Monday, November 30, 2009

Way down yonder in New Orleans

You don't have to be a football fan to watch in wonder of the goings on in New Orleans, La tonight. The talk of the town, and maybe the nation too, has been the NFL New Orleans Saints, undefeated after 10 football games. If you have lived down here for any number of years or you just like to follow sports, you know the Saints have had a pretty dismal overall record for 40 + years. Of course we had those glorious years in the late 80's and early 90's and then that first elusive playoff victory in 2000. And then we experienced that magical season that took the Saints just one game shy of the Super Bowl in 2007 after the '06 season, as the entire area continued to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Just like that 2006 team, this 2009 edition of the Saints has made New Orleans happy and proud and has given many something to smile about as recovery continues. Those most die-hard of fans truly believe that this may be the year, that no one can beat them and there beloved Saints are by far the best. And we all hope this is true.

But unlike any other community, the Saints mean so much more to New Orleans than just wins and losses. The Saints help shape our identity. They are a sports example of recovery and renewal. They help all of us understand that no matter what comes along and knocks us down, we can survive, live for another day and win!

Don't get me wrong, if the Saints would somehow drop a game or two this year, we will hear from those long suffering folks who will be so disappointed. But if indeed they loose a game, we should marvel at what this team has meant to us and what it continues to mean to the community.

The build up for this game, around the rest of the world just the 11th game of the season, has become legend. There is more celebration, partying and joy in the Crescent City tonight then most cities experience when they actually win a championship. And if you can't understand that, you probably don't get jazz, and crawfish, and Mardi Gras, and Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!! That's ok, come on down this way and we will help try to explain it.

And don't forget, this is a team steeped in Catholic tradition too. The name comes from their birthday, All Saints Day in 1966. The name had to get the blessing from the Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans at the time, the amazing Philip Hannan. And just last night one of our own diocesan Priests, Fr. Tony Ricard, went and celebrated Mass and prayed with the players, coaches and staff.

As you watch the game tonight, or follow the Saints for the rest of this year, keep in mind this is bigger than football, of wins and losses. This is a team that is helping lead a recovery that hopefully one day will restore one of America's great cities and surrounding communities to the greatness enjoyed pre-Katrina. So keep praying for our community, to those who still need help and those that have come here to help. And always invoke the litany of the Saints, as our New Orleans Saints go marching in.

...and for all who keep us safe

Every Sunday as we pray the prayers of the faithful at Mass we include an intention for firefighters, police officers, our military and for all those who keep us safe. All too often, we take for granted the contributions of public servants. Oh yes, we get mad at police officers when they pull us over, even though we are breaking the law. And we love to make jokes about the police cruisers as they sit in front of the donut shop. Yet most of us have no idea what they go through, what danger they are really in or how many lives they may have saved today or last night.

I have read with great sadness the stories of the massacre in Lakewood, Washington that took the lives of four police officers, all at a coffee shop preparing reports or perhaps checking emails on their computers. A deranged killer calmly walked into the shop and executed these dedicated servants. For the most part, they were all young and left behind family in sheer grief, including many young children.

Sgt. Mark Renninger was only 39 and leaves behind a wife and 3 children. Officer Ronald Owens, just 37 years old, leaves behind a little girl. Officer Tina Griswold was 40 years old and leaves a husband and two children. Remarkably, just a few months ago she was awarded a life-saving medal. And finally, Officer Greg Richards, 42, leaves behind a wife and 3 children. That's 3 spouses and 9 children who now have their personal world turned upside down because of a deranged killer. And all because these police officers were dedicated to serving the community and to keep that community safe.

The reason for this post is not to question why or to even comment endlessly on the horrific deed of the killer. Let this post remind us all that in each and every community where we live, work and worship there are those brave men and women who work to keep us safe. They are our friends and neighbors; they are police officers, firefighters, first responders, national guardsmen and military personnel. They deserve our support and more importantly our prayers.

Ask your parish to include a weekly, if not daily, intention for all who keep us safe...

Officers Renninger, Owens, Griswold and Richards; may your souls rest in peace. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We have found the Messiah

This first Monday of Advent this year brings us the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Andrew is the brother of St. Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist until he actually found the Messiah. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1 when John the Baptist declares Jesus as Lamb of God, we read about two of John's disciples who stayed with Jesus. In verses 39 and 40 we learn the name of Andrew, who runs to the brother, Simon and announces, "we have found the Messiah."

Interestingly in the synoptics, particularly Matthew, Andrew and Peter are together fishing when Jesus walks by and selects them as followers. Andrew is credited, along with Philip, in presenting the Gentiles to Christ and Andrew is identified as the one who pointed out the little boy to Jesus carrying the loaves and fishes.

Andrew became a fierce preacher after Pentecost and traveled far before being crucified at Achaia. He was crucified on a X shaped cross upside down.

St. Andrew is particularly honored by the Orthodox faith and is the patron saint of Scotland.

So since Advent is all about Jesus coming to us and us coming to Him, let us remember this first Advent saint who brought news of the Messiah to Peter and to so many more!

Prison Ministry with the Archbishop

Today I was driving around the Northshore on my way to Mass at a neighboring parish. I would be preaching today at the invitation of a Deacon friend of mine. I was a little unsure of the homily, as is often the case, not because the Holy Spirit isn't working, I'm not sure how well I am listening. On my car radio is XM station 117, better known as the Catholic Channel. And much to my delight, I was catching the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral and the homily of Archbishop Dolan.

He, like many of us graced to preach, was talking about Advent. And the Archbishop turned his attention to his visit last week, just a day or so before Thanksgiving, to his visit to a correctional center in Manhatten. He described so beautifully the visit with an inmate who explained to him how he is right where he needs to be and how he has found his faith and his love for Jesus since being locked up. He went on to talk about his willingness to wait, the joy of taking things one day at a time and his anticipation of one day being free now that he is truly free. Then the Archbishop said these words: for the inmate seeking faith, everyday is Advent.

What a beautiful sentiment. Advent is all about coming. Christ comes to meet us and we can come to Him. The Archbishop went on to say that Christ indeed comes to us not just in Mass, or the Holy Eucharist, or in the wonderful Sacraments of the Church; Christ comes to us in a handmade sandwhich prepared for a hungry person, a blanket to warm a homeless person, a visit to a sick person and yes, when someone ministers to one in prison.

I thank God today that my routine was different and I had the opportunity to hear this wonderful homily by one of the true Church leaders in our country. Coincidence? I think not. Just another reminder that Jesus is always coming to me in so many ways. Today, it just happened to be satellite radio!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Nov 29, 2009

Have you ever found yourself waiting only to hurry up and wait some more?

We wait for so many things. Waiting can be frustrating. We wait to see the doctor in a room remarkably called the waiting room. And then when they take you in the back they tell you that you will wait some more. We wait in line at the bank or take the dreaded number and wait to renew our driver’s license. Sometimes we wait in anxiety; for our teenage child to arrive home after their first date or for results of a medical test. And sometimes we wait with joyful anticipation; as those labor pains announce the pending arrival of that bundle of joy or when a loved one returns home from an extended absence. We all know how to wait.

Many of us are waiting for Monday night and a certain football game. Some of us may be worried about the outcome but most of us wait in expectation of another Saints victory.

All of us are waiting for the holiday season ahead. Talk about waiting, do you marvel with me at the people who get in line on Thanksgiving night to wait for the 3 a.m. sales at the local stores? How many of us can’t wait any longer to dust off those Christmas trees and decorations and string the lights?

But today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. As people of faith, what are we waiting for? Who are we waiting for? How are we preparing?

Today we can truly wish each other Happy New Year. Our Advent celebration brings us once again to the start of a new liturgical year; the first day of the new church calendar. Our Gospel focus in this year shifts from Mark to Luke. So on this first Sunday of Advent, this first Sunday of a new year, we begin near the end of Luke’s Gospel. We read today about the second coming of Jesus and the accompanying signs that foretell of His return. Is this confusing? In her wisdom, the Church always directs us to the second coming of Christ in the 1st part of Advent. On this first Sunday of Advent we always read from one of the Gospels of the end times, associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, around 70 A.D. and how this prefigures the second coming of Christ in glory.

But isn’t Advent about preparing to celebrate again the events of the 1st coming of Jesus as the babe of Bethlehem born of a Virgin? Why do we hear of His second coming when the events of His 1st coming are so prominent in our minds and hearts? The answer, quite simply, is because we live between His joyful 1st coming and that glorious 2nd coming which is yet to occur. Our present is connected by these past and future events and it requires us to be prepared. Are we prepared? Do we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and His triumphant second coming as meticulously as we prepare for the holiday excitement that lies ahead?

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to be vigilant; to be on watch. Jesus is asking us in this generation to be prepared because we do not know the day or the hour of His second coming. And Jesus knows that for us, it is not easy to always be ready, to wait not with anxiety but with joy, to be prepared in the here and now. That is why this passage from Luke strikes such an ominous tone. He pleads with us, as He did with the generations that came before us and are yet to come: do not give in to the anxieties of daily life and do not be caught by surprise. In fact he encourages us with these words, “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Jesus asks us to trust Him and His Father’s divine plan. Do not worry about when this second coming will happen and do not fret that Jesus’ triumphant arrival is seemingly delayed. Instead, be prepared.

