — like that statue of St. Francis shows — with open arms and open hearts.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Nov. 4, 2018: 31st Sunday B

Nov. 4, 2018: 31st Sunday B

How much do the following words ring true in your own life, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." That statement was made by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived at Auschwitz Concentration Camp during WWII. While in the concentration camp, Frankl observed that some people were able to survive through trying times by connecting to a sense of meaning and purpose. For example, Frankl remembers men who walked through the huts comforting others and giving away their last piece of bread. While they were few in number, these men demonstrated that love is the ultimate giver of meaning. Frankl observed, "I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

What is the greatest commandment or divine rule of life that we should abide by that reveals the meaning and purpose in our lives? The scribe in today’s gospel asked Jesus that question. In response Our Lord quoted the great "Shema" prayer from the Book of Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,  with all your mind, and with all your strength." Love God, Our Lord said, with all of ourselves. Then he went one step further, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." At the Last Supper, the night before he died, Jesus repeated that the greatest commandment is to love -- "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for another" (John 13:34-35). Jesus united in his person and actions the commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor. What happens when we do not have a love for God or neighbor? We lose the true meaning and purpose of what our lives are about; we sway with the whims of misjudgment, hate, and violence. 

This past Monday evening, in Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge there was standing room only as people of all faith gathered to mourn and pray for the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg who were gunned down by a man who neither had a love for God nor neighbor. A Baptist minister reflected that the violence committed against the parishioners of the synagogue was not born in a moment but cultivated over time through callous disrespect and contempt for humanity. He said that we are one body, a seamless fabric of humanity. The good that we do for one another uplifts all of humanity while the evil we inflict on one another degrades the whole of humanity. A rabbi said to those gathered, “In the face of this tragedy many are asking, ‘Where was God?’ But we really should be asking, ‘Where was man?’” Where was the basic human decency: human dignity, the sacredness of human life, striving for common good, and solidarity? We heard the answer when the prayer service began with the recitation of Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the mountains; from where does my help come from? My help comes from God, maker of heaven and earth.” The rabbi then led us on a beautiful prayer of solidarity.

“We are here to comfort one another and find Your presence among us. Let us be the spiritual scaffolding for those around us, enabling them to thrive. When I am shattered, assure me that I can heal. When I’m weary, renew my spirit.  When I am lost, show me that You are near. When I panic, God, teach me patience. When I fear, teach me faith. When I lose perspective, show me the way--Back to love, back to life, back to You.”

We make our lives hopeful and meaningful by loving God and neighbor. Our true reason for being, our true purpose for being placed on this earth is to love. Out of love, we all can strive to put the needs of others ahead of ours. Victor Frankl said, “The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is.” God loved us first, and our love for God is our response out of gratitude. God has given us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to assist us when our love for God and neighbor is lacking. What is keeping us from loving God and experiencing the joy of serving others with a generous heart? When stuck driving behind the sugar cane truck on a one-lane highway, are we loving when our impatience brings out not so Christian thoughts and words? Are we being loving when we share or post negative or disparaging remarks about others on social media in the name of truth? We should all reflect on incidents from our daily life that are less than loving to our fellow human beings and bring them before Jesus to shepherd our hearts. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Nov. 2, 2018: All Souls Day

Nov. 2, 2018: All Souls Day

“All Saints: Part II”

What we celebrate today is not that different from what we celebrated yesterday. Whereas the feast of All Saints commemorates those whom the Church has raised up as models of Christian living to be emulated by all the faithful the world over, what we celebrate on the feast of All Souls is, in effect, everybody else who has died. For a long time, I resisted the apparent segregation, the distinction between the canonized (who already get their own memorials and feasts) and the rest of the baptized. It seemed to me unchristian to make such a separation among the deceased, whose fate alone only God knows at this point.

