Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Called to be holy

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2017:
I once heard a quote from Michelangelo about his famous statue, David.  Someone asked him how he made such an impressive statue, and he said, “easy, the statue was inside the marble before I worked on it, I just had to chip away the stone that wasn’t David.”  Now, I was also reading today on the internet that he didn’t really say that, but let’s just say for argument that he did.  The statue was already there inside the marble, he just had to chip off the extra.
I think that is a good way to look at our lives as Christians.  We already have this identity, this calling, it’s just up to us to live it out.  I think we all know that instinctively don’t we?  I mean, I know that God is calling me to goodness, to kindness, to be loving and caring.  I know that I’m expected to follow the commandments of Jesus, to live my life just as he lived his life.  We all know this instinctively, but what about chipping off the extra?
I take some comfort in knowing that this is not a new problem.  In fact, St. Paul was dealing with it about 2000 years ago with his community in Corinth.  Today’s second reading is the very beginning of the letter to St. Paul.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the letter, actually.  I had a great professor for St. Paul’s letters when I was in seminary, he taught us to read the opening of each letter very carefully, because Paul has a tendency to explain his focus in the introduction.  I think that this very short little introduction does a great job of introducing Paul’s whole letter.  But, it also does a great job of introducing an important aspect of Christian living.
Paul starts by saying who he is: Paul, called to be an apostle.  But, who called him to be an apostle: by the will of God.  So, Paul did not decide to be an apostle.  Rather, he is following God’s will.  God decided that Paul should be an apostle; Paul, is just living out that calling.  What about the people?  Paul says, “to the Church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.”  Now, this is a little bit sloppy in the translation.  What Paul is doing there is actually quite simple.  He says, I’m writing to the people of the Church.  These people, Paul says, have already been made holy by Christ, and now they are called to be holy. 
During the rest of the letter, Paul has a number of problems to address with the community.  But, it all begins with God’s work.  God has already made them holy.  God has sanctified them through the power of the sacraments, especially baptism and the Holy Eucharist.  Paul writes to them to correct their behavior because their behavior is not in keeping with who they are as Christians.  The same might be true for us.
On the day of our baptism, God made us holy.  He changed us forever.  We have been marked with a seal that cannot be removed.  He touched us, made us holy.  Now, the rest of our lives is all about living out that holiness.  Just like that beautiful statue in the marble.  It was already in there, the artist just removed what didn’t belong.  We are already holy because we have been touched by God.  Now, it’s up to us to figure out what doesn’t belong.  We have been made holy by Christ, now we are called to be holy, to live holy lives.
We will never be able to do that without God’s help.  We need prayer.  We need the guidance of the Bible.  We need the forgiveness of our sins in confession.  We need God’s presence in Holy Communion.  Inside of each one of us, there is a beautiful saint just waiting to be carved out.  God is the sculptor who wants to transform us into his beautiful creation.  If only we are willing to let him work. 

So, echoing the words of St. Paul.  Dear people of St. Jude, you have been made holy by Christ Jesus, and you are called to be holy.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mary, Mother of God and our Mother

