Monday, December 31, 2012

Nikki and Tony Wedding Homily

The Lord be with you. R./ And with your Spirit. A reading from the holy Gospel according to John. Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” The Gospel of the Lord. My brother and sister-in-law just celebrated their 15 wedding anniversary a couple of days ago. We laugh now about their wedding day only because they wanted a cold, white Christmas wedding and it ended up being one of the warmest Christmas’ on record – no such worries for you guys today. I actually like that you chose to be married during the Christmas season, because there is so much joy that surrounds us at this time and it sets the right tone to celebrate what you are doing today – that of love and joy. In the first reading, we are reminded that we are not simply robots, machines or computers, but we are made uniquely by God in His image and likeness, we are made good! This means that we possess a dignity and holiness above any other creature. It is our loving God-Creator who continues to draw us into an intimate, personal love relationship. This Christmas we celebrate that God so loved us that he sent his Son to restore our broken relationship with Him and to teach us how to love God and each other. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. How did Jesus love? He cared for the sick and dying. He showed great compassion and mercy to all. He forgave those who hurt him and insulted him. He fed the hungry. He protected the weak, those persecuted and marginalized. And in the end, he suffered great embarrassment and physical pain, and even death, out of love for us. This is how we are to love each other. And Tony and Nikki, this is how you are to love your spouse! And Jesus promises us that if we do this, if we love like he did, our joy will be complete. So the joy you two have experienced as a couple leading up to today and even experienced today is just the beginning. This is not to say that you will be free from problems and difficulties – you can just ask your married grandparents, parents, and other relatives and friends about that. It will be your job as spouses to help each other to love, especially when it may be difficult to love. And, it is in the Sacrament of Marriage that you also receive the grace from God to sustain and grow your love for each other. This is what St. Paul alludes to in the second reading. God, because he wants us to love, will give you the grace to be patient and kind to your spouse, to NOT be jealous or pompous, to NOT be inflated or rude, to NOT be selfish, quick-tempered, to brood over injury, or rejoice over wrongdoing. I pray that your marriage may be filled with God’s grace, love and complete joy! Nikki and Tony, I commend you for your decision to marry and more specifically to make this public statement of your desire and commitment to enter into a permanent, faithful, and fruitful union with each other. You could have easily avoided making such an act – certainly popular culture does not appear to value or reward such decisions, plus with so much tragedy and despair in our country and world you could have simply lost hope in the future together. But instead you have great courage to live out this what is becoming almost counter-cultural and you likely with continue to face opposition in living as a Christian married couple. AND instead of doubt or discouragement, you also have hope and trust that a life together – in a permanent, faithful and fruitful union – will bring you true and lasting happiness. I promise you it will. So, again, thank you, on behalf of married couples gathered here – for affirming and renewing our decision as married couples – and thank you for being a wonderful example and inspiration to your single family and friends of the great joy that awaits them if they are willing to take the risk you take today. After all that, are you still ready to make this vow of married life to each other? If so, then I invite you with your wedding party to stand before the Altar.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

HOMILY - Second Sunday in Advent (Year C)

