Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

I was once asked to teach a college semester course on prayer. That sounds simple enough a request to make of a priest. After all, we’re supposed to be the “pros”, experts in all things Catholic, veritable “answer machines” when it comes to most questions the average Catholic might ask.

Well, to be honest, that request to teach prayer was akin to asking me to teach higher math. I was never much good in any math past addition and subtraction. Nonetheless, as anything but an expert, I delved into the subject, with books galore and saints aplenty. Ultimately I chose the one perfect prayer my students and I could analyze: The Lord’s Prayer. Would you believe, we never quite finished that analysis when the semester ended?

This weekend features a gospel passage in which Jesus tells another one of His matchless parables that includes a key element in all real prayer: humility. The story includes an indictment of those who were “self-righteous.” That word describes a person who is “smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” I dislike that definition, not because of any inaccuracy, but because it accurately describes me at times. Not something to brag about at all. I have this pet description of myself and most people, as having in our minds, an imaginary courtroom where we are both prosecutor and judge. We diagnose the failure of someone we know, for example, to be Christlike. Then we “pounce and pronounce” on them with a clear and harsh verdict of “guilty,” all the while hinting quite broadly that we never act that way ourselves.

This applies to celebrities, well-known politicians and their political parties, our fellow family members, the hierarchy of the Church, our pastors, and nearly anybody we care to name. And then along comes Our Lord with a devastating parable featuring a man much like ourselves who is obviously so wrong, so full of pride as to be disgusting. To top it off, he is contrasted with his opposite, a virtuous and humble man who mouths a heartfelt request of his God. Obviously, we know which man Our Lord the Storyteller favors. Listen again to that tax collector in the back of the room that could well teach a college course in prayer. He says “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Just eight words. But worth more than eighteen or eighty in describing a perfect attitude when addressing our all-holy God.

We know of the greedy practice of many a Jewish tax collector in those days, ostensibly working for the Romans but secretly working for themselves by overcharging taxpayers. The man in the parable is a wonderful exception. We admire him. We want to be like him. He would know the truth of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” In the meantime, we trust in God to help us improve each day to be more like the person He had in mind when He created us. Of course, we have to live with people who are the opposite of that taxpayer, who seem to be everywhere.

Sometimes we delight when they get their comeuppance. Like the man in this story published in “The Los Angeles Times.” A flight cancellation had resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight. One man in the line grew increasingly impatient with the slow-moving line. Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight. “I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you in the line.” The irate man then pounded his fist on the ticket counter, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Whereupon the ticket agent picked up the public address microphone and said, “Attention please! There is a gentleman at the ticket counter who does not know who he is. If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.” Hearing this, the man retreated, and the people waiting in line burst into applause.


You’ve seen them on their TV shows.  The judges in official black robes, complete with the courtroom set, adjudicating cases of all kinds, and banging their gavels with authority.  Add to them the various judges brought in by the cable news outlets to lend their expertise in comments on any number of headline-making stories.  Audiences give these last special attention even if they show up without the robes and the courtroom benches.

We know from Scripture that Our Lord Jesus did not have much time for judges and even lawyers.  It seems that the ones He met were either shysters or hypocrites.  Naturally, His disdain does not permit us to generalize negatively all our present-day judges and lawyers, although often enough the lesser members of their group generate negative headlines of their own.

This weekend’s Gospel selection finds Jesus telling His own parable that features an unjust judge who nonetheless renders a just decision in a case brought by a widow.  Bear in mind that such a woman was rather powerless in the patriarchal society Jesus inhabited.  What makes the judge step out of character?  The persistence of the widow.  Jesus goes on to say that very quality should mark our prayer.

The First Reading from Exodus puts Moses’ persistence on display, in his persistence in holding up the rod of God over his army to encourage them, even though as a “senior citizen” he needed youthful help in keeping his arms lifted.

We can be sure that people in Our Lord’s time were as impatient with God’s timetable as we are.  The big difference is that in our so-called “First World” culture, life moves at a near breakneck pace thanks to our computerized gadgets.  But then we also have our methods of weight loss that guarantee we will “lose 18 pounds in a month,” or medicine that allegedly brings relief immediately; instant coffee and quick mortgages,” ET cetera, et cetera.”  The problem of impatience easily spills over into the spiritual realm and has its effects on our prayer.