What does this mean for us on this New Year, on this 1st Sunday of Advent in 2009? It means we should live our lives fully. Our lives should give worship to God, devotion to His Church and service to each other. At this time of year, we are presented with many opportunities to serve; through parish activities, Toys for Tots, food banks and food drives, in our daily acts of kindness. And Jesus wants us to be prepared spiritually too. On this new start to the new year, can we avail ourselves to make a good sincere confession? Even if we have not been in a long time, even a very long time, what better way to be prepared than to seek His mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? And finally, can we assess our prayer life and in preparation for His coming, can we pray daily that our hearts will be softened and opened to He who comes to save us?

Reconciliation, prayer and service to one another and those in need; that’s living our lives to the fullest! Now that is how Jesus asks us to be prepared as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, the same Jesus Christ!

Hurry up and wait!

Part-time Deacons; no way

It's been awhile since a posting on the diaconate specifically. A recent flipping through of my Deacon Digest magazine brought me this amazing article by Deacon Jospeh Donadieu. Here are some of the highlights:

The words every new Deacon hears when handed the Book of the Gospels are: "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Beleive what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach." The words tell us who we are, what we do and how we are to live. As a "herald" of the Gospel of Christ, the Deacon proclaims the Good News to all that Christ has died, has been raised and will come again in glory. As a herald, the Deacon is also called to be a sign of what is yet to come.

Long after ordination the Deacon's formation continues as he immerses himself in the Word of God. The Deacon stands to proclaim the mysteries of our faith to seekers and students, to parents and children, to the beloved and the bereaved, to all who yearn for the truth of Jesus Christ.

More than herald or teacher, the Deacon is called to be a man of Christ, a living icon of Christ the Servant. The Deacon must be seen as the living Gospel. Here are the words of Pope Benedict 16th about the service of the Deacon: "Effective co-workers of the Bishops and Priest, continue to love the Word of God. You proclaim the Gospel at the heart of the Eucharistic Celebration, and you expound it in the catechesis you offer to your brothers and sisters. Make the Gospel the center of your lives, of your service to your neighbors, of your entire diakonia. Without seeking to take the place of Priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God's word."

Let there be no doubt about it, there are no part-time Deacons!

Friday, November 27, 2009

So is this New Year's Eve?

For those of us still recovering from our Thanksgiving feast, we are rapidly approaching the New Year. That's right, the new year of the Church is upon us. Beginning with the vigil masses on Saturday afternoon, we are officially in Advent; the start of the new liturgical year. So I ask again, does that make tonight and Saturday morning and early afternoon New Year's Eve?

With the Saturday daily liturgy, we say goodbye to Ordinary time and the end of Cycle B of the 2009 liturgical year. With this Advent, we enter Year C and a more detailed emphasis on the Gospel of St. Luke.

So what is Advent really all about? This liturgical season that kicks off the liturgical year is a season of joyful preparation for the coming of Christ. The word Advent can be translated as coming or arrival. While the focus seems to be on the coming of Jesus at Christmas as the babe born of the Virgin, Advent also helps us focus on the second coming of Christ at the end of time. It is both a celebration of the historical fact of Jesus' birth and the future expectation of the fulfillment of God's plan for our salvation. As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus, both at Christmas and His second coming, we are called to be full of joyful anticipation and repentence as we welcome Him with a clean heart. For these reasons, the Church marks this Advent season with the liturgical color purple, just as she does in Lent.

One of the beautiful traditions of the Advent season is the Advent wreath with the four candles, 3 purple and 1 pink or rose, surrounding a larger candle in the middle. At each weekend Mass throughout Advent, a candle is lit to symbolize our communal Advent worship focused on the coming of the Lord. The one pink or rose candle is for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday where our emphasis shifts to the rejoicing of the Christ.

As Catholic families and all people of faith, we are called to embrace the season of Advent. It has become so customary to throw up the Christmas tree and lights as early as this week, to start celebrating Christmas and to fully participate in all the commercialism going on around us. But Advent is a beautiful season to celebrate, especially as a family. Incorporate an Advent wreath, or Advent calendar to your home, even if you are busy getting out all the Christmas stuff.

Prepare for the coming of Jesus. Prepare for the celebration of His birth and prepare for His second coming. Be an Advent people. Follow the daily readings of this Advent and see the grace and beauty of the liturgical movement of the Church. As the great Advent hymn says: Come, thou long expected Jesus! And let us not forget the joyful cry of the earliest Christians: Maranatha! Come O Christ the Lord!

Happy New Year = Happy Advent!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving evening reflections

For the most part; the day is done. As Thanksgiving days go, it was nice and quiet; the way we like it lately. Thanksgiving has been hijacked much like Christmas has. Thanksgiving has been reduced to a frenzied Christmas kick-off. What a shame. Of course we can choose otherwise and I hope you have. I began the day at Mass, in prayer, thanking God who alone is the source of all we are, all we have, all we love and all we will be. I'm very thankful that God has shown me this reality of His presence in my life and I pray for those who don't have it. My little family sat down for another wonderful meal, prepared by my wife and we enjoyed it immensely.

Late this afternoon I took a nice walk in the good feel air around my property and completed my evening prayers. This time allowed me to reflect on the excitement of this past year, and to focus on the days ahead. In just a few short days, we begin the New Year of the Church with the 1st Sunday of Advent. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to preach at a neighboring parish, Holy Trinity as we begin our year long journey through the Gospel of St. Luke. My prayer this year is that there will be a healthy celebration of Advent by Catholics and people of faith. I was thinking about throwing the outdoor lights up this evening, but it is far too early to begin celebrating Christmas. Get an Advent Wreath and reflect on the coming of Christ in your life.

Tommorow I go back to work, my daughter returns to Baton Rouge and many of you may find yourself in a mall or shopping center. Again, have a prayerful expectation of the true season that lies ahead and focus on what is truly important.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the eve of Thanksgiving

I spent the evening with about 22 men tonight on the inside of a prison. All of them were very much aware that Thanksgiving is here. All wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and I returned the wishes, wondering silently what does Thanksgiving feel like for them. And not just them; nobody who works at the prison is off tomorrow. Sometimes we take for granted that we have the day off, to spend as we wish, usually with family and friends, food and football. The men of Rayburn Prison will be in my heart and on my mind as I celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

Many of us use this holiday to take stock; to reflect on what we are thankful for. My list is long, as I'm sure yours is too. But this year my list is different. Let me take a shot:

I am thankful first and foremost that I know God loves me, that Jesus died for me and intercedes for me and my relationship with God is deeper and more personal.

I am thankful for being joined to Christ through His Church and that He has chosen me to be His ordained minister. I am thankful for the Eucharist which nourishes me and for Sacred Scripture which sustains me.

I am thankful for a devoted wife, Wendy, who now has been my bride for almost 33 years and my soulmate for at least 37 years.

I am thankful for two remarkably brilliant and lovely children, James & Elizabeth. I am thankful that they have chartered their own course and have been successful in career, career plans and college.

I am thankful for friends who have rallied and supported me especially in this year of ministry, job changes and non-stop action.

I am thankful for all those who have allowed me to help them in any small way, through ministry, to heal, become whole, to find God, to trust, to love, to ask for God's mercy and love.

I am thankful for the babies I have baptized this year, for couples I have worked with, for the sick who I have prayed with, for all those that God has placed in front of me.

I am thankful for my now 16 year career and the many wonderful people, past and present, that I have worked next to.

I am thankful that not every day is easy; that difficulties come along and they too serve a purpose.

I am thankful that the Saints are winning and I am thankful, even after last week, that I love LSU sports.

I am thankful for little things that bring joy and happiness.

I am thankful for this remarkable year serving as a Deacon.

I am thankful for all God does for me.

I am thankful to live in America and pray for those who keep us free.

I am thankful that I live in an awesome community that still feels like small town U.S.A.

I am thankful that I have a wonderful home with land and space and some deer who are sleeping in my back pasture even as we speak.

I am thankful for all of you!

Happy Thanksgiving !!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Families, friends, faith and festivals (or holidays)

As we rapidly approach Thanksgiving, then all the hoopla that is the pre-Christmas build up, followed by the big day itself, not to mention Happy New Year, we often collide head on with family and friends who share not the faith. Most of the time this is o.k. but we all know that there are numerous stories to the contrary.

For many families the easy way out is to focus on the secular. This involves a kind of neutral zone where only the surface stuff of holidays and family gatherings are fair game. Any undue recognition of faith immediately disqualifies you from all the reindeer games.

Of course the other side of the coin is faith wars, where over zealous people of faith forget the core teachings of Christ and wage war, focusing on winning the minds and hearts of all gathered. Usually, the most devout is often the most loud and that just leads to hurt feelings and easy dismissal.

How far we have come from that recognition in Scripture; see how much those Christians love one another!

Many times those of sincere faith have to understand the example of living a Christian life is the best example. Loud arguments or misguided faith arguments, often times not the true teaching of the faith, miss the mark. Charity, understanding and compassion is the duty of the Christian. And here is the tough part; it is not necessarily a bad thing to dispute or refute sinful behavior.

When we are confronted with family or friends who wishes to flaunt sinfulness or attack your faith, you have options. We know Christ taught to turn the other cheek. If you can do that then bear that boldly and offer it to Him. If you can't, know your boundaries and get the heck out of there.

