Category Archives: Church

Will We See?

Dear Folks,

I remember the Ray Stevens song “Everything is Beautiful” including the line, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” We know that we do not have to choose to have blind spots just like we don’t have to plant weeds in our gardens. They’re just there, and we have to recognize them and root them out, or they take over.

I would suggest that one very fertile ground for blind spots is the broader consequences of our choices, and the responsibility we bear for them. I’m thinking about how we deal with Church. Over the years, I’ve heard many people concerned about what is happening (or not happening) in the Church, but many are strongly focused on what other people should be doing about it, often the Pope, the bishops, and the priests. This is a formula for helplessness.

As Batman once said, “I don’t do ‘helpless.’”

If we are willing to look, might we find ways in which the faithful can each play a role in turning the Church around?

Fully conscious, active participation. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) says, “By way of promoting active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (SC 30).” Some people are ill, or just working their way through mental blocks, and it is all they can do to be present at all. We need to have a lot of compassion for them. However, the more we are able to participate actively, not only are we more fully engaged (we are called to give our entire selves to God), but also the more we bear witness that this is worth our best effort, and that energy can strengthen their faith and their prayer.

Learn about our faith. Lots and lots of Catholics have left the Catholic faith because someone sat down with them, showed them some Bible verses, and explained why Catholicism is “wrong” and “unbiblical.” Scott Hahn, in his younger days, was in the business of leading Catholics away from their faith and said that it was easy, because they knew so little about their faith. How many Catholics stop learning about their faith when they finish eighth grade or get confirmed? What if we stopped learning about all the important aspects of life when we were in eighth grade? How successful would we be in life? Can we see what would happen if it were the rule, not the exception, that Catholics would be life-long learners about their faith, according to their ability? Obviously, while I use the little slivers of time I have at Mass available to slip some teaching in, that will not answer the need by itself.

How are we talking about the Church as a whole, and about our faith community in particular? Are we bringers of good news? If we talk about what is wrong, is it in the context of how we can make things better? If we catch ourselves complaining for the sake of complaining, how might that time and energy be used to make the situation better?

Can we see other ways each person can make a difference in the future flourishing of the Church? As Jesus said, “One sows, and another reaps (John 4:37).” Every seed sown matters. It starts with how we see the situation.

The Pope, the bishops, and the priests are prominent, but they are a small minority within the Church. What people read about and what they see on a screen are not as powerful as personal contact. How the Church is seen, how it is able to attract people, will depend mostly on the Catholic faithful.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Woman at the Well: a Surprise

Dear Folks,

Today, Jesus meets a woman at a well. Brant Pitre’s excellent book “Jesus the Bridegroom” talks about gathering all the people of God to be the bride of the Lamb. The Bible has a couple of powerful images of meeting a bride at a well (Isaac, through a servant, with Rebekah in Genesis 24, Jacob with Rachel in Genesis 29, and Moses with Zipporah in Exodus 2:16:21). Pitre will point out various details in common between these stories and the story of Jesus at the well, which means that a Jewish audience who knew their Torah would instantly make the connection. A man meeting a woman at a well made them think of marriage.

Jesus talks about being the source of living water. We will see again that He will talk about living water in chapter 7 during the feast of tabernacles (the feast of booths): “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.”’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).” According to Gail Yee’s “Jewish Feasts and the Gospel of John”

she talks about the last and greatest day of the feast. “On the seventh day, the priests pass through the Water Gate and encircle the sacred altar seven times with the waters drawn from the pool of Siloam (p.79).” There would be other rituals with water during the feast. It would happen at the time of harvest, which was the beginning of the rainy season (there is no rain in Israel during the summer: rain happens in the winter, so imagine cisterns getting dry). In that context Jesus makes His declaration.

