Sunday, January 18, 2015

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians reminds us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. "Glorify God in your body" is Paul's admonition. "You are not your own."

In 1954 Flannery O'Connor published a short story titled "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" in which two 14-year old girls who attend a convent boarding school identify themselves as Temple One and Temple Two mocking the nun who repeatedly reminds them they are temples of the Holy Ghost. On a weekend visit with a distant cousin, the two girls attend a fair at which they see a hermaphrodite in a freak show. The hermaphrodite keeps repeating to the crowd that "God done this to me and I praise Him. He could strike you thisaway." Later it is the cousin who is most affected by this and who has a vision of the sun as "an elevated Host drenched in blood .. "

The two girls live in their own world until, for the sake of adventure, they go to see this freak show, something that is totally other than their 'teeny-bopper' selves.

The first reading for the second Sunday in Ordinary Time reveals the boy Samuel living in his own world. He is to be trained by his mentor Eli. Samuel is a boy who likes his sleep. Three times he is awakened by a voice and each time he believes it is Eli calling him. The third time Eli recognizes that God is calling the boy and he tells Samuel when he hears the voice again to reply, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Samuel lived in his own world and could not recognize God's call to him. He did not know he was a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Two disciples of John the Baptist in the Gospel today are told Jesus is the lamb of God. They immediately follow Jesus and one of them, Andrew, takes the news to his own brother Peter. These men all lived in their own worlds until they saw or heard Jesus calling them. What attracted them to Jesus? Scripture is never full of detail. We only receive basic information. Whatever it is, Jesus pulls them out of their own worlds and invites them into his world. He invites them to something new and different. Andrew and Peter are called in their own bodies to become temples of the Holy Spirit, to glorify God in their bodies now by following Jesus and living in a new way.

During his recent trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis identified three challenges for young people to the religious leaders of the University of Santo Tomas. One is integrity. He told them that learning to love was their greatest challenge and that in doing so they must maintain their own integrity. Learn to love and be loved. Secondly, he said, it is important to care for the environment. Thirdly, we must care for the poor.

Recent weeks have shown us so much violence in our world. Fear is corrupting each of us. As followers of Christ, we cannot allow ourselves ro be governed by fear. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and recognize that there is more to this life than what we find on any of our electronic devices, including television or the movies. Pope Francis also reminded us that we are accountable to Christ for our speech and our action.

We glorify God in our bodies and become temples of the Holy Spirit when we leave our own worlds and move out to follow Jesus, when we listen to his call to us, when we say yes to the one who calls us to live his life. Scripture readings in the liturgy this past week have shown us Jesus moving forward, moving beyond his own world, beyond his home at Nazareth. He cures and heals and he goes to pray. But then he moves on. Crowds want him to stay and get comfortable with him but Jesus must reach others. He must move on. He is not his own. Neither are we.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Saints and seminarians

Our seminarians at Bishop Brute visited the shrine of St. Mother Theodore Guerin at the end of their retreat this week. Following our four day experience at St. Meinrad, we trekked to Terre Haute and the few miles outside the city to St. Mary of the Woods College and the shrine on the grounds that now house the historical beginnings of the Sisters of Providence.

While still a priest of the archdiocese, I had frequent interaction with Sr. Ann Kathleen Brawley, who served many years as archdiocesan archivist. Sister Ann Kathleen would share much about Mother Theodore, the founding of the Woods campus and the process for canonization. She once showed me some translations of the correspondence between Mother Theodore and Bishop Hailandiere. Hailandiere became bishop of the diocese of Vincennes following the death of Bishop Brute who brought the Sisters of Providence from France to the wilderness of Indiana to establish schools and begin a mission of education. His death occurred before their arrival, however.

The relationship between the Bishop Hailandiere and Mother Theodore was contentious because Mother Theodore fought ferociously for her sisters against some of the unjust demands of the bishop. At one point he locked her in her room, removed her as superior, and began making assignments of the sisters much against the order's constitutions. He excommunicated her as well. What saved the day was the bishop's resignation and return to France where he lived another 35 years. Reconciliation did come between him and the order but not until after Mother Theodore died.

