A Tale of Two Races

TALE OF TWO RACES

TODAY is the Pittsburgh Marathon. It is a rainy, dreary day, yet thousands upon thousands will run either the half marathon or the full marathon. They race to win a prize or prove something to themselves. They have prepared for the marathon for weeks if not months. They have watched their weight and made sure that they were well hydrated for the race. They realize that at the halfway mark they might be tempted to quit. They will be pleased with themselves when they finish and their families and friends congratulate them. If they have run past marathons they will be eager to see if they set a new record for themselves.
YESTERDAY was the eighth annual Ole5K race/walk in a park north of Pittsburgh. 400 people came out to help raise funds for The Anna Seethaler Hospital in Oaxaca,Mexico. The weather really cooperated. Each year, there is a lot of pressure on me to make sure the weather cooperates. Yesterday, there was no rain, no wind, and the sun came out. I would take credit for the good weather, but I don’t want to be struck by lightning.
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The Ole5K is more than a race. It is a celebration of life and solidarity. Serious runners do show up, but the majority of people are not there to set records. They jog, they walk, some bring children in strollers and others bring their dogs. They look forward to the post race Mexican buffet of rice, beans, ground beef and taco chips. Through the kindness of Sheetz there is free coffee, hot chocolate, and cold drinks.
Prizes are given, baskets and 50/50 chances are raffled, and friendships are renewed.
It truly is a celebration.
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This year, the participants wore red shirts that really looked good.  I wore my red shirt over my brown robe.
I had my white cord with the three knots that represent my three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on the outside of my shirt.
Each year, I wear my sombrero to keep with the theme: “Ole5K.”
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At the beginning of the race, I thanked the people for coming and I gave them an update on what is happening at The Anna Seethaler Hospital. We see 2,000 patients a month. Some of them travel more than four hours to come to the hospital to receive quality care with compassion. Our staff, counting specialists who volunteer when needed, is about 90 people. Our budget is now more than one million dollars a year.
The most important thing I said to the people was that of all the races that occur to help people, our race is for people that they will never meet. It says something about the generosity of people. It also says something about the trust that they put in me and the board of directors here in the states to exercise great accountability over the donations.
I hope all the people who support my ministry with their financial help will always remember that God can not be outdone in generosity.
To Love Another Person Is To See The Face Of God.
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Humor

If you know me or have heard me preach, you know that I like to tell jokes. There is an art to telling jokes. You need to be able to have three gifts.  The first is a good memory. Nothing is worse that getting to an end of a joke and forgetting the punch line. The second is to have good timing. Timing is important to keep people in suspense and hanging in there, especially if it is a long joke. Thirdly, having good body language. It brings the joke alive.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter.  At the two Masses I celebrated, I declared that today was Holy Humor Sunday.  I told the congregations that I was going to tell four jokes with the hope of keeping them excited about the Easter Season since we still had 29 days to celebrate Easter.  Now I must confess that when I tell a joke during Mass, I am a little concerned that someone might think that I am being disrespectful. Fortunately, I have had few complaints during my 46 years of telling jokes during my preaching.
Here’s one of the jokes I told today, and the connection I made to the Easter Season.
A pastor comes over to the rectory after having a wedding.
The assistant pastor asks him how the wedding went.
The pastor said everything went well until it came time for the couple to say their vows.
He had told them at the rehearsal that they only had to say “I do” after each question he asked them.
When he asked the bride: “Do you promise to obey your husband?” The bride said: “Do you think I’m crazy?” And the groom said: “I do.”
And it went downhill from there.
There was a lot of laughter. When it subsided, I told the people that on Easter they had said “I do” when they renewed their Baptismal Promises. I told them that it was important to know what they were promising and to be willing to keep their vows the rest of their lives… more laughter.
The meaning of Easter is that WE have the last laugh.
I hope you never lose your sense of humor.
Keeping celebrating Easter and remember: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
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My Lord and My God