Some of you will find yourselves in the upcoming holidays with a renewed faith or a deeper faith and others will accuse you of changing, not being yourself or you are now that holy roller. How quickly we wish to respond: the life I live I no longer live for me but for Christ. Again, can you grin and bear it, gently and humbly give a defense of the faith or will this get you angry. Know your boundaries.

And in all times and all things, pray. Always carry prayer with you for those who need your prayers. Be sincere in prayer. Truly offer to the Father those who are struggling with faith.

I have found over the years that I can still enjoy the company of those who do not share the faith or participate in the faith. I do struggle with those who embrace sin and flaunt it and try to make a scene over it. You always get the half-told story of the woman bein stoned and reminded that Jesus or anyone else never tossed that first stone. What usually is missing is the rest of the story. Jesus tells her, go and sin no more.

So no easy answers in this entry tonight. Just lots of prayers and best wishes that if you find yourself in any of these situations this holiday season, you can grin and bear it, treat everyone as Christ would, defend your faith in charity and humility and pray unceasingly for those who need to discover God's love for them.

And most importantly, be a shining example of that which you believe and preach; walk the walk, especially if you talk the talk!

Monday, November 23, 2009

More reason for hope

Are you paying attention to what is happening all around us? Do you still hear repeated stories of bad news and doom and gloom? As Catholics are you convinced things are going in the wrong direction? Then wake up. Great things are happening and will continue to happen!

Just this past weekend, the National Catholic Youth Conference was held in Kansas City. The event drew over 21,000 Catholic youth; teens and young adults. That's 21,000! There is an amazing picture at one of my links on the left side of this blog showing almost all of these youth in Eucharistic Procession behind the Blessed Sacrament. The visual is stunning as block after block is filled with Catholic teens praying and worshipping God. Click on the website Whispers in the Loggia and scroll down a bit. Again, a stunning photo.

Locally, we are seeing increasing numbers of Catholic youth presenting themselves for Confirmation. All across my Northshore Deanery we are keeping the Bishops busy as they confirm our youth and call down the Holy Spirit. Many of these young Catholics are more committed than ever to a personal relationship with Christ through His Church. There will always be those among this group who are ambivalent about Confirmation. But more and more with each passing year there is a new hunger, a new thirst for Christ.

None of this should be suprising. This is part of Christ's promise to protect and grow His Church. Take a look at some of the seminary activity just in America and locally. More and more young men are presenting themselves for seminary to at least discern the possibility of a vocation to Holy Orders. Catholicism is growing in places traditionally Protestant, especially in the deep south and the west. Taking a world view, young people are energizing the Church in places like South America, Australia, Africa and India as well as places across southeast Asia.

There has also been more than passing interest in joining the Church among the Anglican Communion since the Pope opened a path for that to happen. And dialogue continues with the Ortodox and others.

All our problems are not behind us. The Church continues to recover from the scandals of the past decades and still has problems in places like Europe and American inner cities. But she is alive and vibrant and young and orthodox and growing.

And perhaps the most exciting thing about Her is the resurrgence of our young proclaiming loudly their love for Christ and belief in His one, holy, apostolic, church. And in this most wonderful of weeks where we give thanks for our many blessings; give thanks for His Church. After all, Eucharist translated means thanksgiving! WOW!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King

This last Sunday of the Church's liturgical calendar gives us the Solemnity of Christ the King! This wonderful celebration is a relatively new addition to the church calendar as it was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. The pope turned to Christ the King during a time in world history, particularly across Europe, of increasing political dictatorships and an increase in communism. This was leading many Catholics of the time to dismiss the authority of Christ as our King and even led to decreased belief in faith and religion by those coming under the rule of these dictators.

Pius XI issued an encyclical, Quas Primas, as he instituted this feast. The three main points of his encyclical were:

1. To see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state.
2. That leaders and nations are bound to give respect to Christ.
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of this feast and remember that Christ reigns in their hearts, minds, wills and bodies.

This papal declaration helped to refocus the Church on Christ and to return to the practice of the faith in that difficult and dark period between the two World Wars and the economic calamity of the times.

Today, this celebration continues to grow in popularity as the Church teaches us what the kingdom and reign of Christ really means(see my homily for today). The feast of Christ the King was moved from October to this last Sunday of the liturgical year in 1969 by Pope Paul VI as we prepare for Advent and the we wait for the coming Messiah, Christ the King!

"To Jesus Christ our soverign King who is the world's Salvation,
All praise and homage do we bring and thanks and adoration.
Christ Jesus, Victor!
Christ Jesus, Ruler!
Christ Jesus, Lord and Redeemer!"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homily for the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King!

Hail Rex! Unless you arrived here from out of town, chances are you have welcomed the arrival of a king. Rex is called the king of carnival. The man picked to hail as the king of this organization is simply called Rex since this is the latin word for king. Practically all of us have watched a Mardi Gras parade and enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the approaching king’s float. Even a casual Mardi Gras fan waits to hear the name of the new celebrity king of Bacchus every year.

Outside of our Mardi Gras traditions, most of us really don’t buy into the concept of a king. After all, we live in America; our founding fathers fought a war and helped give birth to a new nation. The idea of America being ruled by a king was repulsive to the first Americans.

As people of faith however do we rejoice that we are ruled by the King whose solemnity we celebrate today: Our Lord Jesus Christ the King?

As the liturgical year comes to a close and we prepare for Advent, the Church gives us this awesome celebration of Christ the King whose kingdom does not belong to this world. We hear Jesus reply with these very words to the inquisition of Pilate. This begs the question then, where is this Kingdom of Jesus? First, we can identify what His Kingdom is not. It is not limited to territory or space, it is not confined to a period of time, and it is not based on power and is not supported by wealth. It is, in fact, the antithesis of what many expect of a king.

When Jesus declares His Kingdom does not belong to this world, He is declaring a kingdom that is identified by our relationship to Christ the King. He is declaring a kingdom that we share here on earth and can share in Heaven. He is declaring a kingdom based on virtue, steeped in service and full of grace. It is a kingdom where the King says I will save you by loosing my very life for you!

The kingdom of Jesus is one that belongs to the truth; the truth that makes us free. The kingdom of Jesus, which does not belong to this world, does indeed transform the world.

How then are we to respond to Christ the King? We first must live our lives by the example of this benevolent King. We too are to live a life of virtue, a life of service, a life filled with grace. We too are to live our life in service to Him, our Lord and King and to His subjects who happen to be our brothers and sisters; our neighbors. As Christ, He is worthy of our worship and as King, he is deserving of our service!

In today’s Gospel Jesus declares: “for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. For what were we born? Jesus tells us that we belong to the truth if we listen to His voice. So we respond by serving Him, by becoming a disciple and serving our fellow man. We seek Christ the King in all we do, including the everyday trials and difficulties we face throughout our lives. And we worship Him as the prophet Daniel describes His worship; receiving dominion, glory and kingship! And we worship Him by declaring as we hear from Revelation: to Him be glory and power forever. For He truly is the Alpha and the Omega!

Hail Rex! Hail Bacchus! Yea, that’s part of our culture and plenty of fun too. But it’s fleeting and those kings pass by in a blink of an eye. Hail Christ the King! More than beads and trinkets and fun; the King who reigns forever and asks us to live with Him in His Kingdom forever!

The Presentation of Mary

The memorial feast we celebrate today commemorates the presentation of the child Mary. This is an ancient feast of the church, originally celebrated with much fervor in the eastern churches as early as the 5th or 6th century. It gained universal acceptance of the whole church in the 16th century.

It is believed that Mary was presented in the Temple by her parents, Anne and Joachim, when she was 3 years old. While this can not be found in Scripture there are written accounts in some of the apochrpha, particularly a writing attributed to St. James.

The feast also commemorates the dedication of the church of St. Mary which was built in Jerusalem near the sight of the Temple.

Today's office of readings is a sermon from St. Augustine. Read these powerful words: "Christ declares 'here are my mother and brothers, anyone wo does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother.' Did the Virgin Mary not do the will of the Father? Indeed she certainly did the Father's will and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to be his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.
A woman cries out, 'happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb!' But Jesus replies, 'more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.' Mary heard the word of God and kept it, so she is blessed. She kept God's truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb.
The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent - the most eminent - member, but still only a member of the entire body."

And our prayer today: "Eternal Father, we honor the holiness and glory of the Virgin Mary. May her prayers bring us the fullness of your life and love."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everybody's working for the weekend

One of the things that happens in the life of a Permanent Deacon is your weekends are full; very full. I'm certainly not complaining. This is part of what I signed up for. Remarkably, this is my off weekend from assisting at Mass and preaching. That being said, I did prepare a homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King and will post it Saturday.

My weekend starts early; tonight in fact as I prepared for some marriage enrichment, completed the homily and worked an outline for an upcoming talk at a Supper & Substance event. Tommorrow, a Friday, will give me a chance to assist at daily Mass, visit some parishioners, meet with an aspiring Deacon candidate and head over to New Orleans to hear an awesome presentation by Dr. Scott Hahn. This Catholic convert, once a great persecutor of the true faith, Hahn is widely regarded as one of the foremost Catholic speakers and apologists. By the way, apologist in this context means defender of the faith.

Saturday will be travel day. First, I will attend an early afternoon session for the class of aspirants who are applying this month to become Deacon candidates. Then Wendy and I leave for the beautiful town of New Roads to speak at a Supper & Substance event at St. Mary's Catholic Church. The title of our talk is: in love, inseparable and incompatible; two out of three ain't bad...

