Friday, November 28, 2014

So thankful for my years at GW

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily and announcement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Announcement from GW Catholics

Fr. Greg Shaffer, chaplain of the George Washington University Catholic Newman Center and priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, will be leaving his position in early January. Diocesan priests like Fr. Greg are ordained to serve not just one specific parish or ministry, but wherever the bishop assesses that there is a need. Cardinal Wuerl has determined that Fr. Greg is most needed elsewhere in the archdiocese and has given him a new assignment which takes effect on January 1, 2015.

Fr. Adam Park, the pastor of Epiphany parish in Georgetown, will be the new Catholic chaplain for GW. He will remain as pastor there and will take on the additional responsibilities of providing spiritual care and guidance to the GW Catholics. We hope you will warmly welcome Fr. Park and introduce yourselves when you see him around the Newman Center, the GW campus, and here at St. Stephen Martyr parish.  

Over the last six years, Fr. Greg has served as a shepherd to the budding GW Catholic community, helping it to flourish both in number and in faith. He has established multiple thriving retreats, community service programs, and brought Focus missionaries to campus. During his time as chaplain, Fr. Greg has dedicated himself to the enhancement of ministry among students.

At the very beginning of his time at the Newman Center, Fr. Greg immediately focused his preaching and teaching on the Eucharist. His love for the Eucharist is immeasurably shared by the many young adults who frequent the Newman Center for the sacraments, as well as those who attend Sunday student Masses.

Fr. Greg formed a foundation of collaboration to ensure the continued growth of programs at the Newman Center, including two staff members, an alumni advisory board, student leadership board, and Focus. God has built up this ministry beautifully and substantially. There are many key leaders who will remain involved running GW Catholics at the Newman Center, and God will certainly continue to bless the ministry going forward.

Fr. Greg’s passion and dedication will be greatly missed, but he knows the GW Catholic community’s support and prayers will be with him as he goes. 
Please pray for both of these wonderful priests as they begin their new endeavors.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pope Francis coming to the U.S.!!

( Pope Francis plans to visit Philadelphia in 2015, the pontiff announced today. It would be his first trip to the United States as pope.
The pope made the announcement when he addressed participants at a Vatican conference on traditional marriage.
The trip, expected for late September, would coincide with the World Meeting of Families organized by the Catholic Church, a world event that will take place in Philadelphia that focuses on strengthening family bonds.
“I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families,” Francis, 77, speaking in Italian, told the crowd at the Vatican. “Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.”
Only three other reigning popes have ever visited the United States: Paul VI in 1965; John Paul II, who traveled to the country seven different times; and Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the United States in April 2008.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was on hand for the announcement in Rome, expressed excitement about the pope’s planned visit in a statement released by World Meeting of Families.
“I am overjoyed by Pope Francis’ announcement that he will join with us for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year. A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally. His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering,” Chaput said in a statement.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Homily - Healing Mass (Fr Dan Leary)

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"It Is Right to Call Them Heroes"

This is a fitting reflection because I celebrated a funeral Mass for a woman yesterday (Veterans Day).  I referred to it as a "day of heroes", and  that she lived a heroic life.  Donna Clarke was a hero for Jesus Christ!

It Is Right to Call Them Heroes
A Reflection for Veteran's Day
By Tom Hoopes

ATCHISON, KANSAS, November 11, 2014 ( - This Veteran’s week, there is growing irritation on the part of some to the modern American custom of calling all veterans heroes. One recent example is David Masciotra’s Salon piece “You Don’t Protect My Freedom: Our Childish Insistence on Calling Soldiers Heroes.” 
I am very sympathetic to his point. The term heroes has been devalued, just as Masciotra says (though even he falls into the “easy hero” trap by suggesting that teachers, hospice workers and social workers deserve the designation more than soldiers). He decries the sexual harassment problems in the military that arose after the decision to put women in combat. Then he reminds us that not every U.S. war is just. That is a truth Catholics are keenly aware of (though Masciotra is certainly wrong about the justice of the U.S. war in Afghanistan against the Taliban).
I get it. It is healthy and necessary to question the wild stadium applause and automatic cheering of all things military.
But I think Masciotra might misunderstand why it is Americans are so quick to call soldiers heroes. Some thoughts …

1. We call them heroes because they do what we would not or could not.
Recently students, friends and I watched The Hurt Locker together. Seeing the soldiers living under the constant threat of roadside IEDs and insurgents, one comment kept being repeated: “I’m glad I’m not in Iraq,” and “I wouldn’t go to Iraq for any amount of money.” 
It is true: Many — most — of us wouldn’t do what they do. But they do.

