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Who or what is our god?



In the letter to the Philippians, we are reminded of problems that have vexed creation since the beginning: People are more concerned about their stomachs than they are their souls. People focus on being popular instead of doing what is right and just. People build up earthly treasure instead of heavenly riches. It was true in Noah’s day, in Jesus’ day, and it is true in the year 2016.

As we continue our Lenten journey, we might well ask ourselves the question, “Who or what is our god?” For some of us, it might be food or living well. For others, their god is in fame and popularity. And for still others, it may be things of this world that give pleasure.

For Abram, despite his own personal wealth and influence, recognized that he needed to put his trust and focus on God. Because of his unwavering faith, God rewarded him, but more importantly, entered into a special relationship with Abram. This is important for us to realize: we do not need to be faithful so that God will reward us or give us things; rather, we are faithful because in so doing, we develop a close relationship with God.

This is what the new evangelization is all about: becoming close to God so that we can truly count on him as our friend. For many people, God is distant (or rather, they are distant from God). During this Lenten season, we are invited to draw closer to God in order have a personal relationship with him. Just as we have close human friendships, so too God wants us to have a close spiritual relationship.

The scene on Mount Tabor in which Jesus is speaking to Moses and Elijah can be a reality for us as well. As Peter says, “It is good for us to be here.” Indeed it is. We should be close to God and to those holy men and women who have gone before us. But it doesn’t just happen: all relationships take work. Spiritual ones are no different. They take time and energy and they need to evolve and deepen as the years pass.

During this second week of Lent, in your prayer time, ask God what steps you need to take to deepen your relationship with him. Where is your friendship with God weak? What steps do you need to take in order to deepen or strengthen your relationship with God?

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Love entails sacrifice



It is by happy coincidence that while the secular world celebrates Valentine’s Day, the Church celebrates the First Sunday of Lent because both feasts illustrate the presence of God’s love in the world. Valentine’s Day commemorates the love that two people have for one another and Lent reminds us of the love that God has for his people. Both of these “loves” are rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

The life of Jesus shows us how much God cares for us. In turn, we are invited to share that love with those around us. When two people are committed to one another, they will do anything for each other—even to the point of death. In other words, love entails sacrifice. If we truly love someone, we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in order that they might have life.

While some may think this to be this rather strong language, consider what happens when we love someone: We compromise; we put their feelings, wants, needs, and desires first. In turn, they (hopefully) do the same for us. However, sometimes the relationship is unequal (parent and child, for example). Even then, we sacrifice our time, our energy, our money, our needs, so that the more vulnerable person might have a good life. But the point is not how much we sacrifice or compromise, but that we put the other person first.

This is the point of the temptations that Jesus endured. Jesus so loved his Father that he was willing to forego food, wealth, and power in order to remain faithful to his commitment and mission. What are we willing to give up in order to be faithful to those we love? When we truly love someone, we want only the best for them and we make a conscious decision to help them to become the person God has called them to be, even if it means that they increase and we decrease.

May the beginning of our Lenten journey challenge us to become more Christ-like and more loving not only to those who are significant in our lives, but to everyone we meet.

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Recognize that all we have is gift



In this week’s readings we are challenged to vocation. We are invited not only to pray for vocations, but to pray that our particular vocation will be lived out according to God’s will. We often think of vocations as being for the ordained; however, there is only one vocation: the universal call to holiness lived out in four distinct but related ways.

All people begin their vocation as a single person. Some remain single for a short period of time; others for their entire lives. A vast majority of people make the transition to the married state, while a few become religious or pursue an ordained ministry. In all of these states of life, we are called to give witness to God’s presence. No vocation is greater than another; rather, they are different means to get closer to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus commissions Simon Peter to be a “fisher of men”. We, too, are called to invite others to experience God’s love and mercy. This is what the new evangelization is all about: Inviting others to encounter Christ.

