Thursday, February 28, 2013

This morning at Mass we heard the familiar parable of Jesus about a rich man and the beggar Lazarus just outside his door. This was complemented at Mass by Psalm 1, in which we heard, "The LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes." It is striking that the rich man thought only of himself. Even after death his only thoughts were about his parched lips and his own suffering. In life he failed to see the needs of someone at his doorstep, and in death he thought only of himself and his brothers. Yet, we do not know his name. For all eternity he will remain anonymous. For all of his wealth and all of his ego, he is nameless. We do remember the poor man, Lazarus. Lazarus lives in our memory forever, while "the way of the wicked vanishes." After our death our remembrance will be only as great as those whom we have helped in this life. If we helped ourselves more than others, we will have a small remembrance indeed. How many of our conversations with God, like those of the forgotten rich man, include the words "me" or "I?" Perhaps the measure of devotion is how few of our prayers refer to ourselves. Lord, enlarge my vision and open my arms to the needs of others.

February 28, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When I was in my first assignment as a priest, a parishioner expressed the opinion that Catholic parishes are good at educating the young, ministering to the youth, reaching out to young adults, and caring for the old. However, he said, "If you're middle-aged and are just okay, there's nothing for you." A few weeks ago at the parish spaghetti dinner another parishioner suggested something for people in their 40"s and 50's. So here's my question: what do you think of getting 40-and50-somethings together periodically over wine and cheese, with a presenter to start the ball rolling, and open conversations about topics of faith and spirituality? Let's call it "Grace uncorked." What do you think? I'll host the first one in the Rectory at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish!

February 27, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Last evening I spent a few hours on campus at Messiah College, first at dinner with about a dozen faculty members and then to hear the annual "Religion and Society" lecture. The speaker, Father Emmanual Katongole, a Ugandan priest on faculty at Notre Dame University, was the featured guest at dinner, where all at table enjoyed a spirited discussion on the topics of lament, hope, and cultural imagination in post-colonial Africa. Then, Father Katongole offered an inspiring message to a full house in Hostetter Chapel on identity, invention, and audacity: claiming one's identity as a child of God and acting with outsized hope in response. All in all, these are good meditations for Lent. (I'll probably steal some of his ideas for sermons, but that's our little secret!)

February 27, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

This morning: the celebration of Holy Mass and breakfast with 66 students who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation on March 6, with their parents, sponsors, and catechists.

February 23,2013
Msgr. William J. King
This Sunday we begin our Lenten Vespers Series at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. As the Catholic Church celebrates a "Year of Faith," we focus each Sunday evening on an aspect of faith. This Sunday, February 24th, we are delighted to welcome an outstanding preacher, Dr. Robert Ives. Dr. Ives is the retired pastor of the Grantham Brethren in Christ church. He will guide us to understand better how to bring a Biblically-based faith into our own lives. Each week, come join in the prayer at sung Vespers, be enlightened by the speaker, and then on Wednesday evenings join in a discussion of Sunday's reflection, which will take place in the Bayley Conference Room at 7:30 PM.

Vespers: every Sunday evening at 5:30 in the church
Discussion Group: every Wednesday evening ay 7:30 in the Bayley Conference Room

All are welcome and wanted. Bring some friends.
February 22, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Isaiah 58: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” Charity has been called the perfection of all other virtues, because without it no other virtue matters. Saint Paul sought to teach us a “more excellent way” and concluded that among the things that endure, the greatest is love. More startlingly, Jesus provided only one set of criteria for the final judgment: “You saw me naked and clothed me, hungry and fed me, in prison and you visited me…”

If our spiritual discipline of Lent is focused on ourselves (“Lord, see how good I am by giving up [insert something here]”) we’re falling short. The fasting that God wishes is that we get outside of ourselves and see the plight of those treated unjustly… and then do something about it! The spiritual disciplines of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) are powerful practices to allow us to strip ourselves of self-centeredness and pride, a hollow dependence on self and narrow preoccupation on my own needs. If we do something in Lent for the Lord to notice (me, me, me) then we have our polarity reversed, because Lent should lead us humbly to God saying, “You, You, You.”

February 16, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A few weeks ago the neighborhood in which I live was under a “boil water advisory.” Nearly everyone exiting the local supermarket carried a jug of water in each hand or a case of bottled water in the cart. Too large and heavy to fit in a bag, each had a bright sticker on its top, reading in bold letters, “Paid. Thank you.”

Today – Ash Wednesday – as many people leave church they wear the same emblem on their foreheads. Not a bright label, but a cross of crude ashes, makes it clear that the bearer has been purchased and now belongs to Christ. Saint Paul said this so clearly. In I Corinthians 6:20 he reminds us, “You have been purchased at a price.”

At the beginning of the Catholic rite of baptism, the priest or deacon traces the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person to be baptized, saying, “I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of His cross.” A soul ransomed by Christ from death to sin now belongs to its new Master. Not a slave to sin, the soul is bound to Christ, its Lord.

The ashes on my forehead mark me as a servant of Christ, purchased by Him at the price of His own life. So, for the 40 days of Lent do you suppose that I can be a little less comfortable in my life than normal? Praying more, fasting, giving to the poor — the traditional Lenten practices — all are a reminder to me that if I belong to a beneficent Master I can look to Him for all I truly need. Relying a little less on my own self, for 40 days I can learn to rely more on Christ. Being a little less selfish than normal, I can learn to thank Him who gave His life so that I might go free from the punishment I deserve for my sins.