Pitre argues that when Jesus tells the woman at the well about living water, He refers to baptism, seeing how it follows from so much about baptism in Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. Baptism gives the Holy Spirit (John 1:32 and 3:5) and the Spirit reminds us of the truth (John 14:26)

Jesus breaks down barriers between people. Jesus is about bringing people together. This woman was a Samarian, and very much an outsider. We don’t know the details of this woman’s story. She has had five husbands and was living a sinful lifestyle with a man with whom she was not married. Was she in her situation because she made some really bad choices, or because she was treated horribly and this was the only way she could find to survive, or maybe a combination of the two? The fact that she is coming to the well at midday suggests other women were shunning her. In Israel, you run errands early in the morning before it gets hot, and at mid-day you work inside. Jesus loves people regardless of their sins, but also takes their sins seriously (nowadays people assume it has to be one or the other). He doesn’t explore the state of her soul, but the basic facts of her situation. The fact that He knew that and didn’t treat her with contempt was probably a new experience for her. He did not berate her, simply told the truth, and she knew what the score was. Nowadays, it has the extra complication that many people, including many practicing Catholics, believe that many sins are not only not sins, but positive goods, and that calling them sins is actually hateful. Still, we are called to lead with love and respect, to trust the power of the Spirit given to us in baptism, and to point to the truth. Jesus offers a more abundant life (John 10:10) and it is for us to point to that life and show it in our behavior.

I suggest getting more and more deeply engaged in the Gospel of John will help us see how His truth all connects and how to point to it with our words and actions.

Blessings

Fr Jim

Transfiguration: Why We Should Pay Attention

Dear Folks,

This Sunday we read about the Transfiguration. The Second Sunday of Lent always gives us the Transfiguration, so that leads to the question why is it so important for Lent? In fact, what do we do with the Transfiguration besides “Wow! Isn’t that cool?” Of course, it is really cool, but if we look closer, it gets even more interesting. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have some differences, but they all have the Transfiguration, and they also have Jesus’ three predictions of the Passion. There is the first prediction that “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” Then Jesus tells us that to be His disciple, we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him, and that if we try to save our lives we will lose them, and if we lose our lives for Him we will find them. Then Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain and they see a glimpse of His glory. When they come down the mountain, Jesus exorcises a boy with a demon, and then there is a second prediction of the passion. The fact that all three Synoptic Gospels follow this pattern gets my attention.

Notice that:

This glimpse of His glory shows them there is more to Him than they realized (What does it take to get people’s attention?). He is not just another prophet.

Only Peter, James, and John were given this gift. God has no problem giving certain gifts to some people and not to others. Even for Peter, James, and John, there was only a glimpse, and then back to work.

Jesus showing a glimpse of His glory is wrapped in discussion of the cross (also, in Luke we see Moses and Elijah discussing the “exodus” that he is to experience in Jerusalem [Luke 9:31], a reference to His crucifixion).

The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, says that what is going on is the culmination of all the history of Israel, and all they had been taught and all they had hoped for until now.

So, what now? There can be a tendency to treat our practice of the faith as one task among many, and it can feel like it. This reminds us that more is happening than meets the eye. Christianity is either everything to us, or it is nothing.

Some gifts, some consolations, are given to some and not to others. If you haven’t had a mystical experience, it does not mean you are a failure in your spirituality. The call is to be faithful.

A little bit of consolation sometimes has to go a long way. The times when our faith feels dead, but we strive to be faithful anyway, are often the most meritorious and fruitful.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all truly human desires. Those desires that do not point to Jesus (greed, cruelty, lust, sloth, etc.) are distortions of our humanity, and though they promise happiness, will leave us empty.

Whatever cross we are called to carry, it leads to glory. Whatever glory we long for, it is found in the cross.

May remembering God’s glory give us strength as we shoulder whatever crosses we are called to carry.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Facing Temptation in the Desert

Dear Folks,

The journey of Lent has begun. As we look at our Sunday readings (and we shall be using cycle A readings for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays), I’m suggesting focusing on how they show encounters with Jesus. Everything we do as Church can be summed up into two things: We encounter Jesus and we share Jesus. If we are doing something that does not serve encountering Jesus and sharing Jesus, why should we do them?

This week we see Jesus tempted in the desert. One might first think the encounter was Satan encountering Jesus, but I’m thinking in terms of Jesus encountering Jesus. In His humanity, Jesus faces His strengths and weaknesses, His doubts and fears, His hopes and dreams. He tests Himself. I heard of one Army sergeant who said that they never know how the soldiers with do in battle until they actually get there. Some, including some of the really big, tough guys drop their rifle and run, while sometimes the little mousy guy will step up and do the job. The courage of many Ukrainian people has been amazing and inspiring. Those of us who have never been there cannot say how we would do. When we are tested, we learn that perhaps how we imagined ourselves to be is not quite how we are.

