An Oasis in the Desert
Usually when I am home in Wisconsin I offer Mass in the
home of one of my brothers or sisters. There are a few reasons for it,
but the primary one is I do not want to put up with the liturgical abuses
that, unfortunately, occur at most of the parishes in the Archdiocese
of Milwaukee. Sadly, too many things are allowed to happen or are even
promoted that are direct violations against the teachings of our Church.
I do not mean to dwell on this, but when the archbishop finds it necessary
(as he did a few months ago) to write to his priests informing them that,
because he will retire in a few years, they must prepare for some drastic
changes-for it is almost assured that the next bishop will hold them to
what the Church requires such as Confession before First Holy Communion,
kneeling during the consecration, and no general absolution-it doesn't
take a rocket scientist to realize something is wrong there.
I was home in Wisconsin to visit my family the week before
Holy Week. While I was there my father suffered a stroke and I had to
extend my stay, which meant I would be there a second Sunday. I decided
I wanted to be in a parish, particularly since it was Palm Sunday, so
I asked the pastor of the parish two of my brothers attend if I could
concelebrate there. He was very hospitable and most accommodating.
As you enter this church you are almost overwhelmed by
its beauty. While located in a not-so-good neighborhood, the church is
immaculate. Unlike many others in Milwaukee, it has not been "wrecked"
if you will-although they usually call it "renovation." Stations are in
place, the altar is magnificent, the altar rail is still there. The place
alone points in every way to the mystery of God and raises one's mind
to His glory. I could not help but think God is present there. Another
thought came to mind-they just don't build churches like this anymore.
That reminded me what someone once said concerning a similar situation.
"The Catholics who built this had faith. Today we have opinions and you
can't build a church with opinions." There is a lot of truth in that.
Faith is not built on opinion; it is based on truth. The Truth is Jesus
Christ, whose resurrection we celebrated one week ago; realizing, of course,
that every Sunday is a celebration of our Lord's resurrection.
The second Sunday of Easter traditionally is the day we
hear the Gospel account of the doubting Thomas. He was not with the other
apostles when the Risen Lord first appeared to them. That was perhaps
his biggest mistake. Scripture scholars tell us that Thomas never lacked
courage. In fact, he was willing to go to Jerusalem and die with Jesus
when the others were hesitant and afraid. But Thomas was broken-hearted
after Christ's crucifixion, and it was his opinion that he must be alone
with his grief. That is not what Jesus had told him nor what He tells
us. Jesus teaches that He is with us in our joys and our sorrows. He told
his apostles He would be with His Church always. Again, that was Thomas'
big mistake. He separated himself from the Church and went off on his
own. It was Peter and the others who were in that upper room. "Where Peter
is, there is the Church." Thomas withdrew. He sought loneliness rather
than togetherness. He separated himself from the source of grace, strength,
Many of us are often like that. When things are difficult
we blame God and move away from Him just when we most need Him, Or something
happens at Church-we are scolded in the Confessional, we didn't like the
priest saying contraception is a sin in his homily, or we were offended
when we were asked to be quiet in Church. As a result we leave-we leave
the Church established on earth to bring us God's grace and, consequently,
we leave Christ Himself. We also leave when we sin mortally.
Thomas, however, does come to his senses and rejoins the
Church. He reunites Himself to Peter and the others a week later in that
upper room when Jesus appears again. Knowing Thomas' doubts, Jesus tells
Thomas to probe His nail prints, that he might believe, that he might
have faith. Thomas reluctantly does and gives us the most profound statement
of faith found in Sacred Scripture, "My Lord and my God."
We, like Thomas, must come to our senses if we step away
from God. We can be reunited with Him and His Church through the sacrament
of Penance. It is at the beginning of our Gospel this morning that Jesus
established Confession as a sacrament. It is here that He gave his first
priests the power to absolve sins and reunite people with the Father in
heaven. What a gift! What a treasure, a treasure to be used, not forgotten
or set aside until next year,
On Palm Sunday I saw that Church in Milwaukee to be a
gift and a treasure as well. As a building it was truly magnificent.
However, if the truth was distorted there, if the love of God was not
found there, if the Mass was abused there-for all its beauty, that building
would then only be a building. But, thank God, this Church is an oasis
of truth in what might be called a desert of heresy. As I talked to the
pastor he told me, as my brothers have, how vibrant the parish is. Faith,
not opinions, are alive there. Every afternoon the priests go out into
the surrounding neighborhood in what they call a "street sweep." Dressed
in cassocks (when clerical clothing is rarely worn by the priests in that
diocese) they try to be a presence, a presence of Christ's love and peace
in streets often filled with violence. They have all kinds of outreach
programs, which are only the fruit of the spirituality present in that
parish where two novenas are offered each week. Confessions are heard
before and after each Mass, Masses are celebrated reverently and with
dignity, and the Communion rail is actually used to instill a greater
respect among the people for Who it is they are receiving,
Eight Masses are offered each weekend in a Church located
in a neighborhood into which many usually might not venture. Yet they
do. Why? Because even in this sea of unrest, people still seek the truth-Jesus
Christ, our risen Lord. They do not want opinion. They, like Thomas, want
faith. As the pastor told me "We here are unashamedly Catholic." What
more needs to be said.