Father’s Weekly Message

Fr. Bob Writes – June 30, 2019

Every journey has a measure of the unknown.  This was true of Christ as he moved toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51- gospel for this Sunday).  It is true of every Christian who accepts the radical call and who, as Paul states, makes his journey as the “Spirit walk”.  Every day of our life presents new challenges, new problems of faith, new moral choices.  There is great force in Luke’s statement about Jesus: “he set his face” for Jerusalem.  One thinks of a finely chiseled face of stone, with head erect, and steely eyes looking directly forward.  It all speaks one word: commitment.

In the face of the unknown, Christ never wavered. Our age has many difficulties with commitment. Great hesitation surrounds any life commitment.  Those which are made are regularly broken.  Judging the situation of others is not ours to do.  But it is a regrettable fact of our times.  True love does not shrink from commitment.  To opt for God in our life is a very important choice.  How reassuring it is when we know people who remain strong and firm in that Christian decision throughout life.  If there is one thing we need today, it is a witness of stability.  And when we find it, it is a great inspiration.

Fr. Bob Writes – June 16, 2019

“Since we are justified by faith …”   These words are taken from the opening of our second reading this Sunday, the feast of the Holy Trinity.  The come from the fifth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans.

To be “justified” means, literally, to be in line with a guiding standard.  When you do a word document on the computer, for example, you can set it up so that the letters on the left and/or the right will be justified according to the standard of the margin you have set.  When it comes to life, the question about justification is what will be the standard according to which we strive to align our lives.

Paul compares two such standards, the first being the Mosaic Law, the second being faith in the person of Jesus Christ.  Being justified in relation to the Mosaic Law means being in line with or obeying the dictates of the major and minor commands and precepts of that Law.  Paul proposed a different standard, that of faith, according to which one is justified by striving to live a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Attempting to be justified by the Law may encourage good moral conduct, but such a focus has some major drawbacks.  No one is able to be successful at following the law 100% of the time.  When one estimates that he or she is doing well by this standard, there is a tendency to be prideful for one’s personal accomplishments and judgmental towards others who do not observe the Law as perfectly. 

Justification by faith recognizes personal dependence on God, seeks God’s guidance, and humbly counts on God’s forgiveness when we fail.  It still challenges us to strive for perfection in moral life, but not as a mark of personal achievement but rather as part of one’s response in relationship to Jesus Christ.   What does having faith and a personal relationship with Jesus mean to you? 

Fr. Bob Writes – Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019

The presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested in wind and fire at Pentecost, which we celebrate this Sunday.  “Hrua,” the Hebrew word for Spirit, also means wind or breath. It is the word for the mighty wind sweeping over the waters at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:2).  It is the word in Ezekiel 37 when the prophet is called on to breathe God’s life into dry bones to bring them to life. At Pentecost, the wind or breath of the Spirit animates the people and gathers them together.

God guided the Israelites through the desert with a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21).  At Pentecost, God guided the apostles with a small pillar of fire over each of them.  People can stare into a campfire for hours, captivated by the energy, brilliance and movement of the flames.  The power of God, symbolized by the flames of fire came upon the apostles to move them and give them energy for the mission, so that, in the fulfilment of that mission, their lives might be pleasing offerings to God. 

The Jewish feast of Pentecost was called Shavuot, initially celebrated as a time of thanksgiving for the harvest.  It was also called the Feast of Weeks, being celebrated seven weeks after the Passover.  By the time of Jesus, it was a major pilgrimage feast, thus accounting for the many people from all nations gathered in Jerusalem at the time.  The celebration was also associated with the giving of the Jewish Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to the apostles to give them a “New Law” to be written, not on stone tablets, but in people’s hearts.  The many territories listed in this first reading were places where Christianity would spread in the course of the first century; where the word of God preached by the apostles and their successors would be understood by people in their own language. 

The fact that the people gathered together to witness the manifestation of the Spirit could understand the apostles’ proclamation of praise stands in contrast to the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) in which God confuses the language of people for presuming that they could accomplish whatever they wanted on their own.  On Pentecost everyone is able to understand the message, for it is a message uniting them as one in the name of Jesus and his Holy Spirit, not through their own personal gifts and accomplishments.  To be moved by the Spirit requires handing over the direction of one’s life to God to direct your life and use you for God’s purposes.

(with thanks to Fr Denny Dempsey)

Fr. Bob Writes – May 19, 2019

There is newness in all three readings today.  At the end of their first missionary journey, in the first reading, Paul and Barnabas enthusiastically report on the admission of the Gentiles (pagans) into the church.  In the Easter season, the growth and spread of the church is much to the fore.  Each Easter we welcome new converts to the faith.  These new disciples are so much a part of Easter, expressing the perennial newness of the church.  Its message springs eternal! 