And so, over the years, I’ve found myself rethinking today’s feast and informally renaming it “All Saints: Part II.” I’m not suggesting that all our departed family and friends necessarily merit formal canonization. Instead, I’m siding with St. Paul who famously called all the baptized “saints.” I’m siding with the Apostles’ Creed that boldly proclaims our belief in a single communion of saints, which includes all those who have lived, are living, and will come after us. I’m siding with the God who “wills the salvation of all” (1 Tim 2:4). I celebrate the love that binds us to our deceased brothers and sisters, both the relatives and friends we knew personally as well as the great Christian models of centuries past.

The good news of resurrection and eternal life that Christ proclaims in today’s Gospel is too extraordinary to celebrate in just one day. So let us take two days!

Fr. Daniel P. Horan, OFM

A Reflection from Give Us This Day

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Nov. 1, 2018 All Saints

Nov. 1, 2018 All Saints

It is estimated that tonight (Halloween), 41 million children in our country will be on the streets trick-or-treating. Americans typically purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween. That works out to be around 15 lb. of candy per child who is trick-or-treating. Here is an interesting quote I found for the All Hallows’ Eve. “On the eve of All Saints Day, Jack-O-Lanterns light the way. God's children need no longer fear the ghosts and goblin gathered here. For evil ghouls with icy breath must bow to Him who conquered death.”

We gather in this church to celebrate our brothers and sisters who welcomed the love of God into their hearts and who are blessed or happy living in His love. As Pope Francis explained: “happiness is not having something or becoming someone, but true happiness is being with the Lord and living for love.” The saints of the Church are those who were poor by worldly standards, yet rich in holiness, mercy, and peace. The ingredients to their saintly life were the Beatitudes, first taught by Our Lord on a mount near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Saints are humble persons who make room for God, who know how to weep for others and for their own errors, who fight for justice, who are merciful toward all, who guard the purity of heart, who always work for peace, remain in joy, and respond to evil with good.

Jesus shows us the way to life, the way that he himself has taken, from birth in a stable in Bethlehem to his death on the Cross on Calvary. In proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to follow him and journey with him along the path of the love of His Father. It is not an easy journey, yet Our Lord promised his grace and presence. The secret of the saints is that they lived their life, single-hearted, in Christ’s love and promise. They weren’t perfect--like we aren’t perfect--but they allowed God to touch their lives.

If we take one of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure or single-hearted, for they shall see God,” we can begin to understand why they were joyful living in God’s love. Our heart is the seat of our thoughts, desires, and motives. We have many loves, priorities, and longings, and they pull us away from the true joy of being with God. What if we had single-hearted devotion to God? Would we make a courageous choice for God over all of our conflicting wants and desires?

Jesus invites us to take seriously the life of Beatitudes and to decide which path we will choose. He asks us every day whether we want to follow him or to choose another path. When Jesus asked Peter that question, he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Can we, too, make a single-hearted effort to choose the path of Jesus through our actions, prayers, and service?

Oct. 31, 2018: Wednesday of 30th Week

Oct. 31, 2018: Wednesday of 30th Week

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

What does the image of a door say to us about the kingdom of God? Jesus' story about the door being shut to those who come too late suggests they had offended their host and deserved to be excluded. It was customary for teachers in Jesus' time to close the door on tardy students and not allow them back for a whole week in order to teach them a lesson in discipline and faithfulness. 

Who will be invited to enter God's kingdom?
Jesus told this story in response to the question of who will make it to heaven - to God's kingdom of everlasting peace and eternal life. Many rabbis held that all Israel would be saved and gain entry into God's kingdom, except for a few blatant sinners who excluded themselves! After all, they were specially chosen by God when he established a covenant relationship with them.

Jesus surprised his listeners by saying that one's membership as a people who have entered into a covenant relationship with God does not automatically mean entry into the everlasting kingdom of God. Second, Jesus asserts that many from the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations would enter God's kingdom. God's invitation is open to Jew and Gentile alike. 

