Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Becoming Saints

Portion of All Saints,Tapestry from Los Angeles Cathedral

With All Saints’ Day rapidly approaching we might do well to remember that we are all called to sainthood!

Called to sainthood you say?  How could that be?  The saints had beatific visions, they did heroic deeds for the Faith; they emptied themselves of all carnal desires, many even martyred themselves.  How could I ever play in that league?

While it is true that Catholic tradition gives us a whole host of saintly role models for our spiritual journey, it is important to see the saints as just that—companions along the way!  If the true meaning of sainthood is to know God intimately, isn’t that a goal for which we can all strive?

How might we begin?

Well, it all starts with a conversation.  You wouldn’t begin a new friendship without a conversation, why then, would you begin a friendship with God without one?  We accomplish this conversation through prayer, not only talking to God but, listening to Him, being attentive to the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives both in silence—that still, quiet voice inside of us—and also in the midst of our very busy lives.   When we pray, just like when we talk to a friend, we build a relationship—the most important relationship of our lives, the relationship with the One who made us.  Our path to sainthood must start here, for all good things flow from our getting to know Christ better.

Of course, really good friends almost always share a meal at some point!  So, too, with our God.  We are offered the greatest feast known to mankind when we attend Mass.  Frequent reception of the Eucharist strengthens us and gives us a glimpse of the intimate love of our Creator.  It, too, helps us to get to know Him better.  When we are confronted with this mystery that lies at the very heart of our Faith, we can’t possibly help but grow in love for Him just like the saints!

Once we truly know God, we cannot help but be transformed!  All our good works, all our kind words, all our strength to resist the temptation of sin, all our ability to make peace in our hearts, our families and our world—it all flows from this our deepest ,most intimate and crucial relationship.  We can’t do good if we don’t know the goodness that is Christ.  We can’t love fully unless we know the Lover that is Christ!  We simply cannot be saints unless we know Him.

We may not be called to give up our lives to serve the poor like St. Francis or to disappear to the “self” like St. Therese.  We may not cut off all our hair like St. Clare or lay down our life for the Faith like St. Isaac Jogues.  But, we are called to discover our own unique gifts and talents and, find ways to give them over to Christ.  It might be as simple as offering a smile when someone else’s is weak or making a choice to turn the other cheek when we are wronged.  Simple offerings that lead up to big love!  And, ultimately that is what the Saints had to offer…a tremendous love for Christ!

We all have the stuff of sainthood deep within us.  It’s hard wired into our DNA, the footprint of the Creator who is constantly calling us back to Him.  So, why not give it a try?  Begin your journey to sainthood at Catholic Peekskill!  You, and God, will be glad you did.

Mass Schedule for All Saints’ Day: 
Vigil               10/31 at 5:30 pm;
Actual Day:    11/1    at  6:45 am and 10:00 am (with school kids)  and, 7:30 pm (Spanish)

The State of Catholic Peekskill

At all the Sunday Masses on October 15 and 16, 2011, I was grateful to be able to offer a State of the Parish address—grateful because we have a community of Faith that is growing in holiness as evidenced by the record number of people accepting God’s grace through all the Sacraments.  What a gift it is to be able, most especially as Pastor, to have a front-row seat into all the myriad and wonderful ways God is working in the lives or our Parishioners!  But, also, as Pastor, as father and shepherd to the Assumption family, it is important that I make clear the financial picture of our Parish.  It is no secret that these are challenging times; that fact was painfully clear long before folks started to Occupy Wall Street or the many other streets across the country and across the world.   Assumption Church has been feeling the sting of this economy for a few years now.  As you can note from the bulletin reports, our weekly collections are down significantly while our weekly expenses, just like the expenses of every family, have increased. 
  Assumption Parish is a twenty-four seven Parish and, if you have spent even a few moments in our very public Rectory you know that the phone rarely stops ringing.  Thanks be to God!  For we are doing His work, unceasingly and, we are grateful for it!  We want to continue doing it and doing it to the fullest!
Just like any family, we have made significant cutbacks to our budget, requiring staff to take salary cuts and even letting staff members go.  You’ve heard this story time and time again—everyone is cutting back—businesses large and small, local governments and municipalities, everyone.  And, I know, even some of you sitting here have been affected by downsizing companies, losing your own job.   It is hard.
And, yet, I come to you at the same time humbly and boldly to ask that you commit to digging deeper—digging deeper financially to be sure, but digging deeper spiritually as well.  Pray fervently for our parish; God listens and answers prayers; we know that.  And, I ask you to please prayerfully consider carefully my request to participate in our Increased Giving Campaign, Sharing Our Gifts.  To make a real difference, all one family really need do is increase their weekly donation by a small amount.  The Bible speaks of tithing as giving 10% of our gross income to the Church; if all our families were to give 5%, we would be able to meet our expenses and then some.  For our collections to go up 30%, a parishioner who now gives $10 per week would now give $13.  Three dollars more, less than the price of one of those fancy coffees we all enjoy! 
This is our family!  This is our home!  The home where we come to welcome our children into the Christian community, the home where we come to share the Eucharistic feast, the home where we come to wed our beloved and, the home where we tearfully, yet joyfully say good bye to those we love.  We come home to fulfill the greatest desire of our hearts—to know Him better, to serve Him more faithfully, to love Him more deeply!  Our God is worth all we can give.  He cannot be outdone in generosity; what you give to Him will come back to you measure for measure; you can be assured of it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi!

Catholic Peekskill celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi this past Saturday when nearly 50 pets—dogs, cats, birds and even a gecko—gathered along with their owners to receive a special blessing in honor of this patron saint of animals and ecology. 
St. Francis was one of seven children born to a wealthy family in the town of Assisi, Italy in 1182.  His early life was characterized by this privilege but, while serving as a soldier, it is said he had a vision which directed him back to his hometown where he then renounced all his worldliness and went about “emptying” his life, trying in every way possible but, most especially, in his solidarity with the poor, to imitate the life of Christ.
St. Francis founded both the Franciscan Order as well as the Poor Clare Order of religious sisters.  And, we in Catholic Peekskill, have a connection to St. Francis through our friends the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart who helped to found our beloved Assumption School in 1907.
Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis speak of his love of animals.  He believed that all of nature was a mirror of God and called all creatures his “brothers and sisters.” 
And, so, the Church gives us the wonderful tradition of blessing our pets.  Would you believe we can learn a lot from our pets about how to imitate Christ in our own lives?  How about unconditional love?  How about companionship both quiet and playful?  How about service?  How about obedience?  All characteristics of the pet/owner relationship. 
St. Francis taught us so much about peace, forgiveness and the love that transcends all others—the love of Christ!

The Blessing of the Animals
Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Special thanks to Jim Brooks and Audrey Warn for these photos!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What if we threw a wedding and nobody came?

Such is the question, posed in this past Sunday’s Gospel according to Mathew (22: 1-14).  Jesus, speaking to his disciples in a parable, tells of a king who invites guests to a wedding feast but, the guests refuse to come.  He dispatches his servants out again with yet another invitation and this time, the servants were not only turned away but, some were even killed in the process!  Next, the king tells them to head out onto the streets and invite anyone they find “the bad and the good alike” and, before too long the banquet hall is filled.  There is one guest, however, who comes without his wedding garment, (an important piece of clothing in Biblical times) and is banished from the feast.
  What was the message to Jesus’ disciples all those years ago?  And, what is the message for us today?  It’s easy!  We’re all being invited to a feast, the greatest feast ever known, a feast where we are invited to “dine” with Jesus at the table of the Lord both at the Eucharistic table here on Earth during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and, in Heaven where we are told in the First Reading (Is 25: 6-10a) of a mountain upon which God will serve us the choicest foods and the best wines.” 
How in the world did we get this invitation?  What A-list did we have to be on?  The answer is we neither had to do nor be anything to receive it! It is given to us continually and freely by a God who loves us infinitely!  A God who loves us so much, He gives us the free will of the wedding guests—the free will to ultimately turn His invitation down or to even “kill the messenger” that brought it!
You see, as Christians we have a choice, a choice to love radically, a choice to be transformed! A choice to accept the invitation of Christ, who comes to us body and blood in the Eucharist, a concept so central to our Catholic Faith and yet, so mysterious and so often misunderstood—that Christ should come to us under the simplest of forms, forms that we understand, forms of bread and wine and, then literally be transformed during Mass to the actual flesh and blood of Christ!  Whoa!  That’s a lot to take in!  And, if we really had the capacity to understand it and take it in fully, our Churches would be filled on Sunday and everyday!  But in this world so full of quick fixes and instant gratifications, it becomes more and more difficult to even ponder fully this quiet yet radical beauty that occurs every day!  And, what’s worse is we continually reject Christ’s invitation—reject it by sin, by the “veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations” as we hear in the First Reading (Is 25: 6-10a).  We constantly turn down the opportunity to radically love Him, to be transformed by Him just as bread and wine are transformed!
So, what to do?  How do we start to love radically, to be transformed? Well, we can start by accepting that invitation!  Instead of rejecting it, perhaps we can reject some of “the world and all its charms.”  Maybe, we can drop our defenses and heal a broken relationship, let go of a grudge with humility even though “the world” tells us “not to back down.”  Maybe we can let go of some of our attachments that have such a strangle hold on our freedom that we couldn’t possibly accept an invitation to love fully.  Maybe we can make sacrifice, little and big (as we get stronger), a part of who we are and, we learn to stave off that need to be gratified in an instant.  Maybe, we could make the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) a regular part of a healthy spiritual diet so, when we come to the Lord’s table we come with our “wedding garment”, a clean soul.   And, we remember that we can accept the invitation, literally, to dine at the Eucharistic table that is presented to us at every Mass!  Not a symbolic gesture but, a real feast!
The choice to love radically isn’t always the easiest.  St. Paul tells us and the Philippians in the second reading that though he has known humility and abundance, hunger and plenty, he can “do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”  (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20)
So can we!  Call upon that strength often; be secure in it and fortified by it!
All we have to do is make the choice, accept the invitation!  God is waiting for us and rejoicing at our coming!
There’s plenty of opportunity to love radically and be transformed here in Catholic Peekskill and, in all the tabernacles of the world!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There is something about Mary

For the past two weeks here in Catholic Peekskill, we’ve had a very special visitor in our midst—La Virgen de El Cisne, Our Lady of the Swan!
Pilgrims kneel at the feet of the Virgen de El Cisne at the Peekskill Riverfront
She travelled here from Loja, Ecuador accompanied by two priests, Fathers Jose Gustavo Diaz and Damian Vargas, who have been her companions as she visits various Churches throughout the tri-state area, while making her home-base here at Assumption Church.  For many of our Ecuadorean parishioners, seeing Our Lady here has brought them a touch of home.  She is a travelling version -- an exact replica -- of  the original image that revernced in the Basilica the Virgin of Cisne in the small village of El Cisne, in the province of Loja. 
This is a photo I took in 2008 of the original image found in the Basilica in Ecuador
In 1594, there was a devastating drought in the province.  To make matters worse, Loja was also overrun with a plague of rats that ate what little food was left.  In their desperation, peasants of the town decided they would have no choice but to leave their homes in order to survive.  As they prepared to leave they prayed to Our Lady one last time, begging her for an end to the drought but, also begging her protection if they must flee.  Soon afterward, the Virgin appeared to teenage girl instructing the villagers not to leave but to build a Church and practice their faith and, she, in turn, would never allow them to hunger.  Rains came, ending the drought and restoring the earth.  From that day forward, La Virgen de El Cisne became known as the patroness of the province of Loja and the patroness of all those in exile. 
Here I am (with Deacon Carlos Campoverde) celebrating Mass in the Basilica in Ecuador in 2008, the statue is above. 
Patroness of all those in exile.  We are so often a “people in exile” aren’t  we?  No, we may never have to flee our homeland but, we know all too well the pain of isolation, the pain of alienation, the pain of loneliness…the pain of exile.   This pain, this desolation, is often a byproduct of our modern age leaving us to feel orphaned and very much alone.   
How beautiful it is, then ,that the Church gives us a spiritual mother in Mary to lead us out of exile.  God, in his infinite Wisdom, knew His children, knew of their need for a Mother to guide them, to protect them, to love them.
October, the Month of the Holy Rosary, is a great time to come to know Mary better.  Maybe it’s been awhile but,  fear not, dust off those beautiful beads and pray…(check out this link for a guide on how to say the Rosary ).   Spend some time with your beautiful Mother who is always reaching out to you.  She longs for you to know her better, she longs for you to love her more.  She longs to lead you out of exile and, into her loving embrace!

The Virgin of El Cisne at Assumption Church
 This beautiful image of the Virgin of El Cisne will stay in our Church until the night of October 10, 2011 -- Columbus Day. Closing Mass in Spanish will be at 7:30 PM.