The Miracle of Friendship

 

FISH

The following is an excerpt from a recent homily at a Mass in honor of St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei. The homily followed the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch of fish as read in Luke, chapter 5: 

1. While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7. they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10. and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Isn’t it amazing that in the midst of all the dramatic happenings of this Gospel scene—the crowd pressing on Jesus, the teaching of the crowds from the boat, and of course, the miraculous catch of fish—Jesus and Peter maintain a personal conversation. In the midst of the noise and confusion, a dialogue persists. As Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master we have worked hard all night, and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets…” In fact, it seems that by the end of the scene of the miraculous catch of fish, a kind of secondary miracle is confirmed: the friendship between Peter and Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Conversation, confidence, friendship.
Now, this particular Gospel story was one of St. Josemaria’s favorites, and thus is proclaimed at this Mass in his honor. Exactly why it was one of his favorites I am not sure, but it was one of the passages he had memorized so that it could be recalled for his personal prayer or—as was the case during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s—he could celebrate Mass without a missal or book of readings (they were illegal during the religious persecution at that time). In any case, the story of the miraculous catch of fish continues to inspire us in our day and time. We marvel at the command of the Lord to let down the nets in the deep water, totally “against the odds” of actually catching anything, and we marvel even more at the actual catch of Peter and the rest of the Zebedee Fishing Company. Jesus’ prophesy that “…from now on you will be catching men is spoken, not only to Peter, but to each and every one of us: with the Lord Jesus we will gather men and women from all corners of the world to love and serve the Lord. And we are moved by the generous response of the Andrew and Peter, James and John: “They left everything and followed him.”
All of these elements of the story of the miraculous catch of fish can be imitated in our lives and in our time, and in our own style. As St. Josemaria used to say, “old as the Gospel, and like the Gospel new…” With the grace of God, we want to be included in this scene, and apply it to our own situation in life. Not many (any) of us are professional fishermen or women, but all of us want to be the instruments of God that we are called to be. We want to be quick to leave all things and follow Him. Say to him today, “I know that I am a sinful person, and I know that I have a long way to go in order to be a saint, but—with your grace—I want to be a saint; and with your grace, I will be a saint!
But it all begins with having a heart-felt relationship with The Master. This cannot be replaced by anything else: not technology; not education; not success; not popularity; not anything. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much we know, but how much we love, what, who, and how we love. Coming back to the initial point of the dialogue between Peter and the Lord; we have to become aware that personal prayer—with the time and concentration necessary to make it happen—is an indispensable requirement for bringing about a true relationship with the Lord Jesus. And Peter’s conversation with Jesus leads us to desire a personal conversation of our own with Jesus. We want to have that same closeness with him that is our joyful right and duty. Ask Jesus now to challenge you in your life to follow him more closely, and to perhaps even hear the words of command that seem impossible in your life, in your workplace, in your family: “put out into the deep water!”
This is the kind of relationship and constant conversation St. Josemaria had with Jesus throughout his life. In fact, above all, St. Josemaria was a contemplative, with a contemplation that was a fruit of his friendship with Jesus. This is the kind of contemplation you and I want to imitate in our own lives. From the time he was a boy and young adult, St. Josemaria spoke with God, he listened to God, he simply enjoyed and sought to be in the presence of God. This is our great desire as well: to be contemplatives in the middle of the world, sanctifying our ordinary lives. From our contemplative life in Ohio—or wherever you might be—we will catch men and women for the Lord and His Kingdom. Let us ask Holy Mary—Queen of All Saints and our Mother—to intercede with us so that we may be the saints God has called us to be. May our friendship with Jesus be our hope, and may it lead us along the ways of holiness in this World. Amen.

Chapel organ transplant

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Recently, due to the generosity of some musically-minded donors, the chapel of Warwick House (where I often celebrate Mass) acquired a vintage Hammond A-100 organ. It was previously owned by an organist who moved from her home, and could not take the instrument with her. It fits perfectly (as much as human perfection allows) next to the chapel altar, and under the motherly gaze of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I don’t play the organ myself, but I really enjoy hearing it played by others. (My mother was a church organist for many years, and some of my earliest memories are sitting on the organ bench with her, marveling at all the tones that came out of the instrument).

Being a musical instrument history buff of sorts, I decided to briefly research our ‘new’ organ, and so far I’ve dated it between 1960-62. I won’t bore you with details (serial numbers, speaker dating, websites, and maintenance records, etc.) but the Hammond organs of this era (about 1950-1970) are true gems of American musical instrument history. Engineering genius Laurens Hammond (1895-1973) invented the ‘Tonewheel Generator’ electric organ to imitate the many beautiful sounds of pipe organs at a fraction of their cost, and designed them to be used in tight sacred spaces. Jazz organists, however, soon heard (or heard about) the electric organ, and also wanted to play them. Another genius Don Leslie (1911-2004) invented a rotating speaker system, popularly known as the ‘Leslie Cabinet’ (a product Hammond really didn’t like), and the rest is church, baseball stadium, and jazz club history! It’s hard to believe that one instrument could be so versatile in its expression. (Yes, computers have tried to imitate the original electric organ sounds, but they don’t quite do the trick).

