Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Transfiguration

“Lord, it is good that we are here”.
Transfiguration is one of the most joyous feasts.
We too climb with Jesus Christ Mount Tabor and we see him being transformed. His divine nature is revealed to us, and we too, like Saint Peter, are witnesses of his majesty and are called to share this message from the world.
What is interesting about this event is the care and love that Jesus had for his disciples. He was trying to prepare them for his upcoming Passion and death by strengthening their faith in him. “This is my beloved Son” --- says the voice from the cloud --- “Listen to him”. We have to understand that the disciples had absolutely no idea that Jesus was going to die on the cross for his people. Peter himself challenged Jesus on that, “it will never happen to you!”.
Jesus tries to show them that glimpse of Glory that God wills to give to his friends and those who love him. But in order to achieve that glory, we have to accept the cross. In the Preface we will pray that “Jesus revealed his glory to the disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross.” He wanted them to experience the height of faith and consolation so that they would be ready for a challenge. Jesus and his disciples did not stay on the mountain forever. They went down to continue their mission. We too after receiving that consolation are called to go out and share it with the world.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dedication of Saint Mary Major

This feast commemorates the oldest Church in the West dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The basilica was erected after the Council of Ephesus (in 431) proclaimed Mary as Mother of God (Theotokos) – God bearer - in response to the heresy of Nestorius. He claimed that Mary is the Mother of Christ (Christotokos) but not the Mother of God (Theotokos). He basically was denying the reality of the Incarnation by making Jesus two different persons. By declaring Mary the Mother of God, the council of Ephesus affirmed the ancient belief of the Church that Jesus Christ is one Person who is both God and man, divine and human. Therefore, Mary could be called the Mother of God --- Theotokos. Soon after this dogma was established, the Basilica was erected in Rome – it became so called “a crib of Rome” --- the first mass for Christmas has been celebrated there.
Today’s feast is also known as Our Lady of the Snows which derives from the ancient legend. The legend goes that one of the wealthy Roman couple, having no children, wanted to donate for some good cause. In their prayer, they asked Mary for inspiration what they should do with the money. Mary answered their petition and confirmed her reply by means of the following miracle. On the fifth of August — a time when it is unbearably hot in the city of Rome — a portion of the Esquiline would be covered with snow during the night. When the got there on August 5, surely enough, the hill was covered with snow. This is where the basilica was built.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Beauty of God's Creation 2

Grand Teton, Wyoming. I took this picture on July 3, 2006

Saint John Vianney - Reflection

Karol Wojtyla, future pope, from his seminary times was fascinated with John Vianney. In his book about the priesthood entitled, Gift and Mystery, (by the way I highly recommend), he said this, “One aspect fascinates me about the life of Cure of Ars. His life reveals the power of the grace of God at work through poverty of human nature.”
This sentence has inspired me on my way to the priesthood and taught me that if we let the grace of God work in and mold our souls, he can do with us marvelous things. One does not to be especially gifted, intelligent, smart and bright to become holy. The life of Saint John Vianney teaches us that. It is enough that we open our souls in total humility so that God can work in us and through us.
It is indeed interesting that the patron of parish priests is not the intellectual and academic thinker, author of books or some kind of scholar. Instead, it is a man who so loved his people and God that he was willing to sacrifice himself for them. One of the lawyers from Lyon after visiting Father John, said, “I have seen God in Man.”
The life of St. John teaches and encourages us that we are capable of holiness. If he was able to become holy so we are.

St. John Mary Vianney

He was born in 1786 in Dardilly, close to Lyon, France, just three years before French Revolution started during which Catholics suffered severe persecutions and discrimination. John felt calling to the priesthood but his path to ordination was not an easy one. He struggled with academic subjects --- in fact, many in the seminary thought that he was too dumb to be a priest. Finally, he was ordained in 1815 and sent to tiny French village called Ars. This is what he was told by the vicar general of the diocese, “There is not too much love of God where you are going. Maybe you could do something about it”.
And he did. He spent almost forty-two years of his life in Ars, devoting himself to prayer, mortification, and pastoral works. His success in directing souls made him known throughout the Christian world --- he would sit in the confessional for 13 to 18 hours a day. People of all ranks and conditions of life sought his guidance and advice. He was beatified by Pope St. Pius X, himself once a parish priest, and canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1929. He is a patron of parish priests and confessors.