I like to look at how the four Gospels compare, and when they are different, I get curious why. The Gospel of John does not include the temptation in the desert. John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity, and generally shows Jesus in control of the situation. John does not include the agony in the garden, and the only suggestion of Jesus’ struggle is “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour (John 12:27).” Even when He is being arrested, it is clear that Jesus is in charge (see John 18). Mark is she shortest of the Gospels and will often give briefer accounts of events. Matthew has the dialog with Satan as well, but there is a twist. Matthew and Luke both begin with the temptation to command the stones to become bread (of course, Jesus could have commanded them to become prime rib if He wanted to). When we are really hungry, that is generally first and foremost in our minds. They switch the order of the other two temptations, and that makes me ask why? Matthew has the dialog culminate with the offer to worship Satan, while Luke has the last temptation be to fling Himself from the parapet of the temple. I’m thinking the last temptation would have been seen as the greatest and most important. Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospels, would see the greatest issue as right worship, beginning with worshipping God, and Him alone. If we don’t get our worship in order, the rest of our lives will not be in order. Luke, however, culminates with the temptation to fling Himself from the parapet of the temple and have the angels catch Him. This is a temptation to be protected from the suffering of life, in particular the suffering of the cross. Luke emphasizes that Jesus shares in our condition. He delivers the sermon on the plain at people’s level, not from the mountaintop. Might this be why Luke is the one Gospel that doesn’t mention Jesus walking on water? I don’t know, but I wonder.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention Jesus telling us that we must be willing to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16: 24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) right after the first prediction of the passion. Only Luke mentions that we must do it “daily.”

During Lent, we test ourselves in different ways. Let us consider Jesus walking closely with us in this testing, and sharing our journey. May we encounter Jesus personally in these Lenten exercises.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving People Hard to Love Part II

Dear Folks,

We all have a deep need to tell our story, to be heard, to be understood. Much anger, frustration, and resentment come from a feeling of not being heard, not being understood. It is often difficult to make ourselves understood to someone, and what makes the experience much harder is when we get the feeling that the other person isn’t trying. Sometimes the truth is more complex.

Perhaps we underestimate the depth of the chasm between our minds. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” he mentions that we tend to underestimate how we can use the same words and gestures and mean different things. Both sides might be trying and failing to connect.

Stephen Covey said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” Consider what that means, that what we experience ourselves can be very different from how others experience us.

In “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis portrays the devil Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to lead a soul into hell: “Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind—or rather the expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are

perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office (Letter 3).” And “Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him (Letter 3).” I believe this sort of thing is not uncommon. How do we watch for such behavior in ourselves? I suspect we tend to be very aware of how the other person tries our patience, but we might have no idea how much we try the others’ patience. How can we watch for that?

There may be times, and certainly there are abusive relationships, in which we are innocent, and the other person is quite guilty. We want to be careful about getting to that conclusion too quickly and too easily. When it is such a situation, we still have the challenge of how we are going to deal with the situation. Waiting for the other person to change is not going to get us anywhere. When we must play a game that is rigged against us, we must play it well. In Matthew 16:10, Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” We must be clever as psychological tricks and traps are thrown at us. Though there is a temptation to use the other’s behavior as an excuse to lower the standards of our own behavior, it is essential to strive to be innocent, first because it is right, and second because others might use any lapse on our part as a reason to attack us and make us the villain (never mind they do worse on a regular basis).

This stuff is hard, at least I find it hard. I suggest that if more people took these things into account, we could get along better. Can you think of anything to practice during Lent for more peace in the world?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving Those Hard to Love Part I

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel today, Jesus teaches us unconditional love, even our enemies. If people know anything about Christianity, they know we are to love one another. This is wonderfully easy to say. It is much harder to do. The first issue is spiritual. There are some

people it is easy to want to love, while others, who can be so aggravating, are much more difficult. It is hard to empathize with someone who has caused pain, difficulty, or harm, and seems not to care about it.

It helps to pray for such people. It always begins with seeking God’s help. It is good to remember the goal: not to destroy the person but purge the evil from them and rejoice with them in heaven. God says, “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the

Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 15:7).” The more focused we are on the eternal goals the more we can handle worldly problems.

Another problem is practical. In Christianity love is not a feeling but a decision to seek the good of others for their own sake.

In Ann Garrido’s excellent book “Redeeming Conflict” habit #4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions don’t necessarily mean good consequences, and bad consequences don’t necessarily mean bad intentions. It is harder. I have learned, again and

again, that I can intend to do good and have it not work well. Now, God will judge our hearts, and if we are doing our best, that is having a loving heart. That said, if we do less than our best to find out if we are really doing good, I don’t think that will go well.

Doing parish work, I’ve found that there are some people who focus their energy and skill in getting resources from helping agencies, and they can refine that to an art. I think about

what they could do if they put that intelligence and energy into doing something constructive. Some people say to just give them money, and if they misuse it, “that’s on them.” Is that really seeking others’ good, or is that about making ourselves feel good?

Someone referred to one such person as “he helps the poor to stay poor, because he needs them to be poor.” I know that sometimes I risk being taken. I’m quite sure I do get taken from time to time, but we can’t close our hearts in an effort to be safe. One thing I’m sure of, we don’t want to be in the position of explaining to God why we didn’t try (Matthew 25:14-46). Sometimes the aggravation is part of the price for loving our neighbor. Direct help in emergencies is great; helping people who cannot help themselves is great; when we can help people move themselves into a better situation where they can flourish, that is wonderful. I love our community dinners and our food pantries; sometimes getting a meal from someone who treats you with courtesy, kindness and respect can make all the difference. I love Habitat for Humanity, because people who participate in their program tend to flourish

more afterward. I love Have Mercy, the program for the homeless in Montcalm and Ionia counties. They give a great deal of immediate help and will regularly move homeless people into permanent homes. I love Alpha Family Center who help people in a uniquely vulnerable time in their lives, giving help they can be grateful for for the rest of their lives. There are some many good things being done, and I hope we can learn more and more ways to help people in need. We don’t ask if they deserve it; we ask what is truly helpful. How to be helpful is something we can spend the rest of our lives learning and practicing.

If we dedicate ourselves to helping people we don’t know and can do nothing for us, maybe that will strengthen our ability to love even the people who harm us.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Sharing

Hands Holding Share

Dear Folks,
Jesus calls some fishermen and tells them “From now on you will be catching
men.” Notice that He did not start with a promise of saving from sin, talk of healing, but of being fishers for souls. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church teaches that the “obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his ability (LG #17).” The question “are we dedicated to following Jesus?” cannot be answered without asking “are we dedicated to spreading the Gospel to all people (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-38)?” Our Church has been going through some serious challenges lately. What if God is allowing us to be tested, that we may show if we take Him seriously? What if part of the answer is how we respond to the call to share our faith with the world? The future of our faith communities could very well depend on how we respond to God’s call now.
The problem, of course, is that we were not taught how to do it, and it seems that most
Catholics have not been taught that they should. Even in the seminary, they did not teach us how to share the Gospel with people who did not already accept it.
We shall need to work on this for some time, but I would share some ideas to stimulate
thought and conversation.
United State Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a document “Go and Make
Disciples.” They described three tasks to spreading the Gospel:

