I am saddened at the recent passing of a wonderful man and great priest, Monsignor Francis Oliverio. Here is a photo of him as a young man assigned to St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in the Bronx, New York.
I remember as an altar boy serving at his Mass, his involvement with young people in CYO and summer camps, his chaperoning of Friday night dances (make room for the Holy Ghost ), his searching out lost youngsters in the neighborhood housing project playgrounds (and taking a few swings at softball). But most of all I remember him for this: one November night 45 years ago, after five or so years of my living in darkness, after a night of alcohol and drug abuse, he opened the rectory doors to me at 3 a.m. He invited me in and heard my confession – the sacrament that forever changed the direction of my life. He was the single most influential person in my conversion and healing. And I know that I am not the only one he helped. Dear Father, you were authentically a good and wholesome human being. You are true priest with the heart of the Good Shepherd!
May you spend eternity praying for those you helped and for their families and loved ones. I am eternally grateful for you. You will be missed by many!
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Remaining what she was,
she became what she was not,
Remaining what He was,
became (what He was not),
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Who are you? This, I think, is the second most important question that one can be asked (The first in importance is Who do you say Jesus is?) The testimony of John the Baptist consists in his answering this question both negatively and positively:
I am neither the Christ nor the Prophet nor Elijah. The Baptist does not think more of himself than he should. While he may have been able to mislead his hearers into thinking more of him than they should, he would not mislead himself. I think most of you think, not too much of yourselves but too little. Listen to what St. Paul says to the Galatians: So you are no longer a slave (Gal 4:7):
Not To The Law: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to ransom those under the law (Gal 4:5).
Not To Sin: But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God (Rom 6:22).
Not To The Devil and not Even To Death: through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. (Heb 2:14-15).
The positive answer to who are you? Also is not self-deprecating . . .
I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’. He is not afraid to recognize that the Prophet Isaiah spoke of him. Who he was is intimately connected to what he does. And so the question for you remains: Who are you? Let’s go back to how St. Paul answered that: but (you are) a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God (Gal 4:7). Know your identity in Christ! Know who you are not and know who you are. It’s out of your understanding of your identity that your thoughts, words and actions flow.
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Today we celebrate the mystery
that in the fulness of time,
God became flesh in human history.
Remaining what He was
– As God He has a Divine Father
but no divine mother.
He became what He was not
– As Man He has a human mother
but no human father.
All of this was only possible because,
Mary, remaining what she was,
becomes what she was not,
Remaining what you are (human)
You become what you are not (Divine).
For you have become partakers in the Divine Nature (2 Pt. 1:4).
As the catechism of the Catholic Church teaches
the Son of God became man so that we might become God (CCC #460).
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at the preparation of the Chalice,
the priest or deacon prays:
By the mingling of this water and wine
May we come to share in the Divinity of Christ
Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.
Ever Virgin – Mother of God
Pray for us!
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Last summer Lucia and I spent about 10 weeks in Hungary and Romania. As much as we love the people there and the work of the new evangelization it is hard to be there. To me their language is incomprehensible. We miss our family, our friends and our parish . . . While there we are aliens, foreigners.
Today’s Reading from the Prophet Isaiah was addressed to the Judean exiles living in Babylon as foreigners. But these scriptures were also written down for our instruction (1 Cor 10:11), they speak to us as well. You see, since Adam and Eve were exiled from paradise, much of human experience is fraught with alienation and rejection, fractured relationships and broken hearts. We are strangers and outcasts, it seems, even to ourselves. Burdened by sin, guilt and shame, we look for comfort in all the wrong places. And so the cycle continues and sin, guilt and shame increase.
Despite the pitiable condition of humanity the prophet climbs a high mountain and shouts at the top of his voice:
Here is your God! He comes with power. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom.
This season of Advent is a season to hope, a season of comfort. But some of you might say the LORD is not coming, I don’t see His power, I don’t feel His arms, and I’m not close to His bosom . . .
In the Reading from 2 Peter it is explained that what might look like a delay is really God’s patience. The LORD does not want you to perish, but rather that all should come to repentance! Go deeper this Advent. Press on! The LORD is coming!
Today the prophet Isaiah is crying out, our patron saint John the Baptist is crying out, Make a straight way! Not in the Judean or Saharan desert, not in the Gobi or Mojave desert. They’re crying out in the wasteland that is the human heart: straighten up, rectify your lives! Level that mountain of pride, fill in that valley of bitterness with compassion and mercy. Let that hard rugged land soften and become a heart of flesh.
People were being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins. How much more should sins be acknowledged before the One who baptizes you with the Holy Spirit. Blessed John Paul the Great, in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, said there can be no conversion without the acknowledgment of one’s own sin. Acknowledging sin and receiving the LORD’S forgiveness in the Sacrament is what breaks the cycle of sin, guilt and shame.
This Monday evening at 7pm is our Advent Penance service. Let’s fill the Church this year. Let’s walk again on the road of conversion by acknowledging our own sin and receiving forgiveness from the LORD.
I hope to see all of you Monday night.