Last Sunday was my second in a series of talks with our 7th & 8th grade Parish School Religion students as they prepare for Confirmation this April. I have been sharing with them Blessed John Paul II Theology of the Body, which is based on the wonderful truth that we are made by a loving God, in His image and likeness, made good, made to experience God’s love – body and soul – now and eternally. I am eager to share this beautiful truth because I believe that it is not only good and true, but because I share it with the wisdom of hindsight, wanting to share with them what I wish that I had heard as a teenager and young adult – it would have saved a lot of anxiety, confusion, hurt, embarrassment, and insecurity – although there would still be some angst – it was the teenage years! It is with a similar motive that the author of today’s first reading writes the Book of Baruch. Baruch is the main character of the Book and was the prophet Jeremiah’s esteemed secretary, who lived during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The actual author (or group of authors) of the book lived 4-5 centuries later – at a time in which the Jewish people experience great persecution. And so the authors wrote in the face of adversity and hopelessness, with the wisdom of hindsight, to offer encouragement and hope. The Book of Baruch reminded the Israelites then and us today that we are loved by a God of great power who can and will make every “lofty mountain low” and fill-in the age-old depths and gorges, so that we might know his security, joy, mercy and justice. It is also a reminder that God wants us to remove our robe of mourning and misery; to be transformed in his glory and to be one with him forever in the “peace of justice.” We only read from the Book of Baruch a few times in the entire three-year lectionary cycle – this Sunday and the Easter Vigil liturgy – and has a very contentious history. The Book of Baruch and six other books of the Catholic Old Testament are not contained in the Protestant Bible. Catholics refer to these seven books as deutrocanocial, while Protestants often refer to them with the title Apocrypha. The Catholic Old Testament follows the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint, which is contains 46 books of the Old Testament and was translated into Greek around 250 BC. These books were used by Jesus and the Apostles, the early Church Fathers, and was infallibly reaffirm at the Council of Trent as divinely inspired. Protestants follow the Palestinian canon of Scripture, which was not officially recognized by Jews until 100 AD. It was this set of Scripture that Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther, relied on to support their their reform doctrine. Much more can be said on this, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to briefly say something about this often controversial issue, when talking about the Book of Baruch. As Catholics, it is good that we look back on the books of the Bible – all 73 of them! - to learn of God’s great love revealed to us in these writings. But we must not stop there, we must also look forward. And this is what we do during the Advent season. We celebrate the past when God became man to teach us how to love by what he said and did. And we anticipate the future celebration of Jesus’ Second Coming, at which time God’s love will defeat once and for all death so that we may have eternal life. This Advent we stand between our own past and future. Between our doubt, brokenness, pain, weakness, and adversity AND our loving, merciful God who has truly done great things for us. And so, I say to you, echoing today’s Responsorial Psalm: be filled with joy! Be like St. Paul who was transformed by God’s love and has this great joy, love, confidence and hope for his friends in Phillippi, of which we read in today’s second reading – which by the way was written as Paul sat in jail awaiting his execution. Be like St. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel whose trust in God allows him to fearlessly call people to a baptism of repentance and a forgiveness of sins, so as to prepare the way for Jesus – and he continued to do so even when threatened with death. Be like Holy Mary, whose Immaculate Conception we celebrate today/yesterday and who was full of grace and without hesitation said yes to God, even if that meant that she would have to watch her own son suffer and die on the cross. Make this Advent your time to remove your robe of mourning and misery and to be transformed in his glory. I invite you to attend tomorrow’s/tonight’s parish penance service and be transformed by God’s love and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – be sorrowful for your sins, seek forgiveness, and commit to avoid sin in the future. May God bless you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

HOMILY - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