Reflection on 18th Sunday on Ordinary Time --- Year A


Isaiah 55:1-3
Romans 8:35,27-39
Matthew 14:13-21

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Faith:
A few years before his death, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen underwent heart surgery. There was a great concern about his ability to endure the operation because of his advanced age. After the recovery, a reporter asked him if he had been afraid of dying. “If I should leave the world”, he said, "I will be in heaven with Christ and if I remain Christ will be here with me.” Bishop Sheen had faith that there was no way he would be separated from his Lord. He trusted that Jesus would always take care of him.
Brothers and sisters: There is so much good news for us in today’s readings! This is a “good news” Sunday, even if our life may be full of troubles and difficulties. A quick reading of the Scriptures for this Sunday can give us an impression of being on a high. The readings today teach us that our God is a God who cares. Our God is not a God who is very far away from us sitting in his comfortable heaven being not really interested of what is happening in our lives. Sure, sometimes it feels just like that. Sometimes we may feel like we are alone and God does not really care. But he does care about us --- sometimes in a way that we do not expect or desire --- that’s for sure.
Our God cares when we suffer and are in need. He cares when our marriage does not function as it should. He cares when we cannot find common language with our teenage children or our old parents. He cares when lose our job. He cares when we experience sadness and anxiety. God knows our biggest problems and concerns and cares about them even more that we do. He does care because he is a God of love and compassion. He cares whether we believe it or not.
Let us look in greater detail at the readings.
The first reading from Isaiah is an invitation to each and every one of us. All you who are thirsty come to the water! Come and drink! Listen that you may have life! The prophet is not speaking of physical drink but rather of spiritual thirst that only God can quench. This message of encouragement was composed during the Babylonian exile --- when the Jewish had to live in a foreign land --- a time of distress and discouragement for the people of God. Many of them said… God does not care… he has abandoned us… we are on our own. The prophet says to them --- God still loves you and cares for you even more now than before. Isaiah calls them to the perseverance in the faith that God is with them. It is easy to believe in God and trust in him when everything works as we planned, when there are no major problems and difficulties. But to trust in God when we suffer? Much more difficult.
Similarly, Saint Paul in today’s second reading states that there is nothing which will separate him from Christ; not persecution, hunger, danger or even death. He feels very secure about the eternal stability of this divine relationship. What amazes me about Paul is that even in the midst of all his suffering, persecution and hostility he knew that God was close to him.
Finally, these beautiful words about Jesus who when he saw the crowds, he had pity for them. I think Jesus feels the same way about us gathered here --- he has pity for us and wants to feed us not only with the material bread but more importantly with his love – and this is his greatest gift.
So God really takes care of his people and we are called to trust him. I mentioned that at times of suffering or tragedies – when we feel like “God is not here” it is extremely difficult to trust in God and experience his love. I do not say that it is easy. Many times we think that only good things that happen to us are the “blessings” from the Lord. But God may not think as we do. God always sees the bigger picture.
For instance, many, maybe most people consider terminal sickness as one of the most difficult and unwanted things in life. They ask questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? But even in sickness God is close to us. Consider the example of late Tony Snow, a former speaker of the house. He courageously fought his disease (colon cancer) to the end, trusting that God was close to him. In one of his last speeches he said that he considers his cancer an unexpected blessing, because it taught him to love more and taught him how to be truly human.
This is what he said, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.” This is exactly the same message that Saint Paul has for us but in the words of Tony Snow.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Saint Paul and Tony Snow are examples for us. They trusted that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that grace and love of God can be found even in the most difficult and horrifying experiences of life. The love and grace can be found everywhere but we must keep our eyes of faith open.
But – do I really believe that?
Do you really believe that?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Baptismal Reflection

Whenever we celebrate baptisms during Sunday Eucharist, we are invited not only to actively participate in the liturgy but also to reflect on our own baptism. Couple of weeks ago when we celebrated baptisms at this mass, I talked about the seed of faith that is planted in us at baptism. Today I would like to present to you some aspects of Saint Paul’s theology of baptism --- because this year is dedicated to Saint Paul it would be good to reflect on his beautiful and rich thoughts.

Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans developed a wonderful theology of baptism. When we are baptized, says St. Paul, we die to sin and put on Jesus Christ. Something radical happens in us. From that moment it is not us who live but Christ lives in us. In baptism our identity is changed, so to speak. How does this happen?

Saint Paul says that we are buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in the newness of life. Keep in mind this life and death dynamic because it is the only way we can understand baptism in the Catholic tradition. In the sacrament of baptism we died to sin and became new creation of God, namely, we became Children of God --- and this is who we are – children of God. We are called to live in the newness of life as Children of God free from sin always keeping the light of grace burning brightly.

This grace of Divine Adoption has been offered us in this sacrament but it is up to us how we are going to utilize it and use it in our daily life. One thing is for sure --- we have received that treasure not to bury it but to share it with others. Jesus Christ wants to be alive in our lives and then he wants to shine through us, his children. We must strive to live as children of God.

First Saturday of the Month

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Veneration of the heart of Mary is analogous to the worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Mary, full of love for her Divine Son and for us as well is a symbol of her interior life: her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections but especially her compassionate love for her people.

Historically, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary grew parallel to that of Sacred Heart of Jesus but it was not as nearly as prominent. After the Apparitions of Mary at Rue the Bac convent in Paris on July 18, 1830 to Saint Catherine Laboure, this devotion became very popular due to the Miraculous Medal that was made on Mary’s request. Mary told Catherine that it would be a source of great graces for all who would wear it.
Around the oval frame of the medal we read the words, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you." In this brief prayer we find the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Mary’s intercessory power with God for us who ask for her aid. On the reverse side of the Medal we see a Cross, the symbol of Christ’s Redeeming Sacrifice on Mount Calvary for the salvation of the world.

Immaculate Heart of Mary always intercedes for us.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Saint Paul as a Person

We celebrate the Year of Saint Paul. Let me share with you one of my essays about Saint Paul's personality and relationships.

There are many books written about Saint Paul’s theology, world, life, his Judaism and missionary trips. Saint Paul was examined from all possible angles, aspects and perspectives. But exegetes seem to be hesitant to write about Saint Paul as a person, which may be understandable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the sources that may be used in writing about Saint Paul as a person are very limited. Michael J. Gorman gathers four kinds of sources that are used in exploring Saint Paul’s life: seven undisputable letters, six disputable letters, the book of Acts and other documents such as inscriptions, archeological evidence, etc (Gorman 41). More liberal exegetes however, (e.g. E.P Sanders, R. Bultmann), limit these sources to seven undisputable letters and tend to devaluate the information from Acts and other letters. Even though I am far from neglecting the historical value of Acts, considering the length and scope of this essay, I will focus specifically on data included in the seven undisputable letters, since almost all exegetes agree that these letters have Paul’s authorship. I will also use other letters since there is no doubt that they contain some historical data. Secondly, the information about Paul as a person is considered by some to be of no use in exploring his theology, life or Christian communities established by him. Although I would agree with this position to some extent, I think that to know Saint Paul as a person can certainly help to understand and explore some aspects of his letters, some aspects of his theology and the way he dealt with others.
In this essay, I will focus on few aspects. Firstly, I will try to gather some information about the external image of Saint Paul and try to answer the question of how he might have looked like. I will also mention the probable disease of Saint Paul. Secondly, I will examine some of Saint Paul’s ways of treating others and his relationships. As a final remark, I have to confess, that it was Joachim Gnilka’s book, Paulus von Tarsus, that inspired me to examine the subject. Keeping the above plan in mind, I will now explore the issue.
There is no way that we can possibly know how Saint Paul looked like. In the same way, we do not possess this kind of information about any other ancient figure, including Jesus. We do not have a picture of Saint Paul and there is no text that may contain information about his external image. Our desire to see Paul is somehow similar to the desire of Christians from Colossae and Laodicea, who “have never seen him face to face” (Col 2:1). Joachim Gnilka mentions Acta Pauli et Theclae that enclose information about the external image of Paul as a bold, short man and crooked legs (Gnilka 404). Many exegetes doubt any historical value of this text. I will leave the judgment to the reader. I would think, however, that the information about the height and posture of Saint Paul may be historical, considering his inclinations to diseases, as mentioned for instance in his letter to the Galatians.
The scholars have disputed the nature of Saint Paul’s disease. Maybe it was some kind of disease related to his eyes (Gal 4:15), as NJBC may suggest? We will never know that for sure. In 2 Cor 12:7, Paul mentions “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to better make and prevent me from getting above myself”. Speaking about “being co-crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:19), Saint Paul referred to Christian baptism, but might have as well spoke about his own sufferings. He “carries branded on his body the marks of Christ” (Gal 6:17). Is he talking about the stigmata here? Joseph A. Fitzmayer suggests that the Greek word stigmata did not mean what this word often means in English today (NJBC 790). Regardless of the nature of the causes of his sufferings, I am amazed that Paul, in facing so many difficulties, was still able to accomplish so much. The weakness of his body was strengthened by the power of his spirit and by his deep faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ. The lesson for us today is that even though we may suffer and not have enough bodily strength, the power of Christ in us can do amazing things. Saint Paul is thus a wonderful example of how to handle suffering and pain.
The second problem I would like to explore is the way in which Saint Paul related to other individual persons and entire communities. Almost all scholars today agree that the typical picture of Saint Paul as a kind of “lone ranger” and “lone missionary” is not supported by historical data. Saint Paul is always surrounded by other people who helped him in his mission. Marion L. Soards says that “the usual image of Paul is of a shrewd, energetic, tenacious, individual preacher, but one should recognize that Paul’s missionary activity was a team work” (Soards 28). Wayne A. Meeks in his book The First Urban Christians, which is an excellent description of the social world of the Apostle Paul, proves that Saint Paul’s communities were very united and interpersonal.
What interests us is how Saint Paul related to Christian communities. Saint Paul’s adversaries from the community of Corinth accused him of being so humble when facing others, but full of boldness at a distance (2 Cor 10:1). This is a very interesting statement, in my opinion, which tells us a lot about Saint Paul. We know from the other letters, especially First Thessalonians, that Saint Paul had a deep affection and love for this community. He was like a mother and father for them (2:1-12). Does that mean that he was weak and afraid to challenge others face to face as 2 Cor 10:1 may suggest? I do not think so. Saint Paul was able to challenge others, when the truth of the law-free Gospel was at stake, not only in his letters, but also in person. His passion for the truth and inner strength allowed him to challenge Saint Peter “who was manifesting in the wrong” (Gal 2:11). He was therefore very passionate about his faith and not afraid to challenge even the first of the Apostles.
Paul is not afraid to express his feelings and emotions. We can see it in many of his letters when he challenges, begs, asks, greets, thanks, praises etc. There is no letter in which his feelings and personal involvement in the particular community are not present. As an example, I would like to recall one of his most personal letters, the Letter to Philemon, one of my favorite letters of Saint Paul because it shows the Apostles heart. Paul writes to Philemon asking him to accept his slave Onesimus back as he would welcome Paul himself (Gorman 458). The language that he uses is very warm, gentle and informs us about his deep relationship with Onesimus. “I am sending him back to you – that is to say, sending you my own heart” (Philemon 12). In short, the letter shows us the gentle heart of the Apostle, his heroic love of neighbor rooted in the love of Christ, his generosity, goodness and delicacy. What a wonderful example for every pastor of how to deal with brothers and sisters!
It is definitely impossible to describe Saint Paul’s rich personality on the four pages of the essay. Scholars and exegetes mostly focus on Saint Paul’s theological ideas and the influence that he had on theology. I agree that to explore the theology of the Apostle is a fascinating theological enterprise; nonetheless, I believe that to explore Saint Paul’s personality may help one to explore his theology. His theology is deeply rooted in his most personal experience of Jesus Christ, his experience of faith. The danger is, in my opinion, that in focusing on the theology of the Apostle, one may completely forget that this theology flows from the experiences, personality and spirituality of the particular person, Saint Paul himself. His theology is most visible in his life, his experiences, and relationships with others, his sufferings and his struggles. Saint Paul’s theology is ultimately about Jesus Christ, whom he experienced in his life and whom he loved to the end. Saint Paul is an example for every Christian of what the grace of Christ is able to do in one’s heart if we only let the grace work. Saint Paul was a great missionary, great preacher and great theologian. For me, Saint Paul is first and foremost a saint, a person who devoted his entire life for Christ and loved his Savior with heroic love. As long as I keep it in mind, I will not get lost in studying his letters.
If you are interested in reading something interesting about Saint Paul, check out these sources. Paul: A Critical Life by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor is a classic.

Brown, Raymond E. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cousar, Charles B. The Letters of Paul. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

Ellis, Peter F. Seven Pauline Letters. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1982.

Gnilka, Joachim. Paweł z Tarsu: Apostoł i świadek. Kraków: Wydawnictwo M, 2001.

Gorman, Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Jelonek, Tomasz. Wprowadzenie do listów świetego Pawła. Kraków: Wydawnictwo WAM, 1998.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul: A Critical Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Soards, Marion L. The Apostle Paul: An Introduction to His Writings and Teaching. New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987.

Reflection on 15th Sunday on Ordinary Time --- Year A


Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

Brothers and sisters in the faith,

Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear!
How blessed we truly are to be able to hear the Word of God proclaimed here!
How blessed we truly are to be able to profess the true faith in the blessed Trinity!
How blessed we are to belong to the flock of Jesus Christ and to share his body and blood in the Eucharist!
How blessed we truly are to offer our Father in heaven the perfect sacrifice of the Mass!
How blessed we are to share in the glorious freedom of the children of God – as we heard in the second reading.

“The knowledge of the Kingdom has been granted to us”

I could go on…

How blessed and privileged we are to be in this Cathedral and [let me use the image of Pope Benedict XVI from his homily in New York]. Look at these magnificent stain glass windows. They symbolize the beauty and richness of our Catholic faith. We are part of something spectacular, something beautiful and impressive. If we went outside and looked at these stain glass windows, we would not be able to see anything --- in fact, seen from outside, these windows look totally dark, gloomy, and dim. But we are not outside – we are inside and we can see their beauty and magnificence.

Blessed indeed are our eyes because they see.

In the Gospels Jesus frequently used the word “Blessed” in exhorting his disciples. He wanted them to realize and take to heart their special position of being his disciples. It was not something they should take for granted. Jesus wants us to feel the same way.

The Greek word for blessed is makarios and is used 14 times in the Gospel of Matthew. The word is very rich in meaning. Makarios means blessed, happy, fortunate and lucky. Now, in order for us to better understand the meaning of this word and its significance, allow me to explain its meaning in the context of Jesus’ times. Let’s put this word in historical – cultural context.

In ancient Greek times, makarios, referred to the gods. The blessed ones were the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors and even death. The blessed ones were beings who lived in some other world away from the cares and problems and worries of ordinary people. To be blessed, you had to be God.

Secondly, makarios referred to the wealthy people, the upper crust of society, the rich people. Only they were considered to be blessed, makaroioi.

With that background we see that we have, what I called, linguistic revolution in the Gospel today --- Jesus takes the word makarios and turns it upside down, changes its meaning. According to Our Savior, blessed and happy are not those who are wealthy and rich and powerful or those who pertain to be gods. Instead, truly blessed are those who hear the Word of God and respond to it by bringing fruit. Truly blessed – makarios - are those who respond to the LIVING Word of God with open hearts and strive to live in the relationship with God.

Therefore the question that we ought to ask ourselves is: how much do I realize how blessed I truly am being able to hear the Word of God?

A Chicago novelist, John Powers, wrote a book called, The Unoriginal Sinner. It is about a man named Tim Conroy. He came from a family of practicing Catholics – going to church, receiving sacraments, praying --- but never being really fascinated with the faith, never being on fire with the faith. Even though he was inside the cathedral, he did not notice its beauty. Instead, he often looked at the stain glass windows from outside – kind of dark and shadowy. He did not have courage to come in and invest himself totally with God. He has heard the word of God so many times but it did not have any effect on his life. He was kind of bored with the faith --- it did not do much for him.

All of us feel like Tim, at times. By the time we are 25 years old (if we practice regularly) we have heard God’s word read and explained a thousand times. What kind of soil have we provided for that word? Do we even ever feel blessed and excited about the opportunity of being able to hear the word?

Unless we realize how much God has blessed us and how lucky we are to be able to hear the Word and receive it with joy. Only when we do that, we will be able to bring fruit --- hundred, sixty or thirtyfold.

Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Boise 5 - St. Catherine in Hagermann

This photo was taken on July 7, 2006

Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Boise 4 - Our Lady of Tears in Silver City

These photos are from June 2005.

Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Boise 3 - St. Agnes in Weiser

Photos are from July 2008

Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Boise 2 - Our Lady of Limerick in Glenns Ferry

This photo was taken in January 2008

Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Boise 1 - St. Jude's in Garden Valley

I visited Garden Valley on July 25, 2008. St. Jude's Catholic Church is one of the smaller churches in the diocese of Boise, yet beautiful.