I promise to post the results of the evening early next week.

Sunday will be interesting. The Solemnity of Christ the King brings an end to our liturgical year, at least as far as Sunday's are concerned. I'm unassigned this week so I'm torn between attending Mass at a neighboring parish or staying at the home parish. Going away allows me some quiet time as I sit in the pew with my wife and also a chance to drink in the liturgy from a different perspective. But this week, at my home parish, we will have a special celebration for this Sunday with the unveiling of our new processional cross and use of our new incensor. These beautiful additions to our sanctuary are part of our sanctuary renovation.

Of course Sunday may still bring many opportunities to minister; it usually does. And I will be watching those New Orleans Saints!

And still I affirm; it's not what you's who you are!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bishops address this weekend's CCHD collection

They are putting it in black and white for every Catholic in America. You either have to believe the Bishops are call them liars. Those who are orchestrating protests from within the church seem to be doing the latter. Carefully read this reasoned response from the Catholic bishops:

• ALLEGATION: CCHD has a persistent habit of funding organizations closely associated with the pro-abortion movement.

FACT: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development fully upholds our Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life from conception through natural death. The Campaign funds projects that empower the poor and help them organize themselves to move out of poverty. All grant applicants are carefully screened and funds are provided only to projects with objectives and actions that are fully in accord with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. The local CCHD diocesan director and national grants staff evaluate every proposal. Endorsement of the local Bishop is required for every project recommended for funding.

The funding criteria, including the fact that projects must be in conformity with the moral guidelines of the Catholic Church, are specified from the earliest stages in the application process. Projects are monitored through regular reporting and on-site visits. Funding is discontinued if projects deviate from their initial objective into areas inconsistent with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.

The importance of upholding the Church's moral teaching in the funding of worthwhile projects was codified in guidelines unanimously approved in 1972 by the Administrative Board of bishops of the United States Catholic Conference. In March, 1999, that same body unanimously approved revised guidelines which do not differ in substance from the earlier ones, but make explicit the principles upon which the Campaign is founded and offer specific guidance for assessing funding applications in light of the complexities of present-day social development efforts.

The guidelines clearly state:

1. Central to all Catholic moral teaching is the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) will consider favorably only those applications which demonstrate respect for the dignity of the human person. CCHD will not consider applications from organizations which promote or support abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, or any other affront to human life and dignity.

2. CCHD funds will be used to support organizations that conform to Catholic teaching. These funds must be applied exclusively to support the effort approved for funding.

3. CCHD funds will not be used to support any application which is sponsored or promoted by an organization whose primary or substantial thrust is contrary to Catholic teaching, even if the application itself is in accord with Catholic teaching.

4. With all CCHD requests, the local diocesan bishop will be consulted with regard to the advisability of such funding by CCHD, and

5. CCHD requires applicants to adhere, in the administration of the funded project, to those basic principles which are central to CCHD's Catholic Mission.

• ALLEGATION: CCHD project funds are “fungible”: they free up monies for organizations to spend on other activities at variance with Catholic teaching.

FACT: CCHD maintains strict financial control of project funds. Organizations must deposit grant monies in a separate bank account, which includes CCHD in its title. Expenditures authorized by the approved CCHD budget must be met with funds drawn directly from the CCHD account and separate ledgers must be kept for CCHD funds.
CCHD grants are awarded annually upon the submission of a detailed budget. Organizations are eligible for a maximum of six years in succession of funding. Grants are disbursed, only after receipt of a satisfactory narrative and a detailed financial report.
CCHD-funded projects are monitored through regular reporting and on-site visits. Funding is discontinued if projects deviate from their initial objectives into areas inconsistent with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.

• ALLEGATION: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development does not fund direct service to the poor and is therefore not worthy of designation as a Catholic charity.

FACT: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a charitable organization of the nation's Catholic bishops. Since its inception in 1970, CCHD's goal has been to help poor people achieve self-sufficiency.
Responding to Pope Paul VI's admonition to "break the hellish cycle of poverty," the bishops began CCHD with the belief that “organized groups of white and minority poor could develop economic and social strength to eradicate the conditions which impose poverty and trap successive generations in an unbroken loop of dependency and despair.”
In creating CCHD, the bishops said that their second major goal for the organization was educational. They wrote, "The poor have not chosen poverty. Poverty is the result of circumstances over which the poor have little or no control. We hope through CCHD to impress these facts on the non-poor and to effect in them a conversion of heart, a growth in compassion and sensitivity to the needs of their brothers in want." The bishops were hopeful that more affluent Catholics would support poor people's efforts for self-determination.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is now the nation's largest private funder of self-help groups for the poor. It has distributed more than $400 million in grants to more than 4,000 community groups throughout the United States. An independent study conducted at Catholic University in 1994 concluded that CCHD has funded projects that have affected fully half of America's poor.
Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, repeatedly expressed support for CCHD, saying, in a message to mark CCHD's 25th anniversary, that he gave "...thanks for the fruits of justice and solidarity which have taken root in communities throughout the United States during the past quarter century as a result of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Through the wide variety of initiatives promoted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development local communities and groups at all levels have found encouragement and support in their efforts to overcome poverty and to foster the growth of solidarity, social justice and peace."
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a nationwide effort, with donations from, and projects in, Catholic dioceses throughout the country. It enjoys the warm support of church officials, including pastors and bishops. Its efforts to give the poor the tools they need to overcome their own poverty do not diminish, but rather complement, the goals and methods used by other Catholic charitable organizations which render direct assistance.

• ALLEGATION: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded seven California groups whose participation in a larger coalition that was not funded by CCHD, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, indicates their support for activities not in keeping with Church teaching.
FACT: CCHD only funds organizations that are in accord with the moral and social teaching of the Church. With reference to the seven California groups that were listed as members of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote (MIV), only six are currently funded by CCHD. For each of the six funded groups, as with all CCHD-funded groups, CCHD received specific approval from the Bishop of each local diocese in which the organizations are located prior to funding them. Since this accusation was made, all six groups have confirmed to CCHD that they were never consulted about MIV taking positions on ballot initiatives contrary to Catholic Social Teaching. Additionally, the Mobilize the Immigrant Vote web site includes this statement: “the partner organizations listed above do not necessarily endorse MIV’s formal positions on ballot measures or policy proposals.” In fact, Coalition LA, one of the six groups, produces its own voter guide which is approved by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles prior to publication.

• ALLEGATION: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded LA CAN and the San Francisco Organizing Project, which promoted activity contrary to Church teaching.

FACT: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has reviewed the activity of LA CAN and determined that the organization does not engage in any activity contrary to Church teaching and has recommended continued funding for the organization. The Archdiocese of San Francisco strongly supports the work of the San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP) to expand access to health care to children. Both Archbishop Levada and Archbishop Niederauer have spoken at SFOP events; and SFOP has met regularly with Archdiocesan staff to coordinate work on health care access and other issues that affect the poor and immigrant families.

• ALLEGATION: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded Young Workers United and the Chinese Progressive Association, both of whom produced voter guides that took a position contrary to Church teaching.

FACT: After a joint investigation with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, it was determined that both organizations in question had in fact produced voter guides that included positions contrary to Church teaching. CCHD immediately cancelled both grants and both organizations returned all of the funding they received from CCHD.

• ALLEGATION: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded Preble Street and the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, both of whom are involved in activity contrary to Church teaching.

FACT: The Diocese of Portland, Maine and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia along with CCHD continue to gather the facts involving these organizations. Both grants have been placed on hold during this process. Once all pertinent information has been reviewed a final determination will be made regarding these two organizations.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catholic happenings in the news

Preparing for my various ministry assignments this week I do try to keep up with Catholic news from a myriad of trusted sources. Of course you have to really discern what is news and what is rhetoric. Sad that some folks have an agenda that has little to do with the Church. But I digress...

Today it was announced from Rome that something is happening in the cause of eventual canonization of Pope John Paul II. The official word is that a life of heroic virtue has been confirmed (that must have been tough) and soon he will be declared venerable. This stage occurs before beatification and then canonization. It's hard to believe but John Paul the Great left us here on earth over 4 1/2 years ago.

Back in this country the Bishops are meeting in Baltimore discussing a variety of issues. So far they have voted to approve the sweeping changes of the literal latin translation into english which will result in dozens of changes in the way we hear and respond at Mass. It must be pointed out that these changes are indeed more accurate to the latin but after nearly 40 years it will be hard to change. Please note: this does not refer to the return to a Tridentine Mass, or Latin Mass. That is currently being celebrated as an extraordinary form of the Mass in a limited number of churches in most dioceses. The changes I'm referring to will be differences in our vernacular prayers and responses. Don't worry; we have over a year to prepare.

The Bishops also passed a new document on the Sacrament of Marriage called Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.

And across the world of Catholicism we are preparing for the last Sunday of the church year with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. Two Sunday's from now will be the new church year with the 1st Sunday of Advent.

Back home in my parish we are getting ready to distribute Thanksgiving baskets to those families who need a little help this year. Fortunately, this type of effort to feed the hungry and help the poor goes on all year long both in our local church and the Church throughout the world.

As for me, I continue to marvel at God's call to serve Him as Permanent Deacon and strive to work tirelessly to that end. It is indeed my honor to be a servant; one who through ordination, allows me to bring service sacramentalized to the people of God. Whether in proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, ministering to prisoners, baptizing, working with couples or whatever called to do I do for His greater glory.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Those Saints keep marching in...

