Monthly Archives: November 2020

Who’s In Charge”

28 Jan 2000, Sedgwick, Maine, USA — Potter Manipulating Clay on Wheel — Image by © Françoise Gervais/CORBIS

Dear Folks,
Now we begin Advent, and advent is about waiting for something that is coming. One of the
things Christians wait for is surrendering more completely to God. Someone once said that the
Christian journey is essentially the gradual realization which one of us is God and which one of
us isn’t.
One of the big issues in the Bible, perhaps the big issue is: who’s in charge. We are quick to say
God is in charge, but human beings (you know how we get), can be almost as quick to try to keep
control, to do it our way and not God’s.
There is a fierce ban on idolatry. It is not because God hates statues (we see He doesn’t in the
mandate to have two gold cherubim made for the ark of the covenant in Exodus 25:18-20 and in
the command to make a bronze serpent in Numbers 21:7-9). Idolatry was about having something
one could possess and control. If one had this statue, one believed he possessed the god and had
a certain power over him. This would not work with the God of Israel.
It is not just about statues. It became a problem with the temple. We see the people thought they
would be protected because the temple was in Jerusalem. “Do not put your trust in these
deceptive words: ‘The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!’
Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deed; if each of you deals justly with your
neighbor; if you no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed
innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods to your harm, only then will I let you
continue to dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago and forever (Jeremiah
The Scriptures corrected people for attempting to bribe God. We see in Psalm 50 and Isaiah 1, for
example, people thought if they offered sacrifices, they could live how they wanted without
concern for how God wanted to correct them. The temptation is to think that we decide what we
will do for God, and we are therefore entitled to get certain things our way in return. In “The
Screwtape Letters” the devil teaches his nephew a trick, to encourage a person to think that if he
sacrifices for a time, he is entitled to have things go his way next time, and when that doesn’t
happen, to feel cheated, betrayed by God. Then he falls into despair. There have always been
people who take Bible texts and try to figure out when Jesus is coming again and when all this
will end. This gives them a sense that we only need to deal with this a little longer, and then
everything will be fine. This, in spite of that fact that Jesus tells us very clearly in our Gospel that
we will not know, and must be ready at any time (Mark 13:32-37). People often say, “Things
have to turn around soon” and “We can’t take much more of this.” We don’t know what we can
take until it happens. We don’t know when things will change. I’m hoping as fiercely as anybody
for the current troubles to be over, but we don’t know what the future will bring, and Jesus warns
us against that illusion. He tells the story of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. A man has
accumulated a lot of wealth, and thinks he is going to live how he wants to live for a good while,
and he is in control. Then the hammer drops: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of
you; and these things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus it will be with
someone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” It is good to
be prudent, to save money and manage it intelligently, but we remember that is not our ultimate
security. It can be lost in an instant. Our ultimate security is our relationship with God.
As we face the challenges of life, there are always two questions to focus on: “What does God
want me to learn from this?” and “How is God calling me to respond?”
Fr. Jim

Finding the King in the poorest

Dear Folks,
We finish off the liturgical year by celebrating Christ the King, the ultimate victory feast.
Our Gospel reading is the final word of Jesus’ public teaching in the Gospel of Matthew,
and it is about the Last Judgment. Jesus first refers to Himself by the title “Son of Man,”
then compares Himself to a shepherd, then refers to Himself as “king.”
“As the visions in the night continued, I saw come with the clouds of heaven One like a son
of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, he received
dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, people and tongue will serve him. His
dominion will not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-
14).” The term “son of man” is in contrast to the horrible beasts that rule before Him
(Daniel 7 is quite a chapter).
Our first reading is from Ezekiel 34, and that entire chapter is about the image of the
shepherd. It is also worth reading. There is another well-known image of God as shepherd
in Isaiah: “Here he comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is
his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his
arms he gathers the lambs, leading the ewes with care (Isaiah 40:10-11).” We remember the
greatest king of Israel in the Old Testament was David, and he started out as a shepherd.
The first two parables had main actors who were regular folks: a “bridegroom” and a
“man.” This time He is pulling out all the stops to get us to be fully aware and conscious of
His glory, power, grandeur, and importance. This should get our best attention. If we are
going to get anything right, we need to get this right.
In those days, when a king came to power and reached the throne, it was common to settle
accounts. If you had been a faithful supporter, life was good. If you had undermined him,
not so good. See Luke 19:11-27 for a familiar example.
The disciples would have known the Old Testament, and all of these images would have
been evoked in their minds when Jesus told this story. They would all seem fitting and
proper for the One for whom they had been waiting. The surprising thing was how the king
defines the sheep and the goats. The Old Testament, of course, spoke about concern for the
poor and those in need. That was a concept that most of the world did not recognize, but it
was familiar in the nation of Israel. Jesus, however, ups the ante: to care for those in need
is to care for Him personally. We are told to look for the highest and most exalted in the
people who are lowliest. This is a new thing. This is revolutionary. Throughout the
Gospels, the more clearly we see Jesus’ glory, the greater His emphasis on the cross and
servitude. Caring for those in need in not just a nice thing that Jesus encourages, but it is
responding directly to Him.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and Father is this: to care for orphans and
widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).”
This is an essential component of how we practice our faith, and an essential component of
how we proclaim the faith. I rejoice that our community does so many things to help those
in need. Now the question is do we have room to grow? Are there ways we can draw more
people into this work? Given how many people have drifted away from the Catholic
Church, is there a way we can show more powerfully that the love of Jesus is at work here?
Would it make Jesus happy if we grew in this area? Many people would like to be more
involved but don’t know how they can do it with their circumstances. My fond hope is that
we can make it more possible for people to be more connected in 2021. I ask everyone to
pray for this, and to be attentive whenever there is a call for help: is Jesus calling us?
Fr Jim

How are We Called to Respond?

