Monday, October 26, 2015

Overcoming the Darkness

Overcoming the Darkness
October 25, 2015    Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Once Upon a Time…
Let me begin with a story of a lovely lady that I’ll call, “ROSE”.  Rose was Catholic, and when I met Rose for the first time she was sitting in a wheelchair in the front row of a communion service at a local nursing home.  She seemed attentive to my preaching, I thought, although sometimes she would nod off.  (I’m sure it was because of her age and not a reflection on my preaching skills.  She was in her 90’s.)  At the sign of peace she would smile and say, “Thank you”, and she’d receive communion, and after the service she’d usually go to her room.

But one day, Rose wasn’t there.  Her husband had passed away a few weeks earlier, and I was told that she didn’t want to come to the service anymore.  So I went looking for her.  As I came up to her, she immediately said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go to the service.  I don’t believe in God anymore.”  She went on to say that she had always been a good Catholic, even when she was young, but she grew up poor and she used to beg for bread for her siblings.  She said that she was sure that the Catholic Church did a lot of good with their money, but that no one helped HER family.  She said it was hard, but that they managed OK.  But now she didn’t believe in God anymore and she was sorry, but didn’t see any reason to believe anymore. 

She wasn’t angry or ranting, or anything like that.  She just patted my hand as I held hers and even smiled, and she kept apologizing and saying that it was OK for me to believe because I was young, but she didn’t see any reason for her to believe anymore.  She said that she was old, and although she knew she was in a nursing home, she didn’t know where she was and she didn’t want to be there; her husband had died and she was alone.  She’d cry a little bit when she’d say that her husband had died or that she didn’t believe anymore, but it was just a tiny sob, nothing more. She kept repeating over and over how she was sorry but life was hard and nobody could help her and she didn’t believe anymore.  Not angry, but calmly and with a sad smile or a small sob.

I tried to talk with her, to try and console her, but she looked at me, apologized again, and told me that she was deaf and couldn’t hear me.  I was totally helpless.  I knelt in front of her for a few more minutes before she smiled one last time and dismissed me.  I’d see her periodically after that but she wouldn’t come back to the service.

There are some striking similarities in Rose’s story to the one we hear in today’s Gospel about Bartimaeus.  Like Bartimaeus, Rose suffered the loss of a key sense – hearing.  Like Bartimaeus, Rose had been a beggar in her earlier days and now depends on the charity of others to care for her.  Bartimaeus needed help to see where to go; Rose needed help to move her wheelchair. Similar hardships; but here is where their stories diverge.  Rose thought she had lost her faith.  Bartimaeus did not.

Deafness.  Blindness.  We are so dependent upon our five senses, that the loss of any one of them can isolate us from others.  But especially the loss of sight or of hearing, for these two senses are the ones we use most for relating to another person.  The loss of either one places an invisible barrier around us – one that takes an effort to cross.

Bartimaeus made that effort.  It begins with him hearing the crowd passing by.  As a beggar, Bartimaeus knew that the more people nearby, the better the chance that someone would give him something, so he began to call out for alms.  At first, people tried to shut him up.  After all, to be blind in Judea at the time of Jesus indicated that you must have been a pretty bad sinner, and therefore you were an outcast, dependent upon the mercy of others.  The first of the barriers Bartimaeus had to cross – society’s segregation. 

But as he continued to beg, he heard from the crowd that it was Jesus who was coming!  Bartimaeus must have heard of Jesus, and despite his blindness he must have known a fair amount of the Jewish faith – possibly taught to him by his father, Timaeus.  The fact that his father is mentioned by name would indicate that Bartimaeus had been part of the family.
Although he was blind, Bartimaeus could “see” that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of David.  Maybe it was because when you’re blind you learn to perceive things that others might miss?  In any case, Bartimaeus needed the help of others to steer him to Jesus once Jesus called to him.  And in order to go to Jesus, Bartimaeus had to take a risk.  He left behind his spot on the road.  He left behind his cloak, which would have been his protection from the elements.   He takes the chance.