Some Christians become doubtful, Christians or even former Christians, when their prayer needs are seemingly unmet.  Some Catholic Christians are the same way when they grow impatient with the pace of the Vatican.  Yet I believe we all know deep down that persistence in prayer is the only way to go.  And when our good God happens to answer “no” we have to accept that because in faith we believe He knows best.  The good news is that He really does.

History endorses persistence, indirectly voting for it as a quality of good prayer.  Once upon a time a teenager had decided to quit high school, saying he was just fed up with it all.  His father was trying to convince him to stay with it. “Son,” he said, you just can’t quit.  All the people who are remembered in history didn’t quit.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t quit.  Thomas Edison, he didn’t quit.  Douglas MacArthur, he didn’t quit.  Elmo Mc Cringle….”

“Who?” the son burst in.  “Who’s Elmo Mc Cringle?”  “See,” the father replied, “you don’t remember him.  He quit!”



Our grandchildren teach us a host of lessons.  So do the tots who are our nieces and nephews.  One of those is the notion that any reward they deserve for doing something well should be instant.  Whether it’s the right answer to our question; or the clever rick they have mastered; or even for the proper response to their potty training.  Any reward will do, including applause, a piece of chocolate, or a sticker depicting Big Bird.  If that reward does not come right away, then we grown ups have to risk seeing their tears or a disappointed expression on their cute little faces.

But here’s a question.  Are we anything like self-centered children when we do something good for God?  Do we use our talent for subtlety by mentioning what we did to friends or family, hoping that God overhears us?  Something like this comes through the prophet Habakkuk’s rant: “How long O Lord?  I cry for help and You do not listen?”

We know that Habakkuk did hear back from God “Wait for it (the vision of the future) will not be late.”  That tells us for sure that God’s timing is quite different from our own.  He notices whatever we do.  If a reward is due, let Him decide when.

In addition to a timing lesson, we find in the Gospel selection from Luke another facet of God’s way of handing out rewards.  “When you have done all that you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”  That is the uncomfortable truth. Jesus is so right, but we think otherwise sometimes.  All of our prayers and good works are basically what we owe to the Lord in the first place.  So don’t act the hero when you’re just fulfilling your duty. But in the face of so many others who don’t obey the Lord, shouldn’t we get some recognition?

Of course, He regularly does that for us in the graces He sends our way.  And in the great Sacrament of Reconciliation He restores our place of honor in His kingdom when we have not done anything good by sending us the graces of forgiveness and healing.

Instead of living for Christ with an eye to potential reward, the gospels, the great saints of our Church, and the truly good people all around us give an unflagging example of how to do it the right way.  They show us what love and loyalty to Christ look like. It is in all those little things like daily rosary, regular courtesies and manners, together with a warm smile that together make for the building blocks of holiness.  And by truly knowing and believing the doctrines of our Church to buttress their practice, like that of Christ’s true Presence in the Holy Eucharist, they evangelize.  They spread the gospel.

A teacher had just finished putting the last pair of galoshes on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all.  The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my galoshes.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet.  “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.”  The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Now that’s patience!   A largely unnoticed quiet decision, except by that little girl. Just a tiny analogy  depicting how God is with us, and what He expects.


Visit Hershey, Pennsylvania and you know you’re going to experience chocolate “up close and personal.” The town makes that easy for you by providing a large emporium called simply “Hershey’s Chocolate World.” The first time I walked into that place I was amazed by the variety of ways the company packages the delightful brown confection. Its website simply declares the whole truth by saying this store “stocks a huge selection of chocolate.” I would add that the challenge is to make your choice and stick with it.

Today’s Gospel selection, which is the entire 15th chapter of Luke, also invites preachers to make a choice. Which of the three parables of Jesus would he or she prefer to reflect on and apply to the congregation? All three have a lot to say. But the third and most famous one almost shouts from the page: “Preach about me!” Yes, it’s the “Prodigal Son.”

By serious reflection, we soon realize that we should be calling the story that of “The Loving Father.” That makes a better fit with the other two illustrations Our Lord uses. Dare I say that the ensemble makes for a “sweet” relief for our troubled consciences and the guilt that comes with our sinning? Jesus is telling us that “God’s mercy breaks through all the restrictions we come up with about how God should act toward sinners.”