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JESUS PROPOSED ANOTHER PARABLE TO THE CROWDS
A Parable is a story full of illustrations from daily life that compares the things of heaven with things of earth. Its purpose is to reveal mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Another way of saying it this is: a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In today’s gospel Jesus proposes not one but three parables to you. Each parable begins with the phrase:
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE
The Kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom like Great Britain, whose monarch is a figurehead. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom with a self-declared monarch like Napoleon of France. The Kingdom of Heaven is certainly not a democracy, like the USA, where the will of the majority is the Law of the land. The Kingdom of heaven is the Reign and the rule of God. He alone reigns because He is the maker of heaven and earth; He is the Father of all; He alone is Lord; His word is Law. And while His reign and authority are absolute, neither is the Kingdom Heaven a reign of tyranny. As you heard in the 1st Reading (Wis 12:13, 16-19), His might is the source of justice, Yet He judges with clemency, and He governs us with much lenience. Let us look then at the three parables beginning with the second, the third and then we’ll come back to the first:
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED
The smallest of seeds sown in the field growing into the largest of trees speaks of the sudden, surprising, and unexpected growth of God’s kingdom throughout history. You have seen this type of growth here at the parish. One year ago there were fewer than two hundred families. More than eighty families have joined the parish – a forty percent increase – and I assure you it is not because of Fr. Bob’s or my good looks or athletic builds.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE YEAST MIXED WITH THREE MEASURES OF WHEAT FLOUR
The growth of the Kingdom of God, like the work of the yeast, is hidden but thorough. The kingdom of God contains within it the power that can renew and transform the whole world. This type of growth is hidden within each of you also. It is the power to transform a young man addicted to alcohol and drugs to a follower of Christ; it has the power to transform the life of a sinful woman into a woman who loves the Lord with all her heart and soul. And it has the power to transform your lives as well! Let’s return now to the first parable.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN MAY BE LIKENED TO A MAN
Jesus is speaking of Himself, the Son of Man. He is the One who came from the bosom of the Father when the Word became flesh. He dwelt among us and was like us in every way but sin. This was an absolutely singular and unique event: God became Man in Jesus and in no one else. WHO SOWED GOOD SEED IN HIS FIELD
The good seed are the children of the kingdom those who received Him, who believed in Him, He gave power to become children of God (Jn 1:12). When you receive Him in Holy Communion He will come into your body. Believe in Him and invite Him into your heart and mind and like leaven He will begin the work of transformation in your life.
WHILE EVERYONE WAS ASLEEP HIS ENEMY CAME
The enemy is the devil, and he works at night. Like I’ve told my children many times: nothing good ever happens after midnight. So stay alert and be watchful.
AND SOWED WEEDS ALL THROUGH THE WHEAT
The weed referred to is darnel, which when young is amazingly similar in appearance to wheat. The devil sows in such a way so as to mix in error with truth. And the error, or the lie, is of course, presented as a good – just like he lied to Eve who saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom (Gen 3:5).
WHERE HAVE THE WEEDS COME FROM?
Or, why is there evil in the world? Why is the church filled with both saints and sinners? Even closer to home – why is there both good and evil in my life and yours? Here is the point, I believe, of the parable, the mystery of why God allows both good and evil:
HE REPLIED, ‘NO, IF YOU PULL UP THE WEEDS YOU MIGHT UPROOT THE WHEAT ALONG WITH THEM
The point of this parable is the incredible and enduring patience and mercy of God. He wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4). Because God is slow to anger, (and) abounding in kindness, the final sorting will come when Christ Jesus appears in all his glory . . .
AT HARVEST TIME I WILL SAY TO THE HARVESTERS: COLLECT THE WEEDS AND TIE THEM IN BUNDLES FOR BURNING
There will be a time of judgment: the weeds will be pulled from the wheat; the goats separated from the sheep; and the sinner from the righteous – we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. So, brothers and sisters, let us live our lives for Him. And when the time comes may you hear the master say:
GATHER THE WHEAT INTO MY BARN . . .
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About twenty three years ago our oldest daughter began her freshman year at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. We did the soccer and lacrosse matches, the choir performances and the parent / teacher conferences. And in the process we met quite a few of the teachers at the school. Two years later our second daughter began her high school career and she was followed by four more. (I think we hold some kind of record for continuance attendance by members of the same family : )
Children numbered two through six were inevitably greeted by teachers whom they had not yet met with the following : So, which Thomashefski are you? There was something about the way they looked, the way they spoke, the way they carried themselves, that immediately their teachers knew who their father was! What was said about me as I was growing up was said also about them: you’re a real chip off the old block!
This idiom can be used about the LORD: Jesus is a chip off the old block! In the Gospel today Jesus says:
Whoever Has Seen Me Has Seen The Father. By seeing and observing what Jesus taught, how He spoke, the way in which He related to others (especially the poor, the broken and the disenfranchised) we begin to come to know Him. Then the LORD says,
If You Know Me, Then You Will Also Know My Father.
Another way of saying this is, if you want to know the Father get to know His son, Jesus! When you get to know the Son, this is what you get to know about God the Father: you are unequivocally and irrevocably loved by your Father in heaven! God the Father did not, cannot and will not ever reject you or stop loving you. In Redemptoris Missio Blessed John Paul the Great says something like this: Jesus not only reveals to us who God is, He reveals to us who we are. Who you are is your identity. You are beloved sons and daughters of God the Father.
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