RECENTLY, I DID SOMETHING I RARELY DO. I WENT TO A LARGE MALL NEAR WHERE I LIVE. EVERY TIME I WALK INTO A MALL, ALL MY SENSES ARE OVERWHELMED. I SEE ALL THE BRIGHT COLORS, I HEAR THE BACKGROUND MUSIC, I SMELL ALL THE FOOD AT THE FOOD COURT, AND I TOUCH THE DIFFERENT FABRICS. IT IS SENSORY OVERLOAD FOR ME. THERE ARE EVEN MALLS THAT HAVE A ROLLER COASTER INSIDE.

NOW, I TELL YOU ALL THIS BECAUSE A MALL SYMBOLIZES FOR ME A FUTURISTIC PLANET WHERE PEOPLE LIVE IN COMPLETE COMFORT. IT REMINDS ME OF A MOVIE THAT CAME OUT IN 1998 ENTITLED: TRUMAN’S WORLD, STARING JIM CARREY. IN THE MOVIE, HE LIVES IN A PERFECT WORLD. HE DOESN’T KNOW THAT IT IS A REALITY TV SHOW IN WHICH HIS LIFE HAS BEEN FILMED SINCE BIRTH BY A THOUSAND HIDDEN CAMERAS AND BROADCAST AROUND THE WORLD. SLOWLY, AS AN ADULT, HE BECOMES SUSPICIOUS AND WHEN HE FINDS OUT THAT IT IS A REALITY TV SHOW, HE REJECTS THIS MAKE BELIEVE WORLD. THE MOVIE ENDS WITH HIM SAYING GOOD-BYE TO THE CAMERAS AND HE STEPS THROUGH A DOOR INTO THE REAL WORLD.

YOU AND I KNOW THAT THE REAL WORLD IS NOT PERFECT. IT IS FULL OF JOYS AND SORROWS, LOVE AND HATE, TRUST AND BETRAYAL, LIFE AND DEATH.

THAT IS THE WORLD IN WHICH JESUS WAS BORN, LIVED, SUFFERED, DIED AND WAS BURIED. WE CELEBRATE THE EASTER SEASON BECAUSE WE BELIEVE THAT HIS DEATH WAS NOT THE END OF THE STORY. HIS RESURRECTION GAVE THE WORLD A NEW LEASE ON LIFE. IT GIVES US REASON TO HOPE.

SOME PEOPLE IN OUR COUNTRY FIND IT HARD TO LIVE IN OUR MESSY WORLD. THEY KEEP LOOKING FOR A WORLD OF BLISS.  THUS WE HAVE BECOME A VERY ADDICTED COUNTRY WITH A HIGH SUICIDE RATE.

AS WE HEAR THE READINGS DURING THE EASTER SEASON WE SEE THAT THE DISCIPLES, THE ONES WHO RAN AWAY FROM JESUS IN HIS HOUR OF NEED, ARE GATHERED AGAIN. SHAKEN IN HEART AND MIND THEY LOOK TO EACH OTHER FOR COMFORT AND SOME EXPLANATION OF WHAT HAPPENED. YOU CAN IMAGINE THEIR SHOCK WHEN JESUS APPEARS TO THEM. HE DOESN’T SCOLD THEM, HE SAYS: “PEACE BE WITH YOU!”

OF COURSE THOMAS, NOT BEING THERE, IS NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THEM. WHY SHOULD HE? THEIR CREDIBILITY LEFT SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED. PERHAPS THEY ARE MAKING ALL OF THIS UP TO ABSOLVE THEMSELVES FOR BEING COWARDS.

THEN JESUS APPEARS TO THOMAS AND THE DOUBTING THOMAS MAKES THE MOST IMPORTANT ACT OF FAITH A BELIEVER CAN MAKE. HE SAYS: “MY LORD AND MY GOD!”

IN ONE OF THE EASTER READINGS IT SAYS THE DISCIPLES WERE ESTEEMED BY THE PEOPLE. IT HAD TO BE BECAUSE OF THE MIRACLES THEY PERFORMED.

I THINK I WOULD BE HIGHLY ESTEEMED, BY EVEN NON-BELIEVERS, IF I CURED EVERYONE THAT CAME TO ME, IF I WALKED THROUGH A NURSING HOME AND WHEN MY SHADOW FELL UPON PEOPLE THEY WERE CURED.

WELL, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT JESUS WANTS ME TO HAVE THE HEALING GIFTS THAT HE GAVE TO HIS APOSTLES. LACKING THOSE KINDS OF GIFTS, WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT MY MINISTRY WITH THE PEOPLE I SERVE?

JESUS SAYS SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO THE DOUBTING THOMAS THAT APPLIES TO YOU AND ME.  JESUS SAYS TO THOMAS:

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND HAVE BELIEVED.”

WE NEED TO CARVE THAT SENTENCE ON OUR HEARTS.

ALL DURING THE EASTER SEASON WE HEAR STORIES OF JESUS APPEARING TO PEOPLE, LETTING THEM TOUCH HIS WOUNDS, EATING WITH THEM, PERFORMING MIRACLES FOR THEM,  FORGIVING THEM AND INSTRUCTING THEM. YET SOME STRUGGLED TO BELIEVE.

  • ARE THERE TIMES WHEN WE STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE? MOST OF US WOULD SAY: “YES.”
  • ARE THERE TIMES WHEN WE WONDER IF GOOD IS MORE POWERFUL THAN EVIL? MOST OF US WOULD SAY: “YES.”
  • ARE THERE TIMES WHEN WE LEAVE CHURCH WITH THE SAME PROBLEMS THAT WE CAME IN WITH? MOST OF US WOULD SAY “YES.”

YET DESPITE KNOWING THIS, WE STILL GO TO CHURCH. WE STILL JOIN THE COMMUNITY LOOKING FOR AND OFFERING PRAYERFUL SUPPORT. AND WE WILL STILL LOOK AT THE HOST AND CHALICE WHEN RAISED AT CONSECRATION AND HOPEFULLY SAY THE WORDS OF THOMAS: “MY LORD AND MY GOD.”

AND AT THAT MOMENT WE CAN ALMOST HEAR:  “BLESSED ARE YOU WHO HAVE BELIEVED!”

God Bless You and remember, TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

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The Challenge

This Easter Sunday I did something I never did before in my 46 years of being a priest. At the beginning of Mass I asked the very crowded church to raise their hand if they believed that Jesus rose from the dead. I didn’t count but it seemed like everyone present raised their hand. Then I asked them to raise their hand if they believed that Jesus was alive right now and present in the church with us. Once again, it seemed like everyone raised their hand. Then I said: “Well then, let’s give Jesus a standing ovation.” We all began clapping vigorously and the joyful noise filled the church.

Later in my homily I talked about the implications of saying that Jesus is alive right here and now. Using a basketball analogy I said: “You want to talk about March Madness.”  For most of the world it is sheer madness to say that Jesus is alive right here and now. That is why the commercial world doesn’t hype Easter like they hype Christmas. It is really easy to get excited about a little baby born in humble circumstances. It is another thing to get excited about a person who rose from the dead, is alive and still very active in the world. Believing that Jesus is alive right now and wants to be active in our lives means we have to change. Believing in the Resurrection as an adult should be the defining moment in our lives. Allow me to explain.

Imagine waking up one day and reading your obituary in the newspaper. This happened to a man some years ago. His brother had died and somehow the newspaper thought it was he and they did his obituary. Well you can imagine how curious he was to read what they said about him. The headline said: “Dynamite King Dies.” Continuing to read, the obituary said: “Merchant of Death invented dynamite and made lots of money on weapons of mass destruction.”

The man was shocked by what he read and at that moment decided to devote the rest of his life improving the lives of people through technology and industry.
When he finally died, Alfred Nobel was famous not for inventing dynamite but for inventing the Nobel Peace Prize.

Easter challenges us to take a hard look at our lives and decide right now to change those things that are not life-giving. If each one of us would do that what a wonderful world it would be.

Enjoy the Easter Season and remember: TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

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ALIVE

People who do not believe in the divinity of Christ or in miracles have to come up with another explanation for what happened on Easter Sunday.  Some say that Jesus really did not die, but went into a coma and was resuscitated.  Others say that He died and His disciples stole the body, hid it, and fabricated a story.  Still others say that someone else died in His place.

Our faith, based on the witness of people who were willing to die for their beliefs, tells us that Jesus rose from the dead.  Our faith also tells us that He is alive today.  We believe that for 2000 years Jesus has been protecting His people, inspiring His saints, and guiding His church.  Jesus promised He would be with us until the end of time.  Jesus is very much alive.

Some people come alive at the end of a work day.  Others come alive after a hot shower or a cup of coffee in the morning.  We should feel much more alive now that we have finished our Lenten journey and are celebrating Easter.  If we believe that Jesus walked out of the tomb, then we can believe in conversions, miracles, and eternal life.

The Resurrection of Jesus has changed the history of the world.  Our belief in the resurrection can change us.  We are new people with new possibilities.  It is as if we have been sleep walking for years and just woke up.  St Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully ALIVE”.

It is not a matter of having a magic wand over our heads.  No, we know that the old self dies slowly.  However, we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have been given a new lease on life.  We have a new way of talking, acting, and recreating.  We know Jesus on a first name basis.  St Paul said to the Greeks in Athens, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  We are alive!

Reflection:  How do you plan to keep the joy of Easter alive?

Prayer:  Jesus, I believe that You are alive.  May I never doubt Your presence in my heart, not the power of Your love.  Amen, Alleluia!

Remember, TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

Happy Easter,

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Example

In today’s liturgy, the priest washes feet in imitation of Jesus.  When Jesus finishes washing the disciples’ feet, He said to them: “What I just did was to give you an example.  As I have done, so you must do”.

Christianity is not taught; it is caught.

Jesus gives two powerful examples on Holy Thursday that we need to imitate.  The first example is the gift of self through the Eucharist.  He wanted His intimacy with his disciples to last forever, so He shares His Body and Blood with them and commands them to celebrate this communion throughout history until He comes again in glory.

The washing of the disciples’ feet is the second example.  He does not want His disciples to become arrogant or to argue about which of them is the most important.  He wants them to wash feet, and to serve the community.  Giving Eucharist and washing feet are the essence of their future ministry.  After washing their feet, Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you understand what I just did for you?”  Two thousand years later, it seems that people still do not understand.  The challenge for each of us is to put into practice what we have professed when we were baptized, received confirmation, pronounced wedding vows, or were ordained.

By frequently receiving communion, and serving other people, we can soften hearts, tear down walls, and build bridges.  Hopefully, after all the time and energy that you have invested in this Lenten Season, you now have come to understand better Jesus’ message.  Unity through service is what He wants for our world.  It may seem impossible given all the strife in our world, but we know that with God all things are possible.

Following Jesus’ example of communion and service will allow you to make a difference in our world.  Jesus will ask us three questions before He will allow us into heaven.  They are:

  • Did you really believe I loved you?
  • What did you do with your freedom?
  • Did you take time to read the word of God?

Prayer:  Jesus, you invite me to share intimacy with you this Holy Thursday.  Help me to say yes even though I feel unworthy.  Amen

Remember, to love another person is to see the face of God.

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Relent

In the Book of Exodus, Moses asks God not to punish the infidelity of His people.  God accepts Moses’ plea and we read:  “So the Lord relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on His people.”  The dictionary tells us that the word relent means “to become less stubborn; to soften”.

Relent is an important word to take to prayer during Lent.