With great threats to our religious liberty and the dignity of life, the economic “cliff” facing our country and world, war and violence, over-consumption and greed, crazy weather patterns, and our own personal struggles, it is maybe an easy argument to make that now is “the time unsurpassed in distress,” as reference by the prophet Daniel in today’s first reading, and that now are the days of tribulation, as predicted in today’s Gospel, which will precede the Second Coming of Jesus. But, Daniel twenty-five hundred years before us had a good argument too, as his fellow Israelites were held captive in a foreign land and were being persecuted. And so also, could the primary audience of the Gospel writer Mark, writing in the late first century in Rome and at a time of impending persecution of Christians and the destruction of Jerusalem. In the end, as Jesus reminds us: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Today’s readings nonetheless focus our attention on what we call “the last things” or the “end times.” The reality of death, judgment, heaven and hell. And in turn, we are invited to consider our own mortality and our readiness to encounter Christ’s judgment. For Christians, death is the gateway to eternal life with God. In death, the body separates from the soul, the human body decays, and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. There are no second chances, no reincarnation, no re-do’s – we live and die our earthly lives only once. St. Paul states that each of us “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive good or evil according to what we did.” The good is Heaven, the evil is Hell. For those who have deliberately rejected God and the saving grace of Christ, there will be total separation from God – this is Hell. God does not send anyone to Hell; rather, He allows each of us to live forever with their free choice to accept or reject Him. To be clear, God’s will is that we all know eternal life, love, and peace. This is Heaven: the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ – all those who have loved as Christ loved and taught us to love. It is a communion of life and love with the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and with the Virgin Mary, with the angels and all the blessed. This is the goal of our existence on earth and the reason God created us: to be with him forever in heaven in perfect happiness and peace. As we are reminded in today’s second reading to the Hebrews: “For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” Thus, the opportunity of eternal life with God was made possible through the death on the Cross of his Son and our Savior. Additionally, our eternal destiny depends on the free choices we make now and the outpouring of the graces of Christ to live lives of faith and love. Our of God’s great love and mercy for us, and his desire to be with us eternally, we also believe in the transitional state of purgatory for those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but who also require some further purification for sins committed in this life or as punishment for sins forgiven, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven without blemish. In a minute or two we will profess together that we “…look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe in the resurrection of the body. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so too will God grant life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, and make possible a new and yet unimaginable life that we will enjoy eternally. The book of Daniel is the earliest recorded belief of resurrection in the Old Testament, and the first reading offers a wonderful insight into the resurrection of the body: more than just being the same person in a new place; in our resurrection, we will be transformed and shine brightly like stars! As Catholics, we also believe in the Second Coming of Christ, an event that will bring human and earthly life to an end as we know it and it will be a final defeat to evil and darkness. As today’s readings remind us, Christ’s Second Coming will be preceded by a time of great tribulation and distress. Rather than focusing on what or when this might be (only the Father knows, right?), the Church in her wisdom calls us to be ready for the return of Christ. We believe, finally, in the Last Judgment. Following Christ’s return, the Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all injustices, that God’s love is stronger than death. This will be a time in which we shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation. And so we place our hope in a new Heaven and a new Earth where there will be no more tears or mourning, no more pain or death. Much more can be said of each of these and other dogmas and teachings of our faith. So I hope that you will join me in January as we host Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism study series to learn more about and share our faith. Please look for details in future bulletins. In the midst of our current distress and tribulation, what are we to do now? For me, it is about reminding myself everyday and in all that I do, that I am part of something bigger, something not limited to our earthly existence, but of our loving Creator’s desire that I share in eternal life, eternal peace, eternal joy. So, instead of being complacent or discouraged or even angry, I am just the opposite: filled with joy and hope. While living in the present, I recognize my failures and weaknesses, and seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I act with love and charity toward others, as God is towards me. I celebrate and pray with the communion of saints – you sitting here, those in purgatory, and those in Heaven. And I commit to share God’s love with others by actions and words. I invite you to do the same. If we do this, God’s promise to us will be realized: eternal life! May God bless you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

