Sunday, April 20, 2014

Eye of Love

The resurrection did not make breaking news on CNN. After he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others; understood by some, but not by others. Some got his meaning and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him, and still others understood what had happened, hardened their hearts against it, and tried to destroy its truth.

Why this difference? What makes some people see the resurrection while others do not? What lets some understand the mystery and embrace it, while others are left in indifference or hatred?

Hugo of St. Victor used to say: Love is the eye! When we look at anything through the eyes of love, we see correctly, understand, and properly appreciate its mystery. The reverse is also true. When we look at anything through eyes that are jaded, cynical, jealous, or bitter, we will not see correctly, will not understand, and will not properly appreciate its mystery.

Two weeks ago, volunteers from our parish cooked a homemade pork and mashed potato meal for the “gentlemen,” the inmates from Attica. They have worked hard for seven months to remodel and restore the rectory, stain glass windows of the church and the parish school.

There darkness was the consequences of their drug addiction, losing their freedom, not being with their loved ones. However, on this special morning, the ladies of our parish gave these men back their dignity and offered them the love of this community. You should have seen the surprise on their faces as the homemade food was being passed around the tables. A lightness came across their faces as they were being fed real food from the hands of real people who offered it with the eye of love. As one inmate remarked: “homemade beats prison food anytime.”

What characterizes Holy Family Catholic Community is it oddness. Holy Family is home for people who are out of step, unfashionable, and unconventional. Hanging in the air throughout this catholic church is the heavenly smell of incense mingled with the piggy fragrance of sweaty hardworking farmers and a messy shepherd who gets stuck in manure.

Christ is risen, though we might not see him. The miraculous doesn’t force itself on us. It’s there, there to be seen, but whether we see or not, and what precisely we do see, depends mainly upon what’s going on inside our own hearts.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they have the eye of love and  believe that He has risen. Blessed Easter to each of you and all the members of your family.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Humiliation-Stuck in Manure


When Jesus sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked his Father to let the cup of suffering pass him by he wasn’t, for the most part, cringing before the prospect of brute physical suffering. He was cringing before the prospect of a very particular kind of suffering that is generally more feared than physical pain. Crucifixion was designed to humiliate the person. Among other things, the person was stripped naked before being hung on a cross so that his genitals would be publicly exposed. As well, at the moment of death his bowels would loosen. Crucifixion clearly had humiliation in mind.

We have tended to downplay this aspect, both in our preaching and in our art. We have surrounded the cross with roses, with aesthetic and antiseptic wrapping towels. But that was not the case for Jesus. His nakedness was exposed, his body publicly humiliated. That is why many of his disciples abandoned Jesus and scattered after the crucifixion. They simply couldn’t connect this kind of humiliation with glory, divinity, and triumph.

What experiences in your life have you felt ashamed, a powerlessness from which you were unable to protect yourself, an abuse from which you could not defend yourself, an inadequacy of body or mind that has left you vulnerable, a humiliating incident that once happened to you, or some mistake you made that publicly exposed your lack of knowledge or strength in some area.

I was on my tractor yesterday planning to turn over the manure pile from the winter. No sooner had I moved the manure pile that I found my front and back tires spinning in the manure and mud. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself “this can’t be.” I tried to roll the tractor back and forth but it was stuck in the manure. Desperate, I got some wood boards to insert under the tires but it made no difference. Frustrated and exhausted after an hour and half, I got the chains to pull the tractor and discovered that I did not know how to hook them up. Humiliated, I called my neighbor for help. He came with two trucks figuring I was stuck in some ditch. When he came to the my side, I got back into the tractor and he said, “ did you put it four wheel drive.” No, I forgot that I have four wheel drive. Embarrassed, the tractor was out of the muddy patch in seconds and this priest was redeemed and humiliated. My friend told me not to worry, you are not a farmer who does this work for a living. I'm glad that you were not hurt when you called for help.

There are moments when we feel up to our necks in manure and wonder how will we get ourselves out of this smelly mess.

What is the connection between this type of pain and the glory of Easter Sunday? Why is it, as the gospels say, “necessary to first suffer in this manner so as to enter into glory?”

Because, paradoxically, a certain depth of soul can only be attained through a certain depth of humiliation. How and why is this so? It isn’t easy to articulate rationally but we can understand this through experience:

All of us, like Jesus, have been, in one way or another, hung up publicly and humiliated. In these helpless moments we attain a depth of soul.

