The Necessary Cross

Peace and grace to all!

This weekend Jesus informs his disciples that he will undergo great suffering and finally death.  We can imagine that Peter is speaking for all the disciples’ when he expresses incredulity and opposition at the Lord’s message.  Jesus then poses a stern challenge before his disciples, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Like Peter in the Gospel story or Jeremiah in the first reading, we can feel dismayed or overwhelmed by the cross.  It seems like a daunting challenge to be sure, unless we look upon it and touch it in faith.  Only then can we understand the cross as the door to sanctity and our way to intimate love with Jesus.

For Jesus, the cross is necessary; not an option and he makes it clear that the Cross is necessary for his followers too.  As Catholics, when we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist and remember Jesus’ sacrificial love, we must bear in mind that the Eucharist does not come to us except through the sacrifice that Jesus gladly gave for us all.  Each one of us will be asked to give of ourselves for the sake of the other in imitation of Jesus no matter which vocation we have.  Some are called to follow Jesus more closely and become priests.  The priest is standing in the place of Christ, with Christ and is sustained by Christ as one who gives his body and blood for the life of the world.  The priest is set apart, consecrated as a sacrifice, to serve God and his people through a daily cross.  God extends this precious vocational gift to the Church in answer to our prayers and words of encouragement to young men.  When coming to the altar to be nourished in the Eucharist, please remember to pray for all priests and for vocations to the priesthood.  Please encourage young men to listen for God’s call to this beautiful vocation.  May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Jesus Our Sovereign

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts!

From the readings this weekend, I am reminded of the true sovereignty of Jesus and that in order for one to experience Jesus’ saving power, one must approach him in humble, sincere faith.

The message in the first reading from Isaiah foretells that God will replace someone of royalty because he is corrupt and guilty of neglecting his responsibility to provide care for the people of the kingdom.  His replacement will be a servant of God and like a father to the people caring for them out of love.  God will sustain him and establish his rule firmly because he strives to follow God’s law and fulfill justice.

St. Paul praises the wonderful, mysterious wisdom of God and expresses his recognition that God, as creator of all, has sovereign dominion over all things, but more importantly is moved by love.

Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter makes his profession of faith in Jesus as Son of God.  Jesus recognizes that Peter’s faith is a gift from God and then Jesus establishes Peter’s faith as the foundation of the Church and extends to him the power to govern the Church with the promise that God will always sustain the Church.

As Catholics, this passage is a great comfort to us because we know that God, the source of all power and authority, has pledged that he will establish, protect, guide and sustain the Church forever.  We also hold firm faith that Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church is a reality and that the bishops and the Pope are sustained and guided by God’s spirit in the duty of teaching and governing the Church.

On a more personal note, we are invited, like Peter, to have an intimate relationship with Jesus: to love and experience Jesus’ love for us.  Think about the powers and authorities that were part of the ancient world.  Fear, sickness, political oppression with riots, violence and war, widespread poverty, pagan worship of idols and false gods topped off with demonic possession were common tensions that people had to live with.  Jesus came as a healer, a teacher of peace and justice and he showed God’s genuine love for the people.  Many of us need to experience salvation on a daily basis from all the oppressive forces that are in our lives.  Like Peter, we must come in sincere faith and ask Jesus for help.  We experience deliverance in different ways: through prayer, community fellowship, Word and the sacraments mainly.  But it is only through faith that we are able see and experience God’s presence in action around us and through us.  God bless you all! +++ Fr Peter

Witnessing To Our Faith

Peace and grace to you!

This weekend Jesus took his disciples with him on a vacation from their usual ministerial activities.  The region of Tyre and Sidon would have been a place where they would have been noticed as Jews but the people of the region would not have known anything beyond that.

I remember my Clinical Pastoral Education summer in Denver Colorado at St. Anthony Hospital.  I had been to Denver plenty of times for visiting or various activities but never for an extended stay.  The course that I was taking was specialized and focused and I was an unknown to the instructors and other students.  I had made previous arrangements to stay at a near-by parish: Our Lady of Fatima.  The Pastor, Walker Nicholas, who is now the Bishop of Sioux Falls would frequently say to me: “there is no vacation from a vocation.”

I think that is what Jesus is showing the disciples and all of us today.  No matter where we are or what we are doing, as disciples we have an order of priority that places God first and witnessing to our faith by being responsive to other people.  It isn’t just at Church on the weekends; it must be true in our homes and everywhere we go—even on vacation!