HOMILY - Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

In today’s Gospel, a young man walks away from Jesus shocked and saddened because he is unable, even unwilling to grasp what it means to be in relationship with God – unable and unwilling to give up anything and everything that keeps him believing and trusting in God completely. One thousand years ago, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was able to give up everything to be in relationship with God. The son of a feudal lord in France and groomed to be knight, Bernard at age 21 decided to give up his wealth and enter monastic life. Bernard was known to be touchy and judgmental and as a reformer within the Church and the government. Later in life he was asked by the pope to preach for the Second Crusade, which ended in disaster. Although he condemned its evil practices, Bernard was blamed for the Crusade’s failure and died under a cloud of dishonor. It was this personality and experiences that shaped his thinking and writing as a Doctor of the Church. Our wonderful teacher Bishop Campbell introduced me to the writings of St. Bernard. In speaking with parish religious educators a couple of weeks ago and again last Friday in speaking to a gathering of Catholic men, Bishop Campbell spoke of St. Bernard and specifically his three-fold understanding of what it means to believe and trust in God – these three are: the mind, the will, and the memory. St. Bernard speaks of these same three aspects of faith as also being stumbling blocks in our ability to love and trust God. I suspect that this was true for the rich man in today’s Gospel, it is certainly true for me, and maybe for you too. In today’s first reading, we read of the importance of the mind. The author pleads for prudence and prays to be blessed with the spirit of wisdom. He prefers these to power and riches, health and beauty. He desires nothing in life more than to know and do the will of God. This is all in stark contrast to the actions of the rich man in the Gospel and really to the Jewish culture of the time which associated wealth with being favored by God. This is why Jesus’ disciples reacted the way they did in the Gospel. They were shocked that this rich man, who presumably had God’s favor because of his wealth and otherwise followed God’s commands, was told he would not inherit eternal life. They were also confused and worried what this meant for them - they who had given up everything and followed Jesus. But, as the first reading concludes, we find clarity: “all good things together came to me in (the) company (of wisdom), and countless riches at her hands” - it is in the wisdom of knowing God that we find true wealth and happiness, a wisdom that can only come by separating ourselves from whatever it is that keeps us from knowing God. It is in turn the virtue of prudence that helps us to know God and follow his will and avoiding evil and sin. We need wisdom and the virtue of prudence to live as we are called to live, so that we do not walk away from Jesus shocked and sadden. While our modern society places greater emphasis on the mind and wisdom, St. Bernard focused more on his second aspect of faith: the will. God, out of his great love for each of us, made us and gave us the gift of free-will to choose to be in relationship with Him. The rich man exercised his free will and walked away from Jesus – and I know I have. None the less, God’s deep, penetrating love continues, as we reading in the second reading. The author was writing to believers who had grown cold in their faith and who were weary of making the effort required to be in relationship with a God who is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him.” It is also our God who knows us and loves us and who placed in our hearts a desire to know him, love him and serve him. And it is God who gives us, again, out of his great love for each of us, his gift of grace to help us choose good and to be in relationship with Him. Such gifts of grace help us to perfect the theological virtues of justice, which strengthens the will so that we will treat others with care and respect; fortitude, which makes us firm in choosing the good, even when it is difficult or costly to do so; and temperance, which helps us to achieve self-mastery even over our desires for pleasure and the overuse of this world’s goods. Finally, St. Bernard warns that in our faith life “the memory [becomes] confused by its endless forgetfulness” – that we forget that we are called into relationship and we forget how we are to act in this relationship with God. For me memory is also about remembering that I am too often hesitant to give up what I have, like the rich man; or remembering too well my failings and weaknesses and finding myself not able to trust and believe as I must because of my own embarrassment, fear, frustration or anger. At these moments, I find hope in Jesus’ two promises in today’s Gospel. First, Jesus reminds us that: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." It is not about me, my failings and weaknesses, but what is possible when I give myself totally and completely to him – for in him, all things are possible! And second, Jesus promises that when we are willing to give up everything and even endure persecutions for Him and the Gospel, we will receive a great reward eternally. These are two promises that I am willing to place all my hope in! How about you? This week, let us pray often the Responsorial Psalm “Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.” Pray that God’s love – his Graces and the promises he gives us – may fill our minds, our wills, and our memories, so that we may sing for joy now and eternally.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Homily - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

