Pat Mulcahy

Catholic Priest, Fitness Boxer, Home Cook/BBQ/Baker, Child of God
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I don’t think most of us need to think real hard about what it means to suffer.  We have all had, and will have, more than our share of it.  Whether it’s the illness and even death of loved ones, or our own illnesses, or unemployment, underemployment, and difficulties at our job, or strife in our families, or any one of many other issues, we have all encountered suffering at some level, at some point in our lives.  When we are going through it, it can be hard to find meaning in that suffering.  Why would God let us suffer, or let our loved ones suffer, as they do, and not intervene? What purpose does our pain and sadness serve?

 The reality of suffering is something of a mystery for us.  Today we hear it in our first reading: Job, the innocent man, has been the victim of Satan’s testing: he has lost his family and riches, and has been afflicted physically.  His friends have gathered around and given him all the stock answers as to why he is suffering: that he, or his ancestors, must have sinned and offended God, and so God allowed him to suffer in this way.  But Job rejects that thinking, as we all should: it is offensive.  Even if we accept that our sins have been great, this reduces God to a capricious child who throws away his toys when he tires of them.

 That’s not Job’s God and it’s not our God either.  And we still have that notion of suffering among us, I’m afraid.  Many people think they are being punished by God because of their sins when they are suffering.  And there is some logic to it: our sins do bring on sadness in this life.  Sin does have consequences, and while these consequences are not God’s will for us, they are a result of our poor choices.  But God does not penalize us in this way by willing our suffering.

 In fact, God has such a distaste for our suffering, that he sent his only Son to come and redeem us.  Jesus was one who suffered too, remember: being nailed to the cross, dying for our sins – but even before that, weeping with those who wept for loved ones, lamenting the hardness of heart of the children of Israel, being tempted by the devil in the desert, even understanding the hungry crowd and miraculously providing a meal for them out of five loaves and a couple of fish.  Jesus felt our affliction and suffering personally, and never abandoned anyone engaged in it.

 In today’s Gospel, Jesus is found healing.  First Peter’s mother-in-law, and then those who came to him at sundown.  In this reading, Jesus is a sign of God’s desire to deal with suffering.  We do not deny the presence of suffering and the tragic in our lives, in fact, we do what we can to overcome it.  But while Jesus deals with suffering and cures illnesses in these stories, he doesn’t eliminate all pain from the world.  In the same way, somehow, we deal with the suffering that presents itself to us, and its causes as we can, and are left with the awesome mystery of what remains.

 But the key here is that our God is with us in our suffering, and so we are called to be there for others who are suffering.  Indeed, we are partners with them in their suffering.  That’s how this always works. When we pray, we open the door for our God to walk with us through suffering.  If it’s his will that we be cured or the situation would change, that will happen, but whatever happens, we are not alone in it.  And when others suffer, we are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus as he walks with them in their pain.

 This weekend we kick off our annual diocesan Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal which funds the various ministries of the diocese of Joliet.  We at Saint Mary’s depend on these ministries to help us: educating seminarians like Andrew, our new intern, and our weekend seminarian Matthew; and supporting the efforts of our school and religious education program.  In addition, through the efforts of Catholic Charities, housing is provided for those who are in need, and meals are served to the hungry.  We are blessed that we can come together as a diocese to provide these services, all for the Glory of God.

 We can’t make all of the suffering in the whole world go away.  But we can do the little things that make others’ suffering a little less, helping them to know the healing presence of Christ, together.

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Today’s readings

The saga between Saul and David continues. The Lord has rejected Saul, and given gifts and charisms to David, who God intends to anoint as king in Saul’s stead. This is obvious to Saul, and has driven him to madness. He is so enraged at this point that he mounts a large military campaign – three thousand of Israel’s best men – just to hunt down David. Insecure people do crazy things.

But, although he certainly could, and even though God said “Do with him as you see fit,” David will do no such thing. He recognizes that even though the king might be flawed – crazy, even – he is still the king, and action against the king is action against God as well.

This, friends, is the essence of the fourth of the Ten Commandments: respecting authority. People of integrity do not take advantage of others, or mount campaigns against them. Instead, they continue to do their work and live their calling as God has required of them. Remember that the Fourth Commandment is the only one that comes with a promise: “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)

God is faithful. It is up to disciples to be people of integrity and be faithful as well.

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Todays readings

We know how the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees affected the Pharisees.  They resented everything Jesus said and did, and sought occasion to put him out of the picture.  But I cannot help but think that for Jesus, these occasions had to be rather frustrating.  Here are the most educated of the Jews, the people he came to save, and they just were not getting the point.

Jesus’ point in today’s gospel is that the Sabbath is not the goal in and of itself.  What is important is that God should be glorified in everything that we do, not that we spend time criticizing what others are doing.  The path to holiness consists in tending to our own spiritual house and not in dwelling on what others are doing.  And these religious leaders should have known better, they should have taken better care of their people: perhaps had the Pharisees provided something for the worshippers to eat, those who were hungry would not have had to risk violating the law.

