PILGRIMAGE DAY 8: HUMBLY LOVING CHRIST



Hello everyone.  Hard to believe that today is the last day of our pilgrimage.  The day started relatively early with us arriving at the Vatican at 7 am for 7:15 Mass at the Tomb of St. Pope John Paul II.  This has the third time I've been blessed to have this opportunity, and it never gets old.  Walking into the Sacristy of St. Peter's, getting vested for Mass back there and then arriving at this altar where the only Pope I really remember from my Childhood all the way through my early years as a priest is burried - now a Canonized Saint...

I don't know how to explain how amazingly special that is.  And how overwhelming it is as well.  But when you see St. Peter's - that's the whole point of this Basilica - for the building itself to draw you in, and you to lose yourself in the immensity of the beauty remembering the immensity of God's love and mercy for us.




Here is my homily from today's Mass - the Feast of St. James the Apostle.  The Readings:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072514.cfm

HOMILY:



Humility -

That is what is at the core of today’s Gospel - we hear one of Jesus most urgent desires of His Apostles - His Followers, of all who preach and speak in His name. That the witness of their lives would not be diminshed or undermined by looking for places of honor or prestige, but that they would be men of humility - who’s primary, singular focus is what we talked about our first day of Pilgrimage - Jesus Christ - and Him alone. That they would serve Him, 
they would Love Him 
by Serving and Loving those He puts into their lives. St. James who’s feast we celebrate today (and his thunder brother John) hadn’t quite gotten that message yet as they put their Mom up to asking for positions of honor.

And sadly, we can point to all kinds of examples we’ve seen or heard or experienced in the Church that would be similarly disappointing.  The complete opposite of what Jesus is calling them to.

Yet rather than dwell on that, we are blessed in countless ways.  Blessed first and foremost to have had such an amazingly beautiful week here in Rome and Assisi on this Pilgrimage to have opportunities to meet Jesus Christ in a new and different way as we've travelled place to place which we will share and discuss later. But Blessed even more as a Church. 

Because as we celebrate this Mass here at the tomb of now St. John Paul II - one of the beautiful things thinking back on his Papacy was his humility. Through each stage of his papacy, he was constantly pouring out his life for the Church. An attempted Assassins bullet out on that square couldn’t stop him physically or spiritually - it made him in some ways even stronger in his example and witness. As Parkinsons and illnesses slowed him down, which in a world fixated on youth, exterior looks, "beauty" he didn't hide the physical toll that he suffered.  Rather, he shared his suffering, reminding us that those who are sick and suffering have human dignity & deserve care and compassion - not rejection and isolation.  And there are countless other examples of how he didn’t stop serving until the Lord called him home.  Which is why both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis expedited John Paul II’s canonization process. 

But we see how the hopes of Christ for those who would lead His Church would follow this Gospel mandate has continued with John Paul's successors.  Pope Francis has been loved the world over in no small measure because of his dramatic acts of humility.   If anything saddens me is how some people who love Pope Francis miss how amazingly humble Benedict was – in a different way – quite simply, it’s unheard of in our day and age for people in positions of power, authority to simply resign. Yet the gentle Benedict in such an unprecedented way simply said he believed in his heart and soul that the Lord was asking him to make such a bold move. Were it not for that boldness, there would not have been a Pope Francis.  And in all these papacies, we see how the Holy Spirit is continuing to renew the Church and do amazing things throughout the world in ways we could never have imagined.  Because it's The Lord doing the work, and these men have been attentive and guided by Him rather than their own agendas or plans - which is what humility is all about.

As we gather for this our last Mass together at this special place, first we should ask the Lord’s continued blessings on Pope’s Francis and Benedict - that their examples and witnesses will continue to be absorbed and imitated by all called to leadership in the Church... Examples and witnesses of truly being servants of Christ and servants to Christ’s people, the Church - and the world.

But may we also ask for St. Pope John Paul II intercession for each of us. 
 Pray for us and all the intentions we’ve carried with us to this place. 
 Pray for us that we will continue to draw closer to Jesus Christ. 
 Pray for us that we will lovingly, selflessly - and humbly share this special encounter we’ve had with Christ during this past week with all those we will return to.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.

PILGRIMAGE DAY 6: Re-adjusting our vision


Hi everyone - greetings from back in Rome!  

Today started out with a final Mass in Assisi at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) which is a Church within a Church.  The little Church is called the Porziuncola - it is the most sacred place for the Franciscans - because it was here that  Francis came to fully recognize his vocation (that he began to understand at the Church of San Damiano) - and renounced everything to radically live the Gospel mandates.  It was also here that Francis entered into eternal life.

Having the opportunity to celebrate Mass here is probably going to be hard to top - for reasons that I need a lot more time to pray and reflect over - St. Francis has figured quite prominently in my own personal spiritual life for over 18 years.  Having the opportunity to pray in these sacred places that I've read about over and over (in St. Bonaventures Life of Francis) is beyond... at least right now.

After Mass, we headed back to Rome.  It's about a 2 and a half hour ride.  It was nice taking  in the Italian countryside.  Thanks to some spectacular weather (the fears over the extreme heat and humidity have thankfully only really bothered us the first few days and have really mellowed out nicely)  it was a nice ride back.


Then -- we were off - to St. Paul's outside the Walls (where St. Paul is burried)






Santa Sabina -- one of the oldest Churches in Rome (from the 400's) which has this breathtaking sight nearby:



Then to the Church of the Gesu - where St. Ignatius of Loyola is burried - where there's a fantastic "telling" of the story of his life and death revealing this beautiful statue:





Then off to another amazing meal at Da Fortunato - which is right near the Pantheon - another ancient Church...


It's really all too much to take in.  Really thankful and blessed that Lino Rulli invites me to come along on this pilgrimage and to have this tremendous opprotunity with some great folks.

Here's my homily for today's Mass at Santa Maria degli Angeli.  The readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072314.cfm



(still shocked at what a tremendous picture that is from this mornings Mass)

The first reading today is some of the most reflective passages in the entire Old Testament.

The Prophet Jeremiah is a young man who is called by God to deliver some tough love to the Jewish people. People didn’t like hearing bad news then anymore than they like it today. So it’s no wonder that Jeremiah – he’s a little anxious about it... doubting, worried about it all. And what does the Lord say to Him -

Jeremiah...

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you

before you were born I dedicated you...

Even with those comforting assurances, the young Jeremiah quickly counters - BUT BUT BUT – I know not how to speak, I am too young.... And lovingly, the Lord answers - say not "I’m too young" have no fear - I am with you...see I place my word in your mouth.