Jesus is the door to the kingdom of heaven
But Jesus warns that we can be excluded if we do not strive to enter by the narrow door. What did Jesus mean by this expression? The door which Jesus had in mind was himself. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved (John 10:9). God sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to open the way for us to have full access to the throne of God's grace (his favor and blessing) and mercy (his pardon for our sins). Through Jesus' victory on the cross he has freed us from slavery to sin and hurtful desires and addictions, and he has made us sons and daughters of God and citizens of his heavenly kingdom. We are free now to choose which kingdom we will serve - the kingdom of light and truth ruled by God's justice and wisdom or the kingdom of darkness and falsehood ruled by Satan and a world system or society of people who are opposed to God and his laws.

Following the Lord requires effort and commitment on our part
If we want to enter God's kingdom and receive our full inheritance which is stored up for us in heaven, then we must follow the Lord Jesus in his way of the cross through a willing renunciation of our own will for his will - our own life for his life - our own way for his way. 

Why did Jesus say we must strive to enter his kingdom of righteousness and peace? The word strive can also be translated as agony. To enter the kingdom of God we must struggle against every force or power of opposition - even the temptation to remain indifferent, apathetic, or compromising in our faith and personal trust in Jesus, our hope in holding firm to the promises of Jesus, and our uncompromising love for God above all else (the "love that has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit which has been given to us" - Romans 5:5). 

The Lord is with us to strengthen us in our trials and struggles
The good news is that we do not struggle alone. God is with us and his grace is sufficient! As we strive side by side for the faith of the Gospel with the help and support of our brothers and sisters in the Lord (Philippians 1:27), Jesus assures us of complete victory! Do you trust in God's grace and help, especially in times of testing and temptation?

"Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your guiding presence and your merciful love towards me. Through the gift of your Spirit fill me with courage and persevering faith to trust you in all things and in every circumstance I find myself. Give me the strength to cling to your promises when the world around me begins to shake or crumble. And when my love and zeal begin to waver, fan into my heart a flame of consuming love and dedication for you who are my All."

-reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager © 2018.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Memorial Service for Victims of Pittsburgh

Memorial Service for victims Pittsburgh
Monday, Oct. 29, 2018 6PM
At Beth Shalom Synagogue
9111 Jefferson Hwy., Baton Rouge, LA 70809

The Jewish Community of Baton Rouge is having a memorial service in honor of the victims of tragic and barbaric attack in Pittsburgh. Please join us in solidarity and prayer as a united Jewish community along with our interfaith brothers and sisters. We would love this to be a broad community show of support so please invite everyone you can.

Monday, October 29th at 6 p.m.: Beth Shalom Synagogue

We’re hoping the mayor will be in attendance, as well as interfaith leaders as together we say that love will always banish hate, light will always conquer darkness.

Olam Chesed Yibaneh… Let us Build a World of Kindness.

Prayer for Healing
By Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu

Our God and God of our ancestors,
Hate has been visited upon our community
Our sacred space has been violated.
We feel vulnerable, afraid, angry and broken.

God and God of our ancestors,
We pray to You:

May strength come from our vulnerability,
so we can support one another,
and receive the support of others with gratitude and humility.

May compassion come from our fear,
so we do not act from that fear,
and we can pursue justice not revenge, peace not more violence.

May wisdom come from our anger,
so we are able to see that an attack against us is an attack against all,
and we are able to join in common cause with those who are similarly oppressed and targeted.

And may healing come from our brokenness,
so we are able to rise from this challenge with renewed life, commitment and connection.

God and God of our ancestors,
In light of this act of violence and hatred,
We maintain our commitment to be shearit Yisrael, the remnant of Israel,
Continually upholding the teachings and traditions of Your covenant,
Pursuing righteousness and compassion,
Justice and mercy,
Peace and understanding,
Love and friendship.

May You frustrate those who seek to do harm
And uphold those who seek to do good.
May the shelter of Your peace spread over us and over all who dwell on earth.

And let us say, Amen.