Sunday, August 28, 2016

Saints Alive

One of those things I remember hearing as a child was, "Catholics worship statues", and from watching the movies that's certainly how it appeared. The even sadder part was that I remember asking a Catholic I knew to explain it, and they couldn't. Nowadays if someone asks me why are there statues and icons in Churches, I respond simply, "Doesn't everybody have family pictures and keepsakes in their home?" As a matter of fact I would find it odd, if I walked into a house and there were no pictures of anybody.

These days I'm back at St. Augustine's and today is the feast day of St. Augustine. Yesterday was his mother, St. Monica. All of which gives us a chance to stop and reflect on why churches are named for people, a uniquely Christian thing to do.

To understand why we do it, we have to go back to 313, the Edict of Milan, when Christianity was allowed to come out of hiding. Christians began to build places for public worship, and a favorite place would be the grave/tomb of a martyr. The emperor Constantine sheared off the top of a hill and built the original St. Peter's over the tomb of Peter, the Apostle. Christians did this because we believe in the resurrection of the body, and so we treat the body with reverence in life and in death.

As time went on and martyrdom became less frequent the same sign of respect was shone to other kinds of saints. The part of a saint any church would have also became smaller. Even into the 20th century, Catholic Churches would have a small relics, usually a bone chip, in the altar stone — a link to the holy men and women who have gone before us.

No we do not worship these people. We worship God. But we also do not believe that they are "dead and gone." Nor do we believe that they forget about us when they make it to heaven. We remain connected as the one body of Christ. And we can talk to them, and ask them to intercede for us, because they are in God's presence. Why wouldn't we?

If your parish church is named for a saint, what is your relationship to that saint? How much do you know about him/her? When did you last ask him/ her to intercede for someone. If calling it praying to saints makes you uncomfortable, then think of it as a chat with and old friend. Often for preaching I will turn to St. Paul, and not just read his letters in the Bible but ask him to help me truly understand what he wrote. Again, why not?

Today as I celebrate with the people of St. Augustine Parish this day in honor of their patron I am reminded that there are many great quotes from St. Augustine but among my favorites is:

I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but rather
I believe so that I might understand.

Monday, August 15, 2016


My guess is that for most of us, when we thing of today's feast, the Assumption of Mary, our minds go immediately to what will happen to us after death. The opening prayer for today's mass focuses our attention on something more immediate.

...grant, we pray,
that, always attentive to the things that are above,
we may merit to be sharers of her glory.

Always attentive to the things that are above? How do we do that when the things (and people) here on earth are constantly, not just asking for but, demanding our attention?

We start by remembering that we are transcendent beings. However earthbound as we may feel, we were created to be with God for eternity. As such our souls are constantly yearning for God. As much as our bodies need air and water, our souls need prayer.

At its most basic, this means starting our day by turning our hearts to God, and then throughout the day pausing to check and make sure our hearts stay pointed in the right direction. Then one final course check before we go to sleep at night. In this way we can be constantly attentive to the things that are above and still deal properly with the things here on earth. As a matter of fact we will deal with the mundane better, if our hearts are constantly oriented toward God.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hand it on

On the surface today's gospel would appear to be one of many miracle stories. If we look closely we will see a story backed with theology and catechesis. By the time St. Matthew committed his gospel to writing he had already come to understand the deeper meaning in Jesus's action. The community of believers already had standardized what we would now call the celebration of the Euchrarist. And so when he recounts the story he uses a formula that they would all recognize. The four verbs associated with the Eucharist:

the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

No Christian in the early Church would have denied that this miracle was the precursor to the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus, but there is also something more. 

There is a second "gave." Jesus gives to the disciples and it is they who in turn give to the crowd. This gospel is not only the precursor to the Eucharist but the precursor to Tradition, literally handing on. Jesus gives to the disciples who then give to the crowd and they are filled.  Presumably those who are filled will in turn give to others. Two millennia later, we are the recipients not of fish and bread but of the Bread of Life and the Word of God. 

Now we are the disciples having received we now have the obligation to give. Those of us who are priests do this above all in the celebration of Mass where we hand on the Word of God and the Bread of Life.  But all disciples are called to participate in the act of handing on, this act of feeding, of nourishing. Hopefully we do this every day. 

Today let us look for those opportunities through our actions to nourish others, to share with them the love of Christ.