We can get caught up in the heroics of all the Saints we’ve remembered thus far - especially as we’ve visited some amazingly beautiful places. They kind of keep us focused on the victory of their missions and sacrifices. For example, as we head back to Rome today and will see St. Paul’s tomb and St. Peter's tomb - we can be  struck by the beauty of those places marking those events.  We're not there to witness the abject fear Paul must have faced as a blade is prepared to strike him severing his head or the Cross that awaited Peter.  Or, we visit this amazing town of Assisi- again struck by an air of holiness & beauty - we’re not witnesses to the many doubts, trials, struggles that Francis, Claire and their followers had to endure -- families furiously, angrily enraged at them trying to drag them back home; locking Francis in what looked like a closet -- the fury of the world as they went against what was common, what the world was speaking at that time and instead following what the Lord was calling them to do.

Which is why the words of the prophet are a gentle reminder to each one of us. That as we come closer to Jesus Christ through these visits on this pilgrimage, as we recognize stirrings in our hearts that might seem new and different - possibly even insane and impossible - when we recognize a Call into relationship with Him, He never abandons us. He doesn’t give us an "impossible mission" slapping us on the back, throwing us out of an airplane without a parachute saying "good luck."

He calls us into relationship with Him. And what we find is that as we remain faithful to the tasks he puts before us, we find strength, we find patience, we find endurance, we find faith - we never knew we had.

 

PILGRIMAGE DAY 7: CHRIST OUR SAVIOR

Its hard to believe that we are in our last days of the Pilgrimage!  Today started out with a visit to the Major Basilica of St. John Lateran where we celebrated Mass in one of the Chapels.  The picture from the altar is a favorite of mine.  St John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist are pointing at Jesus Christ and as the host is raised at the consecration, at the host, as if to say "This becomes this..."  It is truly a moving experience to celebrate Mass in such an amazing surrounding


After Mass we headed to the Sacra Scala - the steps from Pilate's Prateourium which were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena (and a few friends of hers who helped her bring them).  These were the stairs that Jesus walked to be sentenced to death by Pilate.  Its a pilgrim tradition to climb those steps on your knees and to offer a prayer on each one.  For many this is one of the most moving and personal things that they do on the Pilgrimage.  

Immediately after we went to SANTA CROCE IN GERUSALEMME - another Sacred Pilgrimage sight consecrated in the early 300's housing relics from Jesus' Passion and death (a nail form his cross, thorns from the thorn of crowns).  While not as oppulent as St. John Lateran, it is quite beautiful in a different way obviously spiritually, but also artistically.

It's going to be a "free night" for the pilgrims considering tomorrow is their last day and we're up and at it for Mass at 7:15 am at St. Peter's Basilica at the tomb of ST. Pope John Paul II.

Thanks for continuing to check in on our pilgrimage.  Have continued to pray for everyone each day - in a special way on the Sacra Scala today.

Here's my homily for this morning's Mass.  The Readings:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072414.cfm

HOMILY:

(Picture of the Basilica of St. John Lateran)



As we’ve returned to Rome, and not to jump ahead too fast, the reality that we’re on the last part of our pilgrimage comes to mind. Sorry, thats not meant to bring us all down, but to challenge us to make the most of these days.  Particularly in light of these readings:

In the first reading from Jeremiah, God speaks to the prophet (and to us) as someone who knows and loves the prophet (and each of us) very intimately. 
He knows the heart. 
He knows us better than we know ourselves. 
And he can’t help but point out that the prophet (and each one of us) can sometimes go from hot to cold in living our faith. Jeremiah (which we read yesterday) early on shows great devotion, great willingness to follow wherever the Lord led... As he’s matured, he gets busy - about the wrong things, he gets distracted, he allows all those things to obscure single hearted faith - and we can relate... we ike Jeremiah can, and often do the same things.  And as we do get distracted, we can become tempted and sometimes give into that temptation to choose our own path instead of what God has set for us.

But then we responded to that reading with those beautiful words of the psalm "With you is the fountain of life O Lord." We might get distracted, we might get busy, we might forget what we’re supposed to be about - but God is unwavering in his faithfulness to us. Constantly, consistently loving us throughout the journey.

But lest we are tempted to sit back, rest and let God take care of everything, We hear the voice of Jesus, through Matthew, speaking hard words, almost as if he really doesn't want those who are listening to understand his parables. It seems at odds with the consoling words we’ve heard. But Jesus reminds us that with true faith comes a certain amount of risk-taking, stretching, going beyond our comfort zones, which hopefully this week of pilgrimage has offered each one of us an opportunity to do.

Both St. John’s – the Baptist and the Evangelist - who are remembered in this Sacred Place give striking witnesses to the cost of true faith. John the Baptist is this obscure figure out in the wilderness who lives a life of poverty and repentance and calling others to do the same as the last of the Old Testament prophets pointing to the coming of the Messiah ... St. John the Evangelist - the Apostle, the writer - both John's spent most of their lives pointing to those words etched on the facade of this magnificent place - CHRIST OUR SAVIOR.

They challenge us.  Because most of us seem very comfortable with following Christ -- but from a distance.  We sometimes look to maintain our status quo or, at least, grow at our own rate. But hopefully these readings and the unique and special opportunity we’re experiencing on this pilgrimage are redirecting us... Calling us to to let go of our own ideas and agendas and trust, what our loving Father has in store for us. Inviting us to etch in our hearts, to proclaim with our lives - CHRIST OUR SAVIOR

St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist - pray for us.


PILGRIMAGE DAY 5: - CHANGE THE WORLD

Have to admit I was a bit surprised by how moved I got this morning walking over to Celebrate Mass at Basilica di St. Chiara (St. Claire of Assisi's burial place).  Getting things set up and vested, I was walking out of the Sacristy when I realized the chapel just off to the side had this:



That's THE Cross that Francis of Assisi heard speak to him those words "Rebuild my Church."   Couldn't help but get a bit choked up standing there before offering Mass with our pilgrims in one of the little chapels in this beautiful Basilica which contained some of the garments that Claire and Francis wore after their conversion.


HOMILY: - Mass on Tuesday (Feast of St. Mary Magdalene readings:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072214.cfm)

Francis of Assisi -

Possibly one of the most revered Saints - both in and out of Christianity.

If we were to simply say his name, and ask people what comes to mind -- no doubt people would agree on a number of words that are associated with Francesco, who hails from this beautiful place.