People who have become lukewarm in their faith or who have seriously sinned should never believe that God will not forgive them.

Some people have a very distorted  image of God.  They think that God is a vindictive God.  They project human traits on God and since they have heard others say that they could not possible forgive the wrong that was done to them, they picture God saying the same thing.

The Bible tells us that God does not want us to die in our sin.  It tells us that if our sins are as red as scarlet, they will become as white as snow.  We are told that God does not hold our sins against us.

These quotes are not inviting us to be indifferent about our sins.  We need to be very serious about our need for on-going conversion.  However, some people after they give up a sinful life, fear that God will not love and forgive them.  That was the thinking of the Prodigal Son.  He thought to himself: I will return to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as a hired hand’.

Just like the father in the story who runs and embraces his prodigal son, so will our Heavenly Father receive any prodigal son or daughter who wants to come home.  He will relent and forgive them, and all of heaven will rejoice because a brother or sister who had wandered away has come home forever.

Reflection:  As you grow older, is there some sin in your past that causes you to fear that you will not be allowed into Heaven?

Prayer:  Father, You do not want us to wallow in guilt and shame.  Help us to believe that we are forgiven and then to act like it.  Amen

Remember, TO LOVE ANOTHER IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

God Bless You,

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JOY

God tells the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading:  “For I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and its people to be a delight.”  Unfortunately, most people do not find Lent to be a joyful time of year.  Nor do they imagine that God finds them delightful.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says:  “A woman in childbirth suffers because her time has come, but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.”

During Lent, we are very much like a woman in labor.  We are giving birth to a new person.  There will be painful moments in the process, but the end result will be a joyful person if we persevere.  Some people’s main goal in life is to avoid pain at all cost and this causes them to live very shallow lives. All growth involves some pain.

Olympic athletes train long hours to win a gold medal.  They forego many pleasures in their pursuit of glory.  If they win, the award ceremony is one of the most joyful moments of their lives.  All the hard work was worth it.  When a person who has had a stroke is able to walk without help for the first time, all the long hours of exhausting therapy become worth it.  The joy they show often moves family and therapists to tears.

If Lent ended on Good Friday, there would be no reason to be joyful.  However, we know the end of the story.  Easter is coming!  We will soon be singing Alleluia again.  Not only will the person who perseveres to the end be saved, but that person will have a joy that no one will take away.

Reflection:  At this point in Lent are you in a bad mood or a good mood?

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to believe that You delight in me right now and that You do not hold back Your Love until I am perfect.  Amen

Remember, TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

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Whole

In Daniel 3, Azariah prays : “And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you.”  We all know that actions speak louder than words.  As much as the people of Israel may have wanted to follow God with their whole heart, they were easily led astray by money, power, inter-marriage with pagans, and the desire to please foreign rulers.  Only the remnant remained faithful throughout their history.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He quoted the Book of Deuteronomy:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your strength.”

Keeping this commandment is not easy; it takes a lifetime of effort.  However, the effort does pay off.  Having an undivided heart allows us to make good decisions, avoid temptations, and love unconditionally.  It involves training ourselves to be good listeners to the Word of God.  The more we listen, the more we fall in love with God.  The more we love God, the less we want to sin.

We don’t sin because we think it is bad for us, we sin because we think it is good for us.  The devil, who is the father of lies, plants in our head the idea that if we do or say a certain thing it will make us happy.  Although this may be true momentarily, the pleasure soon evaporates and we begin to experience lethargy, guilt, and unhappiness. Coming to our senses, we say: “I can’t believe I did that.  I can’t believe I said that.”  Unless we have killed our conscience, we begin to feel sad, and like Adam and Eve in the garden after eating the apple, we try to hide from God.

Loving God with our whole hearts frees us.  It helps us to realize that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God.  St. Augustine said:  “We were made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”  Nothing else will make us truly happy.

Prayer:  Jesus, heal my heart of anything that is not of You.  Amen

Remember, TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD.

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