I am coaching my son’s 5th grade football team this fall. This past week, I talked a lot about developing habits – the things we do automatically, without giving it any thought. Like buttoning a button and tying shoelaces, or good table manners, covering your mouth when you sneeze, and saying please and thank you. The same is true with playing football: we want to develop good habits like lining up correctly and moving at the right time. The goal is to develop good habits, so that they become automatic, they don’t have to stop and think about it; they just do it and do it right, which allows them to focus on more important things (like what to do when a bigger kid is running at them). The same happens in our moral life, when we chose between right and wrong, between good and evil. If we choose to do what is right and good over and over, then we develop the habit of doing good and avoiding evil. These habits of doing good are called a virtues. Virtues are developed by regularly choosing good. And it is God’s grace that helps us to develop virtues and to sustain them, particularly in the face of hostility and pressure. At times, however, we are faced with a big or important decision that requires more than a simple habitual or conditioned response, and certainly it requires more than relying on gut instinct, feelings or emotions, or following what is most popular. In such decisions, we need to exercise our conscience. Simply put, our conscience is a judgment of what is right or wrong, good or evil. I like to think of conscience also as the awareness we possess to decide what is good and right and the awareness to seek repentance and reconciliation when we have failed to what is good and right. We are called to form our conscience, in order to properly choose between good and evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.” (CCC 1802) Today’s readings give us some important insights about forming our consciences. And the U.S. Bishops have encouraged clergy to take this weekend’s readings as an opportunity to teach on conscience formation, particularly as we approach the November election. The first reading from Deuteronomy asks, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” This passage affirms God’s faithfulness to us—his promise to be with us as we “search” for what is right with a sincere heart. For our part, we have to approach our searching with a sincere heart and a willingness to seek the truth. If we do these things, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will be with us. Today’s first reading also emphasizes the “statutes and decrees” that God has given the Israelites, saying that these statutes and decrees are given so “that you and your descendants may live.” The first reading also emphasizes that we may not pick and choose which of these commands we will follow. In forming our conscience, today’s first reading reminds us that we must seek to know and understand what Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church says on any given situation and that we are obliged to follow them, because this is God’s command to us. Today’s Psalm emphasizes the importance of “doing justice,” which is an important aspect of conscience. The Psalmist sings that the “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” When we have to make a decision about something, we should also explore what is “just.” How this or that choice will enhance—not degrade—the life and dignity of each person made in the image of God. We especially have a duty to act to defend the weak, unborn, poor, and migrant. In forming our conscience, we must examine the facts and background of the situation and consider what is just and right to do. Another aspect to forming our consciences is prayer and reflection. In today’s second reading, we are instructed to “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in (us) and is able to save (our) souls.” (vs. 21) The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ in their statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, urges us to hear “the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.” (no. 17) Being attentive to God’s voice requires that we take regular time for prayer, and that we bring with us to our prayer and reflection time the important decisions that we face. Referencing the words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s Gospel, Jesus criticizes those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. He quotes that “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (vs. 6) Conscience formation is not about going through the motions, or about searching for evidence to support a decision you have already made. It is about taking seriously our lifelong obligation to do what is required to continually form our consciences, in order to follow God’s will. We are obliged to follow our conscience in making moral decisions, and this requires us to have a well-formed conscience. That we: • Have a sincere desire to embrace goodness and truth. • Study of Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. • Examine of the facts and background information about various choices. • Prayerful reflect and discern the will of God (FCFC, no. 18). In their statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops name a number of issues about which we should form our consciences. Some of these include: • Continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick, or unwanted; • Renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries—in health care, education, and social services—to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need; • Efforts to redefine marriage and enact measures which undermine marriage as between one man and one woman and an institution essential to the common good; • An economic crisis which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing unemployment, poverty, hunger, deficits and debt, and the duty to respond in ways that protect the poor and future generations; • The failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive measures that promote respect for law, human rights and the dignity of immigrants and refugees, and which keep families together, and advance the common good; • Wars, terror, and violence which raise serious moral questions about the human and moral costs of force, particularly in regards to the Holy Land and Middle East. To learn more about these issues and what the Church teaches on them, I encourage you to read the bishops’ statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. It is available on the U.S. bishops’ website. In the meantime, work on building those great virtues in your life, so that choosing what is good and right becomes a habit. And when faced with a more difficult decision exercise your full-formed conscience. May God bless you.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Homily - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