Humiliation can makes us deep in character, understanding, graciousness, and forgiveness or we can be deep in anger, bitterness, revenge seeking, and murder. Jesus’ crucifixion stretched his heart and made it huge in empathy, graciousness, and forgiveness. But it doesn’t always work that way.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who have felt the wounds of humiliation and shame from their family and friends. Help us to handle that wound not with bitterness but forgiveness.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Heavenly Home

NORTH JAVA - Joe McMahon and Kelly Smith were between a rock and a hard place.
Finding good and affordable housing is hard enough locally. But add seven kids and landlords can become less than accommodating.
Joe and Kelly’s dilemma has proven just the ticket for Holy Family Parish. Faced with a large and vacant rectory, the church was looking for somebody to fill the space.
Call it a match made in Heaven.
“It’s a pretty long story,” Joe said Tuesday. “We were pretty down on our luck, as far as we can get.”
Both natives of the Buffalo area, Joe and Kelly were living in Arcade until a few months ago, when they and their family were evicted from the place they’d resided for the previous six years.
The family was facing about year’s wait until they could get a home loan for military vets — Joe had served in the Marines — and their outlook wasn’t brightening.
They moved to a small place in Delevan in Cattaraugus County briefly, while one of their daughters stayed with Kelly’s mother. They also spent a few months in a hotel, always looking for suitable new housing.
“We were so freaked out,” Joe said. “We lived in this place six years, and we were given 29 days’ notice. Seven kids, we were like, ‘How is this going to work?’ We were concentrating on moving our stuff out, but where the hell are we going to go?”
Kelly said there’s a lot of ignorance, and they wouldn’t get calls back, after telling prospective landlords how many kids they had. They reached the point of saying they had four children, but didn’t want to lie.
“We were close to moving in with family members,” Joe said. “Hers or mine, and I was close to moving in with my brother.”
Enter Holy Family Parish, whose advertisement the couple saw in a local pennysaver.
“We wouldn’t believe how excited we were when we saw that,” Joe said.
The rectory had been vacant for about 10 years, during which the parish was shut by Buffalo’s Roman Catholic Diocese, and was later resurrected by the Polish National Catholic Church.
The building’s office was used occasionally for meetings in recent years, but it was otherwise unused. And its size made it a good choice for larger families, with six bedrooms, one-and-a-half bathrooms, a kitchen and more.
Thus the parishioners wanted the old rectory to be used. It was rehabbed last summer, including significant repairs by inmate work crews from the New York State Department of Corrections.
The rectory first hosted a nearby family burnt out by a fire in 2012, and then a single mom with six children until last August, when it became vacant again.
“We don’t want it to sit empty because there are people who can use it,” said Karen Wilson, who belongs to the parish’s building committee. “I put an ad in the paper, and Joe and Kelly were the first ones to answer it. Then I had three or four phone calls. I showed to three more families, but most of them didn’t qualify, because we won’t allow any pets or smoking.”
And it proved perfect for the couple and their family.
North Java is close to Arcade, where Joe works at his longtime API Air Tech job. It also provides relatively easy access to Attica Central School for the couple’s younger children, along with East Aurora, where their oldest children still attend.
“We could have gone South Buffalo way, but we both decided the schooling out here is safer,” Joe said. “Our kids grew up out here. That was a big point of staying in this area.
“My daughters basically went to school since kindergarten out here,” Kelly added. “We lived out here, and I like it out in this area too.”
Joe and Kelly looked at the rectory early last month. They received approval from the parish, and moved officially on March 16. They pay a basic “user fee” to cover the utilities and basic upkeep.
The couple have proverbially “hit it off” with Karen and their new neighbors, and are planning to stay awhile. And the full rectory helps fulfill the parish’s own mission.
“So far the family is ecstatic,” said Rev. Matt Kawiak, the parish pastor. “They’ve got some stability, and the parish s elated that after six months of renovation ... that they’ve found somebody who needed a place to stay. It’s a win-win for both, the community as well as the family.”
“It’s like God answered their prayers in my feelings,” Wilson said. “It’s like God sent them here, and they’re supposed to be here. The house is now alive with children. It’s a big house with a lot of bedrooms, and it’s going to keep everything alive.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who open their homes to family and friends in distress. May the spirit of hospitality bring our family closer together during the Easter Season.