And Jesus, in reply to Bartimaeus’ efforts, recognizes his faith and restores his sight.  Bartimaeus can now see more than just the road ahead; he sees the Messiah and follows him.  He is no longer isolated.

So, what about us?  If we are not blind or deaf, what do these stories have to do with us?  Those of us who appear perfectly healthy?  Those who have full use of their senses? 

There was a picture on the Internet not long ago about a young lady who had the words, “I’m Fine” tattooed on her leg.  They were in a kind of flowery script, in big, bold, black letters. Kind of tacky looking to me, but then again, I’m not really into tattoos. No offense to those of you who are into tattoos – my son loves them.  Different generation.

Anyway, this young girl had these words tattoo on her thigh where everyone could see them.  But, if you looked at them upside down, from her viewpoint, the words read, “Save Me.”  You see, this young girl suffered from depression and this was her way of telling her parents, the world, that she was crying out for help, that sometimes you cannot see the struggles one suffers.

Look around you.  The loss of a physical sense is not the only thing that can isolate us from others. 

Do you know what the #1 illness in this country is?  LONELINESS.  Did you know that according to a recent survey published in the American Sociological Review, it is estimated that one out of every four people in this country have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs? 

Are you lonely? Do you feel isolated, cut off from the rest of the world? If not, then it is possible that a person sitting in front of you, or behind you, or on either side of you might be.  And that loneliness, that sense of isolation, can be as crippling to them as Bartimaeus’ blindness or Rose’s deafness was to them. 

Even if we do not suffer from that sense of isolation, it doesn’t mean that we, too, are not blind.  For the last 3 days I have been attending the University of Dallas Ministry Conference in downtown Dallas.  It was a WONDERFUL experience!  Three days of presentations on how to draw closer to God – through prayer, through music, through encounters with others.  Each day I’d hop onto the train – with all the rain, I wasn’t about to fight the traffic – and I’d plug in my earbuds and close my eyes, listening to prayers or whatever and shutting out the world around me.

But Saturday morning I left really early in the morning, so that I could go to the morning Mass that was being held there.  As I got off of the train at the convention center station, I noticed that it was COLD.  And WET.

I also noticed the homeless.  There was a person asleep under a plastic bag, trying to stay dry, there was another one sleeping with his head on a battered suitcase.  I thought to myself that I hoped they wouldn’t call out to me, and they didn’t.  I made it safely inside and went to Mass, and received Jesus and experienced a wonderful day.

But when I left, those people were still there.  It was still cold, and I didn’t have a jacket, and I was thinking to myself about getting quickly to the train and avoiding those people.  But one of them stopped me and asked me if I could help him – he needed $7 for a place to stay.  I only had a few dollar bills readily accessible – I had some more stashed but not where I could get to it easily.  I pulled out two dollars and gave it to him, and then I said that I had to keep a couple for myself.  What a hypocrite I was!

You know, Jesus is calling to us!  He IS there, waiting for us, even if we cannot hear him or see him or feel his presence.  He is there, waiting for us.  But we need to make a choice.  Do we abandon our faith and fall into despair, like Rose?  Or do we reach out to Jesus, like Bartimaeus? It can be hard, if you don’t have someone to show you the way.

I’d like to leave you with this thought:
If you are one of those who feel that sense of isolation, for whatever reason – do not be afraid to call out like Bartimaeus for help.  Do not be afraid to take a chance and leave the comfort of your darkness behind.  Jesus is waiting for you.  Have faith.

And if you are not one of those suffering from that sense of isolation, open your eyes to those who are.  Be aware that there are those who are seeking Jesus, who need His Love and His presence, and you may be that presence of Christ for them.  Do not be afraid to leave the comfort of your shelter and answer someone else’s call for help.  Share your faith.