Lover of Poverty

Man of Peace,

Friend of Animals,

"Environmentalist"

All of those are wonderful dimensions of Francis’ life and mission. But any of them individually are somewhat lacking and could leave him in the ranks of other like minded individuals passionate about all those causes.

What makes Francis - Saint Francis of Assisi, such a giant in the Catholic Faith, is that at a moment of real crisis in the Church - this simple, humble man has an encounter with Christ - and his devotion and dedication to that changed the world -- not just His world, but the world. Hearing Jesus say "Rebuild my Church" caught him by surprise.  And in his youthfulness he simply starts picking up stones and doing physical labor. In time, in prayer, in humility, he comes to recognize Jesus calling out to Francis – no Francesco – not the physical Church in Assisi - rebuild my Church.

Providentially we’re celebrating this Mass here on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. And in the Gospel we see the same thing - in one of the biggest moments of crisis for the Church - Jesus’ passion, his gruesome death and being buried kind of was a horrendous time for the whole Church as the apostles scattered living in fear of what was to happen next. And in that moment, when fear and doubt and confusion covered all their eyes, this simple, humble woman, Mary Magdalene, encounters Christ, the Risen Christ - who entrusts to her the important, amazing task of proclaiming his resurrection to Peter, and the others. The world simply has never been the same since that good news spread that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene’s love and devotion to Christ throughout his life prepared her to play this instrumental part to be a pivotal part of the Easter Story.

Francis, Claire, Mary Magdalene - over and over again, they and countless other men and women, these Saints, capture our hearts and imagination - hundreds, even thousands of years since they walked this earth. And over and over again, they remind us quite simply that when you and I encounter Christ - if we too are attentive to what he says to us, obedient to his word - Jesus Christ can use us to change the world once again. We too can become Saints.

PILGRIMAGE DAY 4: To those w faith no explanation is necessary...

MONDAY, July 21

So many of you remember that it was only two years ago that I made my first visit to Italy (truth be told it was my fist time ever out of the country.  Today, on our way up to Assisi from Rome we stopped at a beautiful town named Orvietto - famous for the Eucharistic miracle which was the impetus for the feast of Corpus Christi to be institutionalized 750 years ago. (I explain a little more of it in the homily down below)

The city is truly a beautiful town - more of what my stereotypical images of Italy would be :
(That's Lino at lunch)
A beautiful street


The Mass today was at the beautiful Cathedral containing the corporal from the Euchaeiaric miracle occurred.   For a lot of us it was the most moving Mass to date with one of our pilgrims prayerfully singing Ave Maria acapella after communion. 

Here's my homily for today's Mass.  The
Readings can be found at : http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072114.cfm

HOMILY 

"We wish to see a sign from you"

Reading this Gospel today, and knowing we were coming to Orvieto, I couldnt help but think how appropriate. One account of the Eucharistic miracle that took place here is that in 13th Century, a priest who is described as pious -- but had his doubts, his reservations how the God of the Universe could somehow be really present in a piece of bread and cup of wine. As he celebrated Mass, he hadn't even gotten to the words of consecration and inexplicably blood started to come from the host onto the priests hands and onto the corporal and altar cloths. Making this place a place of pilgrimage, which led to the Pope Urban IV to institute the feast of Corpus Christi - The Body and Blood of Christ.

I don't know - that sounds like quite a sign to me! How come this priest got one - but the scribes and pharisees are smacked down for asking for one... and how come when you and I want a sign, so often we feel our request (demand??) Are unanswered...

I think the difference is a matter of the heart.

Jesus isn't going to respond to the demands of the crowd looking for him to perform a miracle to impress them... simply because the disposition of their hearts were so closed, so twisted nothing would... "Jesus turn this water into wine?" "Oh it's red and not white... see, he's not so special." They were putting him to the test. There wasn’t openness of heart. They were simply looking for more reasons to argue, to fight, to dismiss Jesus.

I can’t help but think about how different this priest of orvieto was. He had already given his life to Christ and to His Church in laying down his life as a priest. And despite the doubts, he still approached the altar to celebrate Mass... He was praying similar to the Gospel encounter where the father is begging for Jesus to cure his son, says "I believe, help my unbelief."

For each of us here this pilgrimage, with our intentions, our cares and concerns that we're carrying - in some part of our hearts there's no doubt a desire that The Lord give us some sort of a sign of not simply his existence - I think that just looking at some of the beauty we've already witnessed points us to something bigger than ourselves - points to the existence of God. More likely, we're looking for a sign of God's personal presence, personal interest in each and everyone of us. That He hears and cares about what it is that troubles our hearts.

We’ve come to this place, not simply to visit a place of a reported miracle, but to reflect on the miracle of the Eucharist - that Jesus Christ continues to be made real, continues to come into our midst, into our hands to be consumed into our very body’s and souls.

It is said that it was this miracle of Orvieto that caused Pope Urban to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to write a special musical in honor of the Holy Eucharist.. With that in mind, it’s good to recall his famous quote: To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.



Lord, increase our Faith...

PILGRIMAGE DAY 3: SEEING THE BEAUTY INSTEAD OF WEEDS

Greetings from Roma!  Here we are on Day 3 off our Pilgrimage.  Hard to believe that - and that tomorrow we're leaving Rome (only for a few days... as we head off to Orvieto and Assisi, but don't want to get ahead of myself)

Today started with a stroll to St. Peter's Square to see what was going on there.


- yep... thousands upon thousands in the square to see Papa Francesco!  (He's the little white figure in the window in the second pic)  Pretty much every Sunday that the Holy Father is in Rome, he leads the faithful in "The Angelus" a mid-day prayer consisting of 3 Hail Mary's and an Our Father recalling the Annunciation (when God invited Mary to become the Mother of God)  While it was "a brief visit" with Pope Francis, it was still amazing to experience the beauty of being Catholic - people of God from around the world united around their Spiritual Father praying together.

After we headed out for more touring around Rome, hitting some more spectacular sights.  But first, we had to obey the Holy Father as he ended his Angelus with Buon Pranzo  - which means, have a good lunch... So we got to go off to a beautiful square and just have a leisurely (and amazing) meal.  



It brought back memories of Sundays growing up where our whole family would eat at my grandmother's.  We - especially as Americans - have lost so much as we've given up the Sabbath to NFL-MLB-NBA - not to mention kids sports leagues, shopping, etc.  