  1. Grow in enthusiasm for the Gospel ourselves until it spills out of us. This is essentially a call to continue to be evangelized. As long as our love is imperfect and we do not see things the same way God does, we are incompletely evangelized. That task will not be finished until we are in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
  2. Invite everyone, everywhere to share the fullness of the Catholic faith. This suggests if they are outside, invite them inside. If they are inside, invite them further inside.
    Everyone can come closer (see #1). This is evangelizing other people. Note the word
    “invite.” How do we invite people to something wonderful?
  3. Transform the world according to the love of God. Our society should be structured in a way that serves the life, the dignity, the flourishing of all people. This is essentially evangelizing society itself. This should keep us busy for a while.
    I would suggest the best book on evangelization is Acts of the Apostles. It shows the early Church growing like a grease fire despite determined opposition. It seems to me it describes the early Church doing four things: Telling the Gospel story, working together as community, worshipping God, and helping people in need. I say that if we get good enough at those four things, no one on earth can stop us.
    If you want a very simple way to start, I suggest some very basic actions: Tell someone one good thing about your faith community, learn something new about the faith and share it, Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know at church, create a holy moment (a moment in which our actions show the love of Jesus). Anyone can do this. Once we start, who knows where it will lead?
    The second reading for today is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. St. Paul gives the most basic form of the Christian message, that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and now offers us salvation. This is called the “kerygma,” and everything else follows from it. Part of telling the Gospel story is presenting the kerygma and doing it in a way that is compelling and persuasive. Simply repeating formulas that people have already heard is not going to make much of an impression, or at least not a good one. One might ask how we can talk about salvation to people who don’t think they need saving, and how can we talk about salvation from sin to people who don’t think sin is an issue? That, folks, is the subject of next week’s
    column.
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

Resistance

Dear Folks,
Today we talk about resistance. Resistance and negative feedback are essential to life from the beginning. Having boundaries is necessary for survival and learning that some things are good and some things are bad are key to developing the ability to make decisions. When stacking up blocks one way ends with them falling down, one learns to stack them up differently until one has a tower. Learning that one way of talking makes people upset and another way of talking makes people smile is key to learning how to communicate in a human way (I learned the hard way that verbal skills are one thing and communicating to other people in a positive and helpful way is quite another). In monitoring people’s reactions, positive and negative, we learn to connect to people better. If we are not sensitive to people’s feedback, we can fail to learn essential things.
Of course, not all feedback is to be believed. Sometimes we will have people criticize us unfairly and say false and unhelpful things. Some will attack us for doing good, and we have to be careful not to let this deter us. Our Scriptures today talk about Jeremiah and Jesus facing opposition for what they are doing. It is a great frustration to be trying to do good, and getting attacked for it, often by the very people you are trying to help. Jesus warns extensively about persecution in Matthew 10:16-36, Luke 12:2-9; 49-53 and, John 15:18-16:4 In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20), Jesus talks about when the seed falls on rocky ground and springs up quickly but has no root. When some “tribulation or persecution” happens, the seedling falls away.
The bottom line is that if we seek to follow Christ and serve the kingdom, we will face resistance. This resistance can come from any direction (inside or outside of Church), from those who are confused and from those who are malicious (though I’ve found it is not always easy to tell). It might be active or passive (some people won’t cooperate in the slightest). It might be mental or physical. It might be overt or subtle. It might be an individual, an organization, or a culture. You get the point. We will often feel that we are being treated unfairly. The bad news is we can count on being treated unfairly. It might be frustrating. It might be infuriating. It might be discouraging. It might be overwhelming.
This is an opportunity to deepen our faith, to set down deeper roots. If we are deeply enough rooted in Jesus, there is no storm that can uproot us. We can practice with smaller things. When the practice of our faith, or dealing with the Church, dealing with fellow parishioners, and, yes, dealing with the pastor gets frustrating, difficult, infuriating, or aggravating (yes, I know sometimes I can be all those things), that is part of the challenge of being Church.
Last week I tested positive for Covid. I went into quarantine (as of this writing I’m not quite finished). Our intrepid staff strove mightily to find a substitute for the weekend Masses, but none was to be had (a situation we shall see more of). We are so accustomed to regular schedules and convenient services it can be a shock how fragile the system is becoming. The storm has begun, and the boat is going to rock. Part of the solution will involve resilient Christians, who are ready to adapt to following Jesus while the boat is rocking. He is in the boat. It might feel like He is asleep, but if we stay with Him, He won’t let us sink.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The Catholic Understanding of Mary