That little cross on my forehead says a lot. It says, “Paid. Thank you.”

February 13, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

This evening more than 40 members of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish completed 33 days of spiritual preparation by making an act of total consecration to Jesus through Mary. No person was ever more totally consecrated to Jesus than His mother. No one loved Him more than Mary. We pray that all who consecrated themselves to the Lord tonight may, in the example of Mary, be submissive to Christ in all ways and benefit from His merciful and providential love.

February 11, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The skeletal remains of England’s King Richard III were found beneath a parking lot in the midlands city of Leicester, where once a monastery of the greyfriars stood before it was destroyed in the English Reformation.  

The 16th-Century bard William Shakespeare devoted an entire play to the doomed king, one of four plays devoted to the War of the Roses.  In it, the playwright creates perhaps the greatest villain in the history of the stage.

Great art arises from deep pain.  Whatever the medium – be it in sight or sound, words or texture – deep-felt human emotion gives rise to great art.  Deep calls on deep, and the human heart responds to the emotion it encounters in great art.

The skeleton found beneath the parking lot reveals a serious case of scoliosis, a curved spine, but Shakespeare revealed that the twisted form of Richard III went far deeper than his bones. He makes the man’s physical deformity the embodiment of his moral deformity.  While the set of plays in which he is cast unfolds, we are introduced to Richard with the words of one character describing him as “a foul, undigested lump, as crooked in manners as in shape.”

When Richard comes onto the world’s stage in Shakespeare’s retelling, the audience is masterfully led beyond the physical deformity.  We are invited into the private realm of his feelings, his thoughts, his motivations.  We are taken in to his heart. We are led to feel as he feels – deeply, passionately, madly – and as we feel his pain we are led to pity the man so cruelly treated by nature and fate.

Richard turns toward the audience in a soliloquy and opens his heart:

“Love forswore me in my mother’s womb,
And she did corrupt frail nature with some bribe
To shrink mine arm up like a withered shrub,
To make an envious mountain on my back —
Where sits a deformity to mock my body —
To make my legs of an unequal size,
To disproportion me in every part.

Am I then a man to be beloved?
O, monstrous fault, to harbor such a thought!
Then, since this Earth affords no joy to me
But to command, to check, to overbear such
As are better person than myself,
I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And while I live, to account this world but hell,
Until my mis-shapen trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown.”

From deep pain, great art has arisen.  Richard has concluded that he is unlovable, and so his only recourse against the unfairness of his life is to achieve power and greatness.  “I cannot be loved,” he seems to say, “and so I shall gain respect in power.” At that point, the audience wants to cheer him on to success, wants to see him realize his dreams, wants this lonely and misshapen man to be happy.

At this point Shakespeare can say, “Gotcha!”  The master has led us to leave reason behind and follow Richard with pure emotion as passionate as his own aching heart.

The audience now has empathy with this pitiable man, and as in subsequent scenes as we are led through his achievement of his goals, we want to cheer him on.  We can almost overlook the cruelty by which he rises to the throne of England by the murder of all who stand in his way.  He deserves something better than what fate has given him, and his crass disregard for right and wrong has no meaning in his path to fulfillment. Moral judgments are suspended; right and wrong are turned upside-down because we so want this lonely man to find happiness in his dream of power.


Although Shakespeare casts his play as a tragedy, the real tragedy is that this type of moral manipulation goes on everyday around us. 

Watch for it in the secular news and in secular entertainment. Whether on radio, television, internet, or in print, the same gambit is used constantly to lead us beyond the point of moral judgment and into accepting what – with clear reason and unclouded emotion – we would always recognize as wrong.

A story is told.  In the story we meet a person with deep emotions: fright, confusion, self-doubt, hurt, anger, loneliness. We are invited by the retelling of the story to pity the person, and when our own emotions are captured in the dragnet of the story’s sentimentality – gotcha! – only then are we confronted with the real crux of the story: something which, with unclouded reason, we would otherwise recognize as a moral wrong. Over and over again this pattern is repeated, in news and in sit-coms, in films and in human interest stories. With the skill of the great bard long ago, the story opens us to deep emotion and then asks us to suspend moral judgment in favor of pity.

But right is right and wrong is wrong, sin is sin, and what is disordered remains disordered even if we so desperately want the subject of our pity to find happiness. The goal of this trap is for us to conclude that the only absolute is the right to happiness, and any means are acceptable to attain it.  What we would recognize as wrong or sinful or evil in any other setting becomes something we can overlook when we fall into this trap.  Gotcha!

There is a cruel reality which every generation has had to face: life is sometimes unfair and there are things that happen in life that we can’t always understand or explain. This reality points us in hope toward a goal beyond this world, and by realizing that some aches cannot be healed and some thirsts cannot be slaked in this life, we allow a more penetrating reality to remain always in our purview: we were created for infinity, for Heaven, for life with God, and nothing less will suffice.

From deep pain arises great art.  Even more so, from deep pain arises great faith.

February 9, 2013