Oh, one final comment.  After several months, Rose returned to the communion services, at least for now.  She is still sad, and she still carries her cross – her deafness will probably never go away.  But she will take your hand at the sign of peace and smile, and thank you for being there for her.  And she receives the Eucharist – Jesus, the Christ, the great healer.  What we cannot do for her, Jesus can.  Jesus will not leave her alone.

And as we continue with this Eucharistic celebration and you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, remember that He is there for you too.  He will not leave you alone.  Ever.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Love Is Our Mission

Love Is Our Mission
Homily for October 18, 2015    Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
World Missions Sunday
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

The theme of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States was, “Love Is Our Mission”, and what a great message for us today as we celebrate World Missions Sunday.  Created by Pope Pius XI in 1926 as a day of prayer for missionary work around the world, World Missions Sunday is, as Pope St. John Paul II said on the occasion of its anniversary in 1992, a day to make a “renewed commitment to everyone’s responsibility for the spread of the Gospel message.”  

And it is no small task.  Did you know that according to recent statistics released by the Vatican, there are over 7.1 Billion people in the world.  7.1 BILLION.  Of those, about 2.2 Billion are Christians, and over half of those, 1.25 BILLION, are Catholic – or at least they claim to be.  That’s over 17% of the WORLD population. And that is an increase of 25.3 MILLION Catholics from last year!

That’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of Catholics. Yet that leaves a lot of people who have not heard or accepted the message of the Gospel.

And we all have the same mission – the mission of Love.

In his message for this World Missions Sunday, Pope Francis says that “since Christ’s entire existence had a missionary character, so too, all those who follow him closely must possess this missionary quality.”

He further states that “Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries, for they know that Jesus “walks with them, speaks to them, breathes with them.” 

But it isn’t easy being a missionary, is it?

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, we pick up right after Jesus has told his disciples for the THIRD time that they all were going to Jerusalem where Jesus was going to be turned over to the authorities, mocked, tortured and killed.  Yet James and John still thought that they were going to be part of a new order that would be one of earthly glory and honor, and they wanted to be right there in the thick of it, when Jesus came into glory, one on his right, and the other on his left.

Jesus challenges them: Can you drink of the cup from which I drink?  Can you accept the baptism of which I will be baptized?  Will you be missionaries like me?
They answer YES, but without fully understanding what it was going to mean. The Glory of Jesus would be revealed when he was lifted up on the cross; the place of “honor” on his left and right was reserved for two thieves.

Yet after it became clear that after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension that His mission had to be carried on, Jesus’ disciples did not shrink from it.  They embraced it, and the result was a world set on fire with the faith of Christ.

Pope Francis continues in his message with an appeal to us, especially to those who are capable of courageous witness and generous deeds, to proclaim the Good News of the Gospels even when the message is countercultural: “Do not allow others to rob you of the ideal of a true mission, of following Jesus through the total gift of yourself.”  In the full range of the Church’s missionary activity, all the faithful are called to live their baptismal commitment to the fullest, in accordance with the personal situation of each.

So, do not be afraid to embrace the mission of the Church. Pope Francis concludes his message with an exhortation for us all:  Dear brothers and sisters, a true missionary is PASSIONATE for the Gospel.  Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”  The Gospel is the source of joy, liberation and salvation for all men and women.”

There are many ways that we can give witness to our faith in God.  Each of us has been uniquely created by God and entrusted with gifts for the good of all people on earth.  We have a purpose in life.  We have a mission.  And as St. Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

I’d like to close with a prayer to help us be better missionaries: Lord you left your Mother in our midst that she might accompany us. May she take care of us and protect us on our journey, in our hearts, in our faith. May she make us disciples like herself, missionaries like herself. May she teach us to go out onto the streets. May she teach us to step outside ourselves.  May she, by her meekness, by her peace, show us the way.  Amen.

Let us go and proclaim the Gospel with our lives!

