Monday, March 28, 2011

El Salvador: O Lord, in My Eyes You were Gazing

When going on a mission trip, people will often ask: “What can I give to you to take?” And the answer is, whatever I can fit in my suitcase, they will make use for it. Now there are certainly items that are more practical than others, one of the things they have been looking for lately is musical instruments. We were blessed to have someone donate and restore a few violins. I received a violin as a gift from my parents a couple of years ago at Christmas and I have to say it has brought me so much joy. My pastor on the other hand asked if I could donate mine as well. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone ‘learning’ the violin.

St. Barnabas sponsored a trip to El Salvador March 4-11th with 11 members traveling from the parish. I have to say I wasn’t sure how much these violins would be appreciated. I usually don’t think of violins when I think of El Salvador. To the teams surprise the violins were a hit.

Sr. Rose, a member of the Cleveland Latin American Mission Team, was our gracious host throughout the journey. One of the things that I greatly admire about her is that she has this knack for helping people find their gifts and develop them. This could mean singing in the choir, playing football (American soccer), writing, and she’d even encouraged some of the kids to learn break-dancing. So at our very first meeting at the church Sr. Rose had a couple of guys who were ready and wanting to learn the Violin. Herbert and Abelardo sing and play guitar in the choir and they both wanted to learn this amazing stringed instrument.

Before venturing into the violin, Herbert and I bonded with something we were both comfortable with: the guitar. As he played and sang to me in Spanish, Herbert made the deepest eye contact. I was a little uncomfortable, why was I afraid to allow another man to look into my eyes? There’s vulnerability there, especially with music. He played songs in Spanish and I played my favorite in English, and then we played together one of my favorite songs: “Pescador Des Hombres: Lord, When You Came to the Seashore.” I remember learning this song in the seminary and thinking “Why are we learning a song in Spanish?” It would be almost a decade later that I realized the significance. Take every opportunity you can to learn something in another language. You never know how God will use it to help you bond with another member of the Body of Christ. Could it have been that during this moment it was the Lord looking into my eyes, gazing, kindly smiling?”

I would have the chance to gaze back in delight as I taught him the violin. After tuning up the instruments, I played the only song I know by heart: “Charlie Chaplain’s: Smile.” Then I handed one to him, and as he took it into his hands there was a sense that he was holding something sacred… and it was about to revealed the first time the bow was drawn across the strings. There’s nothing like that moment when the perfect sound comes forth from a violin. It is a rich, deep, penetrating sound that tugs at your heart. As I showed him the proper posture, cocked his elbow under the violin and held his arm in place guiding the bow across the strings the sound echoed from the wooden instrument. For a moment that’s all there was, he and I, and the perfect sound coming forth from the violin. I took a step back and just delighted in the wonder on his face as he made that sound.

I came to find that Herbert is pretty musically gifted. By the end of the first lesson he was playing the scales and by the end of the second lesson later in the week he played a song. Though he can’t read music, he “the Ear” for music, a gift I unfortunately lack. On the last day I would play a song from sheet music and then he would listen to it and play it back to me. I was amazed by how quickly he picked up and played this most difficult instrument. He was so excited to learn it, to teach others to play, and most important he wanted to play it for mass. That same evening he accompanied the choir at mass with the violin.

We probably all know someone who has had a whole world opened up to them through music. How much more is this gift appreciated by those who are poor? How much more is this gift of beauty appreciated by those who have very little? In the end every member of our team would find that their gifts could be shared, not only this, but anything that they shared was reverenced and delighted in by the people of El Salvador. Some gifts are more practical than others, but few have the power to unite like music. The El Salvador mission team is always looking for musical instruments that can be brought down when other parishes travel. I thank those who have been so generous in their giving and am sure that the Lord kindly smiles on your generosity. We all have gifts and there’s nothing like being able to share them with the poor. There is nothing like the gaze that is exchanged when a gift is delighted in.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent: El Salvador, a Mountain Top Experience

We have a tendency to want to stay on the mountain top, maybe not even because of the beauty of it, but because we may want to avoid what we have to go back to.

St. Barnabas recently took a mission trip to El Salvador. The diocese of Cleveland has a mission team there that has been established since 1964. We had the opportunity to visit a few of our parishes. The interesting thing was that the churches were at the top of the mountains. Actually two of them are on opposite sides of a valley. So when you are in Chiltiupán you can actually look across the valley and see on the church in Teotepeque on the opposite side.

On Ash Wednesday we were in Teotepeque with Fr. Mike Stalla, who is a mission priest from Cleveland. We celebrated mass with the grade school kids in the morning and then he had to hike down the side of the mountain to anoint someone in a remote village.

When Fr. Mike Stalla got back for lunch he was bright red, almost purple, because he was so exhausted from the hike. He was probably dehydrated because he forgot his water. He then celebrated another mass while we taught English to the grade school kids. Later, before the evening mass for the parish, Sr. Rose came and asked me if I would say mass for him. He got sick during his second mass at another village and barely made it through.

Now I’m like a beginner in Spanish, I can get by, but saying a whole mass in Spanish, this had me anxious. I could see that Fr. Mike was in bad shape so I did what I was ordained to do. We made it through and I was exhausted by the end of it and the people could tell. (You can see in the picture that the girl server clearly thinks I’m clueless!) So after I said the “The mass is ended, go in peace.” They could see the relief on my face and all began laughing and applauding. After mass I took some time sitting on a rocking chair overlooking the valley. There were palm trees and the sounds of birds chirping, the ocean was off in the distance, and the warm eighty degree sun was warming my pale skin that was used to the dark and gloomy Cleveland weather. It was beautiful… and I thought for a moment, this isn’t so bad! I kind of wanted to stay, not so much because I felt called to the missions, but because it was a moment of relief. I was away from the normal stressors of life, I didn’t have to deal with all the phone calls, emails, calendars, appointments, and crises of the parish. And best of all I was away from the cold and the snow. I felt like I could have stayed there forever.

We all probably have moments like this. Mountain Top Experiences where we experience some relief, when we see things from a different perspective, or are taken away for a while from our every day experiences. Think about the last time y0u had a vacation, or a trip, or a retreat, or a break from the day to day grind and the stressors and difficulties of life. And it feels good… like Peter we could say “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Let’s build some tents and stay here for a while.

The truth is though, in the previous chapter, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed and on the third day be raised.” And after Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus rebukes him and tells his disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

So maybe this is part of the reason that Peter wants to stay on the Mountain with Jesus. Not just because it is an amazing and wonderful experience of the transfiguration, but also I would imagine, because he wants to avoid some of the suffering that is going to happen when they go back down from the mountain.

The mass is like this as well. In the Eucharist, we have this Mountain Top Experience of praise and presence, but we have to leave here and go back to our ordinary life. You have to go back to work or school on Monday. And while it’s good that we are here today, and it’s good to have the weekends, and it’s good to have vacations, and breaks, and Mountain Top Experiences with the Lord, we do have to head back down the hill and enter once more into the Way of the Cross.

When’s the last time you had a Mountain Top Experience? Hopefully you can think of it, because we do need them. And if you haven’t had one lately, maybe you need to take a Sabbath, a break, a retreat this lent. Maybe it’s even just taking some time aside during the day for prayer. After having that experience, however, we do need to return to the life that God has set before us. Allow yourself to be strengthened and renewed by the transfiguration and then enter once more into the Way of the Cross. In this Season of Lent we journey with Christ through our passion and suffering… with the assurance that through the suffering, through the valleys, through the struggles and the passion, ultimately we will find ourselves once more on the mountain, in the presence of Christ forever in the Resurrection.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Homily for the Feast of St. Joseph:

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Recently at St. Barnabas we had a parishioner died. Joe Russo was a fourth degree Knight of Columbus and was well known throughout the diocese. He was a very active member of the parish, a loving husband, a father, grandfather, and he greatly loved and supported his priests. He was super Italian… he treated everyone like family. It was often said that he had a million friends. He had that quality of making everyone that walked into his life feel special. I was one of them.

Joe was one of the biggest affirmers of my priesthood. He was always affirming me, encouraging me, telling me how proud he was of me. And at one point he said to me… Father, I love you like you are a son to me, if you ever need anything, I won’t say no. And he meant it. Time and time again, anything I asked him for he either did himself or rallied and excited people to get involved in. At one point he gave me a new name… Joe has three sons: Rocco, Dino, and Gino and his grandsons name is Mossimo… so he gave me the name Miko. His family now calls me their brother Miko.

If you’ve ever had someone like this in your life that loved you like a father, took you into his family, gave you a new name, affirmed you, delighted in you… than you have a glimpse of what God desires to do for you. 2nd Samuel portrays this so wonderfully: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” God looks at us like this… he wants to bring us into his family, give us a new name in confirmation, love us like we are his own and delight in everything we do. You do have a father like this in God, you are a son to him, you are a daughter to him… he is your father. And not only this, but on this feast of St. Joseph he gives us the adoptive father of Jesus to be our father as well. Delight in knowing that you are the adopted child of our Father in Heaven.

Homily: Ninth Step - Making Amends

I had a wonderful moment recently of reconciliation with my older brother. He’s is on the ninth step of making amends. I’m truly humbled because he’s taken the initiative to meet with all of his brothers and sisters and his parents. He’s truly come to each one of us and tried to lay everything out before us and make amends. And it was a truly reconciling beautiful couple of hours that my brother and I spent together.

We hear Jesus instruct us in the Gospel today:
If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus is telling us of the importance of making amends.
After we have made a list of people we have harmed, have reflected carefully upon each instance, and have tried to possess ourselves of the right attitude in which to proceed, we will see that the making of direct amends divides those we should approach into several classes. There will be those who ought to be dealt with just as soon as we become reasonably confident that we can maintain our sobriety. There will be those to whom we can make only partial restitution, lest complete disclosures do them or others more harm than good. There will be other cases where action ought to be deferred, and still others in which by the very nature of the situation we shall never be able to make direct personal contact at all.
- Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 83

The idea is that there is a willingness in us to make amends if at all possible. Especially those most close to us, we can make amends, be vulnerable enough to seek them out and bring about reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

st patricks day homily fall down drunk

Happy St. Patrick’s day. In today’s first reading we hear about Queen Esther, who was so seized by mortal anguish and guilt,that she laid before the lord in prayer, prostrated on the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening.

Unfortunately today, being St. Patrick’s day, has become a day for some, known for drinking green beer… I assume there will be many people prostrated on the ground for other reasons: Passed out drunk from their early start of kegs n’ eggs and pre-drinking before the parade. So I think it is important to remember that in the season of lent we are to model Queen Esther… prostrating on the ground, not passed out drunk, but in prayer. It is a time to call to mind our moral anguish, or sins, and our failings. It’s true we all have them whether we want to admit them or not. What was so beautiful is that this queen spent the entire day from morning until evening, prostrated in prayer, lying on the ground before God. What a humble, moving, beautiful prayer posture that is to have before God.

There’s a popular website that has gained a lot of attention and publicity called: Do Nothing for 2 minutes. So if you just do a search, Google or whatever, for “Do nothing for two minutes” you’ll get to this web page. On the web page is an ocean scene and sounds of waves come from your speaker. And then in the middle is a two minute timer. All you have to do is sit there and relax for two minutes. Most people don’t make it for 45 seconds. It’s hard for us to do nothing. But often times that is a wonderful description of prayer. Do nothing, waste your time with God, and lay before him.