“No one has greater love than this,” said Jesus, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We recognize that veterans have shown a willingness to sacrifice themselves that is admirable in and of itself, even as the centurion’s faith in the Gospel was admirable, even though he was a leader in the occupying force that would crucify Christ. 
2. We call them heroes because they have committed themselves to virtues we lack.
Of course, Jesus praises the centurion not for offering his life but for his faith. His faith derives from his military virtues. 
“For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me,” he tells Jesus. “And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes.” These virtues dispose his mind to accept Christ. In the 21st century, the military has preserved the virtues of discipline, hard work and loyalty that are the antithesis of the carelessness, acedia and infidelity that have weakened the national fabric.
There is something thrilling in watching the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier because we recognize in their precision a whole way of life. I know a priest who uses both  to teach his altar servers the care they should have around the altar. What better institution than the military can he use to show the self-control and reverence kids need to see?
3. We call them heroes because they rise above partisan pettiness.
Today’s public discourse is toxic not because it is partisan — humanity has always been thus — but because we have become so petty about it. 
It is one thing to disagree over ideas. It is quite another to reject the persons who disagree.

For all our talk of tolerance, Americans have become very thin-skinned. Friends, families and coworkers are too often torn apart over differences that we should know not to take personally. It need not be so — and in a healthy democracy it should not be so.
The men and women who are willing to go to serve regardless of who is in power live out in their lives the nonpartisan spirit many of us only pretend to share.

… in the end, I agree. Let’s not glorify war.
It is right to question military decisions. We should not mindlessly rush into violent answers to situations where often the last thing needed is more killing.
But as for the men and women who serve our country, I think it is right to stand and applaud them, without reservation.
When someone is willing to risk their life, their limbs and their sanity for me; when someone has conquered their fears and their selfishness to the degree one must in the military, it is right to call them heroes. We have no better term to acknowledge our debt.
Reprinted with permission from the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Homily: "You are the temple of God"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

When we were in Israel this past summer, we visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  This is the site of the Jewish Temple that was built 3,000 years ago and destroyed in 70 AD.  It is a sacred site to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  It's the holiest place in the world to Jews because it was where God dwelled on earth.  It is sacred to Christians because of our Jewish roots and because Christ prayed and taught there.  It is holy to Muslims because they believe that is where Mohammed ascended into Heaven in the 7th century.  The iconic image of Jerusalem - the Golden Dome - is actually a Muslim building.

While we were there touring the site, we saw religious extremists from the different religions.  Our guide actually pointed them out to us, and stopped the tour a few times just to monitor them.  There was definite tension.  It wasn't violent like it's been there at that site in past days, but aggressive. The temple area is actually the focal point of the conflict in Israel and the religious tension there.

The temple is the focal point of tonight's readings as we celebrate a feast of a major Christian church, the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  This was the mother church of Christendom before St. Peter's. The temple was revered so much by Jews because it was the House of God on earth.  It's where they experienced the presence of God, especially the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  They worshipped God and paid Him homage in the temple.  They still do it today at the only remaining remnant of the temple, the Western Wall.  We prayed at the wall - also known as the Wailing Wall - while we were there. We hear in the first reading that everything flows from the temple - vast amounts of water and fruitfulness.

A transition regarding the temple is made in today's Gospel.  This is a popular Gospel account, though, for other reasons.  People cite this often to show that even Jesus got angry (righteous anger).  This is true, but is also reveals his intense love and respect for the temple..."zeal for your house consumes me".  The transition that is made here is that the temple goes from being a building to a person, Jesus Christ.  He talks about rebuilding the temple.  Those who are there think he is referring to the enormous building.  "But he was speaking about the temple of his body".  He was referring to himself as the new temple!

He is the presence of God on earth.  He is the new Ark of the Covenant...the new Holy of Holies.  And why is this transition to a new temple tied in with the resurrection? Because the resurrection is the greatest manifestation of his divinity. When he rose from the dead, the disciples recognized His divinity.  And, then they “remembered that he had said this”, that He was the new temple.  His risen body is the new temple, the presence of God on earth.  Just as the Jews worshipped God in the temple, we worship Jesus in his risen body, primarily the Eucharist.  We pay him homage and respect when we come before his Eucharistic body, genuflecting and kneeling in his presence.  The seeds of respecting and reverencing the presence of God on earth were planted in the Old Testament, and were fulfilled in the New Testament in Jesus Christ.

