Amidst the Noise: The Son of the Living God

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By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Author’s Note: Because there are different readings for the Vigil of Peter and Paul and Mass during the day, I offer two sets of notes: different readings, different homilies.

By a quirk of the liturgical calendar, we celebrate today, instead of the 13th Sunday of the Church’s year, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The question you might be ask – and it’s a good one – why would we erase a Sunday in Ordinary Time in order to celebrate two sinners

How does Paul, the man who presided over the murder of Saint Stephen, and a famous persecutor of the Church, merit a whole day?

Why does Peter, the man who denied Jesus in the courtyard, the one whom in attempting to convince the Lord not to undergo his passion and death receive the rebuke, “Get behind me Satan,” deserve a feast day?

The reason is, quite plainly, that what Paul wrote in his farewell letter to Timothy, is the truth: he ran the race and so did Saint Peter. They both “finished the race and kept the faith.”

Brothers and sisters, today’s feast of Peter and Paul doesn’t present these two men as being worthy of worship. It doesn’t suggest that all of us need to be exactly like Peter and Paul. What it does suggest, however, is that the mission of our Christian lives isn’t to be successful or even outwardly holy: rather, it’s to be secure in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and to then act in a way that lets others know that this truth has had a lasting effect on our own lives.

The scene from today’s Gospel – Peter’s confession of faith is profound, exactly because of its location. Matthew tells us that Jesus was with his followers in the region of Caesarea Philippi. This was no simple region of the Palestinian countryside. No, you see, in this very place, there was a shrine to the god Baal. Pagans from all around would come to offer sacrifice. This same region was also considered to be the legendary birthplace of the god of nature. There was also a shrine there to Caesar – the man the Romans venerated as a god-man – as God’s own son.

And so with this backdrop, Jesus pops the big question: “who do you say that I am?”

Amidst all the cares and fears of his life – amidst all of the other systems and configurations of the world – up against the fake gods, up against the emperor of the most powerful, brutal empire in the world, Peter confesses: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

We’re not all that different from Peter – we live in a world filled with noise, with interests competing for our attention and yes, even at times, our worship. We have success dangled in front of our faces. Or, perhaps even more painfully, we watch our sons, daughters, and grandchildren grapple with such enticing opportunities.

But there is Good News in all this: the most difficult place in our lives is where Jesus reveals himself to truly be himself! In the place we struggle most, this is where God gets involved in our lives most abundantly. Peter and Paul are perfect examples of this.

Peter, the man who denied Jesus, becomes the leader of the earliest Christian community, teaches the faith, gathers Jews and Gentiles together and dies crucified, not denying the Lord but confessing him even to death!

Paul, the great persecutor of the Christian people, goes from town to town preaching the Gospel of Christ. Such actions bring him into conflict again and again with the leaders of synagogues as well as the Roman government. He dies at the hands of the Romans for preaching that while the emperor may be powerful, Jesus is indeed Lord.

Of course, our stories aren’t very similar to Peter or Paul’s: except for one major reason. We too are on this race of faith – we are fighting the good fight each day. Today, the Lord doesn’t offer us an invitation, but waits for ours!

Just as every race takes a whole series of steps, I think we are well served to spend out time this week focusing on the next step, not worrying about the entire race. No one succeeds at a marathon after mile one of twenty-six – the same goes for our lives of faith. So let us consider one place where we need to take another step –in a relationship, in a bad habit, in our prayer – and ask the Lord to help us to see the place we must go this week.

Do we love God more than these? Sometimes. Does God love us more than them? Absolutely.

Do You Love Me (more than all of this)?

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By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Each Saturday evening – each Sunday morning – we come into this place, we come to this “gate” in search of healing: healing for our sins, healing for our broken relationships. We seek to be put back into right relationship with God. Even in my first week here at Sacred Heart, the experience of opening and locking the church in the quiet mornings and the still nights, me just a small, scared new priest walking through a giant church, reminds me that whatever happened in the last day pales in comparison to the great love my God feels for me. And the way he feels for you!  Yet even when we’re comforted – it seems to me – we all have a little bit of the desperate beggar in us from today’s first reading.

And just like today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in response to our needs, God doesn’t give us gold or silver or any other type of quick fix. We don’t get healing in a way that may seem outwardly successful – we may not immediately have our money troubles solved, or have a relationship repaired, or be able to hold our tempers. But what we do get, however, is a constant reminder in this place that God walks with us in these troubles: Jesus didn’t come to us as a magician, but as a companion.

Continue reading Do You Love Me (more than all of this)?

Guys, It’s Your Wedding Too!

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By Brian Niemiec

The last two days have seen posts on marriage by two remarkable women. One of them, Ellen, happens to be my fiancé, so I have a unique insight into her post. I have been planning a wedding with her now for a couple months and there are so many things wrapped up in this whole process.

Guys, it is your wedding too. Last month I called one of the hotels we are thinking of using for the reception. The lady on the other end was very helpful and pleasant, but seemed taken aback at the beginning of the conversation. When I questioned her about it, she explained, “Well, we normally don’t hear from a lot of grooms. Normally it is the bride or her family that contact us.” As Ellen mentioned, this is her second time through planning a wedding (backstories to come in later posts) so she knows what needs to get done, but I want to be a part of the process. I want to know what’s going on. Gentlemen, this is your wedding too. That not only means being proactive in the planning, but it also means having an opinion.

You have to care, even when you don’t. I don’t like cut flowers. I have no opinion on center pieces for the tables. Color schemes are so foreign to me that dressing myself on a daily basis is a huge challenge, and the fact that we are going to look at paper for the invitations next month is so fascinating to me because I am excited to see what we could possibly talk about for an hour. I mean it’s paper!

However, since this is my wedding too, I want to be there in the conversations for those decisions. I want to be there because every part of this wedding – from engagement party (Does anyone know what happens at those?) to who is in the choir at mass – is a reflection of the beautiful sacrament that is going to take place next summer.

In the end, it is about you, your spouse, and Jesus, and that makes the whole day important. I told Ellen when we got engaged that I had very little preference for what happens on our wedding day after the mass. I said that partly because I knew we had similar ideas about simplicity, and partly because what I really cared about was the ceremony. That is when I thought the rubber really hit the road. That was the time when we celebrate our union in Christ. That was when we thank God for bringing us together.

Yet I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus turned so much water into wine that everyone on our invite list (and there are a lot) could drink their fill, and we would still have cases left over. There is an overabundance in that story and the same can be seen in marriage ceremonies throughout history across cultures, religious, and economic resources. Is excessiveness to the point we see today in some weddings the same as past expressions? No. Ellen and Sara have already covered that. Celebration befitting the overabundant love of God present in a special way on that day? Absoluting!

After all, I am super excited to marry someone I so dearly love. I am incredibly honored to become a member of an incredibly loving, caring, sometimes loud, but always fun Romer family! And I want that joy to be present in that day, at the mass and reception because I don’t think you can separate the two. I would be happy with a BBQ in the backyard with Nick and Nate grilling or I would be happy with a reception in the parish center of the church,  but wherever it takes place and in whatever form the reception is important because the wedding is important. God has uniquely entered our relationship, and that is such a great joy that needs to be shared by those around us.  So, gentlemen, I know wedding planning seems stressful and silly sometimes, but you need to care. Both the ceremony and the reception are important. Plus, you may get to eat the cake you want for desert, and that is always a big plus!!

“Two Guys and a Bird” and Hildegard von Bingen

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Don’t lie, the Holy Spirit is your least favorite hypostasis (follow the link “person: 3” in definition 2) of the Trinity.  You might want to argue against this, but consider that last Sunday was the feast of the Trinity and the Sunday before that was Pentacost; these past few weeks are probably the most likely time of the liturgical calendar that your thoughts and prayers would be dwelling on the Spirit.  But think about the images that pop up in your mind while you recite the Nicene Creed or listen to a homily on the Trinity.

Likely you think about the Father.  You know that He doesn’t have a body, you know that He actually isn’t even a “he,” but you still probably imagine Michelangelo’s Creator God: all muscles and beard, stretching out his finger to Adam.  Well, it leaves a lot to be desired, but at least that image gets across three cataphatic traits of God: power (muscles), wisdom (a beard, or age), and life giving (look at the way the Father’s whole body is stretching out to Adam, eager to give him life).  Then you probably imagine Jesus – you might even picture Jesus before you picture the Father.  That’s understandable; Jesus is the fullest manifestation of God that humanity has ever experienced – it makes sense for your mind to jump to that.  Jesus was human (and God) and you are human (and hopefully being divinized – see the Prayer of Jesus), so you can relate to Jesus and know more about him.  Why else would we spend so much time  talking about him in the Creed?  Jesus is still a mystery, but we know at least a little about him.   Then there’s the Holy Spirit – a dove.

Continue reading “Two Guys and a Bird” and Hildegard von Bingen

We Grow Where We’re Planted; or, Don’t Blame the Soil

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By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

“Capuchins grow where they are planted.”

– Father Bertin Roll

The image above gets it wrong.  Fr. Bertin had it right, not just for Capuchins, but for all of us. Listen to today’s Gospel*:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

Jesus’ teaching does not suggest that the successful construction of a house is related the plot of land one has the fortune to own: sandy soil here, bedrock over there.

The tragedy of the collapsing house is not the result of poor surveillance of a particular area, but rather the failure of the builder to put trowel to ground long enough and with enough effort to reach the rock.

Plainly put: the houses built on rock and on sand might be built in the same exact location, their success or failure was based on how much time the builder spent digging to find a suitable rock on which to rest her house!

Continue reading We Grow Where We’re Planted; or, Don’t Blame the Soil

Yours, Mine and Ours

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By Ellen Romer

I confess, I watch Say Yes to the Dress. I like judging dress choices and the other wedding choices I see on Four Weddings.  As someone who was previously engaged and is currently engaged, I have done a fair amount of wedding planning. There are a lot of opinions and expectations that end up involved in the process and it is easy to lose sight of what is important. I appreciated Sara’s call to think more about how cultural expectations seem to trump what is a sacred thing for the Church. I share in the overarching sense of avoiding a materialistic approach and focusing on the sacrament. Being in the middle of planning a wedding for the second time, I am also acutely aware of how not only my fiance and I, but many people have a stake in this wedding. Simple isn’t always so simple.

Our wedding is ours. We minister the sacrament before witnesses. We make vows to one another and to God. So we can certainly say ‘No we don’t need all this fancy stuff’ and I certainly try to. Friends have shared that they are making us a cornhole set for use at the reception (yay!). We made it clear that we prefer paying for musicians at the Mass over having them at the reception.  I told my three attendants that I would like to be consulted on what they wear, but it’s up to them and their preferences. I want them to feel like themselves. We decided that a bouquet and garter toss aren’t really our style, so we’re going to pass on that.  I don’t need a big cake ( I really don’t understand them) so we will stick with a small super tasty one and I will try not to get chocolate frosting on my dress (Don’t worry Mom! It’ll be ok!).

The thing is – the wedding isn’t really about us. We are who we are and where we are thanks to our friends, our families and the grace of God.  Our marriage is not merely a private affair. We will profess our vows publicly to one another so that all can see and hear and hold us accountable to our vows and encourage us in them. Our marriage belongs not to us and our (hopefully) future children, but to the entire Body of Christ. Our marriage is not meant for us to simply serve one another but so that through our partnership and love we can better serve the people of God. So it can’ t just be about us. It has to include our families, our friends and the world we intend to serve. Continue reading Yours, Mine and Ours

Rethinking the Limo

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This May 20th marked Fr. Tim’s 25th anniversary of priesthood, a highlight in a priest’s ministry. Such an occasion is both public and joyous, but my search for celebration details in the parish bulletin came up empty, so I asked him directly what his plans were.

