Harry Was A Minister 8-19-2018

August 16th, 2018

I have a special story for us. I believe there is a powerful lesson for all of us in this story:
Harry never even vaguely considered himself a minister in his church. “Come on,” he would say. “The people who give out the Eucharist, the ones who lecture, maybe they are ministers, but me…. I’m just an usher.
A young priest in Harry’s parish had given a talk on the “ministry” of a greeter, but Harry wasn’t buying that “malarkey.” He said he was just trying to “give the pastor a hand” by taking up the collection, steering people to Holy Communion and saying hello to parishioners when they came into church.
Harry believed that, until one cold March night he came home from work and his wife told him the pastor called. Harry returned the call and the pastor told him that a letter had been received at the rectory. The letter was simply addressed to “Harry the usher.”
The priest said that since he was the only usher called Harry, would he please pick up his letter. Harry, intrigued by the request, complied and on the way home ripped open the envelope and in the dim light of the car read the following:
Dear Harry, I don’t know your last name, but I guess that’s fair. You don’t know mine either. I’m Gert, Gert form the 8:00 am Mass. I am writing you for a couple of reasons, and I hope you will understand. One of the reasons is to ask a favor. I am not particularly close to any of the priests in the parish but somehow I feel close to you. I don’t even know how you got to know my first name, but every Sunday morning when I walked into Mass you smiled and greeted me and called me by my name. We would exchange a few words that were perhaps meaningless to most like how bad the weather was; how much you like my Easter hat and how late I was on a particular Sunday.
I don’t have any close family left, Harry. My husband has been dead for 16 years and the kids are scattered. Not too many people smile and greet an old lady like me, but you did.
Harry, in the little time left to me, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the thoughtfulness; for remembering my name is Gert; for the smiles and little laughter; the consideration and the conversation. Now for the favor, I am dying Harry. My time is running out. It is not important that you come to my wake, but what is important to me is that when they bring me to church for Mass for the last time, you will be standing at the front entrance. It wouldn’t seem right if you weren’t standing to say “Hello Gert.” “Good to see you.”
If you are there, Harry, I will feel assured that your warm hospitality in my home parish will be duplicated by Peter, Jesus, and Mary in my new parish, my new home. I hope they will say as you always did, “Hello Gert.” “It is good to see you.”
The lady who wrote that letter recently was buried from her parish church. Harry did stand at the entrance. He smiled and said the words Gert wanted to hear as he gently touched the coffin. Harry gave Gert Eucharist.
Eucharist, when will we learn that Eucharist is so much more than the ritual, following along the missallete, an obligation, a passive congregation, a me and God experience, a place to be entertained, a how fast can I get out of here happening.
Eucharist, so much more; two sides of the same coin. Jesus present in the Bread and Wine, and Gods’ word, the flip side, Jesus present in the people. Eucharist, so much more. When will we learn.


August 12th, 2018

I. As I read through the Scriptures – each week – certain words, phrases – just seem to pop out at me and cause me to wrestle with them and see how they speak to my everyday life.
A. An example of this came in the Second Reading of Paul to the Ephesians, “Be Imitators of God.”
How can I do that I thought? I started thinking about people in my life experience that had impressed me by the way they were trying to imitate this Compassionate God that we talk so much about.
I have a very powerful memory of some people of faith just like those of us here, putting flesh and blood, hands and eyes, a heart on the Compassion of God.
II. Some years back, I had the opportunity to attend a convention near Stanford University on Parish Life Today. A lot of people from 4 or 5 different states – very practical workshops on various aspects of Parish Ministry.
I chose to attend one workshop entitled, “Ministering to Persons with AIDS and their Loved Ones.” The speaker was Fr. Tony Maguire, at that time the pastor of Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco’s Castro District, the heart of the gay community.
The description of the workshop went like this:
How a parish of “gays and gray” became a healing presence to a community ravaged by AIDS? This was done by means of growth in prayer, (liturgical, personal, devotional) and by developing service programs inspired by unconditional love and by opening the parish to the real needs of local community.
Fr. Maguire began to explain how all this took place.
A. The parish leadership began to realize there was a problem. Many young gay men dying all around them. What was the parish doing to minister to these people, children of God. The leadership believed all people deserve to die with dignity and with support and care of people around them.
B. The first thing the parish began to do was to pray – the petitions at Mass often mentioned the names of people with AIDS and their families. They reframed an old church practice called the 40 hour devotion and prayed for healing. What they found was that the more they prayed as a parish – the more their hearts become open – more sensitive.
C. What happened next was a process of education. Through lectures by doctors, nurses and psychologists they started dealing with the prejudices – phobias – questions/fears people had. This was a very slow process – which is ongoing. What all this did was to build some bridges of understanding between people.
D. They developed and trained working groups, 60 home care volunteers, (regular people like you and me), who made personal visits to people who were dying of AIDS. They brought them to Church, gave them attention, and listened to them. 80 support volunteers sent letters, cards, and hot meals to the families.
Maria Sorentino, an 80 year old Italian Nonna had been in the parish for 50 years; her ministry, hugging people in wheel chairs. When someone would question her she would say “MA!” They are people – just like me and you.
E. Fr. Maguire made it very clear that there were limits to the parish’s involvement. There was a clear moral line, anything and everything was not okay. That line however never got in the way of compassion.
Some real miracles began taking place; — people became more open to the Church that they had been away from for years. They experienced a more compassionate and hopeful and sensitive church.
Grieving parents found a place where they could come and express themselves. One lady said, “I come here each week from San Jose, (50 miles away) to find the support I need to cope with my son who is dying of AIDS. I can’t say anything in my own parish.
F. Fr. Maguire ended his presentation by quoting a male prostitute who was dying of AIDS, whom the parish was ministering to: –“In this death bed – I have finally found human love that I spent so long looking for. In this death bed through these people, I have finally found my God.”
Be imitators of God – Be compassionate, love one another. It does not say love one another (if) they are healthy – young – good looking – get good grades – agree with your moral standards – live like we think they should live.
It simply says: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Thank you people of Most Holy Redeemer for being Imitators of God.
Thank you people of San Carlos for also being Imitators of God.

A Sunday Eucharist 8-5-2018

August 5th, 2018

She enters the church and sits in her usual place. She mouths the words of the prayers and hymns, but her thoughts are of her daughter. How can she make her realize that she is making a big mistake that she is heading down a road that will lead to pain, anguish and regrets? At the appointed time the woman makes her way from her place up the altar to receive the Eucharist–the sacrament of Christ the loving Brother who says to her, “Just be there for your daughter as I am here for you”.
Right now he doesn’t want to be in the church or any church. His heart is filled with anger–anger at the disease slowly taking his wife away form him, anger at God for letting it happen to her. He files up to the communion station and takes in his hand the bread of the Eucharist–the sacrament of Christ the Healer who says to him, “Don’t look for me in the disease. I am not in death. I am with you in the loving kindness and support of your family and friends who reach out to you and your family. And I will be there to take your beloved’s hand when you must let her go”.
They are sports celebrities and politicians, bankers and high-powered lawyers. They come every Sunday to the altar and receive the Eucharist–the sacrament of Christ the humble Redeemer who says to them, “As I have become bread for you, you must become bread for others; as I have been lifted up for your sake, you must lift others up”.
They are the poor, the forgotten, the troubled, the sick, the rejected, gay/lesbian and transgender people. They come to the table and extend their hands to receive the Eucharist–the sacrament of Christ who welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes into his presence and now welcomes them too, “Come blessed ones, to the feast of my Father, It is good that you are here; Your are always welcome here”!
The Eucharist demands more than the opening of our hands to take and our mouths to consume; it demands more that we open our hearts and spirits as well so that we may become what we receive. The AMEN! We say when we take this bread and wine is our assent to the Holy One who gives us himself in this sacrament–a gift that is given to us to give to others.
An old monk prayed many years for a vision from God to strengthen his faith, but it never came. He had almost given up hope when, one day, a vision appeared. The old monk was overjoyed. But then, right in the middle of the vision, the monastery bell rang. The ringing of the bell meant it was time to feed the poor who gathered daily at the monastery gate, and it was the old monk’s turn to feed them. If he failed to show up with food, the poor people would leave quietly, thinking the monastery had nothing to give them that day.
The old monk was torn between his earthly duty and his heavenly vision. However, before the bell stopped tolling, the monk made his decision. With a heavy heart, he turned his back on the vision and went off to feed the poor. Nearly an hour later, the old monk returned to his room. When he opened the door, he could hardily believe his eyes. There in the room was the vision waiting for him. As the monk dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the vision said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed”.
The challenge: 1. To become what we receive.
2. The Mass never ends it must be lived.