Today’s readings speak to all of us about our true vocation as worshippers. We were made – all of us – to give honor and glory to God. In order to fulfill that vocation, our worship then must be authentic and joyful and a serious priority.  We must get all the details right – not the miniscule details crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” – but the details of taking care of one another, and making our worship mean something in our lives.

We were made to worship God in Spirit and truth.  We can do that by making every moment, every action of our lives, an occasion of worship – because that’s what worship really is.  The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.  May his lordship in our lives lead us to fulfill our vocation as a worshipping people.

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What are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus asks us today, and it’s a good one.  For the disciples who were checking him out, I think it took them aback somewhat.  They weren’t expecting that and they honestly didn’t have a great answer.  So instead they do what Jesus usually does and they answer the question with another question!  “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And very cryptically, Jesus answers by saying, “Come and you will see.”  That’s a wonderful line, so bookmark it for just a second.

Here we are, essentially just beginning the regular part of the new year of the Church.  We’ve been through Advent and the Christmas season, we’ve celebrated Epiphany, Jesus has been baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin Saint John the Baptist, and now it’s time to get on with the ministry he came to do.  So as he moves on, he begins to attract disciples, particularly those who had been followers of Saint John the Baptist.  Most likely, they were there when Jesus was baptized and they experienced the wonders of that moment: when the Father spoke from the heavens and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.  That had to be amazing!  My guess is they would have wanted to get to know Jesus a little better.

And so that’s what brings them to the place we are today.  Where are you staying?  Come and you will see.  And see they do.  They recruit Simon Peter, and he joins the group.  Together they will see the sick healed, the paralyzed get up and walk, the leprous cleaned, the possessed set free.  They will see thousands fed by a few loaves and fish.  They will see Jesus’ transfiguration.  But they won’t just see glory, will they?  They will see suffering and death, and will then see resurrection.  After that, they will see what Jesus saw in them – their ability to become the Church and spread the Gospel.

But at that moment, they had no idea what they would see when they chose to follow Jesus.  Just like they had no idea how to answer Jesus’ question, they had no idea what to expect from their relationship with him.  To find out where they were going to be led, they really did have to make a leap of faith and take him up on his invitation to “Come and see.”

Which is where we are today, on this first, “ordinary” Sunday of the Church year.  And I’m going to ask you all to pray over this in the week ahead: “What are you looking for?” 

For me, I’m looking forward to seeing our parishioner Christian Sinclair ordained a transitional deacon. I’m looking forward to working with our seminarians Matthew, and especially Andrew as he experiences his full time internship here at Saint Mary’s.  I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our ministries develop, the fruits of doing some things in our school and religious education programs, and the renewing of our parish pastoral council.  I’m looking forward to receiving some new people into the Church at Easter and throughout the year.  I’m looking forward to celebrating several marriages this year, along with First Communions and Confirmations.  I’m looking forward to seeing how God will continue to work in my life and develop my ministry.  But I know it won’t all be glory: I’ll have to celebrate funerals and say goodbye to some wonderful people.  I’ll have to make hard decisions about our budget and prioritize ministries.  Just like all of your families, there are tough decisions to be made in the running of a parish.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world.  And I look forward to the journey.  Sometimes things might not happen fast enough for my liking, or maybe they won’t happen in the way I would choose, but I know that along the way, I’ll see more of God’s grace, and that’s worth the ride all in itself.

So I’ll put this back in your court again.  Let’s pray about this together. Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting with Jesus and hear him asking, “What are you looking for?” Spend some time now thinking about how you will answer him: What do you hope to see in this new year?  What are your dreams for your spiritual life?  How would you want God to work in your life right now? 

Take time to tell Jesus what it is you are looking for right now.

Listen now, as Jesus answers you: “Come, and you will see.” Receive his reassurance that you will see much this coming year, but he will walk with you through it all.  Then we can all pray with the Psalmist: “Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.”

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This was my first home barbecue offering of the new year: dinner for me and my sister Sharon. Smoked baby back ribs, smoked lobster tail, and smoked twice baked potatoes. It turned out great.

What I thought about while I was cooking on January 1 in the suburbs of Chicago was that the mild winter (to that point; this week is completely different!) allowed me to do more barbecuing than I did in the summer. Summer would have been fine, and it was my intent to use my BBQ setup all that season, but I had my encounter with aFib, and getting a stent, and going through cardiac rehab.

Summer was what I like to call a “whole thing” and I didn’t do much of what I had planned (God laughs at our plans, doesn’t he?). But it was nice for early winter to redeem that, and I smoked a delicious rib roast for Christmas, and this offering for New Year’s.

We’ll see how long the snow lasts: I want to get back out there and cook!

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In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners. That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. In this Gospel passage, though, we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company. He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees. And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community. But Jesus distancing himself from sinners would only reinforce the barrier that sin puts between us and God. Not eating with sinners means there is no redemption. So nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach. And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing. It’s often cyclical. Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner. The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all. Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal. He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry. But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.

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