Today we celebrated Sunday Mass together at a minor basilica dedicated to St. Andrew.  Don't let that title mislead you.  It's only called "minor" in relation to the 4 basilica's that are "Papal Basilicas" - or Basilicas of the Vatican.  Nothing about this place is minor!  Truly a spectacular place and somewhat special personally - 3 years ago this was the Church where I celebrated Mass for the first time in Rome!
thanks to one of our pilgrims, Lauren Daigle, for this incredible pic from today's Mass (as well as yesterdays)



Here's my Homily for SUNDAY July 20 -the readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072014.cfm

HOMILY:
In college, I took a class called the Philosophy of God. One of the most interesting debates we had in that class was over Why do people decide not have any religious affiliation? Probably not very surprising - the major reason that those who fell into that group cited was that they felt people who go to Church are just like everybody else (actually, the way they put it - "people who go to Church are as lousy as everyone else") They said Christians were hypocrites, they were liars, gossips, cheats, etc. among them just like everywhere else in society.

The second reason wasn’t too surprising either - "If there’s a good God, why does he allow so much evil to exist in the world?" People seem upset, (justifiably by the way) that things are not perfect! They are upset just like the servants in the Gospel today –why are there weeds among the wheat? Why isn’t the harvest going to turn out right? Why would the work of the good master fail?

While it’s true, there are some people who are always critical and will never change - for most of us, the problem is we are just intimidated by these darn weeds. We all wonder why they are there...It becomes easy to simply focus on the weeds - their existence - their presence among us and forget the beautiful garden - the flowers that are blooming alongside the weeds.

Sorry to disappoint you - I don’t have the answer as to why God allows the devil to cast his evil into the garden (or, why we continue to allow it to enter in through our sinfulness...) But one thing that’s clear - the Lord will take care of it in His time.

That, unfortunately, requires patience (something I’m not a great fan or practitioner of myself). We are challenged not to dwell, not to be discouraged, not to give more attention to the weeds or more importantly to the Evil in the world.

We are called to recognize the evil, we are called to resist it and to pray that God will take care of it in His time.

In the meantime, we are simply called to do Good instead of Evil -

to bless instead of curse,

to praise instead of criticize,

to forgive instead of resent

to love instead of hate.

The reality is that doesn’t make us feel too good, does it? We still are miffed that those darn weeds are in the field. But if we think about it, we should be happy that God waits a while - that he tells his servants to hold back - that he allows the harvest to grow. Because truth be told - sometimes I’m the weed. There are times things I have done (or failed to do) that didn’t help the Lord’s harvest, didn’t glorify him, didn’t build up his garden.

And yet he gives me - he gives you - he gives us time to come back to him. He allows the evil to exist so that what is good might grow - not in the fields - but in the hearts and souls of each and everyone of us. God created us in his divine image and even though we sometimes act like weeds, we still have the potential within to turn good. Think about it what a blessing that for us as Catholics, we are one good confession away from weeding our garden.

That’s one of the things we recognize here in this Basilica dedicated to St. Andrew - the brother of St. Peter. The humanity of the Apostles is always on display for us. We see in Jesus’ closest circle, as they sat in his presence, experienced the miracles, witnessed all kinds of earthshattering moments (raising people from the dead) - there own weeds would reemerge at the most inopportune times. Yet, ultimately, in faith, they kept persevering - to the moment where they became heroes for Christ - Martyrs for Christ - not only demonstrating how beautiful their own faith had grown, but nourishing ours 2000 years later.

For each of us, we can’t hide our heads in the sand and pretend the presence of evil in the world or in our lives isn’t there. But we always, always, always have to come back to the truth that God’s Love is stronger and even more real, even more present in our lives.

Don’t focus on the weeds and how ugly and destructive they are. Rather, we are to call on the Holy Spirit who is challenging us to yank those weeds out of our own lives - and to recognize what a beautiful world God has given us - what beautiful creatures he has made us.

PILGRIMAGE DAY 2: Looking to Mary for inspiration...

Hi everyone - so here we are - day two of our pilgrimage.   The one thing I've forgotten from the last two pilgrimages is how much walking there is!  Yesterday between a "stroll" to the Pantheon and back was about 3 hours - followed by another 3 hours of walking through the Vatican Museums last night.  

Today we headed this morning to "Ancient Rome" - the Collosium, the Roman forum.  We tried to do that earlier in the day before th 90 degree heat got too much for everyone. 

 After that, we returned near our hotel so that pilgrims could purchase gifts to be blessed by Pope Francis tomorrow during his Weekly Sunday Angelus in St. Peter's Square (always an amazing experinece).

Then this late afternoon it was on the road again for Daily Mass and more touring.   We "popped" in St Peters in Chains ( Church where the actual chains that held St Peter imprisoned and that he was freed from by an angel in Acts 12 are kept).   In that church is another Michaelangelo "Moses" 

Thanks for checking in, for your messages and feedback.  Sorry the internets not great so I can't get back to everyone or post more pics.  Will try to do so when I get home.


Here's my homily for SATURDAY JULY 19.   The readings  can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071914.cfm  

Today's Daily Mass was at the Basilica of Mary Major (thanks to one of the pilgrims for this beautiful pic from today's Mass) 

Homily:

Coming to this Church of the Madonna - the Church of Our Lady, and hearing this Gospel we're reminded of one of the most profound differences between the Pharisees - the religious leaders/experts of the day and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees have figured God out - or at least they think they have- because of yesterdays Gospel where they are angered by Jesus for allowing a curing on the sabbath, which they believed was out of the question (while they made exceptions for taking care of animals - their livestock...but I digress) Jesus points out their hypocrisy, points out their lack of openness of heart in allowing the cures to occur. And then we read how they reacted to that in today’s Gospel: they "went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death."

For us as Christians when we read that, and think of that - we are horrified by that. 

Yet, in all honesty, I know in my own life when things don't go within my scripted understanding of how things are supposed to go, I might be more like the Pharisees then I care to admit. Where I get angry that God isn’t following my will or my understanding of His will...Where thoughts or even actions of rebellion against God are born in my own heart.

Coming to this magnificent basilica - we're reminded of the one who’s our model as the complete opposite to that attitude. We’re reminded that when God invites Mary to consider something amazingly different then she could have ever imagined: that she would become the Mother of God through the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, she simply and humbly opens herself to the Lord's will and invitation.

On this second day of Pilgrimage, we’re being invited to ask ourselves How is God knocking on our hearts, intersecting in our lives, looking for us to be open to Him moving us and changing us. That our initial reactions to these invitations might be met with resistance, that we might be upset that our lives may be changing-- is understandable. But we’re reminded of these two contrasts - the Pharisees in the Gospel and our Blessed Mother - to see how eventually our reactions will develop into two extemely different attitudes, reactions. One where we call for Jesus’ death - and one where we bring Jesus to birth once again. May we ask the Lord to bless us with His Holy Spirit to always remain open to his invitations, respond courageously, and have perseverance in moments of temptation and weakness - knowing that our Blessed Mother, Mary, Our Lady of the Snows, is always interceding for us to find the joy she experienced in God our Savior.