On September 17, our parish will begin its second year of the “That Man is You” program. I invite all men of this parish – and their sons, fathers, brothers, and friends – to join us on Saturday mornings for this initiative. This year’s goal is the transformation of marriage and family life for the men who participate. Through an examination of the Holy Family, the program will help men to grasp God's abiding presence within the home. I invite you to make this commitment to your family and God, by completing the registration card in the pew and placing it in the box in the Gathering Space. Turning to today’s readings, I am struck by Jesus’ focus and persistence in the Gospel. In the face of mocking, doubt and disbelief by those around him, he preservers. In his humanity, Jesus could have been caught up in his own anger, hurt, insecurity, or doubt by the rejection or lack of understanding of his message by so many, including family and friends. But, instead, because he has such an incredible, passionate, and divine love for us, he had this dogged determination to continue on. Jesus is not worried about what others might think, say or do to him – he is only concerned with the truth and spreading the message of God’s great love. And it is in Jesus Christ that we come to know this great love. It is Jesus who is from the Father and knows the Father’s love for us - this is the authority from which he speaks. And it is Jesus who loves us so much that he is willing to give himself completely to us. Jesus was not only willing to suffer and die for us, but even more he gives to us his entire being – body, blood, and soul – in the Eucharist! He holds nothing back. He gives himself to us completely and unconditionally – out of love! And it is Jesus who is inviting us to believe in him – in who he is, in what he taught, and what he did, and what he gives us now in the Eucharist. He is calling us to not only to believe in him, but to be in relationship with him. He is calling us to be in this intimate, physical, loving relationship with him – to be united with him literally by eating his body and drinking his blood. And while this may sound so odd today, as it did to the Jews who rejected this message when Jesus spoke it, we must seek to understand, trust and believe that Jesus is present in a real, true and substantial way, with his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. For those who do believe and enter into this relationship, here is the great promise: eternal life. This is what Jesus means when he says in today’s Gospel: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever. This promise continues for us today in the bread of the Eucharist. When we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist, we are nourished and strengthened to live in this relationship now and eternally with God. We are also strengthened to love others as St. Paul urges in today’s second reading – that all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice are removed from us, so that we may be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven us in Christ. Just as the prophet Elijah was nourished by bread from God, as we read in the first reading, we are fed spiritually through the graces we receive in the Eucharist to live and love as Jesus did and taught us to do. What the story of Elijah also reminds us is that God gives us what we need most in our life. As we pick up the story of Elijah in the first reading, Elijah was a man on the run. The queen of the northern kingdom, Jezebel, wanted him dead because he had just embarrassed her and her pagan prophets by showing that the power of our God is real and superior to their fictional pagan gods. He was also discouraged that all his efforts to seek the conversion and repentance of the Israelite people was proving to be fruitless. One the run, Elijah was not only physically exhausted, he was depressed and full of self-pity – he just wanted to die. However, not once, but twice did to our loving God provide Elijah with bread to sustain him physically and spiritually on his journey. The same is true for us. God will sustain us in our time of greatest need. Often we pray for a job or a better job; we pray that the bullying or other violence in our life stops; we pray to heal a broken marriage or relationship; we pray that we or a loved one might be cured of an illness, disease or addiction; we pray that our fears and anxieties will be removed. These are certainly good prayers. And, in the midst of these challenges, let us also pray for the grace to endure and preserve as we trust that God’s will be done. Just as God provided for Elijah in his moment of greatest need, let us pray that we may be nourished and sustained in the Eucharist, which we are about to receive. Let us pray that through the Eucharist, we may be filled with the wisdom, courage, patience or whatever it is that we need in order to endure are daily challenges. Let us pray that through Eucharist we will trust in the promise of Christ: that whoever eats this bread will have life so that our lives, with its many challenges may be filled with joy and peace – now and eternally.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Is anyone still without power? (If so, please see me after Mass to see how we can help you) For those with power, how many were out for 2 or less days? For 3 or more days? Did any of you boast most gladly in being without power? Since the loss of power to our homes and places of work can have a crippling effect on us physically, mentally and emotionally – and even financially – I suspect that no one was celebrating or boasting that they were without power this past week. In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul boasts most gladly of his “thorn in the flesh.” It has been debated since Paul first wrote these words what his thorn in the flesh might have been - maybe a physical or mental condition, or it may have been an individual or group of individuals that persecuted him – it certainly was not the lack of electricity. What we do know is that Paul accepted and even took joy in this weakness of his. He writes to the Corinthians: I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. For Paul, there is strength, even power, when he is at his weakest and most vulnerable. Paul believed that he was given this thorn in the flesh to keep him in check, to bring balance to his life, so that his mystical knowledge of Jesus would not overwhelm him or give him too big of an ego. It was this weakness then that gives him clarity of thought and integrity in action to love and serve God. The power outage may have given us a similar opportunity to bring some balance and focus in our lives. Without power, notwithstanding the miserable heat, we had the time away from the noise of TV, radio, email and the Internet, to think and pray; time to slow down from our busy lives and appreciate what is truly important, what we truly value. Certainly the more dramatic and difficult experiences in our life, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or our home, or a battle with a serious illness, also provide the opportunity to reflect on what is important and to seek greater balance in our life. Like Paul, these are also opportunities to grow closer to Christ – opportunities for the power of Christ to dwell within us. In our moments of weakness, we have the power of Christ to surrender our ego and pride, our vanity and greed, and to place all our trust and hope in Jesus Christ – in who he was and is, in what he taught and did, and the grace he offers us now. In our moments of weakness, we can seek the grace of God – the wisdom, the courage, the strength – whatever we need now - to better hear and follow God’s will for us. In our weakness, we can grow in faith. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith in him by the people of his hometown. They did not believe in Jesus because they could not accept that a prophet, let alone the Messiah, could come from the poverty and simplicity of their rural community. They could not accept God working in their midst and in their life. There is a second account in the Gospels in which Jesus expresses his amazement at a person’s faith. In Matthew’s Gospel, a Roman centurion asks Jesus to cure his paralyzed servant. When Jesus agrees to come and cure him, the centurion responds: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Let us amaze Jesus with our faith! In just a couple of minutes we will echo the words of the Roman centurion, just before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We pray: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. In our weakness, let us pray these words with great humility. In our weakness, let us pray these words with a sincere desire for God’s mercy and love. In our weakness, let us pray these words with confidence that through the reception of the Eucharist, the power of Christ may dwell within us and heal us. Let us pray that in receiving Christ, we may find peace and even joy in our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints – whatever our thorn may be. Let us amaze Jesus with our faith!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

HOMILY - Sixth Sunday in Easter (Year B)

I just finish a six-week stint as a substitute teacher at Watterson, teaching 187 juniors moral theology while their teacher was on medical leave. I met many very smart, energetic, passionate, and faith-filled students, including several from our parish – and I have to say, I am very optimistic that they will be great leaders in our community AND that they will be great servants to Christ and his Church. This experience has also reinforced the great challenge that they face in knowing God’s great love for them – in the midst of so many false images of love in music and TV, peer pressure and competition, family life and friendships that are so fragile. In reality, this is true of each of us, just not juniors in high school, right? Today’s readings offer us a strong reminder of what love truly is. As the evangelist John reminds us in today’s second reading: it is God who first loved us. He is the initiator and creator. He made us in his image and likeness, he made us good, he made us out of love, to love. As the evangelist further reminds us: The Father loves us so much that he sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him; that the Son might suffer and die on a cross so that we might be restored in the love relationship with God, broken by our sin. In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that it is Jesus who is inviting us into this intimate, personal, love relationship with God. He has chosen us and calls us as friends to enter into this love relationship. Not as a slave, who is forced to do something, but rather as a close friend we are invited to freely enter into this relationship. And just like a true friend, it is Jesus shares his joy with us, so that we too might experience the great joy of God’s love. Because of the love our God has for us, the only true response is to love God in return and extend this love to others. And this is the command Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: love one another. It is Jesus’ obedient and humble death on the cross that is the example for us of how to love others. Jesus says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” The self-giving, self-donation to a spouse in a Catholic marriage exemplifies such love for another – putting aside ego and personal want out of love for your spouse. It is also in motherhood that we find a wonderful example of such self-giving love – putting your own wants and needs, aches and pains second to the love and care of your family. So, on this Mother’s Day weekend, thank you to all the mothers and wives who give so generously and selflessly and provide us with wonderful examples of how to love. Today’s first reading also gives us several reminders not only of God’s great love but also how we are to love. In today’s first reading, we hear portions of a larger story of the Apostle Peter’s interaction with a non-Jew, Roman solider - Cornelius. It was this episode in the early Church that opened the door for all – Jew and non-Jew alike – to be members of the Church. So, most importantly, this story reminds us that God’s love extends to all without limit! As Peter states: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” This story reminds us also that the love we must have for others must be free of our own personal prejudice and bias. The reader of the entire story of Cornelius and Peter knows that Cornelius was devout and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. However, for Peter, not knowing this and believing what he did, it was a big obstacle for him to extend love to a non-Jew, who was also a Roman solider. To love as God calls us to love, we much be able to see past the surface of what we know (or we think we know) about others and to see the good in each person. When Peter was able to do this, he was able to love his brother in Christ. Loving others also requires, at times, great humility. The story of Cornelius and Peter remind us of this. Cornelius, the strong and powerful solider, humbly, out of great respect, bows before Peter – while under any other circumstance of that time the roles would be reversed. It is also Peter who shows humility. As an Apostle, and really as the Apostle, he had rock-star status. But, instead of relishing or gloating over the Roman soldier, Peter acknowledges his human weakness and begs Cornelius to get up. Pride was the cause of Original Sin in Adam and Eve, choosing to disobey God, and it is pride that too often leads us to sin. Humility helps us to be selfless and to think of others first. It helps us to love as we are called to love. One final observation on the story of Peter and Cornelius. What finally conveniences Peter of the necessity to extend love to Jew and non-Jew alike is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the non-Jews, who were speaking in tongues and glorifying God. This reminds me that we can not hesitate to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to love as we are commanded to love. Whatever it is that we need to love better, God will provide. This is the promise Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. So whatever you need to love more or better – courage, wisdom, patience, humility, whatever – pray to Jesus and you will receive it! May God bless you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Homily – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

This is a very popular YouTube video by Jefferson Bethke. He is a 22-year-old whose video, entitled “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus,” has been viewed by over 18 million viewers. In the video, he raps of his great love for and faith in Jesus, and his detest for organized religion and the Church.
One of his main arguments is that Jesus came to abolish religion. However, as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us Jesus did not come to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill it. Jesus states: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” In fact, Jesus came to uphold and fulfill the very best of the Mosaic law, which was intended to draw people closer in relationship to God – a God full of mercy, love, and great compassion especially for the weak, the poor, and the sick. It was this great love and compassion with which Jesus, the Son of God, acts in healing the leper in today’s Gospel.
We can also look to Scared Scripture to find that Jesus preached a religious doctrine, prescribed rituals for his disciples, worshipped in the Temple, AND knew and followed the Mosaic law – as we see from today’s readings. Today’s first reading from the Book of Leviticus states the law and the Gospel reports of Jesus’ command to the leper to adhere to the law by “[showing himself] to the priest and offer for [his] cleansing what Moses prescribed.”
Bethke also claims that Jesus hated religion. It is true that Jesus was very critical of the religious leaders of his day – the scribes and Pharisees, who too often followed only the letter but not spirit of the law. Scholars will even point to today’s Gospel as evidence of Jesus’ distain for such religious leaders who victimized its weakest members and may have e even denied Jesus’ healing of the leper. In the Greek rendering of this passage, there is a sense of angry emotion by Jesus in his instruction to the leper to return “again” to the priests for their purification.
If religion is so great, Bethke argues, then why does it build huge Churches while so many go hungry and homeless. We build churches to honor and praise our God – and our recent improvements here are a testament to this. And we, the Church, are also the largest provider in the world of food, shelter and clothing to those in need. Including the work here at Our Lady of Peace - our parish is very generous in giving to the poor – even just last Thursday we served our monthly meal to the homeless downtown.
Bethke also argues that religion is man-made, not God-made. Just the opposite is true: at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus states: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus not only instituted the Church, but remains with her. Father Robert Barron, who is an wonderful and articulate defender of our faith and author and producer of an excellent DVD series entitled Catholicism, reminds us, too, that we can’t separate Jesus from the mystical body of Christ, the Church – that the Word became Flesh, in person Jesus Christ, and who now remains in the Church in the liturgy, Sacraments, and acts of charity. In fact, we can even find in Scripture Jesus instituting the Mass we celebrate now and each of the Seven Sacraments.
It is not my intention to demonize Jefferson Bethke because it is said that when he was presented with these counter-arguments he was humble, earnest and gracious and ultimately reversed his position. I also would not want to be too hard on him because it is his sincere and strong love for and faith in Jesus, like the leper in today’s Gospel, that is the source of his passionate and joy-filled proclamation of the Good News. In fact, we too, having experienced Christ in Sacred Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in this faith community, should leave this Mass on fire to share God’s great love, mercy and peace with others. This is what the final words of this Mass command.
Not all of us feel competent or comfortable to evangelize, as we are called to do – and I would include myself, at times, in this group. So, I invite you to join me in following the direction of our bishops, who urge prayer, fasting, and study when faced with a challenge. I urge you to make time to pray every day, throughout the day to bring us closer in relationship with God. Fasting too offers us self-discipline and clarity when we can resist instant gratification that too often food provides and in turn makes it easier for us to justify other sins. And I encourage you to take time to learn what our Church teaches us, so that you can share and defend our faith.
As we approach Lent, make this season a time of greater prayer, commit to one day of the week for fasting and abstinence, and choose one issue and learn what the Church teaches and why. Set as a goal at the end of Lent, to be more in love with our God, to have a stronger faith in him, and to be empowered by a deeper understanding of God’s truths to share and defend our faith with others.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