Although I hope the Warwick House chapel organ will last many more years as a reverent and proper liturgical aid, it is still tempting to imagine that (with a vintage Leslie speaker cabinet) it could sound like the Hammond organ below… It’s probably a good thing that Our Lady keeps a close watch on our organ to keep that from happening in the chapel!

Into your hands, I commend my Spirit

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We have reached the literal last word of Jesus, which leaves his Body with his final breath: “Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” He cries it out in a loud voice, in a voice that all can hear; in a voice that leads us to contemplation. Our Lord has left us with a crying voice, but not with sadness. Jesus’ cry is a cry of triumph, as the plans of God are perfectly carried to completion. His last breath has left him, but his Spirit goes to God the Father. Jesus’ final words are a new beginning for the whole human race to realize. Jesus, the Son of God, calls out to his Father so that we, united with Jesus, also affirm our newborn condition as children of God. Now God is truly Our Father as Jesus promised, as he taught us, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come…” (Lk 11:2), and now Jesus brings this prayer to fulfillment.

Yes, this fulfillment is a new beginning for each of us. Jesus’ death lets us discover who we really are: children of God, called to be sons and daughters in the Son. As St. Paul tells us: “…if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). And as the Catechism affirms: “By his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by His Resurrection, He opens for us the way to a new life. [Justification] brings about filial adoption…” (CCC 654). Every moment of every day needs to be marked with the awareness of what the saints have called our divine filiation. As St. Josemaria advises: “Child, when you really are one, you will be all-powerful” (Way 863).

Yet, to live our lives as a child of God is not trouble-free. Jesus’ last breath reminds us of that: like Jesus we encounter suffering if we are faithful to our vocation and mission. We must live out practical consequences that really reflect our dignity as God’s children. These practical consequences include: a sincere piety and commitment to prayer; a love for the Church, and in particular a participation in the Church’s liturgy and acceptance of all her teachings; a constant spirit of service to God as Our Father and to all persons as brothers and sisters; and finally, a firm and humble desire for conversion, to turn toward God and away from sin. But with to God’s grace we can lovingly carry out our Christian duties as children. And so, today is a perfect day for us to tell God Our Father: “into your hands I commend my spirit; to you, Father, I dedicate my life!”

(From a homily given on Good Friday, at St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA. Painting detail: Crucifixion, by Eric Armusik. It is found at parish of St. Sebastian, Akron, OH).

Peter’s shout-out to Jesus

tissotThen Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents: 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.  (Mark 9:5-6)

The Transfiguration of the Lord (depicted above by James Tissot) is one of the most mysterious moments in the public life of Jesus. We contemplate it during this second Sunday of Lent. Why exactly the Lord Jesus chose this occasion and way to appear in glory to the three privileged Apostles, Peter, James, and John is hard to know. Christian tradition holds that it was to strengthen them in moments of doubt after Jesus’ death.

I love this scene because it shows Peter in a positive leadership role. Although he is afraid of the vision they are experiencing on the mountain top: Jesus transfigured, accompanied by Moses and Elijah back from the dead, he still interprets the event in an optimistic overtone. The exclamation, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” allows Peter and the others to try to get their thoughts together, to spiritually regroup in the light of the mystery of the awesome scene. Peter had witnessed many overwhelming appearances of the Lord, such as the walking on water and the calming of the storms, and in a likewise manner, is now led by the Lord to this spot and this vision; thus Peter’s trust in Jesus momentarily overcomes his fear. This reveals something essential about Peter: he is fundamentally motivated by love and confidence.

Similarly for us, this week in Lent is a good opportunity for us to regroup and commit to a strong and continuous trust in Jesus. At times we might experience the fear of the responsibilities before us, like our health, finances, and holiness, or family and professional demands. Likewise, we might fear the requirements of our faith and the need for a true conversion. May Peter’s shout-out to the Transfigured Lord be an example of the trust-filled spontaneity and optimism that should mark our interior (and exterior) life.

2018: Begin again, win again

IMG_20171218_145346Putting the final touches on 2017, we look at the year and try to discover the blessings in the midst of everything. If we are honest, we will see the good among the negative things, and we need that. Surely we all had our share of victories and failures on all kinds of fronts: personal; spiritual; moral; and physical, too. The important thing is to see the events of the year in a theological way, to see them a little more as God sees our lives: as a loving father watches his children, always in need of help, but capable to begin again, and therefore, to win again.