Friday, October 16, 2015

How's Your Prayer Life? (StVdP)

How's Your Prayer Life?
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul meeting, Monday, October 12, 2015
By Dcn. Bob Bonomi

How's your prayer life?  It seems like I pray a lot, and although there are many types of prayer - blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise & adoration - it also seems that most of my prayers are either petitions or intercessions: I always want something for myself or for someone else. That can be especially true for volunteers like those of us with St. Vincent de Paul. We want so badly to help those who come to us, and when their needs are greater than our ability to help, we pray that God would some way intervene or cause a miracle to happen for them.  I imagine that the sense of helplessness and frustration that comes with not being able to do more for our clients or that our prayers for them aren't being heard can affect our prayer life.

I started thinking about this earlier today as I read a reflection asking, “What do you do when you have trouble praying?”  I'm sure we all have had days like that - no matter how hard we try, that sense of talking with God isn't there.  We may want to pray, but the words just won’t come forth.  So, what do YOU do?

For me, I often resort to the Rosary.  The repetitive prayers and reflection on the mysteries, even if I’m doing it half-heartedly, serves to distract me from other thoughts and forces me to focus on God.  I saw a cartoon earlier today which was called, "The First Rosary".  In it, we see the Virgin Mary standing beside a very young Jesus with him saying, "Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom..."  That's US! In the Rosary, we stand before the Blessed Mother - our Mother – calling out like a child, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom..."  We don’t know what else to say.

When we hit those periods of dryness, we should ask ourselves a question: why do we pray? Or maybe more importantly, how do we pray? Is our prayer life "balanced"?  How often in our prayers are we conscious of the need to pray in ways beyond just asking God for something?

Even in our dryness, we need to try and reach out to God with more than our hat in our hands. We need to talk with Him with praise and adoration in our voice – or at least with recognition of our dependence upon Him.  It forces us to recognize the good things in our lives and helps us remember those times when our prayers were answered.

So, the next time when you feel frustration that your prayers are not being answered as quickly as you like or in a manner that you want, or you’re just experiencing dryness in your prayers, find yourself a “praise and worship” song and sing it to God.  Then say a Rosary and ask Mary for help.  You may be surprised by what happens next.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Joy of St. Francis of Assisi (StVdP)

The Joy of St. Francis of Assisi
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul meeting, Monday, October 5, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

Last Sunday was the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, and although many places didn’t celebrate the feast as it was a Sunday, it is worthwhile to think a little bit about Francis’ life and the insight he can give us into the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul.

Most of you know the story of St. Francis:  how his father was a wealthy cloth merchant who wanted his son to be a businessman like him, how in his early years Francis lived the good life but he wanted more than to be rich – he wanted a life of glory and dreamed of being a noble warrior – a knight!  And we know that eventually he felt God call to him and slowly he underwent a conversion of spirit.

His spiritual journey led him into a confrontation with his father, resulting in the famed stripping off of all his clothes, donning only a hair shirt as he walked through the town.  He renounced everything, becoming a beggar.  And this is where most of us will find it difficult to understand or identify with Francis:  in giving up everything that he owned so that he had to beg for even the rags on his back or the scraps of food that he ate and turning to God, he claimed a rare and most precious gift – the gift of true happiness, the gift of joy from God.

So what does that have to do with our ministry at St. Vincent de Paul?  I think it is important that we recognize that no matter how much we help those we serve, how much we give to them, they will never be truly happy until they open their hearts to the gift of joy which can come only from God.  That is why it is SO important that, as we minister to the physical and financial needs of our clients, we also always maintain a focus in OUR minds and hearts on the need for God in their lives, and pray that GOD touches them with love and mercy.  We do not force God upon them, but rather open ourselves to let the Holy Spirit work through us.

Pope Francis’ words during Sunday’s Angelus address to the participants of the upcoming synod on the family are important to us in our ministry, too: we must keep our “eyes fixed on Jesus, in order to identify the best ways to respond to the needs and challenges of families today.”  Keep your hearts open and your eyes fixed on Jesus, and He will show you how to best respond to the needs of your clients.  And bring a smile and God’s joy with you as you serve His people.  As those who encountered St. Francis discovered, God’s joy IS contagious.