So if we can blow off a day of work and go to the parade chances are that we can blow off some time today, doing nothing constructive, just wasting time with God. Go ahead stop what you are doing for two minutes prostrate on the ground, lay down before God in prayer all of your worries, your guilt, your anxieties lay yourself down before God… It will be a wonderful moment… and them someday maybe you’ll do it from morning until evening. Make this St. Patrick’s day a prayerful one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“This Generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign” Homily for Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent: Living Bread Radio

St. John of the Cross is a mystic and doctor of the church. Now with mystics we usually trust that they have an understanding of signs and how to read them. St. John of the Cross who we hold to such a high regard says “The more the soul believes in and serves God without testimonies and signs, the more it extols God, since it believes more of him than signs and miracles can teach it. “ He devotes whole chapters to negating signs in accordance with the scripture “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign.”

God never works these marvels except when they are necessity for believing. Lest his disciples go without merit by having sensible proof of his resurrection, he did many things to further their belief before they saw him. Mary Magdalene was first to shown the empty sepulcher, and afterward the angels told her about the resurrection so she would, by hearing, believe before seeing. As St. Paul says; faith come through hearing (Romans 10:17). And though she beheld him, he seemed only an ordinary man, so by the warmth of his presence he could finish instructing her in the belief she was lacking. And the women were sent to tell the disciples first; then the disciples sought out to see the sepulcher. And journeying incognito to Emmaus with two of his followers, he inflamed their hearts in faith before allowing them to see. Finally he reproved his disciples for refusing to believe those who had told them of his resurrection. And announcing to St. Thomas that they are blessed who believe without seeing; he reprimanded him for desiring to experience the sight and touch of his wounds.

Thus God is not inclined to work miracles. When he works them he does so, as they say, out of necessity. He consequently reprimanded the Pharisees because they would not give ascent without signs: “If you do not see signs and wonders, you do not believe John 4:48). Signs and miracles are for those whose faith is weak. So yes at times when our faith is weak God may strengthen it with signs and miracles, but the idea is that we are to grow in our faith and move beyond them. That we may truly believe in God for who He is beyond any sign or miracle. Those, then who love to rejoice in these supernatural works suffer a great loss of faith. Don’t seek signs and miracles. Seek the Lord Jesus himself.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ice Castle: Homily for Tuesday of the First Week of Lent: Living Bread Radio

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I know some of us are probably ready for spring. We have had a lot of snow this winter. Remember the freezing rain in December that gave us the Ice Castle in downtown Cleveland? It made national news. The feet of snow that we had in February and the flooding that it caused as it melted in early march. My parents just called to let me know that our basement was flooded with five inches of water. I think it’s safe to say that the snow and the rain have done their job.

In today’s first reading The Prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes froth from my mouth. It will not return to me voice, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

God’s word is like the rain and the snow that we have received over these last months of winter. It comes to us in abundance. Whether we shovel the driveway or not, the snow keeps coming. And whether we pick up and receive God’s word or not it keeps coming. IN ABUNDANCE. The blessing is that it will not return to him void. Just as the snow melting waters the earth, when we are surrounded by God’s word, when it piles up on us; it has the tendency to have an effect.

In the Eucharist there is an abundance of God’s word. His word is dumped onto us as the first reading is proclaimed, more comes with the responsorial psalm, the gospel acclamation, the Gospel, the homily, hopefully, and all of the Eucharistic Prayers are based on the Word. God pours his word on us lavishly. Sometimes it can seem like too much… like we’ve had enough snow… we’ve had enough water… we’ve had enough words… and that’s why there are moments of silence in the liturgy where we can just allow the Word of God to soak into us.

God’s word has a way of working on us. He gives it to us in abundance… and as the snow and rain water the earth very naturally, so does God’s word with us. Trust that His Word is alive in your life, He is watering you, it does have an effect on you and His word is achieving the end for which God sent it.