Finally, there is an even stronger transition.  In the second reading, St. Paul writes that “you are the temple of God”.  He is speaking to all of you and me.  It is a plural “you”.  In a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians, he refers to the individual Christian: “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”.  Here he is referring to all of us who have been baptized, and “that the Spirit of God dwells in you”.  In Baptism, the Holy Trinity makes His dwelling in us; we are God’s presence on earth.  We all make up the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.  You are holy and sacred, just like the Temple and Eucharistic Body are holy and sacred.  Don’t destroy or desecrate the bodies, souls, reputations, and spirits of those around you, just like you wouldn’t destroy or desecrate a temple or church.  Build each other up.  Treat each other as holy and sacred, the new temple, the mystical Body of Christ on earth. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Homily - "Why?"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

The most frequent question that people ask  me is, “why?”  “Why does the Church teach (this or that)?” is up there.  But, mainly it’s, “why is God allowing (this or that)?”  Why does God allow death or anything bad?  We are celebrating All Souls Day, and praying for all those who have died.  But, why did God allow them to die?  These are all tough questions, and the Church does not claim to have all the answers.  But, when it comes to death, tonight’s readings give some help to formulate answers.

My first funeral as a priest was for a baby who was two weeks out of the womb.  How do you talk to that family?  They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, “why?...why is God allowing this, Father?”  I listened to them and cried with them.  I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why, I look at a crucifix.  Why did God allow His own son to die?  If we look at why we call the day He died “Good Friday”, we can again arrive at an answer.  We call it “Good” because of the good that came out of it: our salvation and redemption, of course.  But, and this is what we hear in the readings tonight, resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death.  In other words, we call it Good Friday because of Easter Sunday. 

In general, the Church teaches that God allows bad things to happen in order to bring good out of them. In fact, it’s a greater good.  Think about Christ’s suffering and death: as bad as it all was, the good that God brought out of it was even greater.  That greater good was resurrection. The second reading (Romans 6:3-9) says, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him”.    In His resurrection, Christ conquered death!  He has power over all things, including death.  To get a fuller sense of the magnitude of this, imagine if you’re at a funeral.  The casket is in the front of the Church, and the person has been dead for 3-4 days.  Imagine the person getting out of the casket, and walking around….alive!   That is resurrection.  That’s what happened with Christ, and I’m sure it freaked the people out like it would freak us out at a funeral.  In fact, even more so: no one had ever risen from the dead before Christ.  That’s what happened with Him: His body was dead, and then it was alive. 

That’s what can  happen for us: “if, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”.  And, the Lord says in the Gospel (Jn 6:37-40), “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day”.  If we live and die in Christ, we shall rise with Christ.  So, God allows death, as bad as it is, so that something greater can come out of it which is resurrection and eternal life.  In short, we have to go through death to get to Heaven.

But, what about suffering in this life?  Why does God allow that?  Every person in this Church is probably thinking that right now about a particular situation in our lives.  Again, He is allowing it to bring about a greater good.  I count fourteen things in the first reading (Wis 3:1-9) that are good coming out of bad…fourteen “goods”.  Granted, half of them refer to life after death.  But, listen to some of these things attributed to “the just”…by the way, any reference to a “just man” in the Old Testament is an indirect reference to Christ…He is the just man, and the “just” are those who follow Him.  “The souls of the just are in the hand of God (awesome!), and no torment shall touch them…in peace…immortality…worthy…shine…judge nations…understand truth…grace and  mercy.”  The reading describes that they (we) are “chastised a little…God tried them…as gold in the furnace”.  Sometimes, God tests us with suffering.  He is trying us, and refining us as gold is refined in the furnace.  Two things about this: one, if you are suffering, you being Christ-like.  God allowed Christ to suffer because He of His trust and love for him.  “God chastises those He loves”, we hear in the Book of Judith.  Two, the good things I just mention are immeasurably valuable.  You may not want to be like gold in the furnace; you may not want to be made stronger  or better through fire or heat (one of the qualities of fire is that it purifies), you may just want to chill and have a normal situation.  But, “God’s ways are not our ways”.  And, the good that comes out of suffering is profound.  We had a speaker at Newman last Tuesday who has suffered much in his life: Vietnam veteran and recent widower, with much suffering in between.  He had so much wisdom, it was incredible.  He was dropping “knowledge bombs” everywhere.  Through his suffering, he has been able to better “understand truth”.  If you are suffering, good will come out of it.  Trust me.

Finally, tonight is like a funeral Mass for all the faithful who have died.  At every funeral Mass, I preach about one of the greatest teachings of the Catholic Church: the Communion of Saints.  The Communion of Saints refers to the interaction between the saints in Heaven and the saints on Earth.  It happens at every Mass, including every funeral Mass.  In a few minutes, I will consecrate bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God .  Where there is the Son, there is the Father and the Spirit, and all the angels and saints.  The Eucharist is where Heaven and Earth unite.  This Church will be like a chamber of Heaven.  We won’t see the saints, but we believe that they will be here.  Baby Ikesi and all those you know who have died who are among the saints in Heaven will be here.  This is where the saints on Earth and in Heaven unite: the Communion of Saints.