PILGRIMAGE DAY 1: "They Finally came to Rome..." (Acts 28: 14)

Hi everyone - so the 33 pilgrims joined us today arriving on the Red Eye at 7:30 am Rome time.  We all got back to the hotel gave them a few minutes to wash up (since Check in isn't until after 12 Noon) and then made our way to Vatican City for our First Mass.  After Mass we had a fantastic lunch at Da Roberto for Norcina which is rigatoni with an Alfredo type sauce with sausage in it.  Amazing...

Here's my homily for today's Mass - Thanks for reading, know that you are all in my prayers.  I've been going through a page of intentions per-day to lift up in prayer...

FRIDAY - July 18th. Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071814.cfm


Thanks be to God - we’ve all made it here... safe, hopefully some what sound - to Rome, to Italy - to the Eternal City - the city of Sts Peter and Paul.

Some of you have heard Lino has accused me of being a "scaredy cat" not wanting to go to the Jersualem. While there’s some truth to that - and not to get into all that especially during a homily where he can’t debate with me about it... being here in Rome we also have to recognize that for us Catholics, Rome has almost as deep spiritual meaning to us. For while the life, death and resurrection of Jesus took place in Jerusalem, the Church really grew out of Rome.

The persecution of the Early Christians forced the Church to almost completely abandon Jerusalem. St. Peter –

having been the one to whom Jesus gave "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" too,

the one Jesus appointed;

the one to whom he would build his Church upon

well in those early decades of the Christian faith after Jesus’ resurrection, the future of the Church depended upon the apostles being faithful to Jesus’ call to them to proclaim Him, His Gospel, His Good News to the furthest ends of the earth. And so where did they go to do that? The Acts of the Apostles tells us quite simply - They "finally came to Rome"(Acts 28:14).

And doing so, would eventually cost St. Peter his life, St. Paul his life - and thousands upon thousands of others their lives. But the Gospel did go forth from here to the ends of the earth. The church, despite those crushing defeats did solidify on St. Peter - and continues to proclaim this good news from this, St. Peter’s see, to the ends of the earth. The words of St. Paul who is buried in this, the first place of our pilgrimage - which makes up a bulk of the New Testament - is still revered by billions in our world at this very moment - and billions who preceded us.

Kind of cool to think about, huh?

We will be spending a great deal of time, visiting some amazing sights, tombs of our family members - fellow brothers and sisters who passed along this faith to us. And that’s why this, today’s Gospel is providential for us to begin with:

In the Gospel, the pharisees try to stump Jesus once again by noting his followers are technically violating one of the commandments. As Jesus figuratively slaps them down, he does so making an absolutely essential point for us as Christians - and for us this week as pilgrims. He quite simply insists that He, Himself, must be the core, the focus, the thing that we fix our eyes on alone.

To the original listeners he points out that He Himself is more important than the most important place to the Jews the Temple; He Himself is more important than the most important thing to the Jews the Law. And some 2,000 years later, that’s still the case. All of these amazingly breathtaking sights, the relics and remains of the Saints are absolutely meaningless if we don’t recognize that they are here as tangible, visible reminders of our ancestors faith, their testimonies to the importance of Jesus Christ to their lives - so much so they laid down their lives – spiritually, and physically – for Him alone.

That’s why we visit these places... That’s why they have deeper meaning other than artistic beauty - we see the inner beauty of people’s faith expressed both in those martyrs and Saints burried here - our Catholic all-stars - as well as the reverence of the people who built these Churches - so moved in mind and heart by these witnesses.

For us coming here today - in the verses right before this gospel passage, Jesus offers His followers some of the most comforting words of the Gospel "come to me all you who labor and are burdened..." This week, I believe the Lord is asking each of us, What are some of our burdens? What are some of the heavy things that we’ve carried with us - not in your luggage, but in your hearts? Is it fear over some life change? Sick family members? The grief of some loss we’ve experienced?

Jesus promises us that – if we let him – he will remove those burdens from us. But that involves a radical re-alignment of our hearts and minds to following Jesus alone and not our own wills. May the witnesses of the Saints that we encounter in these holy places inspire us to come to meet anew and come to know Jesus ever more deeply as we gaze on him through the vision, the perspective of some of his most devout followers.

LIVE FOREVER - with thanks to Oasis and, of course, Jesus

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062914-day-mass.cfm.  As always thanks for reading, your comments and sharing this blog on all the social media sites.  I appreciate it! 

OH - and a quick plug... please take a moment to check out the BIG NEWS  from the NEWMAN CENTER here at Montclair State and how you can help - Thanks for your generosity and especially all your prayers and support!  - www.MSUNEWMAN.com

HOMILY:

Without college students around these summer months it seems safe to share a memory without the blank stares or the snickers they make reminding me that I’m older than them.

A couple of weeks ago, Amazon.com sent me a recommendation. Aren’t they thoughtful? They know my buying preferences (which is kind of creepy, but), they said "You might be interested in" and it was a "new" release from one of my favorite bands Oasis. Knowing that they had broken up as a band after the two brothers got into one of their legendary fights (again) a few years ago, I wondered if I missed the news they had gotten back together. Particularly since they’re a British band, they might not have gotten much attention this side of the Atlantic.

But alas, no... it wasn’t a new album. It was a special "re-master" celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of the album "Definitely Maybe." OUCH - College kids or not, that hurts! 1994! I was a Junior in college... It doesn’t seem that long ago – at all.

While that particular album isn’t my favorites of Oasis (that would be "What’s the story morning glory" - which I can listen from tracks 1-12 without skipping a single track) "Definitely Maybe" has one of my favorite songs from Oasis - "Live Forever".


Maybe I don't really wanna know

How your garden grows cos I just want to fly

Lately, did you ever feel the pain?

In the morning rain as it soaks you to the bone

Maybe I just want to fly

I want to live I don't want to die

Maybe I just want to breathe

maybe I just don't believe

Maybe you're the same as me

we see things they'll never see

you and I were gonna live forever

 

It’s a catchy song... The lyrics are somewhat vague on the surface. If you search online you’ll find different fans attempting to give an explanation or meaning to it. But you can also find the songwriter himself explaining his inspirations. Some of it’s about his mom, who loved to garden. There’s connections to their pop-heroes John Lennon and The Beattles...

