September 21, Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Almost from the beginning we are taught to earn our way through life: from earning degrees to a person’s respect. We’re taught that we must earn our way through life because nothing in life is free. There’s “no free lunch” we’re told; almost from the beginning.
Such a mentality skews our notion of grace and understanding of God, I believe. Have not all of us tried to earn God’s favor? We believe that our moral life, character and what we can accomplish in this life for the sake of the Gospel will win God’s favor and earn His attention. We fail to realize that we always are in the gaze of God: saints and sinners alike. We need not earn it. All we need do is become aware of that loving gaze. It is this awareness alone that makes us to change and to live in that gracious gaze for good. Nothing needs to be earned. We need not prove ourselves in God’s eyes; or anyone else’s for that matter. Yet, vainly, we do just that: within our spiritual life and life in general.
When we think we can earn God’s favor and grace, it can breed a sense of entitlement within us which has nothing to do with the path of the Gospel. Did not many of the religious leaders surrounding Jesus have a sense of entitlement, believing that they had—by observance of the Law—earned God’s favor? Remember the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable on righteousness: who prayed “up front” thanking God he was not like other men, grasping and adulterous and nothing “like this tax collector” who, in the back of the temple, was bent to the ground, begging God’s mercy. We know the ‘rest of the story’ and who went home “at rights” with God. The point is such favor cannot be earned; only given and received.
This sense of entitlement can be founding lurking within those who find themselves annoyed at “deathbed conversions”. I remember how some conservative Catholics were incensed when Senator Ted Kennedy was buried from the Catholic Church. And I always find it embarrassing when bishops withhold giving the Eucharist to politicians who have dissented from a particular church teaching. I wonder how those bishops felt when the Holy Father recently presided at a wedding in the Vatican where some of the couples, reportedly, were “living in sin” before their nuptials? I can only imagine. Thank God the Holy Father has the pastoral wisdom to see the greater good and freely give what all of us long to receive; that cannot be earned.
In his exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis writes:
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of the sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…
Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (pp. 24-25)
This sense of entitlement has muddied our discourse over the recent and complex issues of universal health care and immigration. We’ve yet to learn that we, indeed, are our brother’s—and sister’s—keeper. We are responsible one for another. We ought to work towards the good of others and want only what is best for the other, ungrudgingly.
This is the point of the Gospel this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: the parable where we find those who worked one hour only and those who “bore the day’s burden and the heat” receiving the same pay. Logically, it seems unfair. Yet, this parable is not about worker’s rights and a just wage. That’s not the point. Rather, Jesus is teaching us about a God who leaves no one out—those no one would hire, as in the parable—and the illogical nature of Divine Love; a Love that can never be earned, nor seen as an entitlement, no matter how virtuous or laborious our spiritual lives. Grace cannot be earned; only given and received. For God’s love is impartial and open to all. Let us remember: the Church is not a tollhouse, but the house of the Father where all are welcome; all belong; all deserving of a Presence and Love that wants only to be given, and received.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
September 7, Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
A utilitarian approach to life is defined as “useful, profitable, beneficial” in my dictionary. Architecture that is utilitarian often has usefulness and practicality in mind rather than beauty. For example, strip malls—an epidemic here—are utilitarian, but usually unattractive; even ugly. So, a utilitarian approach can be quite practical, yet lack the aesthetic which I believe is essential and a necessary ingredient adding meaning and happiness to life. As classic philosophy reminds us, we are made for “The Good, the Beautiful, and the True”. St. Augustine frames it in these words:
We were made for You, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
When our approach to people is utilitarian, however, it robs life and relationship of meaning. It is dangerous because such an approach inhibits the sacred and God-given nature of the other. A utilitarian approach diminishes another human being. This is why the ethical issues like abortion and physician-assisted suicide—though seemingly practical—can never be the answer. Our stance, too, on warfare that seeks to defend “our way of life” is ruinous in that it blinds us to the dignity of those we consider different. Isis, clearly, takes a utilitarian and brutal approach when it comes to people who differ. Syria, too, is in shambles because of such blindness. Our hands, however, are not bloodless. We’ve made a mess of things as well. St. Paul said it well when he wrote: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Reality of God took flesh in Jesus and descended into the narrowness of life to know first-hand the burden of our humanity. In this, we encounter the aesthetic of Divine Love. The Incarnation is not at all practical; yet profoundly loving because we’re made to see “The tragic beauty of the face of Christ.” In this revelation—this historic happening—those who find the courage to believe come to realize that God not only is for us, but with us in every circumstance we face; every person we encounter.
When our approach to people is utilitarian—“What can I get out of them?”—then we become blind to the goodness and beauty of the other. People feel used because such an approach is demeaning.
What can open our eyes, and save us from this approach to another; to life itself?
In the Gospel this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus says:
For where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.
This “name” Jesus mentions is not like the names and surnames we use to identify ourselves. To me, this name—a “Name above every other name”—is a way of life. It is compassion that takes on a human face in Christ.
When our approach to one another and to life is more compassionate than utilitarian, we open to the aesthetic of life: its beauty and meaning. It is this “name” that redeems us from an approach that diminishes and blinds us to the good, the beautiful and what is true within life and in each other; what a utilitarian approach misses. We open to a God ever in our midst when gathered by that name embodied in Jesus.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
August 31, Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
In his book, “The Human Poetry of Faith” Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J. writes:
In each (of our) journeys comes a threshold that causes fear. I glimpse how fragile everything is (and) run up against my spirit of refusal. There is a sense that…more is being asked of me... the temptation is to shy away. We are experts at avoiding risks.