Dear Folks,

Mary is a key figure for Advent. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” is not only for those who love Mary and love the Bible, but for anyone who wonders if there is Biblical basis for all the Catholic teaching on Mary (spoiler alert: yes). He shows very powerfully how the Old Testament and the New Testament are woven together into one large story of salvation. We have (I hope) all been taught that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. The foreshadowing is called a “type” and the reality fore-shadowed is called the “antitype.” We see Noah’s flood and the passage through the Red Sea are types of baptism. We read in the blessing of water in the baptismal rite, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea, you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by Baptism. ”“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who in the type of the one who was to come (Rom 5:12-14).” St. Paul will go on to contrast the sin of Adam (type) and the gift of Jesus (antitype).We also see that Moses, David and even Joseph were types of Jesus. Eve is a type of Mary. This explains why Jesus called His mother “woman,” which otherwise makes no sense. Eve was called “the woman” in Genesis and didn’t get the name Eve until after the fall. Pitre will explain that Mary is not only the new Eve, but the new ark of the covenant and the new Rachel. He will explain how all this was recognized by the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries. This is not new. He also suggests reading what the Second Vatican Council said about Mary in the Constitution on the Church (See Lumen Gentium 52-68).This, of course, is not just for apologetics or for interesting Bible study. First, it helps us see how God’s big plan of salvation is all woven together. Next, if you read Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” you can see that the Bible and the liturgy are woven together in one large reality. Having done that, we will have the practice to be able to see how our story is woven into that very story of salvation history and understand our lives as a journey with God. Second, it helps us appreciate the person of Mary of Nazareth. She is not just a theological football or doctrine of the Church. She is a person, and lives in heaven, enveloped in God’s love. She loves us with a mother’s love and prays for us. This is part of the rich gift that God gives us, drawing us into His family. If there is one thing we should understand in our day and age, it is that family matters. A lot. I remember as an undergraduate talking to someone from the Reformed Bible College about the saints. She said that she didn’t see the need for this because Jesus is enough. I am pleased that even then I thought to say that would be a compelling argument if we believed that God would give us the minimum necessary. I believe He gives us the maximum possible because His love is infinite. This season we see to sharpen our attentiveness to the gifts that God gives. This a place to start. Blessings, Fr. Jim

Dear Folks,As we continue with the season of hope, I need to point out a very special kind of hope that we all need: the hope that we can make a difference in the world. There was a time when it was believed that history is shaped by large forces way beyond us, and the average person can do nothing to affect the outcome. This has been debunked, and we know that history can be changed by the smallest thing. During the 1960’s there was a naïve hope that we could fix the world easily, because it isn’t hard, and the previous generations weren’t trying. “All you need is love,” was the mantra, and there wasa very superficial understanding of what love meant. Alas, it didn’t work, and by the 1970’s there was a cynicism that the system was deeply corrupt, that heroes were not really heroic, and it was never going to get better. Then “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” burst in on the scene. Whatever critics may have to say about the movies, the feeling of the daring, old-fashioned hero was a breath of fresh air. For our hope to be realistic, I suggest considering these issues: We need focus on being productive. There are some who put a good deal of time into complaining without moving at all toward productive action. As we expel energy, we want to consider the question: how is this helpful? Are we focusing on our own desires or a higher purpose? If we want God to bless our efforts, it is good to be about something larger than ourselves. We see in James 4:1-3 “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight andwage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” In my years of church work, it have heard a lot of conversation about how people want things in the church according to their preferences, but I haven’t heard nearly as much about how we can do church in a way that would be more pleasing to God and more effective in fulfilling our mission. How high are we setting our sights? A big issue is perseverance. If you go through the New Testament looking for how many times it encourages perseverance, you might be surprised how often it comes up. Many start with enthusiasm, but give up when they don’t get results as quickly as they expected. The prize belongs to those who keep going. Critical is learning from our mistakes. In Bill Bennett’s book “Last Best Hope” he describes the decision to make George Washington the head of the continental army. His record was mixed, and there were a number of objections. One of the points mentioned in his favor was that “he was good at learning from his mistakes.” That hit me. I had often thought about the importance of being willing to learn from our mistakes, but this was the first time that I thought about it as a skill that one can get good at. To learn from our mistakes, we need more than a general good intention. Weneed to be able to look at things that go wrong, identify the problems, and strategize a way to do better in the future. This is an art to be acquired. Who me? We read in the Bible many stories of God choosing the most unlikely people. We see Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?(Exodus 3:11).” See also the call of Gideon (Judges 6:15) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6).”God is calling you to greatness. Yes, you. You might not be able to imagine how, but God has bigger ideas than we do. Blessings, Fr. Jim