I bet you thought this would be about those 9-0 New Orleans Saints. Not tonight. But in this football crazy month of November, those Catholic Saints keep on marching in. Today the Church highlights two women: St. Margaret of Scotland, the ideal mother and queen. She was a wonderful wife and mother, giving birth to 8 children. Even as queen, she had a special devotion to the poor. And then there is St. Gertrude, a contempletive nun as a member of the Cistercian order.

The ladies continue to highlight the week as tommorrow brings the memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. This devoted wife and mother would build a hospital where she personally served the sick.

Later in the week, the Church turns her attention to Sts. Peter and Paul as we remember the dedication of the churches named in their honor. Both these basilicas were erected in the 4th century under the leadership of Pope Sylvester. As a sign of Christian unity, this commemoration was extended throughout the whole Church.

And as we end the week on Saturday, that day of the week when we normally remember the Blessed Virgin, we have the memorial of the Presentation of Mary. This recalls the tradition that Mary, as a small child, was presented to the Lord by her parents, Joachim and Ann, in the Temple.

Of course Saints days never take the place of Sunday but it should be mentioned that on the 22nd, this is normally the memorial of St. Cecilia. She was one of the early female martyrs of the Church.

So as you continue to enjoy the victories of those gridiron Saints, never forget the eternal victories of all those Saints, who we can call upon in prayer, asking them to pray for and with us.

May they continue to go marching in!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Next Sunday we will have another second collection. Now second collections come and go and most pay little attention to them. The upcoming special collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) seems to have caught it's fair share of interest. First of all we should acknowledge that this is a 40 year program designed to help the poor. One of the organizations that the CCHD funded in the past is ACORN. At the time, ACORN was acknowledged as a national organization that assisted the poor and the homeless. We all know that it has also been involved in partisan politics. Under the leadership of Biloxi Bishop Roger Morin, the previous auxiliary of New Orleans, ACORN has been left out of all current and future funding. I beleive all people of goodwill can acknowledge mistakes within the CCHD program. What can't be debated is the intent. The intent has always been to lift the poor.

This year's collection comes under the theme: families are struggling; faith is calling. Catholics are asked to help bring glad tidings to the poor. The program is designed where 25% of the collection stays in the local diocese and the remaining 75% is used for national programs under the direction of the USCCB. The Bishops of this country know that nearly 40 million Americans live in poverty. This is a tragic reality of the world's "richest" nation. And the Bishops know that while unemployment in America has reached 10%, the effective unemployment rate, which includes those who have stopped looking for work, is closer to 25%. This in America.

Therefore, the Bishops have sought to partner with organizations that create affordable housing, obtain fair wages, provide job training and self help community projects. The more specific goal is to identify those programs that will give a hand up, not a hand out. As with goals, sometimes all you can say is the best laid plans...Not all of this has gone the way of the intention. The Bishops are acknowledging this and making changes to the program. The main problem is that many of these organizations that DO help the poor, the homeless and the marginalized tend to be politically left. That makes many distrust the programs.

To that end, an untra conservative movement has grown in the church to boycott this collection. These protesters are encouraging people to drop acorns in the collection plate to punish the Bishops, if you will. Some within this movement have gone so far as to promote scurilous inaccuracies and outright lies to strengthen the cause. Simply put, what hogwash; what disobedience; what sinfulness. I am not defending poor choices and decisions within the program, but I will defend any thought of efforts, on an organized level, of the USCCB promoting abortions, left wing policies or worse. And please do not bring acorns into church. Bishops, and Priests for that matter, get nowhere close to a collection plate. And all those who want to bring acorns into the church usually fall on the side of a need for more sacredness and holy introduced to the church. What hypocrisy.

This all falls under the "throw the baby out with the bathwater" defense. A few suggestions. If you can't give to the collection, then YOU have a moral obligation to give to something that assists the poor. If you can't give to the collection, YOU have a moral obligation to work a soup kitchen, foodbank or other program to assist the needy. If you believe everything you are told or read, YOU have a moral obligation to research ALL the facts, find balance and make a decision based on an informed conscience. Any of you heard that before? Do you know anyone personally who has benefitted from CCHD via the Jeremiah Group, the Latino Farmers Coop of Louisiana, Woman's New Life Center or the CCANO Pro-life services. These are some of the groups who benefit from this collection.

Yes, the CCHD has been far from perfect. But it does a lot of good. Maybe if we Catholics who sit in the pews practiced real charity, subsidiarity (look that one up) and solidarity, there would be no need for a second collection of this sort. Ultimately, it is our responsibility.

Acorns in the collection = sinful disobedience. You make the call.

The end, the last days, the rapture?

This weekend's readings from Daniel and the 13th chapter of St. Mark, as well as our upcoming Advent reading from the 21st chapter of St. Luke, give rise to discussion about the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. Often, introduced to this discussion, is a question about the rapture. Many have read the books or watched the movie series called Left Behind. It is very important to understand the Church's teachings about such subject matter.

First it is important to know what living in the end times really refers to. The end times refers to the New Covenant and the gathering of God's people in the Church. The Apostle's referred to it in Scripture, the Church fathers taught about it throughout the ages and we preach it today. But Catholic understanding of the end times differs greatly from the belief in the rapture.

The rise in interest in the rapture is credited to the Left Behind series. In the rapture there will be this secret snatching up or disappearance act of true believers only. The rest are left behind. After 7 years of tribulation, Christ then will come again to reign on earth from his headquarters in Jerusalem. This almost sounds like his 3rd coming?

Amazingly, despite a 2,000 year church, established by Christ himself endowed with a teaching authority, we don't hear of a dispensational view of the rapture until 1830 by a disgruntled Anglican priest. This dispensationalist view, which is at odds with traditional Catholicism, is then picked up by 20 and 21st century fundemantalist and evangelicals.

Let's look next at eschatology, the study of last things. Those who follow dispensationalism believe God has two people, the Church and Israel. The Catholic Church teaches one people, one family, and has done so for 2,000 years. The Catholic Church is also intimately related to the Kingdom of God and is endowed with four marks; one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Because of her, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Reign of God already exists. The Kingdom is not yet complete. The Church is the kingdom's beginning, inaugurated by Christ. The Church still awaits the eschatological manifestation.

Those who believe in the rapture believe the Kingdom is a 1,000 year reign. This is millennialism; soundly rejected by Catholicism. St. Augustine clarified this as early as the late 300's.

So cutting to the chase, the Catholic Church rejects the secret rapture. She does teach that Jesus will physically and visibly return to earth. Rapture has become then a term owned and copyrighted by dispensationalists. The secret snatching away is distict from the second coming.

The church clearly teaches that there will be a second coming and the fulfillment of the Kingdom that has already begun in the Church.

So we still ask, are we living in the end times? Yes. Does that mean the end is near or we can predict it? No. Just ask Nostradamus, if you could. As I said in today's homily; let God be God; let the end happen and be prepared and live your life to the fullest.

* Based on "Are We Living in the Last Days? by Carl E. Olson via Catholic Education Resource Center.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Representative Cao gets support of Archbishop Aymond

A lot has been said and written about Congressman Cao voting for health care after the pro-life Stupak ammendment was approved. Cao, who is a Republican representing a 70% or more Democratic district, is being excoriated by many a Republican; some who are Catholic. Cao has said repeatedly that he could vote for health care as long as the pro-life ammendment was added. He has embraced the fact that a larger percentage of his district could benefit from some of the universal health care proposals.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, and again on the Monday after the fallout began, Cao has consulted with New Orleans Archbishop, Gregory Aymond. This is documented in the Clarion Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper. "I mentioned to him my prayerful support, and I also mentioned to him that if there was anything that we could do spiritually for him, we certainly wanted to do that," said Aymond. He continued,"to take a stance that is unpopular with one's own party is indeed noble and faith-filled." Aymond also went on to say that Cao is "a lifetime Catholic who takes very seriously his faith and his personal relationship with Christ and the church."

For all my Republican Catholic friends who want Democratic Catholics to stand up with faith first over party; may I suggest that goes both ways. Cao has insisted, and Archbishop Aymond seems to be saying too that Cao put his faith and his understanding of Catholic social justice ahead of party. Of course the problem for Cao is he stood up to the Grand Old Party and that just won't get you a lot of Christian charity.

Sometimes it would do the politicos of the world who want to make sure the world knows their faith, that they brush up on Catholic teaching. Yes, the many pro-abort Democrats are always dead wrong. But when one guy defends life but supports the people of his district, disagree but don't fall into sin yourself!

Homily For November 15th; 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s the end of the world as we know it!!! This was a popular song a few years back. Face it; we are obsessed with the end of the world. Experts think they know when it’s coming but they are always wrong. Y2K was surely the end of the world. Nope; did not happen! All the predictions of Nostradamus have surely been right about the end of the world. No, that did not happen either. Of course we now know the end of the world will happen on December 21, 2012 based on the new Hollywood movie and the Mayan calendar. I’m not going to bet the farm on that one either.

Someone recently told me it must be the end of the world because the New Orleans Saints are 8-0 and are mentioned as the best team in the N.F.L. I don’t know about the end of the world, but I did see a sign at the last game that said: “hell is freezing!”

Sometimes it just feels like the end of the world. When we experience the loss of our first boyfriend or girlfriend it feels like the end of the world. Bad news can make us feel the same way. Those of us who endured Katrina felt like it was the end of the world.

As people of faith, do we believe in the end of the world and do we live as if the end is near?

Today our 1st reading from Daniel and the Gospel of Mark teach about end times. At first read this sound like doom and gloom; something to be scared of. But all Scripture requires the hearer of the Word to rely on context and balance. There is some joyful expectation even in end time prophesy in Daniel and a promise of Jesus’ everlasting presence in Mark.

Jesus asks us to be aware of the end. In fact, Jesus is really speaking about the end of his mission and the future destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. As for the end of the world, even Jesus says that He does not know. The hour, the day, the month, even the year of His second coming and the end of the world is not for any of us to know. The end of the world is reserved to God and God alone. No one can predict this event and no one should live in fear of the end times. Maybe we should learn our lesson from the earliest Christians who waiting eagerly for the second coming of Christ. They would meet together and pray: “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Of course this does not mean we should stop living our lives, put everything on hold and wait for the end to come. No! Even St. Paul warned against this when he told the people of Thessalonica that: “he who does not work; neither shall they eat.” Often misunderstood as St. Paul condemning the unemployed, nothing could be further from the truth. He knew these early Christians were putting aside living, taking care of each other, even their jobs, waiting in the streets, looking to the sky, anticipating the coming of Jesus and the end of the world. Well, they were off about 2,000 years or so.

We should neither live in fear of the end times nor go the other extreme; wanting it to happen to suit our own beliefs. But yet questions persist: When will the world end, when will Jesus come again; how will we know? Here is the simple answer: we do not know. We should live our lives, worship God, go to work, raise our families, live each day to its’ fullest. And most importantly, let’s let God be God!!!

Chances are the end of the world, as we know it, will come in the manner of our own death. Now we too can prepare for that by living our lives for Christ, caring for one another and following the teachings of His Church. We have the promise of everlasting life because of Jesus Christ; who died and rose again for us. To this we can say, Maranatha; Come Lord Jesus.

Today, in this very liturgy we will call out in hope and joy several times about Jesus coming again. We will proclaim: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. And after the Our Father we hear, “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!” Even the timing of today’s reading is about the end as today is the last ordinary Sunday in the church year as we prepare for Advent in just two weeks.

No; the events of Y2k, the predictions of Nostradamus , even the next earthquake or hurricane, yes even the Saints remaining undefeated does not mean the end is near. Only the end in His time, In His way through His will. And for our part, we just need to let God be God!

And we can say; Maranatha…Come Lord Jesus!!!

Citizens of the Year

One of the really awesome things about small town living is the closeness of the community. Also, as a small community there is a sense of belonging and celebrating those that make that community such a nice place to live. Abita Springs, La is such a community! This weekend, at our local town fair, the community gathered to honor two community leaders.

Betty and Calvin Cognevich can be spotted about town almost every day of the week. They have been married for a little over 10 years now. Calvin is in his eighties and Betty is a few years younger. They were married years after both lost their first spouse. What makes them remarkable is that they span the gap of community involvement. Calvin served for many years as a town alderman. He is an officer in the VFW and the Knights of Columbus. Betty is an officer in both these groups ladies auxiliary. Both Calvin and Betty have volunteered at the local hospital.

Their faith and involvement at St. Jane de Chantal Church is also admirable. Betty heads up the bereavement committee and volunteers around the parish. Calvin has been a member of almost every committee and served as a lector, extrordinary minister of Holy Communion and sang in the choir.

Together, they practice their faith. Almost everyone around the parish, not to mention the town, knows them. They can be spotted many mornings doing their exercise or just off to another volunteer event.

This morning they were honored at a breakfast where I was very honored to lead the invocation and pray for and with these great examples of Christian service. They remind me of that great Scripture verse from St. Matthew 5:16: "let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven."

Congratulations Calvin and Betty!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, a Catholic Saint and a modern day Catholic martyr

Today is Veterans Day. As a nation we come together and remember the sacrifice of our fighting men and women who have defended us and keep us free. We are so thankful for their sacrifice. We remember the heroic action of so many brave men and women, especially over the past 100 years or so. And we also must remember the men and women serving today; especially those in Irag or Afganistan. We must pray for their safety and be hopeful that they will return to the warm embrace of their family and friends.

How amazing that today, when we celebrate Veterans Day, the Church gives us the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. He was a miliatry man way back in the fourth century. Martin dedicated his military service to being a peacemaker. He did eventually give up his military career and became a priest and eventually a bishop. He was devoted to the poor. He is to this day a patron saint of soldiers.

In our own day and time, as we honor veterans, we can be reminded of their great sacrifice by the story of an army chaplain, Fr. Tim Vakoc. I've written about him before. The article below is worth your time to read:

"He firmly believed in what he was doing as an active duty chaplain in the army," he said.
Father Vakoc, a Minnesota Army chaplain who was seriously injured in Iraq in 2004, died June 20. No cause of death was given. Family and friends were with him when he died, according to his CaringBridge Web site. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 25, at Gearty-Delmore Funeral Chapel, 15800 37th Ave. N., in Plymouth. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday, June 26, at the Cathedral of St Paul. Interment will be at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, 7601 34th Ave South, Minneapolis.

Father Vakoc, 49, had been living at the St. Therese of New Hope nursing facility in New Hope. He lost an eye and sustained brain damage when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on May 29, 2004, as he was returning to his barracks after celebrating Mass for U.S. soldiers.

In recent years, Father Vakoc (pronounced VAH-kitch) had been showing signs of physical and cognitive improvement.

A June 11 entry on Father Vakoc's CaringBridge site noted that he participated with family and friends in a special Mass June 10 celebrating the 17th anniversary of his ordination, five years of post-accident life and appreciation for all those who were contributing to his care.

‘A man of peace'

"All of us in this Catholic archdiocese are grieving with the family of Father Vakoc," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. "We are joined in that grieving, to be sure, by the men and woman whom he served as chaplain in Iraq and those who witnessed his extraordinary courage and faith at Walter Reed Hospital and here at our Veterans' Hospital."

Calling Father Vakoc "a man of peace," Archbishop Nienstedt said "he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women. He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him.

"We ask everyone to remember him in prayer," he added.

Praying with soldiers

Father Vakoc was born Henry Timothy Vakoc Jan. 8, 1960, and attended Our Lady of the Lake in Mound. He graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park in 1978 and then attended St. Cloud State University. Prior to entering seminary, he worked with college students and university officials as the regional president of Tau Kappa Epsilon international fraternity. He was an avid traveler.

After his ordination in 1992, he served as an associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony and St. John Neumann in Eagan from 1993 to 1996 before joining the Army.

His military service took him to Germany, Bosnia and Korea. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., when he was called up for active duty in Iraq in 2003. He was the first Army chaplain to be seriously injured in Iraq.

According to a National Catholic Register story printed just a month before his own accident, Father Vakoc flew to a combat surgical hospital to be with two soldiers who had just been injured in a roadside bombing in which two others had been killed. One died before he reached the hospital.

He prayed for the soldiers who died and with the injured soldier, and then prayed with the other soldiers in the convoy who were not injured, but "in the state of shock."

Father Vakoc's ministry - which earned him the rank "major" - also included presiding at a memorial service for a young man killed in a roadside explosion, who just days before had talked about faith with Father Vakoc and read at Mass.

"The bottom line in helping these soldiers through the grieving process is to be present to them and walk with them," Father Vakoc told the Register in an e-mail. "I prayed with the soldiers who died. I brought the sacraments of the church and the light and love of Christ into the darkness of the situations."

‘Intentional presence'

Father Vakoc called his ministry one of "intentional presence," and it included counseling soldiers, ministering to Catholics and soldiers of all faiths, escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers, speaking with soldiers' family members and keeping up morale.

"I live with the soldiers, work with them, eat with them, care for them, listen to them, counsel them," Father Vakoc told the Register. "The soldiers know if you are real and genuinely care or not. The soldiers see me out there with them and that makes a difference."

The day Father Vakoc was injured in Mosul, Iraq, the two soldiers traveling with him were not harmed and administered first aid to him, Jeff Vakoc told The Catholic Spirit in June 2004.

"They couldn't wait for the medics or they would have lost him, so they drove him back on two flat tires to the base, and he was flown to Baghdad from there." Father Vakoc underwent surgery to relieve brain swelling at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, before being flown to Washington, D.C. He eventually went into the care of the Veterans' Hospital and St. Therese of New Hope nursing facility.

‘A reason he's alive'

The date of his injuries was also the 12th anniversary of his priesthood. Just days after Father Vakoc was injured, Jeff told The Catholic Spirit that he felt God put his brother in Iraq, and he was doing what he was supposed to do there.

"There's got to be a reason he's alive," he said. "I've got to believe there's a purpose." He still believes that, he told The Catholic Spirit June 22.

"He just plain old inspired a lot of people towards the Lord," he said. "There are a lot of people who were very needy spiritually, and just his example and fortitude and strength really played on that for a lot of people and helped them along."

Jeff's own faith grew during the five years after his brother's injury, he said. "I think it has brought me closer to the Lord. I've seen things that are miracles - little things, but I think that's how miracles come. It's changed the entire family."

It is a tremendous feeling to know people are praying for him and his family, Jeff said. "We're going to miss him. He was a part of our lives," he said.

