Monday, June 19, 2017

Called to Mirror the Fatherhood of God


‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’ Jesus gave us a wonderful gift: he brought God into the center of our lives and taught us that he is like a loving father. Today is Fathers Day. It is a good time to remember that each and every one of us — male and female alike — is called to mirror the fatherhood of God.

It is a great joy for me as a deacon to baptize a child. The joy of administering the sacrament is magnified for me by the fact that I am a father myself. Wanda and I have been blessed to raise four wonderful children; and I know — first hand — the joys and responsibilities of being a parent.

The greatest responsibility of a parental father is to mirror the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Fathers have been given a very special mission in life: We are called to teach our children that God is unconditional love.

And we carry out this mission, we teach that lesson, not with books, not even necessarily with words; we teach it by loving our children, unconditionally, without strings, no matter what.

God loves us in a personal and unconditional way. The seed of that love is inside of each of us. And that seed is watered to grow into a beautiful flower by the love we receive from our parents.

But that flower can still grow even in the absence of parental love, even in the presence of abuse, or abandonment, or neglect. That flower can still grow even in the harshest conditions; because that seed is innately watered by God’s grace.

That flower blooms in our lives when we make the transition from receiver to giver. When we say ‘yes’ to the presence of God’s love in our life, and when we choose to share that love with others.

I have known people who have suffered greatly because they did not experience the love of a parental father. But I believe we have a choice: we can spend decades in depression over what we missed as a child, or we can cross over the bridge, make the transition from receiver to giver and become a father for others.

We can become a father for others not only in a parental way. We can be a father to our children, but we can also be a father to our workers, our students, our patients, our clients, our parishioners, our friends, to all those with whom we interact.

This type of father is neither male nor female; it is the bearer of unconditional love, it is the mirror of our heavenly Father.

God's love comes alive in our world when we let it flow through us to others. So this Fathers Day let us thank our heavenly Father for our blessings. Let us reach out to our parental fathers, living and deceased, with love and compassion, and if need be, forgiveness. And let us make Our Father who art in heaven visible here on earth through the love that we share with others.



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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Monday, May 15, 2017

Just to Follow My Friend


    (reflection by Deacon Lex at 25th Ordination Anniversary Mass)

There’s a song by Christopher Walker that Peter Coll, our Music Director, often plays during Mass. The song is entitled, “Because the Lord is My Shepherd” and its refrain sums up why I became a deacon:
Lord, you are my Shepherd,
You are my friend.
I want to follow you always,
Just to follow my friend.

I have felt the Lord’s presence throughout my life as my friend. He has been with me at the heights and in the pits; when I felt joy and surrounded by love, and when I was depressed and felt lost in the universe. I want to follow him always, just to follow my friend.

My life has been blessed in so many ways: I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a permanent deacon in our Catholic Church. Each day of my life I thank the Lord for his friendship, for my sweetheart Wanda, for our children and grandchildren, and for the love of so many souls I’ve met along my journey.

I was so very fortunate 25 years ago to be planted here at Mount Carmel: to serve you, my sisters and brothers in our parish community; to have the friendship of the many Carmelite Fathers who have served here over the years, and the five wonderful pastors who have been our shepherds: Fathers Bob, Kurt, Ashley, Leonard, and now Father Dan.

It’s a privilege and a joy to serve alongside Father Emmett, Sister Regina, and Sister Nora, and my brother deacons, David and Michael.

Thank you, Wanda, for your love and for being my best friend throughout these first fifty years of our marriage and thank you for your unwavering encouragement and support of my ministry as a deacon.

Thank you, Lord, for my life, for my family, for the gift of faith, and for all my blessings.
Lord, you are my Shepherd,
You are my friend.
I want to follow you always,
Just to follow my friend.



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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent Calls Us to Holiness and Holiness Calls Us to Forgive



“Forgiveness is the answer to a child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.”
*
Lent is a special time of year, a gift that the Church gives us. It is a reminder that each of us, without exception, is called to holiness. And what is ‘holiness’, really, but ‘wholeness’: being all-together in body, mind and spirit; being totally connected with God. No fractures, no splinters, no divisions.

Over the last three weekends we have been reminded that Lent calls us to Holiness. And we’ve heard that holiness calls us to Listen to what Jesus tells us in the gospel and to Repent for the times when we have failed to embrace and share God's love. But there is still one more thing that holiness calls us to do - it calls us to Forgive.

In 1956, Dag Hammarskjold, who was then Secretary General of the U.N., commenting on the meaning of forgiveness said, “Forgiveness is the answer to a child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.” This is the kind of forgiveness that holiness calls us to embrace. It is the act of letting go of the past and accepting someone back into our heart.

But it’s not so easy to do. To genuinely forgive someone in the way that Jesus calls us to, we must be willing to accept the reality that a person’s faults and personality quirks will probably not disappear overnight. Jesus asks us to forgive even when the person who hurt us is not sorry; and even when we know that despite someone’s sincere apology, they are likely to hurt us again. He asks us to look into the eyes of someone who has hurt us deeply and to show that someone love and acceptance rather than anger and rejection.

To forgive like this is a choice that God gives us. When we forgive, we are choosing life, and love and a relationship for ourselves and for others. We are relieving ourselves of the burden of carrying around anger and bitterness. And we are giving someone else the freedom to live out his or her life - or maybe to rest in peace - with the knowledge that they are loved without strings.

By so doing, we are opening the door for true healing to occur: healing within ourselves, healing within another, and healing within a relationship. We are opening the door for holiness.

I minister as a hospital chaplain for our sisters and brothers who suffer with emotional and psychiatric illness. Some have been institutionalized for a very long time and we have formed friendships over many years. Others have had a temporary breakdown as a reaction to a deep personal loss or some severe stress. 

As people share their stories, I have seen that many who suffer like this are carrying a heavy burden - they are unable to forgive.  Sometimes it’s another person: someone who has hurt, betrayed or abandoned them. Sometimes it’s God who is blamed for taking a loved one away in death. Sometimes it’s even oneself.

The latter case, the inability to forgive oneself, is one of the most insidious causes of depression. It stops us from finding peace and from trusting in God’s love for us; and it keeps us focused on ourselves. But how do we forgive ourselves when we are carrying around guilt and shame?

There’s a wonderful short story by the Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo that speaks to this kind of forgiveness. The story is entitled The Final Martyrs* and it is set in 17th Century Japan during the persecution of Japanese Christians. I’d like to read a brief summary of this powerful story.

In those days, the Emperor had declared it a capital offense for a Japanese to practice Christianity. At first hundreds of people were crucified, burned at the stake, broiled on wooden gridirons or thrown alive into sulfur pits. As the persecution wore on and countless Japanese martyrs held to their faith, the government became more and more enraged and sadistic. It tried to make Christians deny their faith by the cruelest of tortures, and those who renounced Jesus publicly were allowed to go free.

Endo’s story is about a group of young adult Christian men who have known each other since childhood. They belong to a village that has secretly practiced Christianity for more than 100 years. One member of the group is named Kisuke. As a child he was big, awkward and accident-prone. Being ridiculed often, Kisuke reached adulthood with no self-esteem. As they grew up secretly practicing their faith, the other young men often predicted that if they were ever to be caught by the government and tortured, Kisuke would quickly renounce his faith and betray Jesus.

The government learns about the village from an informer and it is raided and burnt to the ground. Kisuke and his friends are arrested and confined to a tiny cell to await torture. His friends remain steadfast in their faith and urge Kisuke to pray to Jesus and Mary for strength.

But listening to the screams of those being tortured becomes too much for Kisuke. Before his turn comes, he cries to the guards that he is ready to renounce his faith. He leaves his cell in shame never able to look back upon his friends. The other young men are tortured brutally but no one renounces his faith.

For the next two years they are moved around Japan from prison to prison. One by one they begin to die until only two remain. After witnessing so much suffering, their faith has weakened and they are close to despair. And then one day they see a tall awkward figure being led to their cell — it is Kisuke.