“Probably something small,” he said with a certain satisfaction. “Pope Francis has set a real example of being simple, and a big party wouldn’t be in keeping with that simplicity.”

He’s certainly right about Pope Francis. Just this spring the Pope requested that his newly appointed cardinals celebrate humbly, one facet of his clear call for a less lavish papacy and church.

To the delight of most Catholics, the clergy have taken Pope Francis’ call seriously and modified their lifestyles and celebrations accordingly. Now it’s time for laypeople to do our part and examine our celebration of the one sacrament that is exclusively lay: marriage.

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“It Didn’t Speak to Me” Or, Please, Let’s Do Something

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By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

The conversation started as any other conversation of its sort does: “I was raised Catholic, but I don’t go any longer,” she said.  “If you don’t mind me asking, why?” I queried, bolstered by the fact that it was 11:30 pm after a wedding and we stood in a hotel lobby.

“It.. doesn’t speak to me, I guess.”

Later in the day, I received a series of text messages from a dear friend, reacting to a Corpus Christi homily, which, among other things, expressed that the preference of the Church is communion on the tongue (despite, you know, what the bishops say, see #41) and comparing those folks who leave early from Mass to Judas (who, lo and behold, left early from the first Mass).

My friend texted:

“They spend all their time preaching about how to look Catholic and never talk about how to be Catholic…They’re lucky I’m a sensible man and will find a new parish instead of leaving the church altogether.”

He continued:

“I’ve spent a big chunk of my life defending the church to people who said it was silly and out of touch.  Turns out I was wrong – what a waste.”

Well then.

Continue reading “It Didn’t Speak to Me” Or, Please, Let’s Do Something

Coming Down the Ladder

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I just returned from a week at Camp GLOW, which is a retreat/camp for adults with intellectual disabilities run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. This is my second year as a companion for the participants of the camp, and each year I’ve witnessed God working in beautiful ways through the people I meet and the experiences that we share. I’ve come away from the camp both years struck by how clearly God communicates to me through the people that I encounter at the camp, and saddened by how stigma and stereotypes prevent so many from opening themselves up to learning from people with intellectual disabilities.

I think that it’s deeply unfortunate when we write off entire groups of people as having nothing to offer us, as being somehow “less than” ourselves, because God often uses these individuals to communicate to us in very personal ways. People with intellectual disabilities are just one group among many, including the poor, the mentally ill, the dying, the elderly, and more, who we often unintentionally (or intentionally) brush to the fringes of society.

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These Hands: 74 Baptisms, 12 Weddings, 5 Funerals

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By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

The day has finally come for me to leave the best thing (after my own reception of the sacraments) that has ever happened to me: the Catholic Parishes of Saint Brigid, Gate of Heaven, and Saint Monica-Saint Augustine in South Boston.

The picture above, at least to some extent, tells the story of my time here.  This afternoon, I spent a period of time copying the names of each person I baptized, each couple whose marriage vows I witnessed, and each person I buried into this book.  It’s a practice that I’ve endeavored to undertake: to write, from now until the Lord calls me home, the names of each person I baptize, each couple whose vows I witness, each Christian I bury, each newly ordained priest upon whose head I lay my hands, and each person I confirm in the Spirit.

I hope and pray that, please God, I fill many books with these names, for when I die, more than anything else, it will be these books that I leave my brother friars, allowing a series of scribbled names to tell the story of my life as a priest: a man who though possessing simple and sinful hands, attempted to devote his life, in all of its imperfection and impetuousness, to the service of his sisters and brothers in Christ.

In a sense, then, my hope in writing down these names is that those whose names I have written and proceed me into life in the Lord will, upon being summoned by Saint Peter, testify to the fact that though I wasn’t a perfect priest, I was faithful in using the gift of ordination given to me by the Lord for their benefit.