Jeff visited his brother every week as his guardian and conservator, he said. Members of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace also visited and prayed regularly with Father Vakoc, who followed along in a prayer book and mouthed the words.

The Franciscan Brothers of Peace were friends with Father Vakoc's sister, Anita Brand, at the time of his injury, said Brother Paul O'Donnell. Because of his pro-life work, Brother Paul consulted on Father Vakoc's medical care shortly after the accident. After his condition stabilized, the brothers continued to visit him regularly to pray and help with exercises.

Those who knew Father Vakoc before his accident described him as having a sense of humor and an inclination to reach out to others. Those qualities were still evident after his injuries, Brother Paul said, describing how he would joke with the brothers.

Along with his family, the brothers advocated on Father Vakoc's behalf to continue to receive physical therapy, Brother Paul said.

"His greatest gift is that he accepted the cross that God gave him, and for any one of us, it would be a tremendous hardship, but he accepted it," he said. "He obviously had a strong, strong will to live."

Father Vakoc taught others about the value and sacredness of life, Brother Paul added. "We can learn from Father Tim to embrace the crosses that come our way," he said. "They may not be the end of our life - they may be a new beginning."

Members of Franciscan Brothers of Peace spent time with Father Vakoc just a few days before his death, and three of them were present at his bedside when he died.

A changed ministry

The brothers feel as if they have lost a very close friend, Brother Paul said. He recalled Father Vakoc placing his hand on the brothers' heads and blessing them. They asked him to pray for them, too.

"When people saw him, they became grateful for their own lives, no matter what they were experiencing," he said. "His ministry didn't end at the time of his injury; it just changed."

Father Vakoc received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He also received the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award from St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and the Combat Action Badge in 2007, which is awarded to soldiers actively engaged in a hostile action by the enemy in a combat zone or imminent danger area.

Jeff is very proud of his brother, he said. "We all wished he had been around more, but he was doing what he considered his calling," he said.

While stationed in Bosnia, Father Vakoc told his sister, "The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be."

Catholic Spirit staff members and the National Catholic Register contributed to this story. Used with permission of the author Maria Wiering and, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Last Updated ( Friday, 07 August 2009 23:24 )

Monday, November 9, 2009

Health care and one lone Republican (Catholic too)

Several months ago I penned an article in support of Rep. Joseph Cao and his "line in the sand" on voting for or against health care reform. You can find that article in the blog archives on the far left hand column of this blog. Cao clearly explained his position not from a democrat or republican or political point of view, but from the standpoint of faith. As a Catholic who studied for the priesthood he was unwilling to give any impetus to abortion funding. He clearly states that if that could be addressed he may be compelled to back universal health care. By now everyone knows that the house bill passed with only 1 Republican voting for it; Cao!

Living right next door to his district I have listened today as Republicans from this area have done just about everything but burn him in effigy. I must admit, while I'm not sure how I feel about all the pros and cons about health care, I found Cao's vote somewhat courageous. Of course I do not know what goes on behind the scenes but he has stood tall and explained his vote.

Then tonight I found this gem. Listed below is a defense of Cao's actions from Quin Hillyer, a conservative blogger and contributor to American Spectator, not exactly a liberal rag. Please read on:

Defending Cao
By Quin Hillyer on 11.8.09 @ 12:59PM

Conservatives need to take a deep breath, relax, and stop bashing Joseph Cao. The man never claimed to be a fully committed economic conservative. He represents a district that is about 75 percent Democrat and 62 percent black (or thereabouts). He SAID ALL ALONG, FOR MONTHS, that he would probably vote for health care reform if it included strong pro-life language such as the Stupak Amendment. He stuck to his guns, even though his district is not majority pro-life. He is a traditionalist Catholic, former Jesuit seminarian, and he stands up for the principles he holds dear, one of which is the sanctity of innocent life. He is willing to lose his office on behalf of that pro-life stance. And he has taken a leadership role in anti-Communist measures, meeting with the Dalai Lama when Obama wouldn't, and calling out the Vietnamese Communist government when too many these days refuse to recognize that Vietnam's mostly free market does NOT mean it is a free society. He is a thoughtful, principled, well-intentioned public servant. He also represents a district that is fundamentally liberal. Congressmen have two roles: they are delegates, meaning their voters delegate to them the ability to use their judgment on complicated policy matters; and they are representatives, meaning they are there, specifically, to represent the will of their constituents. Serving in Congress is often a balancing act: When your district slightly favors one course of action but you strongly favor the opposite, you do what you believe and try to explain to your constituents why you bucked their wishes. That is being a delegate. But when you are ambivalent about an issue, even slightly against a course of action but only slightly, and your constituents STRONGLY favor the course of action, then your responsibility is to accurately reflect -- to REPRESENT -- the will of your constituents and vote in favor.

As Cao is no expert on things economic, and believes that something has to be done for the uninsured, and is neither convinced that the Pelosi bill is the right approach but ALSO not convinced that it is wrong, he then felt an obligation to act as a representative. There is no shame in that.

Meanwhile, note that Cao did not hold out for just some ridiculous pork project favored by big-money lobbyists; he instead asked for help with local issues caused by THE GREATEST NATURAL CATASTROPHE THAT EVER HIT THIS NATION. These are not roads to nowhere; they are health issues for a still-recovering population. Agree or disagree with his request, it is not outlandish.

Ronald Reagan understood that sometimes local issues prevail. He played the game brilliantly. Remember that to pass one of his big initiatives -- either the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax cut or the major Gramm-Latta spending cuts, I can't remember which -- it was Reagan's willingness to horse-trade that led Democratic then-Rep. John Breaux of Louisiana to boast about some protection he got for the sugar cane industry. Asked if his vote had been for sale, Breaux cracked: "No, of course it isn't for sale, but it is for rent!"

What Cao did was nowhere near as cynical as that; but conservatives loved it when Breaux did it, because it brought him to Reagan's side on a key vote.

But again, ALL ALONG, for months, Cao had said his line in the sand was abortion financing, and openly said he would likely vote for a bill that blocked such financing. In short, he did the honorable thing by saying where he stood and sticking with it. No, of course I don't like his vote. But give the man a break: He's an honorable, incredibly hard-working, inspirational young representative who is doing his darnedest to do a good job in a district ordinarily incredibly hostile to conservatives and Republicans of all stripes.

More power to him.

Some feast days just need to be explained

As Catholics we are used to great feast days, many in honor of Apostles or great events in the church, celebrations honoring Mary, etc. Today the church celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran Basilica. What does this mean?

First, St. John Lateran Basilica is considered the mother church of all Christianity. Built for another purpose, it was gifted to the Church in the 4th century and erected as a church in 324 by Emperor Constantine. Despite what many people believe, it is St. John Lateran Basilica that is the official church of the diocese of Rome. When the Pope functions as Bishop of Rome, this is his cathedral parish.

This feast day dates back to the 12th century. Originally a local feast day, it was extended to the church universal as a sign of devotion to and unity with the Chair of Peter.

An interesting side note is that St. John Lateran Basilica is outside the borders of Vatican City and is part of Rome. By special agreement, it enjoys Vatican City status so it can in fact retain it's posture as the cathedral church.

Catholics should celebrate this feast with joy both because St. John Lateran points to our universal (catholic) mission and because it serves as our reminder that we are indeed true and living temples of God!

Happy Feast Day!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weird things are happening here...

In keeping with my two halves of the year routine, with October-March my favorite, this October-November has been weird. First of all, our normally dry October was mega wet and we had more hot and humid days than we did in September. Yes, we did have some nice weather too, but we had to take the good with the bad.

Now we enter November and it started off just great. Then late last week came talk of a hurricane that might drift generally our way. Now tonight, parts of the area where I live are under a hurricane watch. This as we are getting ready for Thanksgiving? Of course the new forecasts are favorable for us; less so for our neighbors to the east. Yet in this post Katrina New Orleans area, any storm in the gulf is enough to tweek the nerves. And our news media has responded with it's usual hysteria. They are breaking into football games and programs to tell us that there is a nice breeze in Grand Isle and the flag on top the dome is flapping. Gee weez. I'm very glad we won't have any tough hit, but just give us the facts. In any case; I hope we fare well and our neighbors in Alabama, Florida do well too.

And if the above is not weird enough, what about the New Orleans Saints! This has been very exciting for us, especially those of us that remember the horrible Saints of old. But like the sign today in the Dome said: this ain't your grandma's Saints anymore. The Saints, in case you've been hiding under a rock, are 8-0 and playing exciting football. They have scored over 300 points in just 8 games; wow! This kind of gives the entire area a sense of pride and excitement that maybe this is THE year. I encourage all my friends to dismiss silly talk. Let's enjoy the Saints one game at a time.

Ministry will be exciting this week. I return to the prison, meet with some couples and spend some time with my local Knights of Columbus. For the church, we have a stellar week ahead of special feasts and memorials. Tommorrow is the Feast of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Basilica. I may post more on this tommorrow. Tuesday is the memorial of Pope Leo the Great, Wednesday the memorial of St. Martin of Tours, Thursday the memorial of St. Josaphat and Friday we remember Mother Cabrini, a local favorite in New Orleans.

Oh yea, I'm off Wednesday. Remarkably, my employer does have a heart for our Veterans. In light of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afganistan and last week's events at Ft. Hood, we should really remember our veterans, pray for them and honor their memory. I will go to Mass that day and pray for our veterans and our brave men and women in uniform.