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Year A 2017:
            Today we complete the octave of Christmas.  So, we are continuing to celebrate Christmas, the birth of the Son of God.  When Jesus becomes human he takes on every aspect of our existence.  Today we even hear that he was circumcised and named on the 8th day. 
On this 8th day of the Octave of Christmas, we also remember and venerate Mary, the Mother of God.  As we do so, the Church gives us the story of the shepherds, who are certainly images for us.  We hear that they went in search of Jesus.  But, I find it quite interesting how the writer of the gospel puts it, Matthew says: they searched for Jesus, and they found Mary and Joseph… and the Child Jesus.  I think this paints a beautiful picture of Marian devotion for us.  We should all be searching for Jesus.  If we find Mary, we will find Jesus.  Devotion to the Mother of God is not something secondary or optional.  Christ the Lord gave Mary to us as our Mother, she, in turn, always leads us to her Son.  Authentic Marian devotion, then, has to be a part of our lives.
How do we know if our devotion to Mary is authentic?  It seems to me that the number one, most important component of authentic Marian devotion is that it always leads to Jesus.  Remember, Mary is never in competition with Jesus.  It’s not like we have to choose.  Mary doesn’t want anything from us, except that we become disciples and followers of her son.  I know that sometimes non-Catholics will ridicule us for our Marian devotion.  Sometimes they might be right.  If we ever exult Mary to the point that she is in competition with our relationship to God, to her Son, then we could be in big trouble.  We all need an authentic devotion to Mary; and, we will know our devotion is authentic if it leads us to Christ.
All that being said, here are some pointers on authentic Marian devotion.  I don’t pretend to be an expert, but this is what I do.
First, I see Mary as the great example.  Read and reread those stories in the Gospel.  Mary says yes to the angel.  She visits Elizabeth.  She finds Jesus in the temple.  Over and again, Mary does amazing things.  Her words are beautiful and inspirational.  Read those stories, know them well.  Try to practice the lessons we learn from Mary.
Second, I turn to Mary like my own mother.  And for me, that’s easy since my mom’s name is Mary too…  When Mary was at the foot of the cross, Jesus told the disciple: Behold your Mother.  All of us, who are disciples, have a mother in Mary.  I remember reading that when John Paul II’s mom died, he said to Mary: you will have to be my mother now.  That’s the kind of relationship he had with Mary.  That’s the kind of relationship we can have as well.  Tell her your problems, ask for her guidance.  She wants to be a part of our lives.
Third, I make the rosary an important part of my prayer life.  The rosary is an incredibly powerful prayer.  It has won battles large and small.  It can help us in the battle of daily life.  For Advent, some friends and I made the resolution to pray the rosary every day to prepare for Christmas.  I can tell you that it was a powerful prayer experience.  I’ve been keeping it up too.  A daily rosary is great.  Maybe a weekly rosary with your family.  The rosary is great too, because the mysteries lead us closer to Jesus.
So, those are my three easy steps.  1, read the stories of Mary in the gospel and see her as a great example.  2, turn to Mary like we would our own mothers.  3, make the rosary and important part of our prayer life.

These things will lead us closer to Christ.  By authentic devotion to the Mother of God we, like the shepherds, find the person of Jesus.  Mary wants nothing more than to show us her son.  In a special way, as we celebrate this Mass, we ask Mary to help our faith, to help us grow closer to her son who is Christ and Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

Christmas 2016:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  A very merry Christmas to all of you.  What a day of joy and celebration.  The Word became flesh.  Jesus Christ is born.  God has sent his son to be with us.  No longer is God far, distant, or remote.  He’s right here.  He’s with us.  Emmanuel.
Deep in the heart of every human being there is a great longing for God.  Why?  Because God made us.  And, he made us to be in union with him forever.  So, whether we are passionate followers of Jesus, or complete unbelievers, there is still a longing for God in every human heart.  Personally, I think this is why just about everyone loves Christmas.  Ok sure, there are a few Grinch-like outliers who don’t like Christmas, but most of us like it.  If I asked you to list the reasons why you like it, we might get different answers.  Maybe: cake, cookies, candy, presents, cookies, family, cookies, etc.  And all these things are wonderful and great.  But, I think part of the reason that we all love Christmas so much is that deep down we all realize the truth: we love Christmas because it means that God is with us.  We were made by God and for God, and Christmas means that now we are with God.  This little baby in the manger changes everything.
This little baby in the manger is God, he is the Word, he is the beloved Son.  God is with us.  But, one thing I find fascinating is the fact that Jesus became human, but he did so as a little baby.  He is like us in all things but sin.  Even in his birth.  So, here he is, the divine son of God, as a helpless, tiny infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  How unbelievable!  The divine Son of God, a helpless infant.  Think about it, here is the Word of God, but he cannot even speak.  We all know that babies can sure make a lot of noise, but they cannot speak.  But, even though this baby cannot use words, he still speaks to us.
This baby says a lot just by being there.  This baby says: God loves us.  God has never forgotten us.  Even in our most difficult days, God is near to us.  Emmanuel, God is with his people.  Just lying there in the manger, this baby speaks volumes about the tremendous love and mercy of God.
And, I don’t think it is an accident that he is lying in a manger.  What is a manger?  It’s basically the feeding trough for animals.  It would contain grains or hay, or whatever else animals eat.  And Jesus, the Word of God is laying in a manger, a place for eating.
When I look at the manger, with Jesus in it, I cannot help but think about this holy altar.  Not a feeding trough, but a table.  And what’s on it?  Not the baby Jesus per se, but the Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is Christ.  Just as the baby Jesus couldn’t speak with words, but tells us an awful lot about God’s love.  The same with the Eucharist.  The Eucharist doesn’t speak with words, but it tells the exact same story that the baby Jesus tells.  God loves us.  God is with us.  He is not far, he is not distant.  He is right here.  Jesus is God with us.  The Eucharist is God with us.
In the heart of every human being there is a longing for God.  When we see this manger we are filled with joy because we know that God is close to us.  But, really, every time we walk into this church and see the altar, we should get that same sense of Joy.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  But, he has never departed.  That Word continues to dwell with us here, in this and every holy Mass.