In ascending order of creation, Jesus offers us the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost younger son. He is telling us of the fact that God’s mercy may look foolish at first glance. As foolish as a woman who turns her little house upside down to recover a near worthless coin like our penny. As foolish as a shepherd who abandons 99 valuable sheep to potential predators just to save one. Or as foolish as a Jewish father who joyfully welcomes home a prodigal younger son who has abandoned his faith and becomes a Gentile. If you look again, Jesus is telling us that His Father is no fool, and He loves us the most.

The well-known Protestant scholar William Barclay offers his own take on the matter. No matter which of the three parables we choose to remember, we will understand them more fully if we remember that the strict Jews, namely the Pharisees and scribes at that dinner where Jesus spoke, held not that there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, but over one sinner who is obliterated before God. Jesus’ whole new outlook was a challenge to that bitter way of thinking.

When you’re preparing for your next confession, it is always a good thing to recall these parables, especially the third, and that loving Father. I like to picture him at twilight each day, watching for that familiar silhouette of his lost son against the setting sun, with that recognizable way he walked, and his father’s heart filling with joy as he ran to hug him.

Barclay presents a more modern story to complement the Lord’s. Once Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union. The questioner most likely expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance. Instead the great man replied “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” It is the wonder of the love of God that He treats us like that! As our young people might react with their slang: “Sweet!” I would hasten to add: “Yes, sweet! Like chocolate –but much, much better!”

Unfortunate Event

At times, in all the churches I have been assigned to in the eighteen years since my ordination to the priesthood, unfortunate events happened that caused parish property to be damaged.
During the afternoon or early evening of Sunday, August 18, the votive candle stand in the vestibule was damaged by an unknown person or persons wanting to steal the contents of the offering box.

They did not get much from their attempt as the contents are emptied regularly, but the damage to the front offering slot will necessitate a repair to get rid of the sharp edges from the torn metal and to make the offerings and donations made more secure once inserted.

With that in mind, the votive candles will be unavailable for a short time. Thanks in advance for your patience in this matter, and please pray for the person or persons responsible for the theft and damage.
Sincerely in Christ,
Father Perez

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

People who change the world aren’t always who you expect. They are housewives, repairmen, teachers, and the military to name a few. Ordinary people who believe in a better world.
Readers’ Digest magazine recently chose what they called “15 people who changed history.” Among them were Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus on December 1, 1955. Todd Beamer and the passengers on Flight 93 who fought back against the 9/11 terrorists and crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA instead of slamming into our nation’s capital. And then there was Candy Lightner, who stood up against drunk driving after her 13 year old daughter was killed by a repeat DWI offender. She founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in her home on March 7, 1980.

Yes, such people aren’t always who you expect. Such of course is the case of God’s only Son, that most extraordinary Person of all, who made Himself ordinary when He came to visit this planet in person some twenty plus centuries ago. He did that to save all of us from being forever locked out of His high heaven. Jesus was a handsome man for sure, a bit taller than the males of His time if the Shroud of Turin is authentic. Attractive to all whom He met in His travels not only by His appearance but also by His demeanor, which sprang from His hidden divinity. He demanded that people change their way of living. He wanted them to shun sin.

People of every age are much the same, and sin can be such an attractive proposition at times even for the best of us. So because of His demands about avoiding sin, Jesus was never universally popular. He even puzzled His closest friends. But He knew, and tried to get them to know also, that if their human weakness held them down, His strength would lift them up. If asked, they would agree that He was truly a “man on fire.” We agree, do we not?

We His present day followers would also have to admit that Jesus was not what we would expect of a Divine Redeemer. He really was the prophet’s “sign of contradiction.” He began His public life as a young man amid a culture that thought wisdom was only in the old. His enemies mocked Him with saying “Thou art not yet fifty years old…” He was uneducated in the formal sense, having had only the usual synagogue syllabus. “Where did He get all this? Is He not the carpenter’s son?” His was born into poverty when only the rich were greatly esteemed. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He hailed from a dusty nearly forgotten village named Nazareth when the sophisticated people only came from
the great cities. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Despite this, Jesus was also magnetic and majestic in His preaching and example. An unusually confident Person, only angry when He had to be, especially when He clashed with those in authority. “You hypocrites! He shouted.” But in the end, He suffered the usual fate of the prophets like Jeremiah. “’Crucify Him!’ they shouted.”

There are some conclusions we can draw from this brief recall, if we want to be authentic followers of the Nazarene. First of all, we have to remember our general ordinariness. This despite the fact that in God’s eyes each of us is special.

We also must recognize that belief in Jesus always implies a call to action. And then, in this society of ours, with it’s warped sense of priorities and its tendency to discount God’s very existence, we must realize that we will remain unpopular for our beliefs. Mocked sometimes by our own families. But we can lean on that great consolation we have that God is always with us, no matter what. That’s how we know for sure that we each have the power to change the world.

Not by putting it down, but by lifting it up.

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On Thursday, August 15, Holy Mother Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation. Approaching the solemn day from another perspective, each of us have an opportunity to be recharged through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the Word of God in the readings of Sacred Scripture and Our Lord, Jesus Christ in His Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist.

When we speak of Mary’s Assumption into the glorious Kingdom of Heaven, we’re talking about a dogma of our Christian faith which comes from our Sacred Tradition and has been celebrated in the Universal Church’s liturgy throughout the centuries from ancient times even before its solemn definition by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. Throughout the centuries, devoted Christians have always believed and understood that Our Lady, at the completion of her earthly life, was given a special privilege when she was assumed into heaven. Taken body and soul together in order that she would share in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection.

Mary’s complete personhood was taken up into the glorious kingdom. And from that moment on, Our Lady shares in her only Son’s victory as the power of Jesus’ Resurrection is immediately played out when her earthly life was completed. The Lord God spared Mary’s body from corruption and decay when she was assumed into Heaven just as he spared her from original sin and its effects at the beginning of her life through her Immaculate Conception.
The Most Blessed Virgin Mary is the first recipient of what will be granted to us at the end of time when the dead will be resurrected.

Our bodies will be reunited with our immortal souls. It will be an eternal gift that we will look forward to, living forever in Heavenly paradise, body and soul praising our Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

The unknown wag first said it, likely hoping to appeal to a wide audience. This is what he said: “Money isn’t everything but it’s way ahead of whatever is in second place.”

You can certainly smile at that, and I suppose many of us feel that way at certain times, especially when we face a pile of bills just after learning about the latest “Power Ball” winner.

Today we meet up again with our old friend Qoheleth, whose name means something like “wisdom gatherer.” He wrote about a century and a half before Christ, and he gave us his famous commentary on life: “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” Not very uplifting when you sum up all the good things in your life.
Clearly, that anonymous cynic I just quoted accurately describes the popular wisdom in our culture on the subject of money. But just as clearly does Qoheleth give us another way to look at earthly wealth. St. Paul in his letter joins in with his warning that “greed is idolatry.”

And oh! Does Jesus not run right into one of the most contentious times in family life concerning money: the reading of the deceased member’s will and the whole matter of who gets what. Over the years I have listened to the woes in many families that have split apart over somebody’s will.
As so often happens in the gospels, Jesus weighs in on an issue with one of His inimitable parables that shows Him living up to His acquired title of “the Master.” This story involves a rich man thinking of building bigger storage barns. That notion fits right in with the current decision lots of people make these days to rent a storage unit. I read an article earlier this summer about how to meet this craze in an urban setting minus the acres available for such in the suburbs and rural areas. The solution: build upward! So now we have huge multi-story buildings, with now windows looking like giant boxes going up in Philadelphia and other cities just for storage. The late comedian George Carlin would insist on building these things because people need places to “store their “stuff.” What does God say to the rich man in the story? “You fool!”

So where does all this leave you and me on this summer Sunday? I would guess somewhere in that elusive middle where they tell us “virtue lies.” We know our basic needs. We just have to resist this stubborn desire for more “stuff.” Be grateful for what we already have and cut down on what more we want. Resist the clever sales person whose goal has nothing to do with your spirituality. In all fairness, the seller is not the problem here.

There’s a consequence to our consumer mindset that you might not experience. That is never to think of our death. I’ve been told that some of us avert our eyes when we see a hearse on the street because it jars our reverie. I’ll never forget the imagery of a typical Saturday shopping scene with a Costco in the background as other drivers were forced to stop and let a funeral procession pass with the hearse as the first car in line. Worthy of a photo to accompany this Gospel. We know what the Lord says, but we’d rather not think about it. That hearse you might call a “cautionary Cadillac!”

Remembering that our loving God really does have our best interests at heart. Much like the good parent who just has to say “No!” to his/her child once in a while to make him accommodate to real life. In the Bible, God often has to shock us into reality, as He does here, to announce boldly that “one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Jesus should know this first of all because He said “I am the Life,” and secondly because all He ever owned were the clothes on His back. And Roman soldiers stripped Him of those while He was dying on the cross above them.
So we have to keep on trying for a sense of balance on this matter of how much “stuff” we really need. To stay balanced, may I suggest that we also keep on laughing at ourselves for getting it wrong. For instance, look how funny it is that a dollar can look so big when you take it to church but so small when you take it to the supermarket.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

We all remember—perhaps fondly—those multiple-choice tests we had to take from time to time during our school days. If we knew our subject, we could whiz through the test and finish well below the allotted time. If we were not so knowledgeable, there was always the chance we took with an educated guess. Those educated gambles came with many a mark we ultimately made with our number two pencil. As a many years veteran of high school teaching and a few more in colleges, my job entailed the composition of such tests. While they were easy to grade they were hard to create. The “almost but not quite correct” answers were particularly challenging to devise. My “Track one” grade-hungry bright kids often made good arguments for their answers as opposed to the preferred one. Of course, most of the time they lost their appeal.

One lesson those tests taught was the power of good decision-making. As their elder, I knew my students would inevitably have to face heftier decisions in life beyond the classroom. They would relearn that decisions have consequences. So much of life precludes having multiple choices. Many times there is only one. A person does not have to delve too deeply into the pages of the gospels to learn that Jesus always wanted His disciples to be decisive. Today’s passage from Luke is a case in point. Jesus has, so to speak, “put all His cards on the table.”

And He does so for three “wannabes” among the crowd. He tells these three persons in turn that following Him will make, in the first case, what foxes and birds have for homes will look luxurious by comparison with any of the roadside camps He will be using. He also tells two other people that His work will have to take priority even over family obligations. The latter is still true today. All of this captures the meaning of what is meant by “living by the Spirit” that St. Paul writes about to his Galatians. Discipleship calls one to be quite decisive when opportunity comes knocking. We read this weekend about Elijah the prophet making his decision. He obeys the Lord when he throws his cloak over Elisha, making the matter of his successor closed.

Obviously then, there is no place for “fence sitting” in this matter of living our lives with Jesus at the center. The old Harvey Cox quote “Not to decide is to decide” is perennial in this case as well as so many others. Of course, not all our decisions in other areas will be wise or even welcome. Take the case of “Harry the Hunter.” Some friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. And that night one hunter returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. “Where’s Harry?” asked another hunter. “Oh, he fainted a couple of miles up on the trail,” Harry’s partner answered. “And you left him lying there all alone and carried the deer back?” “Yes, it was a tough call,” said the hunting partner, “but I figure no one’s going to steal Harry.”

Many Thanks . .

Many thanks to you for the warm welcome in my first couple of weeks here at Our Lady of the Valley since my arrival on June 27. Your kindness and hospitality are most appreciated.
As I get to serve all of you, there will be many graced moments as I strive to bring you closer in relationship to the Lord through the sacraments and other opportunities in service to
the Lord and you. I look forward to many years as the instrument that will lead you to Christ the Good Shepherd. After all, our lives must have Christ as the center so that we may grow with Him
who laid down His life for us and gives of Himself to us especially in the Most Blessed Eucharist.

In the next few months, we will get to know each other, and we will grow together through, with, and in Our Lord.

Just a heads-up, next Sunday on July 21 at the 11:15 AM Mass, Bishop Burbidge will be the celebrant of a special Mass for the Installation of a Pastor followed by a reception. And so, we
look forward to the shepherd of the Diocese of Arlington coming to the Shenandoah Valley to visit our parish.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Perez