In Matthew’s Gospel this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (16: 21-27) Jesus predicts his suffering and death. The disciples unexpectedly stand at a threshold that causes fear and speaks of risk. Peter intervenes, saying, “God forbid, Lord!” He, who confesses Jesus as the Christ and whose own true nature is recognized by Jesus who calls him “rock”, sees it all shaken and falling apart. In an instant, the disciples glimpse how fragile everything is. Peter even refuses to believe it and rebukes Jesus, exposing more his fear than any real concern for Christ. Later as the passion unfolds, we see how ‘expert’ Peter is at avoiding risk.
We’re no different really, are we not? On this spiritual journey, more is asked of us than expected: to carry our cross and pass through a threshold not of our own making. The temptation will be to shy away and choose the path of least resistance. We fear being ‘stretched’ in ways we cannot understand. We find it hard to believe that inevitable suffering within this fragile world can lead into something more when we learn to trust that all is in God’s hands.
I recall an image from another Jesuit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade who likens discipleship to a block of stone a sculptor hits with chisel and hammer. If you could ask the stone what the sculptor is doing—and if the stone could speak--it would say, ‘I don’t know. Each blow of the hammer seems to be destroying me. Yet, I must trust that, in his hands, something beautiful is being created.’
When faced with the ‘givens’ of life—the “must” of the Gospel—it is trust alone that brings us through the threshold:
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go…and suffer greatly…Then said to his disciples, Whoever comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow…
This “must” needs to be embraced with surrender and trust because the temptation will be to shy away from what we can’t control, nor understand; to play it safe and save our own skin.
With this gospel in mind, the journalist Jim Foley, tragically killed recently, came to mind. Before returning to Syria he had an exchange with his family I read about in the Seattle Times:
During one conversation in the family kitchen, Diane Foley said she urged her son not to go back to Syria, noting that he could do many other things with his talents. “He said, ‘Mom, I’ve found my passion. I’ve found my vocation.’ He just felt compelled,” she said. (August 27, 2014)
May we be so compelled to live our lives in ways that make a difference and that awaken within us all a greater passion like this journalist; like Jesus.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
August 24, Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time
YOU ARE PETER AND UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH…
These words of Jesus and found in Matthew’s Gospel alone, have lived on in Peter’s successors over the centuries; for better, for worse. These words, misunderstood at times, were the inspiration behind Michelangelo’s Dome: immortal words which, in mosaic, encircle its interior; defining words we cannot dismiss or ignore.
I’ve never been enamored with the baroque style—my preference is Romanesque. However, St. Peter’s Basilica succeeds. During my years in Rome, my room overlooked St. Peter’s, with the Dome ever in sight. And I never grew tired of contemplating its beauty and linear grace.
Ironically, Michelangelo’s dome—and the present basilica—were built at the height of the Renaissance and moral doldrums of the Church’s inner life: where pontiffs were driven more by ego than any desire for the Living God; deaf to the cries for reform, both within and without. Seemingly, she was being built up and falling into disrepair all at the same time. It’s a miracle the Church always survives such moments when what seems to prevail has little to do with Christ or the Gospel. Oddly, that dome I loved to gaze upon is an inexplicable testimony in stone to the prevailing nature of beauty and grace. (A side note: I recall reading how Abraham Lincoln insisted on the construction of the Capitol dome at the height of the bloody Civil War and while the nation was on the brink of secession.)
As he looked at the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus foretold how “a stone will not be left upon another”. Simply, faith cannot be built upon structures, institutions, nor encircling mosaics, no matter how aesthetic and uplifting. In Peter’s confession this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, he demonstrates that faith, if it hopes to prove credible must be built upon living stone: the person of Jesus. When I hear people talk about the Church sometimes, and what it means to believe it seems they talk more about the magisterium rather than the person of Christ. We can be so institutionally zealous and miss the face and message of Jesus altogether. What sustains me in turbulent times, when what is contrary to the Gospel seems to prevail in this “vale of tears” and world with its potential for goodness, is not the magisterium or institution of the Church. It’s my faith in Christ. Structures like the magisterium and institution of the Church are a means to an end: to help guide one’s life of faith. But I fear they’re seen more as ends in themselves sometimes.
What is this faith the Apostle Peter professes and Jesus acknowledges; that reveals the true nature of them both? What can help ‘flesh it out’? Two gospel passages that involve Peter come to mind. The first is when Peter begins to sink, with the wind against him. There his faith deepens as Jesus, no longer a “ghost”, takes hold of him in the midst of the sea. We, too, need to sink sometimes before we arrive at an awareness of Christ; when we are grasped, understood, loved.
The other passage happens as many disciples of the Lord bolt because they find His teaching “hard”. Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks, “Do you want to leave, too?” Peter, like any true successor, articulates the faith for all and responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, there is no viable option. When we feel quite alone with our beliefs, our questions, and at a decisive point like Jesus and the Twelve then faith will slowly come alive when we’re willing to wait; it will breathe and Christ become real with the stability of love.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
August 10, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Often, I’ve told people that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but indifference. When a person becomes indifferent to God and believes that the reality of God makes no difference, that person no longer believes in any religious sense.
Yet, even atheists must believe in something or someone. I recall attending a luncheon following a funeral. I was standing in the buffet line—clerical collar and all—when the woman next to me announces she no longer believes in God; that she is an atheist. I was tempted to retort, “That’s nice” as I continued making my sandwich. Frankly, I wanted only to eat, and was not interested in digesting ‘heavier fare’. Nevertheless, I sat next to her and asked, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” She thought for a moment, and said that it was her grandchildren, and her impassioned commitment to the environment, too. I was quite impressed and remember thinking of Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.” This woman—educated, articulate—was closer to God than she realized.
At the moment, I’m reading a book recently given me called, “Awareness” by the Jesuit Anthony De Mello. The friend who gave it found it pivotal; timely when discovered some years ago.
De Mello mentions that the opposite of faith is not doubt—or indifference for that matter—but anxiety. When I read that, it leaped from the page and caught my attention. It is a prophetic word for this anxiety-ridden age of ours, and reminds me how Abbot Bernard at the monastery would pray that we be delivered from “useless anxiety” in that prayer sandwiched between the Lord’s Prayer and Exchange of Peace during the Mass. I’ve used this phrase myself, up until the newly botched translation of the Roman Missal was implemented…
Anxiety erodes faith. I’ve seen this personally, and have witnessed it in the lives of others who struggle to believe. My Mom was an especially anxious person and had a difficult time with trust. Losing her mother at the age of eight to cancer had much to do with it. Sometimes the anxiety surfaces in her dementia as she babbles and begins to cry. All I can do is reassuringly hold her hand which seems to quiet the inner storm.
Often, we choose to hold on to anxiety rather than God. We let the anxiety inside and so identify with the feeling that the “I” (as De Mello puts it) becomes the anxiety; and we begin to sink.
In the Gospel this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 14: 22-33) Peter walks towards Jesus on the sea as he beckons him to leave his fear behind, for they have mistaken Jesus for a ghost in their anxiety. Anxiety distorts everything; even those we love. Initially, Peter stays afloat as he makes his way; his gaze is fixed on Christ. Yet, when he notices “how strong the wind was” rather than Jesus, he begins to sink; overwhelmed by it all. Jesus takes hold of him, breaks the spell and says, “Why did you doubt?”
Doubt is defined as “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.” When we doubt, anxiety is close at hand. In such moments, I try to hold fast to God; yet the anxiety sometimes seems more proximate and real rather than God who feels aloof and distant in such moments. We need to learn from Peter: where we focus and are looking is what saves or sinks us. I recall the movie “A Beautiful Mind”: how the Princeton Professor, John Forbes Nash suffers from schizophrenia. In the film’s final scene he still ‘sees’ those imaginary characters that were his undoing. Yet, he no longer focuses there, nor gives them his attention. With his wife’s love, he’s learned to weather it all and navigate through life in a new manner: focusing more on what is real.
Like Peter, all of us need to sink and find ourselves going under. It is the way we sense the grasp of Christ; the way we’re rescued from anxiety; the only way faith deepens as we learn from experience to focus less on our anxious selves and more on Christ.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
July 27, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks to parishioners, I enjoy a gift-subscription to Notre Dame Magazine. I got ‘hooked’ on it years earlier, however, and during monastic life. We had it in the monastery’s periodical room, thanks to a monk who had been an alumnus and Holy Cross priest at Notre Dame. He was there during the Knute Rockne era. It was there, too, that Father Simon suddenly left it all and entered monastic life. Quite the character, he lived to be 92. Quietly, he died one morning while I planted trees along the swale with another monk. The monastery bell tolled, and we knew. Hastening back, we prayerfully gathered near his lifeless body in the infirmary. His grave was the first of many I helped dig in the Abbey’s cemetery.
In the current issue just received, there’s an article on Knute Rockne: the “winningest coach in the history of college football”. On March 31, 1931 the plane he had boarded on his way to Los Angeles crashed. The right wing snapped off, causing it to plunge into a Kansas cornfield. There were no survivors.
When Rockne’s body was removed from the wreckage, they found a rosary clutched in his lifeless hand. It had been given to him by Father Vincent Mooney, C.S.C. He had baptized Rockne and received him into the Church. Mooney, also, had been his coach during Rockne’s student years at Notre Dame.
In this life, we must learn to hold on to God tenaciously; faithfully. In that surreal moment, I imagine Rockne searching for that rosary buried in his pocket and as the plane plunged to earth. Holding it—on to God—was no last ditch effort in believing, for Rockne was known to carry that rosary everywhere. Like an athlete, his faith was a disciplined and everyday practice.
In “Short Trip to the Edge” (a book read several years ago and given me one Father’s Day), Scott Cairns chronicles his search for God on Mount Athos in Greece and during a mid-life crisis. He writes that “Christianity is not, finally, about what we think. It is about what we are and…are becoming. It is necessarily an embodied faith, a lived faith…” (p. 36)
In this search, he seeks out a wise monk in answer to the “increasing hunger” inside. He writes of his encounter in these words:
He placed a hand on his chest, just above his abdomen. “You have to hold on to God,” he said, “with all your strength.”
He brought his other hand there too and made a tight, cupping gesture with both hands…saying, “You have to plead with Him to meet you here…And when God arrives, you must hold on to Him, and not let go.” (p. 136)
On this 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to buried treasure; to the search for fine pearls. Like Rockne who searched for that rosary buried in his pocket, we need to understand that what we’re searching for is not found elsewhere, but lies close at hand: buried deep in life and beneath the surface of everyday. The Kingdom and priceless Reality of God is discovered when we search inside that “increasing hunger” God alone understands; when we clutch God with both hands.
What are we holding on to during this sometimes precarious ‘flight’ and journey to God?
Father Tim Clark
July 20, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’ve just finished reading Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s latest book, “Sacred Fire”. I highly recommend it. In the Preface he asks, “How can we live less self-centered, more mature lives? What constitutes deep maturity and…a truly mature following of Jesus?”
Deeper into the book, he suggests one way we do this is by our willingness “to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.” And he continues:
Few things in life, including our own hearts and motives, are black and white, either/or, simply good or simply bad. Maturity invites us to see, understand, and accept this complexity with empathy so that, like Jesus, we cry tears of understanding over our own troubled cities and our own complex hearts and, like Jesus too, we can forgive others, the world, and ourselves for this complexity and imperfection. A mature person watching the news at night and seeing the world’s wars, violence, and wounds responds with empathy because she already recognizes within herself that same complexity, neediness, pride, greed, and lust that lie at the root of all that unrest. (pp. 249-50)
Life is complex; imperfect. Few things in life—including ourselves—are “black and white, either/or, simply good or simply bad.” This, I believe, is the basic lesson offered us through Jesus’ words this 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time and in the passage known as the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds. (Matthew 13: 24-30)
Life, and each of us walking this earth, is a great ‘mix’. Take an honest look inside: often a discrepancy exists between what we show outside and carry within the heart. Like that field in the parable, sabotaged by “an enemy’s hand”, life in this fallen world is imperfect and not what we had hoped. Sometimes, we deal with this ‘weedy’ element in ways that make matters worse or, at best, make no difference at all: constructing larger prisons; advocating capital punishment; spending billions on endless wars. Has such an approach improved things; where good prevails? Statistics often question this approach. Morally, the malaise continues. I’m reminded of what Pope Francis said recently: “War always is a failure.” Whether it is a war on drugs, war on crime, you name it. Such aggression obscures the greater good and inhibits lasting change. I realize the nature of this topic IS complex and there is no easy answer. My point is we need to find another approach; more in line with the Gospel.
When “Sacred Fire” suggests we carry life’s complexities with empathy, what can that mean? This word “empathy” is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” And, I would add: to see something of myself in another. All of us, really, are “in the same boat”; all in need of rescue; all sinners because the troubled roots of this world’s unrest exist in us all. No one’s exempt, not even Jesus who, St. Paul writes, “Made himself to be sin”; Jesus, who befriended prostitutes and ate willingly with sinners; those shunned and hopeless.
Do you recall the Green River Killer years ago and before Gary Ridgeway was apprehended? I recall the outrage—and understandably so—when a sorority student and other respectable young women went missing and, later, their bodies found. I remember, too, the prostitutes who went missing and how barely a word of protest was uttered on their behalf. Why? Because we were sanctimonious and unwilling to see something of ourselves in them; made, too, in God’s Image and Likeness; “Jesus in his distressing disguise” as Mother Teresa would have it.
Within our world, as well as the Church, we stand in need of greater empathy: people willing to carry life’s complexities with compassion and understanding. The Jesuit, Anthony De Mello said:
You know, all mystics…no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion—are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well.
In parable, Jesus urges us to trust just that: despite the weedy condition within this complex world and inside our own hearts, all shall be well. The wheat will be gathered into barns, and good remain because of the unflagging mercy that carries us.
Father Tim Clark
July 13, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What we listen to shapes the way we think: everything from NPR to Fox News. Music, too, can alter moods and inspire. I remember reading about the Olympic medalist and swimmer Michael Phelps and how he would listen to a particular music (Rap; Hip Hop; can’t recall) before a meet to motivate him and raise the adrenaline level.
Most mornings, recently—before meeting the challenges ahead and following prayer—I’ve listened to music by the 16th century composer Thomas Tallis. For me, his sacred music sets the tone at the beginning of a day.
What we listen to has the persuasive power to shape and alter us who still retain the God-given gift of hearing; a gift too often taken for granted.
There’s a difference, however, between hearing and listening. On a given day we hear all kinds of noises, sounds, voices but do not listen to them all. We cannot. So, we make the choices and do so when we give our attention: whether to a Song Sparrow (that chirps outside the window as I write this on a clear, summer’s day) or a friend who confides in us during a troubling time. When we listen, really listen, we are receptive to the other. Listening involves presence and attention. When you’re receptive and “Listen with the ear of your heart” as St. Benedict describes it in his Monastic Rule, then your life is shaped and altered in life-giving, transformative ways. How we listen and what we listen to makes all the difference. Simply, the choice is ours. To paraphrase Shakespeare: ‘To listen or not to listen, that is the question.’
This brings us to the Gospel this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time and deep into summer. Jesus tells us a story known as the “Parable of the Sower”. As he tells the story he urges us to listen—“Whoever has ears ought to hear”. He tells the story, not to teach us farming practices in Palestine during his day, but as a metaphor for anyone desiring to heed God’s word and put it into practice: the seed a symbol for God’s word broadcast daily, and the various soils our receptivity—or lack thereof—to this word. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that “God still speaks even if no one is listening. The seed of God’s presence still descends into this fallen world faithfully, never giving up on us. God still speaks daily, vying for our attention: whether through an ordinary Song Sparrow or the revealed Word of scripture. Do we listen? Are we receptive to the One who still speaks? Or is life all “sound and fury, signifying nothing” and ourselves soil without depth so that, what is sown, withers for lack of attention; lack of presence?
How often that’s the situation and state of our souls Sunday after Sunday: God’s Word—“Words which breathe”, as the poet Emily Dickenson put it—falls on deaf ears, our lives too distracted to listen. We barely hear what’s being said as this transformative Word goes in one ear and out the other. Is it any wonder, then, that our spiritual lives remain fallow? We need to listen for a change, and take to heart what God is saying in Jesus and on a given day. Like seed, such a Word has the graced potential to transform our lives if only we take it to heart and receive it like rich soil: receptive and open to what is being said. If only we would learn to listen, really listen to what God is saying within the liturgy and beyond, it would feed and rouse us; shape and alter our lives for good…a hundredfold, Jesus promises. The choice is ours: to listen, or to go through life not truly hearing what is being said by a God who needs our attention and, like a treasured friend, wants only to confide in us his inner life and harvest of mercy.
Let me conclude with favorite words of mine by the writer Frederick Buechner:
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Father Tim Clark
June 29, Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
During theological studies in Rome, I had the opportunity to meet two Successors of Peter: Paul VI and John Paul II. They both come to mind whenever we commemorate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul as we do this weekend.
Along with other seminarians, I served the canonization Mass of St. John Neumann, June 1977. Following it, we met the Pope in the Pieta chapel. It’s been said that the eyes are the ‘windows to the soul’. As I shook Pope Paul’s hand I was struck by his eyes: their depth, transparency and presence. Looking into my own, he said, “Pray for me.” He died the following summer and, subsequently, whenever I was having one of those not-so-good days, I often would head to St. Peter’s; descend into the crypt and pray at Paul VI’s simple and unadorned tomb.
In 1980 and on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II visited the North American College, our seminary in Rome and where I lived for four years. At that time, my “house job” was as Student Coordinator, “Head Prefect” in the ‘old days’. It was a two-year Rector appointed position. God only knows how that happened! I was asked by the Rector, Msgr. Murphy, to assist the Pope in planting a Sequoia Redwood near the chapel entrance which overlooked St. Peter’s.
The day arrived: I stood there, with shovel in hand and words memorized. When the Holy Father arrived in the late afternoon, he was first greeted by the Rector and American bishops visiting for the occasion. Then he was led to me to be introduced by Msgr. Murphy. I added to the welcome and handed the Pope the shovel and, in true Polish fashion, he went ‘at it’, planting the tree; no ceremonial spade of soil for him! As he planted it, I said: “Holy Father, this Sequoia Redwood which grows to be one of the tallest in North America, will be a living reminder of your visit among us tonight…” He interrupted me with a question, “What about you?” which startled me so much I forgot the rest of my words. Like Zechariah in St. Luke’s Gospel, I stood there speechless and tongue-tied. At least I ended on a complete sentence. I had that going for me; yet I was mortified. In that moment, I felt like Charlie Brown in a Roman collar. (In fact, I played Charlie Brown during college in “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”; the story of my life, actually).
The Pope handed back the shovel and, with his palm extended, said to me, “Where’s my payment?” I could only smile as again we shook hands and he began to walk towards the chapel where the seminarians waited to greet him personally.
Since then, I’ve often pondered his question, “What about you?” and have asked myself: “Am I a living reminder of Christ?” Now that he is canonized, his question is probing and timeless. My sister Anne reminds me, “You shook hands with a Saint!” I did not realize that at the time, but his words, very much alive in me, now have the power to draw me towards deeper holiness if I let them.
Both Saints Peter and Paul were living reminders of Christ; the One they loved with a passion and to the end; martyred as they were in Rome, the center of the known world at the time. Their lives, however, were centered only on Jesus, the Living One now centered in God.
Sadly, our lives become off-center due to a faith that is rootless, withered and cut off from that Living Mystery. We can know so much about Christ, yet REALLY never know Christ at all. Too often we lack passion, with our lives centered too much upon ourselves with our fears, preoccupations, resentments; centered, too, on what cannot last nor lead to lasting joy.
Like that Sequoia rooted in the Eternal City, let us become living reminders: rooted and centered in Christ, our True and Only Life.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
June 22, Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Those who know me know that I’m into cycling; that I love to bike and have for many years. I have not biked as much as I would have liked due to my cervical fusion this past November. But I’m ‘back in the saddle’ more regularly now; as the days lengthen and grow warmer.
Among the books shelved in my rooms, there’s one called, “Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Cycling”. LeMond is the first American to win the Tour de France.
In the chapter on maintenance, he addresses wheels and the importance that they be “true” when cycling. A wheel that “falls out of true” is not good and can happen if spokes are unevenly tightened, or when a spoke breaks. When a wheel is true, however, it keeps the tire safe and balanced.
Why this talk of wheels being “true” on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord; this Corpus Christi? Because, for me, it offers different ‘spin’ to Jesus’ words on this feast; in the Gospel of John (6: 51-58) and when says:
For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink. (Emphasis mine)
The Eucharist offered us is a gift of Christ’s very flesh and blood existence and the substantial love of God that keeps us ‘true’ and ourselves in balance as we trek down life’s road with its twists and turns; its ups, its downs and rough patches. I remember reading a passage in Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s book, “The Holy Longing” and as he addresses the question why people go to daily Mass. He writes:
Simply put, people who go to Mass daily are there in order not to fall apart…they know that, without Mass, they would either inflate or become depressed and be unable to handle their own lives. (p. 235)
Too easily and, for a host of reasons, we become off-balance and ready to break; where nothing seems true any longer, disillusioned as we are by life and famished for meaning. Again, words of Jesus from the Gospel as he teaches us the nature of his presence:
The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
Like a ravenous child at the breast, we, too, must be that dependent and in need of God; to sense such wanting inside our own flesh if this teaching of Christ ever hopes to “ring true” for us in this life. A hunger for God keeps me real and my life true, prone as it is to “fall out of true”. The reality of Christ we behold in the Sacrament of the Eucharist keeps life balanced: where the “rubber hits the road” and our lives in tandem with Christ, that befriending presence of mercy and of grace.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
June 15, Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
When I returned to Seattle from monastic life, I lived with my parents for about two months to readjust. Returning was culture shock in reverse, to say the least. Sometimes I’d wake up to this enveloping darkness thinking, “I must have been out of my mind to have left the monastery!” Yet, inexplicably, I felt drawn back to pastoral life. I would recall words of Jesus to the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel: “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”
Returning and living at home—if only temporarily—had its limits. It was like I had never left! I was their ‘boy’ and not a grown man in his late 40’s. Yet, it did give me the chance to spend time with my Dad whose health was not good due to congestive heart failure. (He would die 1 ½ years later from that disease.)
In the evenings, we’d sit in the living room and near the fire. I’d get my Dad to talk about his past—he didn’t want to talk about World War II; “War is ugly”, he’d say. However, he talked openly about growing up as an only child in Sioux City, Iowa and shared with me things I hadn’t heard. I knew little about those years.
One evening, he shared something startling and closer to my own skin than he realized. He mentioned how he never once remembered his Dad playing ball with him. I said nothing, but remember thinking, “That sounds familiar.” You see, I can’t recall my Dad—in those early, formative years—doing that either. A kid in the neighborhood taught me how to throw a football, not my Dad. In those days, he travelled a lot; then on weekends played golf as a stress reliever. That’s why I caddied for him. It gave me the chance to be with him, just me and Dad: there, having breakfast together and before teeing-off in the early morning light; in all kinds of weather. Though a “hacker” and inconsistent at the game, I love golf courses because of those mornings next to his side; so very proud to be known as “Tom Clark’s son”.
It has been said that ‘we can only give what has been given us’. There’s truth to that. When my Dad shared that ‘loss’ in his childhood I could sense the ‘Father-hunger’ that I felt deep-down in my young, anxious flesh. Such inherited cycles can be broken, and the past redeemed, through awareness; sometimes not.
Then, what can be done? We can grieve what was not, and learn to see what was; what has been life-giving and good.
The evening before my Dad’s funeral, I was with my brother Sean and on our way to dinner with the rest of the family. He said, “Dad was always willing to grow.” I readily agreed. Over the years, my Dad deepened in ways that changed him. He courageously faced alcoholism in those very early years; faced his demons that taught me more than he realized. Faith became essential to his life. I’ll never forget the sign of the cross he made before his death.
As Sean talked, his words jarred my memory as I recalled something forgotten. I was nineteen and in the hospital for surgery. Following it, I was nauseous due to the anesthesia and could not stop vomiting. My Dad took the nurse-assistant’s place and stayed next to my bed much of the night, cleaning me up and comforting me. The ‘cycle’ had broken; the past redeemed.
Recently, on a bright afternoon, I found myself stuck behind a school bus, with lights flashing and stop sign out. At the curb was a man in tank top and shorts, presumably a parent waiting for his child. When she emerged, he took her hand and kissed it. Then the two of them, hand-in-hand, walked down the street together. It was so loving and hopeful.
On this Father’s Day, I urge Fathers to be present and to take hold of their children. Stay with today. It’s all there is, really. Life is short and time’s a blur. God gives you this chance with kids to break the ‘cycle’ and redeem the past.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
June 8, Solemnity of Pentecost
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
And…he breathed on them. In a vitally intimate manner Jesus revived the faith of the disciples who had been dead themselves and locked in fear.
Recently, I had the chance to be in Rome with friends of mine who asked that I join them there and show them around the Eternal City where I had lived during my theological studies (1976-80).
While in Rome we attended the Wednesday General Audience and saw Pope Francis…Papa Francesco. As he wended his way through St. Peter’s Square on the popemobile amid that vast crowd, I found myself quite moved by his presence; genuine and palpable. I remember thinking, “Thank God for Pope Francis. What a breath of fresh air!”
And…he breathed on them.
The Pope’s down-to-earth presence—everything from the basic black shoes beneath his white cassock to washing the feet of young inmates on Holy Thursday—is breathing hope within the hearts of people everywhere, both inside and outside the church. During a recent visit to my monastery the Abbot said, “Everyone is watching this Pope; everyone!”
Rooted deep in the Church’s living Tradition and trellised by the wisdom and mystic insight of Ignatius, something new is happening through Pope Francis; something refreshing. Borrowing his own words, I perceive in him “the Good Shepherd who seeks not to judge but to love.” Pope Francis also said this in his Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”:
Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (pp. 24-25)
Such an approach is a far cry from the “remnant church” mentality of the recent past and striking how far more inclusive than exclusive he is with people, inside or outside the Church. It’s the Gospel embrace seen in this Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ. In Francis, something essential is being recovered that had been lost.
When in Rome, I got together with a classmate, Monsignor Bill Millea, who has worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State over 25 years and under three pontificates. Over dinner, we talked about the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land (he was returning late that night) and Bill mentioned how, without warning, the Pope stopped the car and got out to pray silently at the wall the Israeli government built around Palestinian territory. He prayed leaning his head against this barrier built of injustice and fear. This simple, yet amazing, gesture spoke volumes; of a desire to bring people beyond such impasses that separate and undermine peace, as did Jesus who, this Pentecost Sunday, defies locked doors where the disciples barricaded themselves to stand in their midst and speak words of forgiveness and peace.
Christ makes “all things new”. Such newness and “deep down freshness” must emanate from the Church’s proclamation in every generation. I see Pope Francis doing just that and why I find him an amazing breath of fresh air: resuscitating the Church at this crucial time. Listen to other words from “The Joy of the Gospel”:
Jesus can…break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world.
And…he breathed on them.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
May 18, 5th Sunday of Easter
On this 5th Sunday of Easter and in St. John’s gospel (14: 1-12), Jesus says to the disciple Thomas and to those who, like Thomas, are trying to find their way:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Sometimes these words are interpreted in a narrow sense: to mean that being Christian is the only way to the Father of us all; the only way a person is saved in the end.
Years ago, I read a Times magazine article on Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham. He was touring India at the time and was quoted as saying, “Look at them: all in the grip of the devil!” when observing Hindus worshipping at their temples. Sadly, his words and reaction betray a misguided smugness in reference to the gospel and what it means to be saved. If I remember my biblical studies correctly the word “Salvation” at its root means, “Spaciousness” as in sheep emerging from the confinement of the fold into the spaciousness of a meadow. To be saved, then, involves a ‘spaciousness of heart’; willing to see another “against an infinite horizon”. This alone saves us from our narrow- minded tendency to judge another. As Pope Francis put it in an interview, in words that went viral: “Who am I to judge?”
As a Catholic I wholeheartedly believe that in Christ we encounter the fullness of truth and discover in his footsore journey—his dying and rising to life—a life-giving and meaningful path to God, Father of us all. However, this does not mean we are better—or more complete—compared to others. It does not mean we or any other denomination has a monopoly on the truth. That is spiritual capitalism and contrary to the gospel.
Truth is more than orthodoxy; and Christ greater than the church. The Council Fathers stated that Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church. Christ is not the church. The church is a witness and body of believers called to mirror Christ. Yet, we have been a church that sometimes distorts his Image out of an obsessive need to control; to play God. I’m reminded of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and the passage in that novel called, “the Grand Inquisitor”; where Christ himself is put on trial by those defending orthodoxy.
In the transforming nature of the Resurrection, Christ no longer is confined by a tomb nor limited to one place. Nor can Christ be grasped fully by our minds. This palpable mystery is known only through love; through a humane approach to life. I think of the Jesuit poet Hopkins description:
For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father through the features of men’s faces.
The Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate” boldly stepped beyond the confining tendency to monopolize truth when it said there are “seeds of truth” in non-Christian religions. Franklin Graham was sadly mistaken: Hindus are not in the grip of the devil. The mystery of Christ, like a diamond, is multi-faceted and glimpsed by those seeking truth wherever and however that may be. Henri Nouwen reflected that the “golden thread” running through the world’s great religions is compassion. So there is something of God and of Christ in anyone seeking truth and practicing compassion. The Jesuit Karl Rahner called them, “anonymous Christians”.
“No one comes to the Father except through me.” I understand this to mean that the way to God is relational, more than doctrinal or even ecclesial. The way to God is found through the mystery of our humanity that Christ took upon himself in the Incarnation. In living my life in gratitude, all of it as it is –with its struggles and joy—I find my way to God. This is the paschal mystery and the gospel that is Christ. This humanity we share, especially in solidarity with the poor (and those on the margin where Christ continues to be found) is our way to God. It is the ultimate truth that leads to life.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
May 4, 3rd Sunday of Easter
My first Easter back from monastic life, I received an icon card depicting the Gospel this 3rd Sunday of Easter: where two disciples make their way to Emmaus and encounter Jesus on the road, though initially they fail to recognize him. Only when he breaks bread—code language for Eucharist—do their eyes open.
The icon is unique in that it shows one of the disciples alongside Jesus a woman. I’d never seen that before. My eyes opened!
Why not? Why not a woman as one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whose heart burns as he speaks; whose eyes open in the breaking of the bread? The first witnesses to the empty tomb and Risen Christ are women, not men: Mary of Magdala and several others who accompanied Jesus during his earthly life. Let’s face it: women often are one step ahead of us men when it comes to the spiritual path and as we scan the pages of history.