As we celebrate this Mass, with great Joy.  We remember Christ, born to be our savior.  He came to give his life for us, and he continues to give himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joseph, man of prayer

4th Sunday of Advent year A 2016:
During this season of Advent we have been talking all about prayer.  We’ve discussed what prayer is all about, obstacles to prayer, different prayer styles.  But, today, I want to talk about putting prayer into action.
Today we hear about Joseph.  Notice, I said we hear about Joseph, because we don’t actually hear any words from Joseph.  I find it interesting that the gospel never records and words from his mouth, but we certainly see his actions.  His actions speak louder than words.  He is a great example for us.  I think what we hear about Joseph in this story can give us a great plan for growing in our prayer and in our life of faith.
First, we hear that he is a righteous man.  He was going to divorce her quietly.  This is because if Mary had been found with child out of wedlock, she could have been stoned for her “crimes.”  But, Joseph wasn’t that kind of person.  Joseph was merciful.  This is the first thing we learn about him.  We find out that he is merciful and righteous.
Next, we learn that he has a great life of prayer.  Why do I say that?  Because, he literally hears from God.  He hears from an angel in a dream what he is supposed to do.  In other words, he receives direction and guidance from God.  Now, he certainly received it in an amazing way.  But, we learn from this story that Joseph was in communication with God.
Finally, Joseph shows that he is a man of great faith, not by what he says, but by what he does.  As I’ve said, no one would have blamed him for separating from Mary.  But, rather he trusts in the message of the angel, and he follows the instructions he received.  Joseph believed, and this belief turned into his actions.  He heard a message from God, and he carried it out.
I think I said last week, the difference between a goal and a wish is a plan.  I think most of us would say that we would like to trust God more.  I hear it often in the confessional: I need to put more trust in God.  But, that is just a wish unless we have a plan.  So, what is the plan?  Just to be like Joseph.  He shows us the blueprint. 
First, Joseph was righteous.  Where do we need to change our actions?  Advent is a great time for conversion, for confessions.  We priests have been hearing zillions of confessions, and it’s great.  If we want to trust God and grow in our lives of prayer, conversion and righteousness sets the stage.  Joseph teaches us that if we want to hear God’s voice, it helps to turn away from our sins.  Sin makes it hard to hear God.
Second, we make a commitment to being people who are in regular communication with God.  Now, God might not speak to you in the dream through an angel, but he will speak to us if we give him a chance.  Joseph heard this pretty amazing message in an extraordinary way; but, God still speaks to his people, he will speak to each one of us if we are ready to listen.
Third, when God speaks, take action.  Joseph was not an amazing saint because God spoke to him.  Joseph is an amazing saint because he took action.  He not only heard the message of the angel, but then he acted on that message.  Can we always say the same thing? 
I remember praying at one point in my life: am I supposed to be a priest?  When I got the yes message back, I hesitated for a long time to take action.  But, I finally did, and the rest is history.  My life hasn’t turned out exactly as I planned it, but it’s been way better.  Following God can be a bit of a wild ride sometime, but we have to trust that he’s leading us somewhere we want to go.

So, trusting and following God is the goal.  The plan is to be like Joseph.  Number 1, Joseph was righteous, we are in need of constant conversion.  Number 2, Joseph communicated with God through the angel, we communicate with God through our prayer.  Number 3, when God asked, Joseph acted; when God asks something from us, we should take action as well.  Following this plan of life, Joseph saw amazing things, like the birth of Christ the savior.  If we follow Joseph’s game plan, we will see amazing things in our lives as well.