After he is shoved into their cell by the guards, his friends ask him how he ended up being brought back for torture after having renounced his faith. Kisuke tells them how he wandered around Japan for two years filled with shame for betraying Jesus. Until one night he could no longer bear it.

He stood alone weeping on a desolate beach preparing to end his life. He cried out to the ocean: “Oh, if only I had been born a different person. If only I could have been strong and brave like my friends instead of the worthless coward that I am.”

From behind him, Kisuke heard a whispering voice. It was the voice of Jesus: “It’s alright, Kisuke. I understand. Just go back to be with the others. Even if the fear and the torture are too much for you to bear and you have to betray me again, it’s alright. Just go back to be with the others.”

And Kisuke did go back.

His friends’ faith was renewed by Kisuke’s story along with their love for him. As his turn comes to be led to torture, his friends tell him, “It’s alright, Kisuke. Even if you have to betray him again, the Lord Jesus is happy. He is happy that you just came back.”


There have been moments in my life when I felt like Kisuke standing on that beach; when I looked at my life and reflected on the times I had betrayed Jesus by failing to love and be present to others. But it is in those painful moments of self-reflection that I can hear Jesus whispering to me.

He asks that I just come back and try again; that I let the process of transformation unfold over time - his time not mine; that I understand that the miracle of Jesus is not immediate perfection but rather a lifelong process of falling on the floor and getting right back up again.

Like Kisuke was filled with shame and self-doubt, we sometimes hear a little voice in our mind that keeps putting us down; a voice that tries to make us stop following Jesus by telling us that we are not good enough, that we are filled with blemishes, that we are worthless. But we know that voice is lying. You see, we’ve been to the beach; we’ve heard Jesus whispering to us - and we will never be the same again.    

This Tuesday evening we will have a communal Penance service. The sacrament of Penance is a gift that Jesus gave us. It brings about healing and wholeness in our soul. Let us give ourselves the gift of this sacrament. And as we ask for God’s forgiveness, let us open our up hearts and forgive those who have hurt us. Let us make amends, where possible, and forgive ourselves for any thing we’ve done or failed to do that may have caused hurt and pain to others. Let us place any guilt and shame we’ve been carrying into the loving hands of God and trust that we are truly forgiven.

Lent calls us to holiness and holiness calls us to forgive - to forgive others and to forgive ourselves. “Forgiveness is the answer to a child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.”

* Endo, Shusaku. The Final Martyrs. New York: New Directions. 1959.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monkey Butt


If God really loves us so much why does he allow bad things to happen?
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Before retiring I worked for many years at Hackensack University Medical Center. At least once each day I would ride the elevator in The Tomorrows Children Building. Frequently I would share that elevator with young children who were very, very sick.

One day I stepped into the elevator with a young boy, about five years old and his mother. He was in a motorized wheelchair and appeared to be paralyzed from the neck down a condition I assumed had been present from birth. He was unable to speak but could mouthed words that his mom could understand.

I was overcome by a feeling of pity for the boy and his mother; and in my head I started asking a recurring question, “Why God? Why do you allow such suffering exist?”

I was distracted from my thoughts by the laughter of the boy’s mother. She giggled to her son, “No, you’re a monkey butt!” His eyes were bright with laughter as he mouthed the words back to her, “No, you’re a monkey butt!”

This playful bantering between a mother and child, who obviously loved each other very much, kept up as she wheeled him off the elevator to whatever life-sustaining treatment he was getting that day.

As I stood alone in the elevator I realized that I had been in the presence of God. God was very much there in the flow of love between that mother and child. No matter how much pain and anguish lived in that mother’s heart, no matter how debilitated that little boy was, their hearts were totally open to each other, open wide enough to share the gift of laughter and silliness.

God was present in the center of the cross that was shared by that mother and child, just as surely as he is present in the center of the cross that hangs over our parish altar. Our loving God is with us in the midst of all the bad things, all the suffering we experience.