But one of the main reasons for writing "Live Forever" was in reaction to what was the other top-hit of the time. Yes - those glorious ‘90's - when "Grunge music" was the rock genre we all listened to - with one of the most popular groups being "Nirvana". Oasis wrote "Live Forever" as a response to Nirvana’s "I hate myself and want to die". I can’t directly quote Noel Gallagher the songwriter since he uses the "f" word like the word "the" and "and." But basically he explained that while he was a fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain (the lead band member/song writer) he felt the last thing people needed to hear was such crap as "I hate myself and want to die." And Gallagher couldn’t help but notice at the time something that people didn’t acknowledge till after Cobain’s suicide "how could a guy who had everything be so miserable about it?"


I said maybe I don't really wanna know

How your garden grows cos I just want to fly

Lately, did you ever feel the pain?

In the morning rain as it soaks you to the bone



Maybe I will never be all the things that I want to be

But now is not the time to cry now's the time to find out why

I think you're the same as me we see things they'll never see you and I

We're gonna live forever
As a 21 year old entering into my senior year, preparing for seminary, I suppose that I still was drawn to rock music, but couldn’t find myself banging my head to songs moaning about the awfulness of life and wishing for death. However vague Oasis was, I could get on board with people who said "I think you’re the same as me - we see things they’ll never see - you and I we’re gonna live forever." Oasis never imagined at the time that they were taking on some of the "legends" of the day and age - especially since this was their debut album. Nor did they realize they were being so defiant to a somewhat angry meaninglessness philosophy that so many grungers of that day and age were embracing (as they got stoned to try to numb the pain of that nothingness). And Oasis certainly never expected that "Live Forever" would remain one of their most popular songs - even a decade after it’s release it was named as "Greatest song ever" several times on different charts in the UK.

Driving around listening to this remastered CD (thanks Amazon) I kept thinking about these two saints whose feast day we celebrate today. Saints Peter and Paul in the first and second readings we heard today, they too were surrounded by a world filled with "hate" and "death". King Herod we read in the Acts of the Apostles is getting kudos from the occupied Jews as he kills Christians which is why he imprisons Peter. Paul, in the second reading is writing to one of his young followers, a young bishop knows that his death by beheading is at hand. Both of them, two giants of the Catholic-Christian faith at a time where the young Church was ruthlessly being persecuted and it’s chances of surviving seemed bleak at best - are eventually martyred. But they were able to embrace that fate, were able to make this sacrifice knowing deep in their hearts and souls that because of Jesus Christ, they truly would "Live Forever."

That is why the Church pauses every June 29th to celebrate (even when that falls on a Sunday) these two men together. The Church wants us to remember our roots. That the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a universe-changing experience. That in following Jesus Christ, we see things they’ll never see - namely that the things of this world, of this life are meaningless if they’re not connected to Him... in fact life is meaningless if we’re not connected to Him. It’s only in being united to Jesus Christ that you and I are gonna live forever.

Peter and Paul believed that- and suffered and died as their testimony, their witness to this truth. How will we speak to a world that still beats its head along to the mind-numbing beat of "hating itself and wanting to die" - the glorious promise, the glorious future that because of Jesus Christ, we’re gonna live forever


Maybe I don't really wanna know

How your garden grows cos I just want to fly

Lately, did you ever feel the pain?

In the morning rain as it soaks you to the bone

Maybe I just want to fly I want to live I don't want to die

Maybe I just want to breathe maybe I just don't believe

Maybe you're the same as me we see things they'll never see you and I

You and I are gonna live forever

We're gonna live forever

Gonna live forever

Gonna live forever

Gonna live forever

Gonna live forever

Gonna live forever

CHALLENGES FOR THE PRIEST ANSWERED BY CORPUS CHRISTI

Hello everyone!  This is my homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (traditionally referred to by it's Latin titles Corpus Christi  or Corpus Domini)  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062214.cfm.  I'm grateful for you taking time to read this - for your feedback - and for all of those who share this on twitter, facebook, redditt and whatever other social media things that keep popping up!  I'm always amazed seeing the statistics and where visitors are coming from - so Thank You - and God Bless You - today and always - In Christ - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:



The Last Supper - one of the many beautiful stained glass windows
from our Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ
Every so often, someone will ask the question: what’s the hardest part of being a priest? From their reactions they seem to have certain expectations of what they think the answer will be: Is it the promises made to remain chaste for life – forsaking having a wife and family of your own? Is it the promise of obedience to the Archbishop - recognizing that any day the Archbishop could call and say "I need you to go to a new assignment" - and there’s an expectation that you would put aside your wants, desires and say "Yes" - for the good of the Church.

There’s some truth to those examples - and other challenges come to mind. But over the last 15 years of priesthood - for me, the hardest part has always been the extremes that a priest can encounter just in the course of one day. Being a part of one family’s incredible joy and then another family’s incredible pain in the matter of a few hours.

One Saturday I will never forget comes to mind. Saturdays ordinarily in our parish were relatively manageable (compared to some other parishes) so when my pastor was away for the week, I wasn’t concerned about the fact that I had an 8:30 am Daily Mass for Saturday - a Nuptial Mass (a wedding) at 3:00 pm, confessions at 4:30 and the Vigil Mass for Sunday at 5:30 pm. Sure it was a bit loaded of a day, but as still a relatively young priest, I thought I could handle it. The Daily Mass and Vigil Mass were something that was familiar by that point (even with a group of Confirmation kids coming to the 5:30 mass for something they needed to do); I was excited to celebrate the wedding Mass with the couple I had been working with for over a year.

What I didn’t expect was a funeral coming in that Saturday Morning. The note was posted on the bulletin board on Wednesday evening that the funeral director had called to arrange a funeral Mass on Saturday at 10 am. At first I was thinking if it wasn’t someone I was very familiar with that perhaps I could get another priest to cover the funeral. As it turned out it was a 25 year old woman who’s name didn’t register right away - and then I realized it was the daughter of a couple who were regular, faithful parishioners. In the 3 years I had known them, I never met their daughter (or even knew they had a daughter for that matter) Only with this sad news did I learn that she had suffered from a drug addiction, had been in and out of rehabilitation facilities and programs - but tragically had not been able to ward off those demons as she died from an overdose. In talking and meeting with the family, it was obvious that they wanted me as their parish priest to celebrate the Mass.

Going into that day, I thought I was prepared. I had my homilies printed out in different colored folders, that I had triple checked (definitely wouldn’t want to mess those files up and bring the wrong one to the wrong Mass) I had altar servers assigned to help throughout the day and parishioners to assist whether it was just to help clean up from one celebration and set up for the next.