There are many ways to do this. Probably the most effective is to be Christ for others. In other words, we must live Christ in all that we do and say. Our actions speak louder than words. Ask yourself, “Do I walk the talk? Do people see Christ within me?” We are encouraged to educate ourselves about who Christ is for us. As we become more like the Master, people notice. As we grow in holiness, people want to follow along. Secondly, we should try to associate with others who are on a faith journey. The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” can be taken in a positive sense. If we associate with likeminded individuals, it helps to shape and form our outlook on life. When we hang out with holy people we become holier. When we associate with those who call us to conversion, we become converted. A third way is to talk to people about what God has done or is doing in your life. Don’t be afraid to share the Good News and encourage others to seek out Christ. Not that you have to become a prophet or televangelist, but suggest to others that when they are seeking answers to life’s problems, God can provide them. Recognize that all we have is gift. God gives us talent and possessions in order that we can have a good life and lead others to Christ. Don’t squander your gifts. Give credit where it is due and encourage others to do the same.

This Wednesday begins our Lenten journey. What are some of your goals and desires? How do you want to be transformed this Lent and what will you do to make this happen?

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Love



As we come the end of the first month of 2016, the readings remind us of how much God cares for his people. The reading from Jeremiah tells us that God knew us in the womb. Each of us is formed with a purpose and given a mission. However, because of free will, we can choose to accept that mission or reject it.

Our ultimate mission or purpose is to love. The beautiful reading from First Corinthians challenges us to love one another. Yet, do we understand love? For some, love is an emotion or feeling. We often confuse love with admiration or appreciation (“I love Adele’s music.” Or, “I love the color purple.”). The biblical concept of love goes far beyond mere admiration. Rather, love implies a deep connection or symbiotic relationship between two (or more) individuals. It is a recognition of the reverence that we have for the God who created us.

When I love someone, I see them as created in the image and likeness of God. That person helps me to be a better person and helps me to see the presence of God. Occasionally, I may be challenged by that person. He or she may even cause me to become angry or frustrated. But if I truly love them, I will recognize that they are looking out for my best interest and want me to become more God-like.

God truly loves us and wants us to succeed. In turn, we need to use our gifts and talents to make God’s presence known in the world around us. As you reflect on this week’s scriptures, ask yourself, “Have I been a prophet who promotes God’s love? And do I truly try to love each person with whom I come into contact by seeing them as being in the image and likeness of God?”

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it



This past Friday (January 22nd) marked the 43rd anniversary of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in this country. Since that time, millions of infants have died in the name of “a woman’s right to choose.” In fact, more infants have been aborted in 43 years (about 56 million) than soldiers have died in all of the major conflicts in which the United States has fought in the past 240 years (about 2 million).

The second reading from today’s scriptures reminds us that each part of the body is necessary. In fact, Paul reminds us, “Indeed the parts that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary….If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it….” In other words, the most vulnerable among us (the unborn, the aged, the other-abled, those with diminished intellectual capacity) should be treated with honor and respect. It is often said that one can tell the health of a society by the way in which it treats the most vulnerable of its members.

I realize that the abortion issue is filled with a lot of polemics. People on both sides are very passionate. However, as Catholic Christians, we need to ask ourselves: What does it say about us as human beings if we dispose of those we consider “useless” or “a burden?” I saw an internet photo which showed a wolf pack in motion. The pack put the weakest members at the head of the caravan while the strongest pulled up the rear and were interspersed among the other members of the pack. The caravan moved only as fast as the weaker members chose to go.

What would our society look like if we followed the lead of our weaker members instead of abandoning them or worse yet, killing them off? The first reading from Nehemiah tells the story of how the people of Israel reacted when they heard the reading of the law. For the Israelites, the law of God was their guidepost and their salvation. It was not complicated or convoluted. So too in our day: God’s law is simple and straight-forward: “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we truly love someone, we’re not going to kill him or her. Abortion, no matter how one chooses to justify it, is the deliberate killing of another human life.

But there is always hope. For 23 years I have heard many confessions. Some of the most poignant and heart-felt were from those who confessed having procured an abortion. They recognized that they had made a terrible decision and in the process committed sin against humanity and against God. However, our God is a merciful God who always holds out the hand of friendship and forgiveness. We merely have to take hold of it in order to be pulled back into God’s loving embrace.

In your prayer this week, pray for those who have had an abortion (or are contemplating having one). Pray for those who were aborted. In particular, pray for yourself that you may come to know God’s will for you in order that you may exercise your particular gifts and talents wisely.

Every person from the weakest to the strongest, from the least intelligent to the genius, is important in the Body of Christ. May we come to know God’s presence in the world around us, especially in and through the most vulnerable of our society.

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Am I sitting the sidelines?



Although this is the year of Luke, today’s Gospel reading comes from John. It is the famous Wedding Feast at Cana. It is important to point out that Jesus was no stick in the mud. He enjoyed parties and dinners. He liked people. In fact, most of his miracles and teachings happened at social gatherings. I had a pastor who liked to say, “There is no meetin’ without some eatin’.” When we gather together at table, many great things can happen.

There is a close tie-in between the Gospel and the first reading from Isaiah: God calls us to a new existence in which we are fed. God wants us to be happy. He wants us to take delight in the things of creation. More importantly, the most often used image of heaven is that of a wedding feast. Why? Everyone is usually happy at a wedding. There is good food, a lot of alcohol, and people are free to be themselves. In traditional wedding feasts, the party goes on for several days. It is no wonder that people came to associate weddings with extended feasting and revelry.

A wedding banquet has a loveable cast of characters. Each plays his or her role. Many different and unique individuals comprise the guest list. And that’s what makes the feast interesting. So too in the Church: the second reading reminds us that there are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit. Each one of us has a particular role to play. The challenge is determining which role is mine.

Once we have discerned our particular talent or gift, we must exercise it. The greatest sin against the Holy Spirit is failing to use the talent or gift that we’ve been given. Although it wasn’t Jesus’ time, at Mary’s request, he exercised his gift. He could no longer hide it. He could no longer be anonymous. Shortly after his baptism in the Jordan by John, Jesus had to get to work and begin his ministry. Perhaps he wanted to remain on the sidelines a bit longer, but life happened and he needed to do what he had been called to do.

As we enter into Ordinary Time, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I holding back on exercising my gift or talent?” Am I sitting the sidelines watching life pass me by or am I getting actively involved?

Time is short and fleeting. When we sit down at the Eucharistic banquet what happens to us? Does our meeting and eating result in great things? If not, why not?

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

How do I live out my baptismal calling?



Today marks the official end of the Christmas Season. Over the past few weeks we have seen Jesus grow from an infant to a pre-teen to an adult embarking on his ministry. This feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that the ministry of Jesus began with his being filled with the Holy Spirit. So too, our ministry as Christians begins with our baptism whether as an infant or as an adult. The major difference between our baptism and that of Jesus is that almost immediately after his baptism Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel. For most of us, we ease into our mission as Christians. We take time getting our feet wet. And for some of us, our ministry as Christians never takes off.

Even prior to his baptism, Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was drawing people to himself as an infant, teaching them as a pre-teen, and being identified as the Christ by John the Baptizer. Today’s feast is a challenge to us that we must do what Jesus did. We need to bear witness to who God is by living as Christ did. The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that we have been chosen by God and have been given a ministry. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to draw people to God and invite them to conversion of mind and heart.

After today’s celebration, we enter the time of Winter Ordinary Time. This year it is very short as Lent begins in mid-February. The question upon which we are called to reflect is, “How do I live out my baptismal calling?” Do I take Isaiah’s words to heart? Do I proclaim God’s kingdom? Do I point out the Christ is the midst of the assembly?

Our baptism means that we must act. We cannot sit on the sidelines and complain about what should be; rather, we need to work for the change that we know needs to happen. Jesus’ own ministry was very short; yet look at how much he accomplished. What will our accomplishments be with the time we’ve been given?

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Ephiphany



As we begin the New Year and celebrate the great feast of Epiphany, it is an opportunity to look back on 2015 and ponder how God was working in our lives. Moreover, we are invited to trust that God will be with us in the coming year. We continue to contemplate the wonderful mercy of God, that in his love, he gave us a savior who transforms us into the people we were destined to be.

For your reflection, I invite you to meditate on this prayer which Pope Francis quoted during his Christmas greetings to the Curial officials gathered in Rome:

“And so may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation and his majestic and mysterious working.

“To help us better grasp this, let us savour the magnificent prayer, commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, but pronounced for the first time by Cardinal John Dearden:

“Every now and then it helps us to take a step back and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part of the marvellous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete, which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said.
No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection.
No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No programme fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything, yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion, but that is the difference between the master and the labourer.
We are labourers, not master builders, servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.”

May the year 2016 be a time of openness to God’s loving mercy and may each of us strive to be willing instruments of God’s love as we continue to make present the Christ Child.

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Family



This is the last bulletin of 2015. Today also happens to be the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This celebration invites us to be a better family of believers. We all come from a family: Some from a more traditional family; others from a blended family. Some of us are products of broken homes or abusive environments. There are even some who are a family of one. So today’s feast can sometimes be painful, especially if your family was not like a Norman Rockwell painting.

It is often said, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” In some senses that is true: we are a product of our parents and family members. We do not have a choice of where to live and with whom to live while we are growing up. However, as we age, we can chose people whom we consider to be our “family.”

I know of many individuals who no longer associate with their biological or adoptive family members, for whatever reason an estrangement has occurred. In these cases, they have created their own circle of friends who form their family and they celebrate significant life events with these close friends.

The point of today’s feast is not to make any one feel shame because his or her family is not “perfect” or “the norm;” rather, the readings encourage us to treat our familial groups (whether biological, adoptive or created) with mutual respect and honesty.

The first part of the second reading from Colossians is especially helpful in this regard: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another….and over all these put on love….and be thankful.” These words apply to every situation: families, friends, classmates, co-workers, as well as those we meet in random situations.

While it is true we cannot choose our families, we can choose how to treat one another. May today’s feast challenge us to treat everyone we meet in 2016 with love and compassion.

As we come to the end of the calendar year, I want to take this opportunity to thank you, my parish family, for blessing me this year. Thank you to our staff. Thank you to all who volunteer in various capacities throughout the year. Thank you to all who participate through their attendance at Mass and other functions. Thank you to all who are homebound, yet continue to support St. James through their prayers. May God continue to bless you in 2016.

Posted in Msgr. Kasza

Merry Christmas



As we enter into the final week of the Advent season, we may be tempted to anticipate Christmas. Yet the Church invites us through this week’s readings to continue the process of preparation. The first reading reminds us that the most insignificant place can become great because of God’s intervention. Bethlehem was small, yet from it came the Son of God. So too, out of our “smallness” God can use us as his instruments to bring about great things.

In our preparation we should continue to make real changes in our lives rather than create sacrifices and offerings as a way of atoning for sin. If we really want to prepare for Christ’s birth, change the way that we live our lives. Eliminate sinful behaviors and attitudes as the way in which we welcome the Lord into our midst.

The Gospel recounts the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary. How do we respond when we encounter Christ in other people? Do we give praise to God? Do we even acknowledge that Christ has visited us? This fourth week of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ by actively seeking out his presence in the world around us, especially in the persons we meet each and every day.

As you continue your final preparations for the great feast of Christmas, take some time for yourselves. Spend time with the Lord. Relax and be thankful for the many blessing you have received over the year. And above all, ask God to continue to use you as his instrument of bringing Christ and peace into our world.

On behalf of all of the staff here at St. James, I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and holy New Year. May God who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment in 2016.

Posted in Msgr. Kasza