Yes, weird things are happening. Let's get past this Ida storm thing, move forward and celebrate these great days of November.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Pro-Life Victory

Normally a Saturday night in the fall would find me in front of the TV watching a great college football game. Tonight, I've watched C-Span. And within the past hour, the ammendment known as the Stupak ammnedment passed. This is a huge pro-life victory. Basically, this ammendment keeps current law in effect meaning no additional federal coverage in the new health care bills for abortion. The ammendment also protects providers with conscience clauses.

The ammendment actually is named Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Ammendment and had the overwhelming support of the USCCB and pro-life Catholics across this nation. It passed 240-194 with every Republican voting yes and 64 Democrats voting yes. Those Democrat votes helped make this happen. Unfortunately, 1 Republican voted present; a cop-out and 194 Democrats voted no. I'm afraid there will be many Catholic Democrats in that number.

I'm sure health care with a public option will pass. Many provisions in the health care bill are worthy of support from a Catholic social justice standpoint. But the most important news tonight is that this Pro-life ammendment passed.

As people of faith and goodwill, we must remain vigilant, pray hard and remember that abortion is still the law of the land. We must work to change that but more importantly, change hearts so no one would ever want to kill a beautiful child; a gift from God!

Homily for 32nd Sunday November 8, 2009

A little boy goes to Mass with his mom and carefully observes as she placed a dollar bill in the collection basket. Leaving Mass, the little boy overhears his mom complaining about the homily and the singing. With the honesty of a child, he interrupts his mom: what did you expect for a buck!

By observing and overhearing the mom in this story, the little boy learns a valuable lesson: many times we expect much but give less!

As people of faith, what do we expect from God? What do we expect from the Church? And, more importantly, what are we willing to give?

In today’s Gospel reading St. Mark continues to teach about the cost of discipleship. This has been a constant theme throughout his Gospel. Notice that just like the little boy observed the words and actions of his mom, Jesus observes carefully the actions of the scribes and the actions of the poor widow. When Jesus contrasts the behavior of the self-important scribes with that of the poor widow he states that she gave more than those who are rich. Without counting the cost, this widow gave her all. This is what disciples are called to do; give their all.

Jesus also teaches about the difference of self worth and importance with humility. Notice how the wealthy and self-important are calling attention to themselves. Not only does the poor widow give her all, she does so with simply humility calling no attention to herself.

Let’s compare the widow in our Gospel reading today to the widow in our 1st reading from the 1st Book of Kings. Concerned about having enough to feed herself and her son, a stranger asks to be fed. Hesitant at first, she trusts, and prepares something for the stranger to eat. And we learn that she was rewarded with food that fed her family for a year. This story depicts the promise of God who will return many times over the generosity of those who give without counting the cost.

These two widows who place their trust in God, who give from their poverty and act with total humility, teach us more about being a disciple than all the so called important people in these same readings. Remember, the widow gave her two small coins. Some have speculated that these coins are less than even the value of a penny we use today. Yet we continue to say her generosity was superior.

We too are asked to give from our poverty; to be generous. What are we called to give that perhaps we hold back? Can we give more time to someone who needs us to listen to them? Can we befriend someone we know has little or no friends? Can we help a family with chores or tasks that may be struggling with illness or unemployment? Can we drop a few more dollars into the poor box? Can we donate more food to our own parish food drive for Thanksgiving or donate time and canned goods to the Covington Food Bank? Can we swing a hammer or sling a paintbrush at a Habitat home?

And yes, can we give more freely, more completely when we pass the basket here at Mass. Do we pay attention to what we give? Do we catch ourselves reducing our first collection contribution when we find out a second collection is coming our way? Remember the widow from our Gospel. She was depositing her two coins in the temple treasury. She made no assumption about where the money goes or no objections about how much she had for herself.

These widows are in many ways an example of Jesus. Without counting the cost, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. He obediently accepted death, even on a cross. He gave his all. He held nothing back. And of course, we know the rest of the story. God provides, God repays and God blesses generosity.

So as we have been enriched by His Word and will soon be fed at His Eucharistic table, let’s ask ourselves: am I generous? Do I give from my surplus or from my poverty? Can I give all? Am I a disciple? Or am I simple willing to get the most from a buck?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blessed Seelos update

Last May I posted a blog about a solid cure of Mary Ellen Heibel attributed to Blessed Fr. Francis Xavier Seelos. Last night our most prominent local TV news outlet ran a feature story on her cure. Because the saintly priest lived his final years in New Orleans and the already approved cure that led to his beatification is that of a local woman, Angela Boudreaux, interest in Seelos here remains strong. The story is listed below. Note that not long after this story was filmed, Mary Ellen died of pneumonia. Remarkably, tests run on her body confirmed that she died without any trace of the cancer she was cured from through Seelos' intercession.

Cancer patient's prayers answered

by Angela Hill / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS – Many might believe Mary Ellen Heibel's whole life had been a medical miracle.

At 21 she had her gallbladder removed. At 47 a kidney transplant. In her 60s, she almost died when her colon exploded and she got sepsis and went into a coma.

Yet with each medical catastrophe she survived, and she says got closer to God.

"I came to the conclusion that if I am going to die, I’m going to die by myself, and I better do something about my religion and praying,” Heibel said.

And she did that as a parishioner at St Mary's Church in Annapolis, built in the 1850s and where a much-loved Redemptorist priest once served as pastor – Father Francis Seelos.

It would be to him that Heibel would pray during her biggest medical challenge.

“I couldn’t swallow my food. My food would get stuck halfway down. I would have to cough it up,” Heibel said.

It was esophageal cancer, and Heibel was almost immediately put in surgery while wearing a relic of Father Seelos around her neck.

“They take part of your stomach out and all of your esophagus out, and they take your stomach -- what’s left of it -- and pull it up out of your throat,” she said.

But the doctors at Walter Reed gave her hope.

“They told me I was cancer free. They told me all the lymph nodes were cancer free, and so I had no more cancer,” Heibel said.

That was January 2003. By the end of the year, things changed.

“I fainted and went back to Walter Reed, and they said get another CAT scan and see what's wrong,” Heibel said.

What they found was one lymph node near the aorta filled with cancer – cancer that would spread within months.

“It spread to my liver, my lungs – two tumors in both lungs, my back and my sternum.”

The doctors at Walter Reed said they could do no more.

“When the doctor told her he couldn’t do anything for her and to go home and die, she wouldn’t give up,” said Father Louis Olive.

Olive, a retired priest at St. Mary's, said Heibel began her own search for a cure, found a new doctor at Johns Hopkins and never stopped praying to Father Seelos.

“He said 'I can't save you, but I can keep you alive if you are willing to stay on this chemotherapy,” said Heibel.

She was willing, and for the next six months she went through tough chemo treatment and then asked her pastor's permission to start a novena to Seelos.

“He said fine, we'll start on Wednesday. That was the end of January, and by February 7th I had a CAT scan,” Heibel said.
Her doctor called and told her all of her tumors were gone.

“‘You are free of cancer.’ And he couldn’t believe it. He said it wasn’t what his chemo did. His chemo did not do that,” Heibel said.

Was it the prayers to Seelos, the novena started with friends, family and fellow parishioners?

“My reaction was, is this really happening? We had prayed so long to Father Seelos, and is this the real thing?” Olive said.

Seelos spent his life helping people most in need. He was beloved for his acceptance and respect for all people. When parishioners knew he was holding confession, they lined up around the church.

How fitting it is that when a statue is built to Seelos, that it isn’t of a man standing, but rather of a priest sitting, as if listening to a parishioner or a person in need.

That was the essence of this man who made an imprint where ever he went. He volunteered to come to New Orleans, knowing the need for priests to help those dying of yellow fever.

“There were people who were physically cured while he was alive through his prayers and through his blessings while he was living, and of course he tried to downplay it because he was an extremely humble man,” said Father Byron Miller. “The fact is it did happen and people gave testimony to that before they died.”

Miller is director of the Seelos Center in New Orleans at St. Mary's Assumption Church, where Seelos lived and died and where his remains are entombed. It’s where people from all over the world come to learn about him and to seek his help.

“There is something very inspiring about him in a day and age when we could use a little inspiration,” Miller said.

For Heibel there is no doubt that the prayers to Seelos healed her. It has been over four years, and every three months she is checked and declared free of cancer.

Now her story helps others. She gets calls from around the world.

“People are so desperate. They really need something, hope,” Heibel said.

Her hope is to one day come to New Orleans.

“I would love to go to the Seelos Center. I hear it is beautiful.”

Heibel will not be coming to the Seelos Center in New Orleans. One week after our interview she died of double pneumonia. There was no cancer in her body.

“We have lost a wonderful friend of the Redemptorist and a great advocate of Father Seelos,” Miller said. “She considered this a ministry to talk about him and his great, powerful powers.”

Prior to her death, Heibel and 10 others, including her doctor from Johns Hopkins, testfied before a tribunal, investigating what she calls her miracle. All of their testimonies are being transcribed and will be sent to the Vatican before Christmas.

The case for what many believe to be the second miracle of Seelos will continue to Rome. Pope Benedict XVI will ultimately decide if this gentle, loving priest should be canonized.

But for those like Mary Ellen Heibel who have been touched by this man, Francis Seelos is already a saint.

For more on the Seelos center in New Orleans and the cause for Fr. Seelos' canonization, visit