HOMILY - Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

As my wife will be quick to share: I am a pretty sound sleeper and there is not much that keeps me up at night. However, I do sometimes wake up in the middle of the night – now more often with a new born crying for something to eat (thankfully my wife has been great taking the late shift feeding our son, Owen) or I am anxious about a problem or project at work, worried about the family budget, thinking about a loved one who is sick or hurting, or what to say when it is my turn to preach. Often in these moments in the middle of the night, I am able to calm myself with the words in today’s Psalm: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” In fact, I try to start every day with these words. I find these words ground me in my faith and lead me into an even deeper relationship with God.
When I say these words, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will,” I acknowledge that Jesus is my Lord, who I am called to listen to, obey and follow what he has commanded, which is to love and serve God and others –not to be selfish and self-serving. Over the holidays I finished a book by Curtis Martin called “Made for More” - this book will be in the Lighthouse kiosks in the near future. In his book, Curtis shares that in his return to the Catholic Church he made a big step in his faith journey when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and lived by this motto: “If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” In other words, he (and each of us) need to follow Jesus wherever he leads us and in whatever we are called to do and at all times. When we say: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will,” we seek to follow the example of Christ himself, whose entire life was in obedience to and in love with his Father. Jesus’ birth, life, Passion, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit provide the perfect example for us of obedience and love that we are called to have.
When I do this, when I listen to and am obedient to God’s will, there is an incredible freedom that I experience, because I am no longer swimming against the current, I am no longer trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, I am no longer fighting against God’s will, but I am living the life I was made to live, I am allowing God’s will and desire to move me and guide. Saint Paul makes this point in today’s second reading – encouraging the Corinthians to avoid immorality and be obedient to God’s will and glorify God in your body. I found greater clarity in my calling through my participation in the parish’s That Man Is You program. We started our second semester this morning, and I invite and encourage the men gathered here to join us next Saturday – you will not regret it!
When I say these words: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will,” I also place a great trust and hope in the promise of eternal peace and life made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. You may have heard about a young professional football player by the name of Tim Tebow (just kidding)…when you get beyond the media buzz and hype of this player, one of his favorite verses has great meaning and purpose for us as Catholics. The now infamous Bible verse John 3:16, which is associated with Tim Tebow – it was written under his eyes last year and just so happened to be the number of yards he passed and the average number of yards per completion in his game last week – also has this important promise for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” I suspect that this is what John the Baptist, his disciples and the Apostles were looking for in today’s Gospel and what they found in Jesus. The promise of eternal life is what motivates my faith in Jesus Christ, too. I believe, so that I might have eternal life. I say “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will” as a reminder to myself everyday that my belief in and my obedience to God is for a reason.
God is calling each of us. Like Samuel in today’s first reading, God is calling us personally, by name, to be in relationship with him. How wonderful is Samuel’s response: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And like Samuel, God is not calling us from a distance, but is coming directly to us and is present even now – in this faith community, in Sacred Scripture, and in the Eucharist we are about to share – drawing us closer to him. Our response must be: Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Our response must be in obedience to Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Blessed Pope John XXIII (23rd) once said: “True peace is born of doing the will of God, and bearing with patience the sufferings of this life, and does not come from following one’s own whim or selfish desire, for this always brings, not peace and serenity, but disorder and discontent.” I want true peace now and eternally and this is what I want for each of you.
So I start my day and calm myself in moments of anxiety or selfishness with these words: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Make this your prayer too. When you feel stressed, when you are suffering, when you feel alone, when you are exhausted, pray: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”