To many, Jesus’ first response to the woman seems hard, like he is rejecting her.  This isn’t the Jesus we are accustomed to so it catches us off guard.  Perhaps Jesus is expressing the inner disposition of his disciples toward this non-Jewish woman.  But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jesus is challenging the woman in order to bring about in her a stronger, more certain faith in him and in God’s love and care for her.

As we go about our summer break or on vacation, watch for the moments when Jesus calls us to grow deeper in our expression of faith and act as his disciples.  We can’t compartmentalize.  It all has to flow from the one inner connection we have with Jesus.

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Pray For Your Challenges!

May the grace of Christ console your hearts!

This weekend we are reminded of our need to pray through the many challenges that confront us in life.  Although God is always there to help us through them, we do not always remember or recognize God’s presence and nearness to us while we are in the midst of difficulties.

Elijah has had to face Jezebel and all the priests of Baal who oppose the one true God.  As God’s prophet, Elijah was familiar with opposition and difficulty but he had reached a point of loneliness and weariness that were so overwhelming that he asked God to end his life.  While he was lying on his mat waiting for death to come, an angel was sent to stir him to eat and then journey to the mountain to where God would speak to him.  As you already know, “going to the mountain” is a literary image used to convey that Elijah’s journey was spiritual which includes prayer.  In the midst of an overwhelming storm and violent natural forces, Elijah finds God’s presence with him in the still, small voice: in the quiet of prayer.

In the Gospel scene Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  The wind and sea against them indicates that they are experiencing difficulties and challenges in their efforts to be disciples.  Meanwhile, Jesus takes time to pray and get face to face time with God: yes Jesus needed to pray!  Jesus walks across the water showing that union with God lifts us above torments, struggles and chaos.  As He draws near them, he is aware of their struggles.  Jesus extends to Peter the power to “walk on the water,” to rise above the chaos and confusion of the challenges but Peter loses his focus on Jesus and succumbs to sinking into human fear.  But, when Peter calls in need, Jesus saves him and raises him up!  Isn’t it amazing?  Elijah was saved by his cloak, a piece of cloth signifying his devotion to God and God’s providence, shelter and protection for him.  But we have something greater than what Elijah had: we have the name of Jesus!  We do not need anything but Jesus’ name for our salvation and when we call to him, he is with us immediately!  So when storms and tempests, challenges and difficulties arise in our lives, we call on the one who is always near and has power to save!  God bless you always! +++  Fr. Peter

The Call To Give

Peace and grace to all!

The teachings of Jesus, his healing of the sick and his other miracles and actions offered hope and joy to many people.  Jesus stands out as someone who could be counted on and trusted.  In the Gospel today, it is clear that Jesus is challenging his disciples to not just be hearers and watchers but to be people of action just as he is.  “Give them some food yourselves.”  Is Jesus asking them to pay for the food out of their own pockets?  Or was Jesus inviting them to offer themselves as food for others?

Practically speaking, it is safe to say that Jesus is asking for some of each from everyone.  However, we know that some followers have been called to imitate Jesus more closely.  They are called to give in the same way as he gave his life, flesh and blood as food for the world.

Obviously the story teaches that if we give, even a little, with a good heart, God will bless it and there will be abundance.  After all, God is generous and will not be out done in generosity!

Here in our parishes of St. Thomas, St. Bernard and St. Edward many of us are regularly giving out of our own pockets to financially support the needs our parishes.  Many of us are also giving to support the Catholic Church in Oregon and the US through the various second collections.  There are also other charities or worthy causes that may or may not be Catholic but are effective ways of financially helping others move ahead in a challenging world: Scholarships, the Obria Clinic, St. Vincent De Paul, Teen Challenge, are just a few.

There are those of us who are actively giving themselves in special forms of ministry beyond parenting, family care or regular jobs.  They volunteer to teach our youth or serve the poor and needy through St. Vincent De Paul.  Some of us are giving personally at Obria helping those with unwanted or unexpected pregnancies either through counseling or by taking individuals into their own homes.  Some are actively involved bringing Communion to the sick and home bound.  Others serve at parish liturgies on weekends and/or quietly work to support a Parish Bazaar and Rummage Sale.  The list goes on and I’m glad it does because as St. James says, activity of this kind shows that faith is alive; not dead.  We too are more alive in Spirit when we are active in these ways because we are truly living our baptismal vocation.  Last but not least, some of us are called to give our pocket book and our lives, everything, to serve God’s people.  This truly is an honor and a supreme gift from God to receive this call.  In the eyes of the world this seems a loss, but the world is blinded from recognizing God’s richness in all things.  Don’t forget, Jesus promises a hundred fold AND Eternal Life to those who respond to his call!  God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter