Reflections

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!”

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.

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.”

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

In October 1961, a Broadway musical premiered called “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Six years later came a film version of the show, followed in 1995 by a revival; another revival in 2011; and a short run in 2014 in Philadelphia. The story follows the fortunes of a certain J. Pierrepont Finch, a young window-cleaner in New York City, who reads the book of the same title, and is profoundly affected. This leads him to approach the World Wide Wicket Co. in search of a job. He is hired at once, and his career weaves in and out with improbable complications until our hero succeeds to the top position in the firm. Along the way, the audience enjoys the inbred humor and hears several apt tunes that enhance the plot.

It struck me as I thought about this classic show that in real life there certainly is a book that can have a profound effect on us that could be subtitled “How to Succeed in Life by Really Trying.” I refer to the Bible of course. For there in its pages is our spiritual story as a Christian people destined for eternal life. We know from personal experience that our lives often feature all sort of complications -some of them humorous no doubt- but all of them eventually yielding to our loving Father’s plan for us. He alone knows the best path for us to take to get to our true home in
heaven. Then we will enjoy the sweet success of completing our mission.

Whether we admit it or not, each of us is “wired” for success. Not the material kind that the world holds up as the goal of life. But the spiritual kind that Jesus Christ holds up as a treasure that will not fade or rust. Now this pull of the world is like a tug of war. Not as a fun game but as a powerful challenge to all that Jesus stands for in opposition. You might say that our wiring can get “frayed” under the pressure of this visible challenge. The so-called “Big Three”, namely “Wealth, Power and Fame,” are always in the ring ready for a fight against our good intentions. We get hoodwinked into the belief that this trio is far more important than the Trinity we call “Blessed.”

I believe that Jesus tempered the enthusiasm of His first missionaries, when they came back to Him from their missions, so excited to hand in their reports of success, to have them realize that there were even more important things in life than success. At least of the kind that is measurable by the world’s standards. What keeps our focus set on the right goal of our lives is our strong connection with Christ, a bond forged by prayer and the Sacraments of the Church. After all, He instituted them to help us stay connected. Of these seven, the Eucharist is prime because it is He Himself as our very food and drink. It has all the right “nutrients,” principally the “protein” we need to resist the infection all around us. The other six sacraments cover all the other times in our life’s journey. They help us stay on track to reach our ultimate goal: life forever lived free of pain and full of joy with the eternal vision of God.

Conclusion and Beginning

As I conclude my time as pastor, I would like to thank everyone for the prayerfulness, hospitality, creativity and support for the last three and a half years. Being in a small rural parish is very encouraging, for the people here are very prayerful, and energetic.

As with other rural parishes, people here know each other well and a large portion are engaged in the parish. As I was reviewing the parish listing for Father Perez, I noticed that about half of the families here not only attend Mass regularly, but are also involved in the parish in other ways, such as the Ladies Council, the Knights, the music, lectors and ushers for Mass, the sacristans, the catechists, and parish events and upkeep. All of the children in religious education regularly attend Mass (which all Catholics should) and most of them are involved in the youth group and/or youth choir.

Furthermore, the people here greet both guests and new parishioners, inviting them to parish events. The website launched three years ago, new bulletin design and Flocknotes are also very helpful in both promoting the faith and the parish and keeping everyone informed about events. Father Perez will have a solid ground to build upon.

As Father Perez comes here, it would be helpful to review some of the initiatives that have begun and how to build upon them. Recent physical renovations have included the new floors, the landscaping, refinished pews, the Stations Walk, a new organ, and new air conditioning. These renovations have been leading up to the largest project, the new church hall, which should be finished early next year.

With the new hall, this parish will be able to hold more events, which could include regular brunches and refreshments between Masses for the parishioners, especially the parents of religious education students. The hall is also planned to have more spacious rooms, which will help with religious education classes and other meetings. On that front, I encourage all parents to take advantage of these classes, and all parishioners to consider roles as catechists or catechist assistants, which could make high school classes a possibility.

Furthermore, the music ministry and youth ministry here are very active, including the youth choir singing at one Mass a month, and the youth ministry meeting two Wednesdays a month all year; there is also a music camp planned for the summer. For adults in addition to the Ladies Council and the Knights, who arrange most of our parish events and take care of the church and the grounds, there is a new women’s prayer group called Blessed is She and a new Marian devotional group, which gathers for prayer and reflection. There has been consideration of a men’s Bible study as well, an idea well worth pursuing.

I am confident that Father Perez will be interested in hearing of other ideas to make this parish radiate more and more the light of heaven in Page County and throughout the world.


The parish honored Father Horkan at a Farewell Dinner on June 25 at the Mimslyn Inn. We wish him all the best for success in his studies and God Bless.

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.”

THE HOLY FAMILY AND THE HUMAN FAMILY

Every year, the Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family, with January 1 as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The Church places this feast shortly after Christmas, and near the beginning of the new year, not only because it naturally follows Christmas but also because of the centrality of the family as what the Vatican II Council called “the primordial society” upon which every other society is built.

As the Council said, the family is the first place “where different generations come together and help one another grow in wisdom and harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life; as such it constitutes the basis of society.” Gaudium et Spes, (1965) 52; see Catechism of the Catholic Church 2207-2208. The Council also declared that the Christian family is also a “domestic church” where the light of heaven is first learned, lived and shown forth to the world. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 11; Catechism 1655 – 1657.

The idea is not that marriage and family life are always easy, peaceful or comfortable. Training for great things is rarely easy; and training to be sons and daughters of God, to live forever in divine love, is no different. Rather, as the great Christian writer G.K. Chesteron explained in his 1905 essay “On Certain Writers and the Institution of the Family,” family life is ennobling precisely because it involves struggle, sacrifice, and accommodation of other people’s interests. It is thus an adventure of advancing boldly into an uncertain future with a determination to make love triumph over all forces opposed to it.

As he pointed out, in the modern world, people can more easily move away from challenges that they find difficult, by for example switching neighborhoods, jobs, or friends. But, in good family life, a couple and then their children are committed to seeing this adventure through to the end regardless of what happens. That is the courageous way of love.

Jesus emphasized the importance God places upon families by the fact that He lived with the Holy Family for 30 years before His three years of public ministry. He understands the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears of family life. And, with Mary, Joseph and all the saints throughout the ages, He wishes to make each family a place where the kingdom of God is present on earth, preparing the way for the gathering of all nations together in the family of God.

CHRISTMAS AND GOD’S SURPRISE

We are so used to the Christmas accounts in the Bible, and portrayed in numerous other ways, that it is easy to forget how astonishing that first Christmas was and is to this day. One can only imagine what it was like when, on that first Christmas Day, humble shepherds went forth into the small town of Bethlehem (which probably had about 500 to 1000 people) and proclaimed the glorious message that the long-awaited Messiah had been born to them, in the most unexpected way, in a stable nearby to a young unknown couple supported by a carpenter’s salary. They would not have been surprised that God sent angels to announce this wondrous news; but the idea that angels gave this message, not to the prestigious classes, but to shepherds would have seemed almost beyond belief.

At about the same time, in Jerusalem, magi from the East arrived and told those who were rich and powerful that the long-awaited king had been born in their land. The people would not be surprised to have a message conveyed by the rulers and scholars. But these magi were foreigners and outside of the covenant; these were not the people who, according to popular opinion, should have received the commission to teach the citizens of Jerusalem; it should have been the other way around.

In Jerusalem, the reaction was largely either of hostility to a rival power, as with Herod, or apparent indifference, as with the scholars. One can imagine that in Bethlehem, some people were skeptical about the messages of the shepherds. But other villagers would have rejoiced at the wondrous occasion. Upon reflection, they may also have been repentant, knowing that their town had initially brushed aside the Messiah. And at least some people reached out to assist the new family, and thus (whether they knew it or not) were advancing the salvation of humanity.
Christ comes to us now, as He came to Bethlehem 2000 years ago. And we must choose whether we will recognize Him and celebrate His presence in ways the world does not understand, in the faith-filled home, at honorable and dedicated labor, in the quiet of reflection, in the poor and abandoned, under the appearance of bread and wine.

If we so welcome Christ, as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi and the more holy citizens of Bethlehem did long ago, then we will make of our homes and communities new Bethlehems, places where the love of God dwells on earth.

GAUDETE SUNDAY

This weekend we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday,” taken from the Latin word “gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” with the implication of the attainment of something long awaited. During Lent, we celebrate Laetare Sunday, which is also named after a Latin word for “rejoice,” with the implication of having overcome a time of struggle or suffering. These two Sundays especially call us to true Christian joy in the midst of preparation, for Christmas now and for Easter during Lent. Christian joy is not mere human happiness, much less pleasure. The theologian Fr. Henri Nouwen described joy as “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing –sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Or, as St.Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Joy is the overflowing of love.” Of course, this love has God as its final source and end, whether people on earth know it or not. Thus, as C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy, true joy comes from contact with the divine, which awakens in our hearts a desire for the greater realms.

One may ask why we would need the reminder and encouragement to experience real joy, for surely that is what everyone wants anyway. However, the world frequently ignores or even suppresses the call to real joy in favor of lesser forms of happiness (or even apparent happiness) that are not really satisfying, but are much easier to have and control than real joy. By contrast, the joy that comes from heaven brings forth an unwillingness to be content with merely earthly things, in favor of the mysteries and holy realms that are beyond our understanding and beyond our control. It inspires the willingness to makes the sacrifices and engage in the struggles that real love involves, participating in Christ’s love for During the Advent season, Guadete Sunday calls us to thank God for the good things of this earth, but also to look beyond them to a realm of which they are only a first sign. As Christmas approaches, we seek the joy that only love can give; we renew again our knowledge of the love of God that is the source of all human love; and we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation when this divine love took human form.