What struck me about the correspondence was the depth of emotion expressed. Both Mother Theodore and the  bishop were cultured and well-educated Frenchwoman and Frenchman living in a wilderness still untamed. They likely both understood each other very well. They both likely experienced a great deal of loneliness. Neither had others to whom they could easily relate. Their correspondence reveals this in indirect ways. Yet each was set on a course of dedication to a mutual cause expressed by very different interpretations. The correspondence is so revealing, in fact, that at the time I thought Mother Theodore will never be canonized. There is too much humanness in the correspondence. And yet it happened.

The shrine which just opened this past fall is a most impressive experience and well worth a day trip to St. Mary of the Woods. Artefacts used by Mother Theodore are present as is a lengthy timeline on the wall of one hallway revealing events in the life of Mother Theodore, the Church, and the larger history of the world. There are dioramas of life in the wilderness in 1840. Her remains have been moved to a shrine room and encased in a wooden coffin made locally from native trees. The room itself is quite prayerful. Our group was directed by Sr. Nancy Nolan, a former superior general, who was both welcoming and thorough in her presentation. A half hour film at the beginning of the tour covers the history of the American branch of the Sisters of Providence.

We ended our tour with a visit to the beautiful Blessed Sacrament chapel in the larger Church of the Immaculate Conception followed by Mass in that church. One of our students, who is from Effingham, Illinois, told me that when driving back and forth between Effingham and Indianapolis, he has often stopped at the Woods for a few minutes of prayer in that chapel.

The visit to the shrine was a fitting end to a week retreat. It is a truly exciting find in Catholic heritage in Indiana.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

We've only just begun

Another year. The tenth semester of ministering to young college men aspiring to the priesthood is about to unfold. Like a book in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I wonder what new adventures lie along the travels in Middle Earth as these men seek the answers to questions both imagined and real. Or are we beginning an episode more in the style of "Downton Abbey" in which melodrama often seems to overcome the good sense of people who otherwise move inexorably toward a future of love and sacrifice?

Working with this lot is not easy. The difficult part has less to do with the seminarians than it does with my peers. I am a priest from a generation designated by Andrew Greeley as a 'new breed.' Most young men today do not know who Andrew Greeley was and even less do they know that term - new breed. Neither can they appreciate the excitement that priests and especially laity felt at the time I was ordained for many things these young men take for granted were new or unknown to us at that time. The activity and responsibility of the laity alone are perhaps the most significant differences in the two ages. But it is difficult to explain to young men today.

Realizing that they too were a part of the Church was a concept that was totally new and unexpected for the laity. Young people today can't understand that before Vatican II the laity had only to show up to Mass on Sunday. That was basically the extent of their responsibility as a Catholic Christian. That's why the Council provoked such excitement. The laity discovered they too had a place in the Church. They were not simply receptors of what clergy offered, like feeding animals in a zoo. No wonder expectations ran high. It was like Zechariah's lips being opened on a large scale. But expectations could never be fulfilled. Clergy had spent little energy preparing the laity for acceptance of their rightful role in the Church.

Now there is frequently great disaffection between the Church and many of those Catholics who, though well-educated, counted themselves as members of a Church that had for so long kept them in the dark about so many things. These are my peers. They worry that the new crop of potential priests will withdraw the riches to which they have become accustomed like mean parents who tease their children with loss of a gift given and then taken away for reasons unexplained. They ask me, for example, how conservative the seminarians are. My peers often worry about seminarians' attachments to devotions. What my generation threw out, many of them have retrieved.

Seminarians are indeed often attached to non-essentials but they are young and inexperienced. It is only by encouraging their prayer and study that their focus begins to correct itself. The most important thing is not that there is a crucifix on the altar but that the altar is the place where the Eucharistic sacrifice occurs.

Still many of my generation have become moribund in their expectations because they keep making the same mistakes generations before them made. They presume future generations want the same thing they do. They have gotten used to thinking that the Church of 1965 should be the Church of 2015. All of us need to remain open to the work of the Spirit. God moves us forward to more challenge and not to places of rest and comfortability.