Sunday, June 26, 2016

Christ says, Follow me

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C 2016:
Today in the gospel Jesus says: follow me.  Hopefully these aren’t just words we hear, hopefully Jesus’ invitation to follow him is a call that each one of us has heard in our hearts.  Hopefully this is a call to which all of us are responding every day.  Isn’t that what brings us here to Mass?  Jesus has called us, and we are here. 
Yet, when Jesus calls us, he never stops calling us.  Following Jesus is not a one-time decision.  Following Jesus is an ongoing call to change, to grow, to become saints.  So, I guess I want to ask you, as I ask myself, how is it going?  As Christians, we see every day as a new day where Christ says: follow me.  Sometimes it can be easy to look back, to fall into old habits, or to end up looking like people who don’t follow Christ.
So, where did it start for you?  When did you hear the call of Christ, what changes did it cause?  For me, I was baptized as an infant, I went to Catholic school till 6th grade, then Heritage High School for Junior and Senior high school.  Now, I always went to church, but I don’t think I could say that I saw every day as a chance to hear the call of Christ to follow him.  I mean, other than that one hour a week, I effectively lived my life as though God weren’t real, or at least, like God wasn’t a real influence on my life.  He just never really entered into my life.
All that changed because my brother-in-law asked me to be his baptism sponsor for the RCIA.  As a result, I started going to classes with him about the faith.  I really started getting more interested in reading and studying my faith.  Even more important, I started a habit of daily prayer.  This is when I heard Jesus calling me: follow me.  I noticed I had to make some changes in my life.  I started going to daily Mass, I started going to confession once a month, I started cleaning up my language, I tried to be more respectful to people around me.  All of these changes involved some sacrifice, but all of them made my life better, not worse.  Because of all this, I also started hearing the call of Jesus to go to seminary.  So, I ended up going to seminary.  It has been an adventure ever since.  But, we never stop growing, changing, following Jesus.
The people in the gospel weren’t quite ready to let go, they weren’t quite ready to follow Jesus without looking back.  But, we should never fear letting go.  Following Jesus might mean sacrifice, but he always makes our lives better, not worse.  Pope Benedict said something once that really stuck with me.  He said, Christ doesn’t ask us to give up anything authentically human.  Rather, he asks us to give up sin, which doesn’t belong to us anyway.
Don’t be afraid to follow Christ.  Don’t be afraid to let go.  Nothing in this world is worth holding on to.  Only our faith, our relationship with Christ will bring us salvation.  So, what’s holding you back?  I’ve been thinking about that question a lot recently in my own prayer life.  What’s the next step, where is Jesus leading us?  What is holding me back from following Christ?  Is it the shows we watch?  The music we listen to?  The conversations we have?  The websites we see?  What is it in your life that’s holding you back?  St Paul reminds us today: for freedom, Christ set us free, do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  What’s holding us back? We will only hear the answer to this question if we are in dialogue with Jesus.  That’s the nice thing, it’s Jesus who will show us the way.

So, do you remember that first time you really heard Jesus’ voice saying: follow me?  But, have you listened to that voice recently?  Following Christ is an ongoing, daily reality.  As we receive Holy Communion today, we open our heart to Jesus and listen to him say: follow me.  Don’t be afraid to follow Christ.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday

            The teaching is fairly simple on the face of it: we believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: 1 God, 3 persons.  Though it is simple, it is hard to comprehend, in fact we never fully comprehend this mystery.  For us personhood and individuality go hand in hand: every person is also a separate substance.  But, when it comes to God, this is not the case.  Rather, God is one substance, but three persons in a loving communion of persons.  This is the teaching, but where does it come from?  When I was in the seminary I had the good fortune to take a full 3 credit course on the Trinity.  During this course I was able to learn exactly how this doctrine has unfolded in the history of humanity. 
We begin with the faith of the people of Israel, who, beginning with Abraham, believed in only one God.  In the face of the polytheism of the ancient world, Israel came to know the one true God.  This was not a discovery of reason, rather God revealed himself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  This one God continued to be in relationship with his people, speaking to Moses in the burning bush and face to face on the mountain.  He continued to guide his people through the words of his holy prophets.  Christianity is based upon the faith of the people of Israel.  So, we inherited this faith, this revelation the God is one and that there is only one God.  The gods of the heathens are naught!  They don’t even exist.  So Judaism is a monotheistic faith, and so is Christianity.
However, the birth of Jesus does change things.  It doesn’t really change God!  We hear in the first reading that the Wisdom of God was with God from the beginning.  Since the early days of the Church, Christians have seen the Wisdom of the Old Testament as a type referring to Christ, who is the Word, the Logos, of God.  So Jesus, the divine word, existed for all time, even before the incarnation.  Yet, when God becomes Man it furthers the revelation of the nature of God.  God reveals more about himself to us.  We maintain our faith in the unity of God: God is one.  But Jesus is God!  Not only that, but the Father sends us the Spirit through the Son.  Last week we celebrated Pentecost, so it is fitting that we celebrate Trinity Sunday on the following Sunday, since the coming of the Holy Spirit is the last revelation of the mystery of the Trinity.
So this is how we arrive at the teaching of God as Trinity.  We inherit the faith of the Old Testament, which held that God is one.  The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus reveal to us the Son.  And with the coming of the Holy Spirit the revelation of the mystery is complete.  There is one God, who is the Father who sends the Son so to give the Holy Spirit.  God is one, but three persons.
It is certainly true that the Trinity is a mystery.  But, this doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything about the Trinity.  Rather, it means that we can say many true things about the Trinity even though we can never get to the fullness of the Truth about God’s existence.  So, it is important to study and pray as a way to bolster our faith.  I want to challenge everyone to do a little reading on the Trinity this week.  Get out your catechism (if you don’t have one, go buy one).  Read, pray, and study a little bit about the Holy Trinity.
Even this Mass is like a great catechism lesson on the Holy Trinity.  The whole Mass is a prayer to the Father in heaven, where we glorify God the Father, in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that most of the prayers of the Mass are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  So, the mass is a prayer that lives in and through the whole blessed Trinity. 
This should be a reflection of our whole lives.  The sacrifice of the Mass teaches us not only the Trinity, but also how we are to live!  Our lives should be directed to the glory of God, through our communion with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In closing, let us pray to the blessed Trinity: Glory be…

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Christ takes us with him

Ascension 2016 Year C:
Think of the last time you went on a trip.  Did you bring anything back with you?  I’m betting most of you took lots of pictures.  It’s so easy now with our cell phones to record moments and keep them with us.  Or maybe you brought back a souvenir.  Maybe you brought back a shell from the beach.  When I go to a new golf course, I like to buy a hat.  Maybe you buy a t-shirt from one of those tourist traps.  You know the ones that say: I went to the Grand Canyon and all I got was this crummy T-Shirt.  We like taking pictures on vacation and buying souvenirs because it helps us to stay connected to that place, it helps us to remember that time we spent.  It’s like we are carrying that vacation around with us.
I was thinking about all of this because today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord.  It’s like Jesus is ending his earthly vacation and is returning to the right hand of the Father.  And what did he bring back with him?  Us… 
God the Father sent his only son on one amazing trip.  It begins with the annunciation.  The angel says to Mary: will you welcome God?  Will you be the mother of the savior?  She says yes and the word becomes flesh.  The eternal son of God becomes the son of Mary.  The eternal is born in time as our savior and redeemer.  9 months later he is born in humble circumstances.  We celebrate his birth every year on Christmas.  After his childhood, the spirit descended upon him at his baptism and he preached the good news, he healed the sick, he told people of the Father’s love.  To show that love he dies on the cross, but he goes into the realm of the dead to bring with him all those imprisoned by the power of death.  40 days ago we celebrated his resurrection.  He rose from the dead to bring new life to those who believe in him.  And now, 40 days later, he makes his return to the Father.  But, what an amazing adventure he was on.  And notice something really important: the bible never says: and the word stopped being flesh.  The eternal son of God does not remove his humanity when he returns to heaven.  Rather, he takes his humanity with him.
That is why I said we are like Jesus’ souvenirs.  Jesus takes us all with him to the heavenly realm.  Just like we take pictures and souvenirs so that we can stay connected to the great trips of our lives, Jesus takes us with him so that his time on earth is not ended.  Just because Jesus has gone to heaven does not mean he has stopped loving us, it does not mean he has stopped giving himself for us, it does not mean he has stopped being human.  Rather, Jesus’ pilgrimage on earth might have ended, but it started a new voyage.  The pilgrimage of the human race to heaven.  For us, this journey starts right here and now, but it will last forever.  Because of the Ascension, our lives have a new direction.  The journey we are on begins here on earth, but will last forever in heaven. 
Think a little bit this week about the incarnation.  Think about God and humanity being united in the person of Jesus.  Think about the fact that Jesus did not stop being human just because he went up to heaven.  Rather, he remains united to us now and forever.

Jesus’s ascension is not a departure, he didn’t betray us and leave us behind.  Rather, he is leading us to where we all want to go.  But the journey can seem long and difficult.  This is why the Lord gave us the Eucharist.  This holy Eucharist we celebrate and receive is food for this great journey, this great adventure.  Just as Jesus journeyed to the Father, so we are on a journey to heaven.  Today we receive this Holy food so that we might have the strength to follow where Christ our savior has gone today.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The peace of Christ

6th Sunday of Easter Year C 2016:
My peace I leave with you.  Not as the world gives, do I give it.  This reminds me a little bit of my friend Fr. Joe Gaughan.  I don’t know if everyone knows him, but he is the pastor over at Most Precious Blood parish here in Fort Wayne.  Fr. Joe is a great guy, and he is really funny.  One of his favorite jokes often happens during the sign of peace.  Instead of saying, peace be with you.  He will say, “Pax Romana.”  Now, Pax Romana existed around the time of Jesus.  It refers to a sort of mythical peaceful time during the Roman empire between the years of 27 BC and 180 AD.  The world was at peace.  But, a large reason that the world was at peace was because of the amazing strength of the Roman Empire and its military.  So, Roman Peace or Pax Romana was really a time of peace because it came with a threat of war.  If you didn’t go along with the Roman authority, they would wipe you out.
So, when Fr. Joe says pax romana, it always cracks me up.  That’s because pax romana is exactly the peace that the world can give: peace because of a threat of violence.  But, Jesus promises a different kind of peace.
So, what kind of peace does Jesus offer us.  He says: do not let your hearts be troubled.  I think this gives us a big insight into his kind of peace.  You see, his peace will live in our hearts.  The world might be able to deliver peace by threatening war.  But, Jesus offers a totally different kind of peace.  His peace is going to live in our hearts.  His peace is not simply taking care of external circumstances.  He is giving us a whole new kind of experience.
How would this play out in our daily lives?  I think all of us would like peace and prosperity in the external circumstances of our lives right?  We all want good jobs, we want security.  We all want happy families.  We want to live lives without stress, without difficulty, without problems.
Well, how is that going for all of you?  I can tell you that my life is not too peaceful right now.  As you probably know from reading the bulletin, the Sisters and the priest switched houses.  A special thanks to the many volunteers who helped out.  But, moving is anything but peaceful.  There is all the lifting, the sweating, the aching back I now I have.  There is having people make fun of me because I put too much stuff into these big bins.  Then there is the unpacking.  I have no idea where all my stuff is.  It’s going to take us weeks to unpack and get organized.  So, not much peace.
And there is lots of other stuff that causes us to lose peace.  Maybe tension at work, stress in your families, financial stress, maybe a scary medical issues.  It goes on and on.  I think the one constant in many of our lives is that our lives are full of difficult and stressful situations.  In other words, the Roman Peace, the pax romana really never happens.  There is always some stress some problem.
But, then look at the saints.  Even in dire circumstances, they seem joyful and full of faith, full of peace.  This is what the peace of Christ looks like.  No matter what the world might through at them, the saints are full of peace. 

The same can be true for us too.  Jesus says, do not let your hearts be troubled.  Pray for the advocate, the Holy Spirit.  If your heart is full with the Holy Spirit, you can have peace even in difficult times.  So, at this mass I’ll be praying for peace in my life as I’m unpacking all my boxes.  Pray for peace in your life.  No matter what you are facing, with Christ you can have peace.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Behold, I make all things new

5th Sunday of Easter Year C 2016:
I can certainly say that I like “new” things.  I find new things to be exciting.  I get excited whenever a new iPhone comes out.  When I drive past car lots, I love looking at the “new” cars.  There’s nothing better than opening a new pack of golf balls and giving them a whack.  I love to read a new book, or watch a new movie.  There is something exciting about “new,” something that hasn’t been done yet.  We definitely live in a society that values new things.  We like things that are new, fresh, and exciting.
What about our faith in God?  Does that seem new?  Exciting?
The word “new” seems to be a common thread in our readings today.  In the first reading, we hear about Paul and Barnabas making new churches, new communities of disciples.  In the second reading, we hear that on the last day God will make a new heaven and a new earth, and Jesus says Behold I make all things new.  In the gospel, Jesus gives us a “new” commandment: love one another as I love you.
Put yourself in the story.  Imagine being Paul.  Imagine meeting Jesus and having your life change forever.  Then try to imagine going from town to town and talking about Jesus.  Everywhere he went it was a new adventure.  It was fresh and exciting.  Now, it was difficult.  They said: “It is necessary to undergo hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  But, they gladly did these hard things because of the excitement they felt at having met Christ, the excitement they felt for that new heaven and new earth that God is preparing for those who follow Christ. 
But, what about us?  Here we are 2000 years later.  The Christian faith might not feel like something new.  Billions of people in the history of the world have been followers of Christ.  Our parish has been here 87 years.  Many of us have been Christian our whole lives. 
My challenge for you this week is to recapture some of that “new” feeling when it comes to the faith.  I get excited about new iPhones, new movies, and new golf balls.  But, none of those things can compete with a new and exciting relationship with Christ.  Behold I make all things new.  Our relationship with Christ should never feel old and worn out.  Christ is ever new, and he is always new and exciting.
I am currently working with a man who wants to become Catholic.  He told me right off that he is a totally blank slate.  He is learning about the Catholic faith from scratch.  To him, everything is new and exciting.  It is really great for me to talk with him about the faith.  I can see his excitement and his eagerness to learn more.
So, try to renew your faith a little bit.  Maybe try something new.  If you don’t already, try praying the rosary this week.  If you don’t normally go to weekday mass, try that this week.  If you don’t normally read the bible, open up that dusty book on your shelf and read the acts of the apostles, where they are taking the new faith to the corners of the world.  Stop in the chapel and make a holy hour.  Watch a video about the Catholic faith on  Spend 15 minutes a day in mental prayer, asking Jesus to make your faith new.

God says, behold I make all things new.  God wants to be an ever new and exciting part of our lives.  He wants to make a new heaven and a new earth.  He wants to make us new.  Every day is a new day.  Every day is a new chance for us to grow closer to God and to allow him to renew and invigorate us.  Think about this mass.  It is a brand new mass.  We have never been here before.  We may have been to mass a million times.  We may have received communion a million times.  But we have never been at this mass, today is a new day to receive Christ in the Eucharist.  As we celebrate this mass, God wants to make all things new for us.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pray for Vocations

Good Shepherd Sunday Year C:
            Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter we hear a reading where Jesus talks about being a shepherd.  That’s why this Sunday has gotten the name “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd must have been popular in the earliest days of the church.  One of the oldest pictures of Jesus we have is from a 3rd century catacomb and it depicts Jesus as the good shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders. 
            So, from the earliest days of the Church, people have turned to Christ to be their shepherd: to lead and guide, to defend and protect, to nourish and feed.  Christ is our good shepherd, and he takes care of our needs. 
            Today also marks a worldwide day of prayer for vocations.  The word vocation means “calling.”  So, today is a perfect day to think a little about vocations.  Jesus says in the gospel: my sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.  I am convinced that Jesus is still calling, asking people to follow him.
            But, vocations are a bit of a mystery.  It is not always the easiest and clearest thing to hear a call from Christ to priesthood or religious life.  At St. Jude, where I’m pastor, we have a vocations’ cross and it travels from room to room in the school.  Every week, me and the principal, Mr. Obergfell, take the cross to a new classroom and we talk to them a bit about vocations and I talk to them about my own call to the priesthood.  I always start out with a joke.  I say how do we hear God’s voice.  Then I say: does God call us on the phone?  Then I pull out my cell phone and act like I’m talking to God.  The little kids think this is hilarious.  The older kids probably think it is dorky.  Wouldn’t it be great if God just called us on the phone and gave us directions?  Of course, vocation doesn’t quite work that way.
            But, all vocations do begin the same way.  Every vocation there is: married life, single life, priesthood, religious life begins in the universal call to discipleship.  Every vocation begins by following Christ.  Listen to those people in the second reading: there was a multitude of people beyond counting, washed clean in the blood of the lamb and singing the praises of God.  Think about the people in that crowd: I’m sure there were married, single, priests, religious; yet, all of them share a common calling, disciples of Jesus Christ, made holy by the blood of the lamb.  I can certainly say that in my own life, I only started sensing the call to priesthood more clearly when I started to take my call to be a follower of Christ more seriously.  When I started to pray more, to go to mass more, to go to confession more.  When I started to listen to Christ’s voice, then I could hear him calling me to priesthood.
            So, today the whole church is given the task to pray for vocations.  I want to challenge everyone here and everyone watching at home to pray for vocations.  But, it begins by praying for holiness.  Pray for our young people.  There are so many distractions, so many competing voices.  I’m convinced that Christ is still calling priests and religious, but it is hard to hear the call in our present day.  Pray for our young people that they will follow Christ.  Pray that they will pursue the call to holiness.  Pray that they will be open to a call to serve as priests or religious. 

            Christ is still our Good Shepherd.  He is still calling us to follow him.  On this vocations Sunday, let’s pray that everyone will listen to his voice and have the courage to follow after him.  He doesn’t call us on our cell phones, but he calls to us in our hearts, especially here in the Holy Eucharist.  Are we listening?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Acts of the Apostles

3rd Sunday of Easter Year C 2016:
The Church canonizes saints for 2 reasons.  First, we believe that they are in heaven; so, we ask them to pray for us.  We know that they are near God, and we want them to intercede on our behalf.  Second, we can look to their lives and see examples for our own life.  Hopefully the lives of the saints inspire us to do likewise.  So, we have saints for 2 reasons: prayer and inspiration, intercession and example. 
Last week, we looked at St. Faustina Kowalska.  She was like an apostle of divine mercy.  She can pray for us and we can see her as an example of how to welcome the mercy of God into our lives.
This week, we look at the apostles.  We see them in the first reading and in the gospel.  So, let’s look to them for prayer and example.  In the first reading, we hear: they were rejoicing to be found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.  Think about that, in the face of suffering and persecution, they rejoiced.  Not me!  I’m not very good at suffering, fasting, self-denial, dishonor.  But, not the apostles.  They rejoiced.  They lived their whole lives like that too.  Many of them suffered and died as martyrs.  What a strong faith they had.  They remained faithful to Christ even with pressure and difficulty.  I don’t know about you, but I find the Acts of the Apostles extremely inspirational.  These apostles were amazing witnesses to the faith.  When I hear these stories I want to be like them and do what they did.  So, it’s good to ask them to pray for us.  St. Peter: help me to be bold in my faith.  St. Andrew, help me to tell people about Jesus.  St. John: Help me to know Jesus as well as you did.  The saints are not just historical figures.  They are alive.  Don’t be afraid to call on them for intercession.
But, they are also great examples for us.  They suffered, and they stayed strong.  How about us?  Now there is no doubt that there are Christians being persecuted here and around the world.  But, I can say for me, that the more subtle temptation we face these days is the temptation toward mediocrity, towards being lukewarm.  It can be easy to be comfortable and complacent about our faith.  But, the apostles weren’t lukewarm, they weren’t complacent.  They were bold, daring, and inspirational.  If we want to be the same, we can learn from the apostles.
The apostles weren’t always bold and daring.  Remember what happened after the Last Supper?  They all ran away, they denied Jesus.  So, how did they go from being weak and lukewarm to being bold and daring?  I think the gospel passage shows it all.
The passage begins: Jesus revealed himself to them.  The apostles knew Jesus.  He wasn’t just a myth or a nice story.  To them, and to us, he is a living and real person.  Not only did they meet Jesus.  They also loved him.  Jesus asks Peter 3 times: do you love me?  Peter’s yes says it all.  How did Peter go from denying Jesus to being bold and daring: he encountered the risen Christ and he loved him.  This is our program for becoming dynamic disciples of Christ.

Jesus revealed himself to the disciples today on the seashore when he invited them to a meal.  And it’s still a meal where Jesus reveals himself to us.  This meal.  This holy Eucharist.  This is why the Mass is such an important part of our spiritual life.  The Mass is the place where Jesus continues to make himself known to us.  He reveals himself to us in the breaking of the bread.  How do we respond?  Peter responded: Lord, you know that I love you.  Hopefully, the more we meet Christ here at Mass, the more we are filled with Love for him.