Emotionally I couldn’t have imagined the challenge the day proposed. Seeing a family devastated by a tragic loss and a few hours later family’s (with similar aged young people) gathering to celebrate the joy of uniting a husband and wife... confirmation kids coming to the 5:30 PM Mass for their project that was part of their formation process.

It was during that last 5:30 pm Mass that I had a spiritual revelation that has never left me. It was as we were preparing the altar for now the 4th time, and I saw parishioners gathering again to bring the bread and wine up the altar that it clicked that I had seen this happen 4 times in this very Church, to very different congregations. First to a group of mostly elderly parishioners who faithfully attend Mass every morning; then to a Church of people - some stunned, some numb in grief; then to family’s filled with joy as well as fear as they watch two young adults make one of the biggest steps in their lives - to now at the end of the day, 300-400 ordinary parishioners ranging from newborns to 80 somethings gathering together as they did week after week. In some ways, they couldn’t have been more different.

Yet they all came to the same altar. They all came, as they were, looking to be fed with the Body of Christ. Part of the sadness was my own expectations not being met. Because:

That Eucharist I wish I could say instantly removed all pain and grief for the one family.

That Eucharist I wish I could say guaranteed the newly married Mr and Mrs protection from all pain and suffering and only the richest of blessings for the rest of their lives

That Eucharist I wish I could say just as miraculously transformed everyone’s "ordinariness" into something "extraordinary" as bread and wine becoming Jesus body and blood did.

But sadly that wasn’t the case. People still sobbed. I’m unsure of what happened to that couple the days, weeks and years since they left after they got married and moved out of state... and taking a look around during that 5:30 - despite my best efforts, some people were yawning and didn’t appear to have changed much during that Mass.
Here I was incredibly blessed to Celebrate Mass at the
Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome, Italy at the altar
where relics from the Last Supper are contained

But I realized those were my own expectations that were messed up - and I walked away with a new appreciation. What everyone had in common; what everyone desired - and very personally what I knew to be true at the end of that long day – what had sustained me, and nourished me - was Jesus’ very presence in that Eucharist. That in all those moments throughout the day He himself fed us with his very flesh; He himself quenched our thirst with his very blood. It was Jesus’ presence, and His presence alone that every group of people desired on some unspoken level. It was Jesus Himself that would be with one family in their darkest, most painful moment - and that He would remain with them every day, as they tried to come face to face with this loss in their lives. It was Jesus Himself that was the guest at this Wedding Feast - who would remain with that couple in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health - all the days of their lives. It was Jesus Himself who made the ordinary extraordinary and that daily, weekly nourishment would impact and change the lives of every soul who welcomed Him, received Him - really consumed Him and allowed Him to change their very lives.

As Pope Francis said so beautifully last year in his Corpus Christi homily once again, the Lord distributes for us the bread that is his Body, he makes himself a gift; and we too experience "God’s solidarity" with man, a solidarity that is never depleted, a solidarity that never ceases to amaze us: God makes himself close to us, in the sacrifice of the Cross he humbles himself, entering the darkness of death to give us his life which overcomes evil, selfishness and death. Jesus, this evening too, gives himself to us in the Eucharist, shares in our journey, indeed he makes himself food, the true food that sustains our life also in moments when the road becomes hard-going and obstacles slow our steps. And in the Eucharist the Lord makes us walk on his road, that of service, of sharing, of giving; and if it is shared, that little we have, that little we are, becomes riches, for the power of God — which is the power of love — comes down into our poverty to transform it.

The Challenge for us on this celebration where we focus on this gift, on this mystery, is in the midst of our daily struggles, in the extremes of life that all of us inevitably encounter moving from joy to sorrow and sometimes monotony in the day to day is to look to Jesus presence in the Eucharist to transform us, to guide us – forcing us to do as he does for us: to lay down our lives, to give, to share... to in fact love Him as He loves us... to make that real presence real in the lives of others.

IS POPE FRANCIS BEING TOO TOUGH ON PRIESTS?

Back in February, I was honored to have the opportunity to give the "Rectors Conference" at the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at St. Andrews Hall, Seton Hall University on Pope Francis and the Priesthood.  What follows is an edited version of that talk:

        How many people have ever heard of the word >Smarmy?=
 
While in the last decade or so people already had greater access to the Holy Father=s speeches, homilies and audiences than our brothers and sisters from just a decade earlier, Pope Francis, seemingly from the night of his election has had an even greater connection with people around the world.  Not simply by making his daily Masses semi-public and allowing Vatican Radio and L=Osservatore Romano to have staff present to give reports on what he said during his homilies, but in the way he speaks and the content of his talks. It=s become routine now, an hour or so after a daily Mass in the Domus (where the Holy Father has chosen to reside) has concluded, that anyone can click an app on their iPad, or a link from a tweet and read what the Holy Father said in their own language.  That must be a bit more challenging than one might assume when we think of how these journalists have to somehow translate this constantly surprising, spontaneous even somewhat unpredictable 77 year old pontiff.  Francis doesn=t mind speaking somewhat loosely, casually to the world - even making jokes. Back in October when he visited a cloistered convent in Assisi, he quipped, ''It makes me sad when I find sisters who aren't joyful. They might smile, but with just a smile they could be flight attendants__ That=s probably not an earth-shattering thought. Francis= predecessors might have thought or even privately said the same thing. What is novel is Francis says it so publically to a world-wide audience who can hear it and read it almost instantly.
 
That=s why Fr. Frederico Lombardi, spokesperson for the Vatican, not even two months into Francis papacy explained that they would not publish entire daily homilies from Francis since different celebrations, circumstances provide different contexts.  They wanted to honor people=s interest in the Pope=s homilies while respecting Francis= spontaneity. The compromise that was announced was that there would be reports from the Holy Father=s daily activities and that stories about his homilies would be Arich in quotes@ but not a literal, word-for-word translation of his homilies.
 
Which leads back to the ASmarmy@ question. A few months ago a headline that caught my attention read, APope Francis: the true priest and his relation to Christ.@ I was excited to have a spiritual reflection on the priesthood from the Pope who has captured the hearts of people - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - around the world in such a short period of time. As I did, there it was - the word ASmarmy.@ I confess my ignorance, I had never heard of the word before - but it sure didn=t sound good.   Reading the article, you realized quickly that it wasn=t like the reporter was using the word to describe what Francis said... The Holy Father said it himself. Three times to be exact:
 
We are anointed by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction...And instead of being anointed he ends up being smarmy. And how damaging to the Church are smarmy priests_ Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude... in a cutesy language... But how often do we hear it said with sorrow: >This is a butterfly-priest,= because they are always vain... [This kind of priest] does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ_ He has lost the unction: he is smarmy.@
 
By the third Smarmy I said AOK I need to look this up@ so I went to google - which as I=ve learned, you have to be careful when doing, because sometimes the results aren=t the bestY one of the first definitions I saw on the results page was: Smarmy:  A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person. Similar to snobby.  I instantly thought - Yikes, Pope Francis_ Then I realized that citation came from AUrban Dictionary@ which isn=t completely wrong, but it=s not the best of sources and it=s a bit too extreme. Webster=s Online Dictionary had a nicer spin on it (but not much). They describe Smarmy as: behaving in a way that seems polite, kind, or pleasing but is not genuine or believable.
 
           A few weeks after the ASmarmy@ reference, in another daily Mass homily, while comparing modern day clerics to the priests in the Old Testament in the book of Samuel who were not the best examples of being AMen of God,@ Francis referenced priests and bishops when he asked, AHow many times, do God=s people feel themselves unloved by those who ought to give witness?@ Quotes like these, along with moves like severely limiting the number of priests eligible to receive the honorary title Monsignor has caused some to feel the Holy Father has been unfairly critical, making priests the focus of a lot of his concern.  In light of the numerous, publically enumerated lists of problems facing the Church that people talked about before his election, this seems surprising. What do parish priests know of the Vatican banking scandal?  The release of private, confidential and personal documents from Pope Benedict (aka AVati-leaks@ scandal) B didn=t the butler do it? (seriously). Hasn=t the vast majority of faithful men been unfairly maligned enough as a result of a small number of deviant priests who sexually abused young people?       

Of all the many issues facing the Church at this time in history, Francis= pointed, public critiques of priests on the surface feel like part of Aa piling on@ that many priests feel they were already experiencing: from their parishioners, from those who no longer go to Church, from their Bishops, from the media, and from themselves: AIf we are far from Jesus Christ, we necessarily compensate for this with other, worldly attitudes. And so [we see] all these figures... priest-wheeler dealers, priest-tycoons...@  One priest-friend remarked when I told him this topic I was writing on asked,  ASo are you planning on beating yourself up in the process?@
           
That reaction kind of surprised me. Don=t we believe that the Holy Spirit seems to raise up the right man in each day and age to address the problems, the failures, the obstacles to the saving message of Jesus Christ being lived and proclaimed by the Church?  When Karol Wojtyla=s name was first announced on the balcony of St. Peters Square in 1978 and thousands of Italian spectators in stunned silence wondered where in the world was this first non-Italian pope in 450 years coming from? - few could=ve anticipated the global implications John Paul II=s papacy would have not just on the Church but on the entire world. His contributions to the fall of Communism can be traced to his leading the Church in advocating freedom as one of God=s most precious gifts to humanity. To those deprived of that gift, he became a global champion fighting for those oppressed. To those born into freedom, he became a voice of conscience reminding us that freedom Aconsists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.@ With John Paul II=s death only being 9 years ago, just that short distance has given us a bit more appreciation for some of the reasons the Lord raised John Paul to lead the Church at that time.
 
When Pope Benedict XVI shared that after much prayer and discernment that he believed the Lord was leading him to resign the Papacy a year ago, the consensus was that the Church needed a new leader to guide us through those various embarrassing failures and scandals. When Jorge Cardinal Borgoglio emerged as the new pope, taking the name AFrancis@ after St. Francis of Assisi that sent a not so subtle message about what was first and foremost on the new Pope=s mind and heart. Yes, as has been widely reported that his choosing this name was meant to be a call to Aremember the poor.@  But for me, the first thought that came to mind hearing the name AFRANCISCUS@ announced in St. Peter=s Square was how St. Francis of Assisi heard the voice of Christ calling out to him to ARebuild my church which you see is falling into ruins.@
The Holy Spirit is leading Pope Francis - and all of us in the Church - to confront this great challenge; looking at the sinfulness and brokenness of the Church. For most people, to hear global, international stories about impropriety in the Church B like an allegation of money laundering in the Vatican B while that=s embarrassing, it almost seems unreal, like a variation of The Godfather III or something. For most people though, they are definitely affected by their local parish priests. When AFather@ is present to a family at the tragic loss of a loved one; leading a couple through marriage preparations to the celebration of their wedding; spending hours talking to college students who are trying to figure out Awhat to do with their lives@ - those relationships and memories create an intimate bond between the priest and the people of God.  When people are well served, well loved by their priests, they don=t deny the reality of sin in humanity, but find the truth of scripture; >love covers a multitude of sins=(1 Peter 4:8). 
 
The contrary, though, is very true as well. When a priest is disinterested in the lives of his people; when the preaching comes across as harsh, focusing more on people=s sinfulness rather than our universal need for God=s mercy; when they see their priests living more comfortably or even extravagantly then the people they=ve been sent to serve - those experiences have the potential to undermine people=s faith. That=s what was at the heart of Francis= Chrism Mass last year. Pope Francis in talking about how the priest=s preaching of the Gospel B both in word and more importantly in deed is more effective when itAtouches their daily lives...to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the Aoutskirts@ where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith.@  The result, Pope Francis notes, is that our APeople thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes.@
 
           Francis, being an Archbishop of a local diocese would=ve had experiences with priests falling from one extreme to the other.  He would have first-hand knowledge of the hurt that we priests can cause through our failures, through our sinfulness, through our forgetting our need for God=s love, His mercy, His forgiveness ourselves.  Which explains why as a loving shepherd he is calling his fellow brother priests to deeper conversion first so that we can regain the moral authority to lead our people to experience the peace that comes from being reconciled with God and one another. 


Because he knows as Pope Benedict XVI knew, as Pope John Paul II knew
B as the Church has proclaimed for close to 2000 years;  that Jesus is truly the answer to whatever issues that people B both individually and collectively B are facing.   To those called to the great gift of priesthood B Francis is telling us who are on those front lines that the more people can see our love for Him manifesting itself in our lives and service, the more attractive Jesus becomes to the world. The more likely people will want to hear, want to know what the Lord says to themCthe more they will try to follow him and need his mercy and forgiveness when it inevitably becomes too hard and there=s a slip up.  The more likely the Church will be renewed and continue to be a prophetic and transformative voice to the world again.  We priests need to take the first steps - avoiding being smarmy is as good a place to start as any.