And what of Jesus’ new commandment in our gospel today?  Is our love for one another, even within the church, a true sign to an unbelieving world?  We might have to say that it could be if we started to live it.  Instead we settle for negativism and pettiness.  We have no shortage of ethnic slurs, racial dislike, and ill feelings towards minorities. We believe that we are free of sexism, but that can be sorely contested.  The newness of that commandment lies partially in the motivation for observing it.  Christ’s love is to be mirrored in our own.  But is it? God continues to make things new.  A new heaven and a new earth, vividly portrayed in our second reading.  Think of a cleaner environment.  A world free of destructive weapons.  We can help construct a better world even in the here and now.  But do we take personal and social newness seriously?  Or is it mostly business as usual?

Fr. Bob Writes – May 12, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always set aside as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is also called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because in each year of the 3 year cycle the gospel is taken from John’s gospel, chapter 10 in which John  speaks of various aspects of Jesus’ role as the good shepherd. In year A, the theme is Christ as the sheep gate, in year B, Christ as the model shepherd, and in year C, our current year, the theme is the care of the flock.

Today’s gospel speaks of the Christian response to Christ as a willingness to hear his voice and follow his lead. The church of John’s time was beset by persecution from without,especially with its definitive break with the synagogue (Jn 9:34f) and the opposition of Rome, and with difficulties from within on the part of false teachers (1John 2:18; 4:1), The end of the shepherd discourse encourages the believer in the presence of these hardships.

The mutual recognition of Christ and his followers bespeaks a close adherence and assures the Spirit -life which begins here, but continues into eternity. There is , moreover, no need to fear the marauders who attempt to invade the sheepfold. That overarching protective power of the Father will protect the faithful. The Father has entrusted them to Christ and thus they will never be wrested from his grasp (the hand  of the Father and the Son here become one). The Father and Jesus work in perfect concert; they constitute an inseparable unity. To know (i.e be in relationship with) Jesus is to know the Father, and thus enjoy eternal life.

Fr. Bob Writes – May 5, 2019

In our gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus takes Peter for a walk along the shore and asks him three questions. All the questions seem to be the same.  Each question, however, asks something different of Peter.  Jesus first asks Peter: “Do you love me more than these?”  Jesus is not asking Peter if his love is Jesus is greater than that of the other disciples.   The word for “these” refers to things, not people.  There along the shore is Peter’s boat with the nets.  Peter loved fishing, but did he love Jesus more?  Do we love Jesus more than other interests and pursuits? 

The Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, has three words for love.  The most basic is “eros,” a physical attraction that is self-satisfying.  The next level of love is “philos” which means a true concern for another based on friendship or an attraction to the other person.  The highest form of love is “agape” which rises from the will rather than feelings.  It is a choice to do the best and care for another whether or not one feels like doing so.  Only with agape love can a person love an enemy.  The word for love in the first two questions is “agape.”  Jesus asks Peter if his love is perfect.  Peter’s response to both questions uses the word “philos.”  Peter loves Jesus because he likes Jesus as his friend and teacher/

In his third question to Peter, Jesus uses the word “philos” and Peter responds with the same word.  Jesus challenges all of us to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), while at the same time loving and working through us despite our being imperfect instruments.  As Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” 

Fr. Bob Writes – Divine Mercy Sunday – April 28, 2019

The Sunday readings during the Easter cycle take a different tack.  They are not woven together in the way to which we are accustomed.  All three readings deal with the effects of the resurrection of Jesus both on the individual believer and on the community as a whole.  The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles directs our attention to the growth of the early church under the Spirit’s lead.  The gospel, generally taken from John, speaks of the Spirit’s action in guiding the human soul to its destiny.  The second reading, generally taken from Peter or John, reinforce this gospel direction. 

There are three brief summaries of early church life found in Acts.  They appear as the first reading in each of the A B C cycles.  They show the faith growing as a new community begins to evolve, just as it grows in the soul of an incredulous Thomas, as he is invited to put his fingers into the nail wounds on Jesus’s hands and his hand into the spear wound in Jesus’ side.  This gospel story always appears as the gospel account for today, the Second Sunday of Easter, because that event is said to happen eight days after the resurrection of Jesus.  Thomas, the skeptic, is led to give voice to the full Easter belief of the Church – Jesus is both “Lord and God.”  In the closing verses of this gospel today, John indicates his reason for writing his gospel … that the reader might come to believe.  Put faith in, Jesus as Son of God and, in so doing, have eternal life in his name.