Currently, I’m reading “Jesus, A Pilgrimage” by Father James Martin, S.J. The passage read the other day caught my eye and makes me want to share it because, like Jesus, it ‘colors outside the lines’. Martin was visiting Capernaum by the sea and where Jesus spent much of his ministry and discovered something he had not known. When Jesus calls the first disciples into a strange new way of fishing—“I will make you fishers of men”—the evangelist has Jesus using the Greek word “anthropoi” (meaning “people”) and not “andres” which means ‘men ‘. Now, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. Yet, as the Gospels were put into writing the evangelists decided on Greek (translating the Aramaic) since the Church was spreading like wildfire into the known world and beyond Jerusalem.
“I will make you fishers of people.” This desire resonating in Christ when calling those first disciples is that both men and women are meant to be ‘lured’, if they choose, into following him; a desire sensed in his exchanges with women. Jesus approaches women as persons whenever seeking them out. All are welcome. This is the radical, liberating nature of the Gospel; the all-encompassing nature of Divine Love.
Having just witnessed the twin canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II, I’m especially reminded of Pope John’s lasting legacy and call for a “New Pentecost”. This call, inspired by the Spirit of God, was more than having the Mass in the vernacular; more than re-arranging liturgical furniture. It was the desire to bring about within the Church and “aggiornamento”— Italian meaning, “updating”—so that we might be in dialogue more with the “signs of the times”. Pope John feared the Church would become a “museum piece” and that we needed to strive towards a deeper understanding of ourselves in dialogue with people today. Vatican Council II was, and remains, a challenge to ‘color outside the lines’, to fathom the true nature of our baptismal call that had become obscured; some say lost. Let me offer one example how the Council was transformational in ways we’ve yet to fully realize due to resistance, fear and misunderstanding.
Before Vatican Council II, the Code of Canon Law stated that we shared in the mission of Christ through ordination; a rather narrow understanding and not the intention of Christ when calling those first disciples at Capernaum. After the Council, however, the revised Code states that we share in the mission of Christ through baptism. That changes our understanding as Church, don’t you think? Clearly, such vision can only deepen the call of Christ living within today’s world and only help fathom the true nature of the Church and call of the Gospel begun at Capernaum, by the sea.
Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus we can sometimes find ourselves downcast and with little hope when faced with the givens and situations of life.
Like them we need an encounter with Christ that is transformative and which makes the heart burn, our eyes open to what God wants to bring about in our lives and within the life of the Church. I got a glimpse of that reading about Pope Francis and that phone call he made to a divorced and remarried woman in Argentina. She wrote to him downcast, asking for help. And her heart must have burned as he spoke to her , offering her hope and as he ‘broke bread’ by welcoming her back to the Eucharist, a gift denied her by the Pastor in her parish. To me, Pope Francis embodies the teaching of the Council in a way that offers hope.
May our hearts burn and our eyes open in transformative ways; ways that breathe hope within our downcast world. Such is the true nature of the Church and ardent desire of the Risen Christ.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
April 27, Sunday of Divine Mercy
I believe all of us find something of ourselves in the Apostle Thomas, known as “The Doubter”. All of us doubt; all struggle to believe within this world of shadow and images. The name “Thomas” means, “Twin”. Perhaps he was a twin. We do not know. I like to understand it to mean that there were two sides to Thomas, like all of us. Within him there was a great mix of belief and doubt. And he escapes into doubt following the crucifixion; the disillusionment of it all.
Don’t we sometimes wonder, when disillusioned, if there’s anything at all to this thing called faith? Don’t we find ourselves questioning when things go wrong; when hope and expectations come to a crashing halt? As we grow older and, hopefully, wiser, you would think that faith would become more sure of itself, more alive with conviction. I’m reminded of a passage I read years ago, in “Stories of Faith” by John Shea:
An old lady near to death sat still in the rocking chair of the nursing home. “You know I believe, always have, and lived a good life. But now the time is getting close and sometimes I get to wondering.”
Getting to wondering is the human way. Getting to wondering and moving on is the courage of faith.
All of us “get to wondering”. We live with more questions than answers much of the time. We doubt. Yet, doubt is not the opposite of belief; indifference is. Beneath doubt, there exists a longing to believe otherwise. Inexplicably, faith is deepened this way. We see this happening to Thomas this 2nd Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday.
Reflecting on this Gospel, what matters is not the doubt, but the ‘context’ by which Thomas arrives at belief. He comes to believe when he returns to the place where the Disciples are gathered. It is in community he comes to believe and touch the physical presence of Christ; the reality of it all. In community his resistance breaks down, touched as he is by the probing tenderness of Christ.
In his Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis writes:
Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy…renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel…just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross…
Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.
Today’s Gospel summons us and, through Thomas, shows us that it’s in the context of community we come to believe. In community and through the “revolution of tenderness” we touch Christ. Without community, Christ and the reality of God becomes remote and unreal; victim to our illusions. The Church is more than an institution; more than membership. It is community and the true path to God.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
April 20, Easter Sunday Homliy
Let me begin with lines from a poem by Mary Oliver called, “Evidence”:
There are many ways to perish, or to flourish.
How old pain, for example, can stall us at
the threshold of function.
Still, friends, consider stone, that is without the fret
of gravity, and water that is without anxiety.
And the pine trees that never forget their
recipe for renewal.
And consider, always, every day, the determination
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