Lots of people do a kind of personal inventory with a view to set up resolutions that will be signs of improvement for them, and this is a good thing. The challenge is to make resolutions that are really going to “stick”, and guide us through the whole year, not only a few days. That’s the hard part. I am not sure what my resolutions are going to be for the year, but whatever they become I am going to try to make them so that they can be checked and evaluated on a regular basis: daily, or at least weekly. For example, “Did I smile at people I talked with during the day?” could be an interesting question to consider on a daily basis. Whatever the resolutions, make them in such a way that they can be easily checked.

It is significant that we make our resolutions in the presence of Mary this year. The last day of the year falls on the feast of the Holy Family, and the first day of the year, as always, on the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. We remember that 2017 has been a most important year in the presence of Mary, as it was the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, so let us continue to make our resolutions under her protection and motherly care. Happy 2018!

Advent: a time to address the Blessed Virgin Mary

guadalupeIn this installment, which falls on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, guest blogger, Rev. Rene Schatteman, offers thoughts on how to bring Our Lady into the Advent season with more personal piety and vision. Enjoy!

Let us pray to Mary and this will help us live fully these joyful days as we look forward to Christmas. Let us say to Mary:

God the Father looked on you and loved you more any other creature. You are his favorite daughter.

God the Son looked forward to the day he would become man, become one of us, by taking our nature from you as his mother.

God the Holy Spirit had preserved you from Original Sin and gave you that fullness of grace right from the first moment of your existence.

As a child you were already full of grace, a delight to your parents and to God! You grew quickly in wisdom and in virtue.

Even as a teenager you were already a mature woman, virtuous in every way, with an intimate relationship with God

It was then that God sent his Archangel Gabriel to inform you of what he wanted of you: to be the mother of his Son, to bear him in your womb, to bring him into the world and to care for him as a mother cares for her infant child.

God looked upon you and saw that you were all fair, beautiful in body and soul. He knew that he could count on you, that you would be faithful to every grace he would give you.

You never disappointed God. You were always ready to offer a YES to God’s inspirations.

In this way, you kept growing in grace and in love, day by day, moment by moment.

With great joy and gratitude you brought Jesus Christ our Savior into the world. It was in Bethlehem, in a stable, on a winter’s night. Christ came as the Light of the World, our Redeemer and Lord.

St. Joseph was there with you and he too, with a joyful heart, took the Child Jesus in his arms and whispered to him his love and devotion. It was a glorious moment… and we are all preparing ourselves to commemorate that moment, to relive it at Christmas.

As a young mother you dedicated yourself to the care of your Son. Nothing distracted you. You were ever attentive to the needs of the Child Jesus. You cared for him; you spent yourself for him… Jesus: the object of all your efforts.

And this was not just for one day… it was your way of life: all for Jesus, all for the Love of the Lord. Mary, I want to learn from you. Teach me to say YES to whatever God asks of me. Help me to see how my day -with my tasks, my family, my parents and my siblings, my home, my school and my teachers, my friends- is the place where God wants me to be. Here I can find God; here I can show my love for God, here I can serve Jesus.

Mary, as your life progressed you came to know Jesus ever better. You learned from him because you kept your eyes fixed on him. You came to know his sufferings and you shared in them because you were one with him. You offered your Son to his Father, there on Calvary, when he offered himself for our salvation. You also experienced the joy of his Resurrection and in time, you helped the Apostles to be strong in their faith and in their commitment to Jesus. Mary, help me to be faithful in all things.

Compiled by Fr. Rene J. Schatteman

The practical theology of St. Nicholas

download (1)I like the fact that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawn shops and pawn brokers. According to some sources, the three gold balls suspended in the air outside pawn shops (or three neon balls in the window) come from the tradition that as Bishop of Myra St. Nicholas once threw three bags of gold through the window of a poor family so that three sisters could afford their marriage dowries. I guess the connection with quick loans at a pawn shop somehow connects with that story. In any case, St. Nicholas, whose feast is today, December 6, and who “became” our beloved Santa Claus, will always be a symbol of practical generosity, when giving is shown in specific gifts to specific persons (family and friends mainly). We need his example and we should look for ways to be more connected to the saint’s practical generosity in many different ways.

Another great saint, Josemaria Escriva, had particular devotion to St. Nicholas of Bari, and in 1934, named him one of the intercessors of Opus Dei, specifically as an intercessor for financial difficulties. In the centers of Opus Dei you will find a statue or painting of Saint Nicholas to help the members there remember the supernatural means of prayer and dependence on God’s Providence in the face of material need.

St. Nicholas was also well known for his participation at the Council of Nicea in 325. He is particularly known for purportedly slapping of the heretic Arius, who basically denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. My guess is that if he did, it wasn’t this hard…

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I guess it’s just another example of the humanity of the saints, and how we need to appreciate their humanity (and perhaps overlook a slap or two). And who but St. Nicholas has become so loved for his humanity in giving especially at Advent and Christmas time? Throwing gold and confronting heresies: his was a special practical theology of generosity worth studying and imitating.  Sancte Nicholae, Ora pro nobis!