And in witnessing that scene and experiencing that presence of God between mother and child, I can almost understand why God permits suffering.

The bad things that happen in life and the sufferings that we experience are locked in a moment in time. Yet God, as well as each one of our immortal souls, is timeless; and God is with us here in time, holding our hand through the suffering.

Some day, when we are free of the constraints of human existence and the limitations of human understanding, it will all make sense; there will be a happy ending – or more truly, a happy beginning. If we could see eternity and the timeless love that awaits us with God, the sufferings that we witness and endure here in life might more easily be understood.

God is so good to us that he gives us a preview: he shows us his face in the suffering. All we have to do is look; all we have to do is listen. God is present in the simplicity of the wind. God is present even in the silliness and the laughter of a word like ‘monkey butt’.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Time



Jesus said, “All that you see here - the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone.” Will you and I be ready to face that day when it comes?
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On November 20th we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday in the Liturgical calendar and it marks the end of the Church year. The Church has been preparing us for this for weeks with readings and gospels that speak about the last days, the end of time as we know it. 

We can look at this Sunday’s gospel as a prophecy about the end of the world. We can see it as foretelling a cataclysmic moment in human history where the righteous will be swept up into heaven, and the not-so-righteous swallowed up into hell. Or, we can see it as a wake up call, a reminder that through our Baptism each of us has been hired by Jesus to be a construction worker, a builder, of the Kingdom of God - and time is running out.

No one knows how and when the world will end. What we do know is that time, our own unique individual time, will come to an end some day. The end of the world will happen for each of us the moment we cross the threshold from life into death. And when our end time does come, we will be asked to account for what we did with the precious time we were given.

I believe that when we die each one of us will sit alone with God in a little room and watch the video of our life. And in that video we will see where we loved and where we failed to love. And sitting there next to God, the source of all goodness and love, we will judge ourselves on how much we loved - really loved; how much we forgave - really forgave; how much we helped others to find goodness and healing and wholeness in their own individual lives, their own unique circumstances.

The Church, in preparing us for the end of the year with these readings, is helping us call to mind our own mortality, our own inevitable end time. None of us knows how much time we have left. As we open our eyes each morning, God gives us 1,440 brand new minutes to use. We can use them with love to heal our world and cherish our relationships or we can waste them with bitterness and anger.

The great thing about the end of the Church year and the reminder about the end times, is that we still do have time - time to love, time to forgive, time to come outside of ourselves and be present to others. We have this gift of time to fix whatever is still broken in our lives; to heal any damaged relationships; to make ourselves whole.

Like Jesus says in this Sunday's gospel, “All that you see here - the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone." We don't know when the end of the world will come but we do know that it will come for each of us. And when that day does come, all that will remain for eternity is the love we gave while we still had time.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, August 29, 2016

Laborers in God's Family Business

It is fitting that we worship together as a Christian community on this Labor Day weekend. Because as followers of Jesus, we have all been called to be laborers for the Kingdom of God.
*
I went on retreat a few years ago and heard a priest say that the Universe is God’s family business. We might call it, GodandSon.com. And like most businesses its purpose is to produce an end product. The end product of this family business is the Kingdom of God.

As followers of Jesus we’ve been hired to be day laborers in that family business. Our job description was prepared by Jesus himself and can be found in the pages of the Gospel: in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Works of Mercy and in his many parables.

That job description calls us to use our hands and our feet, our voice and our heart to build the Kingdom of God. And as Jesus tells us, that Kingdom is not meant to be in some far off heavenly place; it’s meant to be right here, around and among us.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who this weekend is being canonized a saint by Pope Francis, knew all about that job description. She walked the talk and lived the Gospel every day of her life. As a builder of the Kingdom of God, Mother Teresa is a role model for all of us. Labor Day is a good time for each of us to examine how well we are doing as a builder of God’s Kingdom.

Building the Kingdom of God takes more than piety and prayer. Coming to church and reading the Bible are very important parts of our Christian faith. But building the Kingdom requires something more. It requires that we listen to Jesus’ words in the Gospel and act on them; that we make his words come alive within all the circles of our life.