Dear Folks,
Our Gospel today is about the servants who were given talents and sent to invest them. It is
a reminder that to be a Christian is to see oneself as a servant of God, entrusted with
resources of various kinds
Here at St. Charles and St. Joseph – St. Mary, we are adjusting to having one priest instead
of two. The people at Our Lady of Consolation in Rockford are having a similar
adjustment. For years we had a full-time vocation director, but now he is also assigned to a
parish. There are still two slots that are empty, and priests are driving back and forth to fill
in temporarily. We have just received word that one of our colleagues is going on a leave
of absence. Things are tight. What comes next? If you look at our seminarian poster, we
see that if all the men currently in theology become priests (God willing), we can have nine
priestly ordinations in the next four years. According to my calculations, there are nine
priests currently running parishes who will turn seventy in that time and be eligible to retire
(go to senior status). How many will retire? Some have already shared their plans to do so,
but we shall have to see. We also have seven priests who are currently running parishes
who are already over seventy. How long will they continue? We shall see. In any case, the
priest situation promises to be interesting for the next several years.
Do I have your attention?
Whenever we are faced with a challenging situation, there are two questions that are worth
asking: “What is God trying to teach me here?” and “What sort of response is God calling
me to make?”
Our community, of course, can rejoice that a man who grew up here was recently ordained
a priest, and we have another man in theology. This does not mean that we can sit back,
however. The issue is larger than this.
There are two things that we can do: We can learn how to be a stronger Church with less
priest power, and we can be a Church that better nurtures vocations to the priesthood. When
people think of nurturing vocations to the priesthood, many start and end with cornering a
young man and saying, “Have you considered becoming a priest? You’d make a good
one.” (By the way, no one in church said that to me. I wasn’t really looking like priest
material when I was growing up.)
We should first recognize how many young people are not excited about Church in
general. If they are not excited about Church, why would they consider the priesthood, no
matter how much people suggest they consider it. If they believe that what priests do is
really important, really worth doing and makes a difference in the world. We can all
contribute to that. I believe the most important thing I can do in this regard is to be a
healthy, happy, effective priest who is living a life worth living. Everyone else can help by
treating as important the things that priests are about. The more a young man is surrounded
by adults, especially men, who are excited about the liturgy and most especially the
Eucharist, the more they can believe the priesthood is worth doing. The more they are
surrounded by adults, especially men, who are excited about learning more of the Catholic
faith, the more they can believe that priesthood is worth doing. The more they see adults,
especially men, who are zealous for the mission of the Church, the more they can believe
this is worth doing. The more they see men dedicated to growing in holiness, the more…
You see the pattern?
As we consider the talents that God has given us, and how He is calling us to invest them,
this is something we might keep in mind.
We are not helpless. We can build a glorious future.
Fr. Jim

Keeping our Lamps Lit

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ public teaching closes with three parables about the Last
Judgement, and we will be reading them from now until Advent. It would probably be a
good thing to think about the Last Day on a regular basis given that is where we are all
headed, and this is the most pivotal day of our existence. If we have a good day on that
day, none of our bad days will matter. If it is a bad day, none of our good days will
matter. Reading through the New Testament leaves me with a strong sense that we can’t
take this day for granted; we are not called to live in fear, but neither can we be complacent
(see, for example, Matthew 7: 13-14, 21-23; I Corinthians 9:27).
Our Gospel today speaks of bridesmaids who are phronimos (wise /shrew /prudent /clever/
cunning/crafty) and bring extra oil for their oil lamps. This echoes Jesus’ teaching that a
man who is phronimos will build his house on rock rather than sand (Matthew 7:24-27) in
the Sermon on the Mount. Both speak of the importance of enduring. It is one thing to start
out with enthusiasm. It is quite another to continue through obstacles, persecutions,
disappointments, failures, and all the things that come with being a disciple. In Matthew
chapter 10, Jesus warns that there will be persecution, sometimes from the people closest to
us, but the one who “holds out to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).”
Last Friday we did the Gospel reading about the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13).” He
finagled himself a severance package by using (misusing?) his power as steward. Jesus said
that the master commended him for being phronimos, and said, “For the children of this
world are more phronimos in dealing with their own generation than the children of light
(see Luke: 16:8).” As we read on, we see Him calling us to use our resources well for the
sake of the Kingdom, knowing that we will not always have the chance to do so.
There are countless stories of people who have left the practice of the faith because they
were mad at the Pope, the bishop, the pastor, other parishioners, etc. Others left the practice
of the faith because they did not believe Church teaching, or someone had sat down with
them and showed them some Bible verses that convinced them that the teaching of the
Church was wrong. I would suggest that in each of these cases, they did not have enough oil
for their lamps; they did not build their houses on a firm enough foundation. We were
warned there would be challenges of all kinds, coming from the world or the faith
community, and we are called to navigate these treacherous waters.
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus sends the disciples forth and tells them not to bring “gold or
silver, or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or
walking stick (see Matt 10:9-10).” Extra oil for our lamps, then, would not necessarily
mean material supplies. “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be
phronimos as serpents and simple as doves (Matthew 10:16).”
Lately, many have expressed frustration about things that are happening in the Church and
things that are happening in the government. Some are tempted to despair or panic. It
would suggest reflecting on these texts, as well as the whole of Matthew 10 and then Luke
14:25-33. These suggest we were warned from the beginning that our journey as disciples
could entail all sorts of trials (all sorts!). That does not make it easy, but it does tell us that
this is part of what it means to be Christian, and our faithfulness now is more important
than anything that happens around us.
Fr. Jim