Building the Kingdom of God requires that we love and forgive unconditionally; that we live out the Beatitudes and the Works of Mercy - not just during this Year of Mercy but every year, every day. It requires that we treat every human being like we would treat Christ himself. 

Building the Kingdom of God requires that we do more than just follow the rules. Those rules call us to reject personal sin and to be pure of heart and deed. But we are also called by Jesus to reject the structures of sin in our society; to stand up against the social sin inherent in neglect of the poor and the sick, in racism, and in bigotry in all of its forms.

Building the Kingdom of God requires that we respect the sanctity of life.  We are called by Jesus to promote a seamless garment of protection for all life: to be vocal advocates not only for the unborn, but for the prisoner on death row, and the refugee fleeing violence and oppression as well. And as our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us, we are called to protect the life of our planet, our environment, and all God’s creatures that live within it.

As we go through this Labor Day and every day that follows, let us remember and rejoice that we are laborers in God’s family business. And let us follow the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and commit ourselves to make the world into a wonderful place, a place filled with peace and love, a place that will be known from one end to the other as the Kingdom of God.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Where is the Body of Christ?

This weekend we will be celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Where is the Body of Christ?
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The disciples on that first Easter morning were frantically searching for the body of Christ. They were dazed and confused. But Jesus didn’t want them, or us, going off on some wild goose chase. Before his death he told us very clearly where we could find his body, his physical presence. And in his goodness, he also gave us a wonderful gift, the gift of his sacramental presence.

Jesus, by his own words, his own intentions, remains very present in our world:  both physically present where we can talk with him, walk with him and embrace him; and sacramentally present where he continues to nourish our souls.

Let’s consider that sacramental presence first. Jesus left us a wonderful gift, in the Eucharist. Those men and women who celebrated that Passover meal, that Last Supper with Jesus, had no idea at the time what he was doing for them, and for us. Here we are 2000 years later in New Jersey and we are still sharing that meal with Jesus.

Each time I am privileged to stand at the altar while the priest consecrates the bread and the wine, I feel like I am being transported by a time machine. The sanctuary becomes surreal, almost dreamlike, and I find myself back in that Upper Room in Jerusalem where Jesus is breaking the bread and sharing the cup.

As a deacon, I have been privileged to share in many deeply personal moments in the lives of others, moments of sadness and moments of joy. But no moment is as special as the moment when I look into your eyes, my sisters and brothers, hand you the Eucharist and say, “the Body of Christ.” At that moment, time and space stand still. What a joy to be present as you embrace Our Lord. What a privilege to be present at this moment of communion.

The Eucharist is a wonderful sacramental gift. But Jesus is still here among us physically, as well. If you’re like me, you probably walk right by without recognizing him.

In the parable of the Last Judgment in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, where the sheep are being separated from the goats, Jesus tells us exactly where we can find him:

Then the Lord will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you . . .

For I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothe me, sick and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink?

And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked, and clothe you?

When did we see you sick and care for you, or in prison, and visit you?”

The Lord will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, whatever you did for the least of your brothers or sisters, you did for me.”

Matthew 25: 34 – 40


If Jesus walked the earth today in the year 2016, I can imagine he might add these words:

For I was difficult to get along with and you remained my friend and continued to love me;

I was an unborn child and you not only protested for my right to life, but you sheltered and guided my unwed mother, you adopted me and loved me as your own;

I was unfaithful and betrayed your trust and you forgave me and gave me another chance;

I was a victim of hatred or bullying because I was gay, or because I was Jewish or Muslim or black or white or Asian and you stood by my side and were a voice for justice;

I was a refugee fleeing violence and oppression in my native country and you welcomed me;

I was on death row and you spared my life and showed me the unconditional forgiveness and mercy of the Father.

As we enjoy this feast of the Body of Christ, let us thank God for the wonderful gift of Christ’s body present to us sacramentally in the Eucharist. And let us cherish, embrace and soothe the body of Christ present to us physically in all of our brothers and sisters.


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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry