Sunday, December 4, 2016

Obstacles of prayer?

Second Sunday of Advent year A 2016:
In today’s gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist.  He says repent, we hear that we need to prepare the way of the Lord.  This is one of the major themes of Advent right?  Prepare the way for the Lord, prepare for his arrival at Christmas, and when he comes again.  The words of John the Baptist remind us of a basic truth in the Christian life.  We cannot remain passive, we have to become active.  John is calling us to take action.  Jesus is coming, and we cannot just stay on the sidelines, we have to get into the action.
As I mentioned last Sunday, we are spending the season of Advent here at St. Jude thinking about our life of prayer.  Last week we defined prayer as living with God.  All of us can grow in our spiritual lives if we start to see our whole life as being lived in God’s presence.  I mean, God is there already, but by calling to mind his presence, we can start to see everything in the light of our relationship with him.  Living with God can have a profound impact on our daily lives.  Prayer is essential if we are going to take action and put into practice the words of St. John: repent and prepare the way of the Lord.
But, prayer is not always easy.  In some ways prayer is simple, living with God, speaking with him.  But, this doesn’t mean that it is easy.  So, as we hear St. John say “prepare the way of the Lord,” it got me thinking about how we can do this in our own lives.  What are some of the common obstacles of prayer and how can we overcome them.
The first one that I hear quite often is “I don’t have time to pray.”  Isn’t that the truth sometimes?  Our lives seem to be getting busier all the time.  Just for an example, Thursday I woke up and looked at my calendar to see what all I had going on that day and I discovered that I had 11 appointments on my calendar.  I was basically booked from 7:00 mass in the morning until 9:00 at night.  It was a crazy day.  How many of us can say the same?  These kinds of days are becoming the norm more and more.  So, how to pray when our life seems so crazy?
I have 2 suggestions.  First, try to carve out time for prayer.  Remember how I said I had 11 appointments?  Well, one of my appointments that day was my holy hour in the chapel.  I make that hour every week, and it’s an important part of my spiritual life.  And, I certainly call it an appointment.  I feel it is just as important as anything else in my schedule.  I try never to bump that hour from my schedule.  Normally, if someone wants to meet with me I can just meet before or after that hour.  Try to do the same in your own life.  Make an appointment with God and make sure you stick to it.  Try to schedule a weekly holy hour, maybe a rosary, a time to read scripture.  Our lives are crazy, so we have to become more intentional about prayer time.  I know that if I don’t schedule prayer, I find I don’t pray as much.  I think many of us just think: I’ll pray when I get the time… But, we never get the time, so try to book it.
Second suggestion: make your everyday life more prayerful.  So, we cannot always be in the chapel.  We cannot always be praying the rosary.  But, we can always talk to God.  This is a trick I learned during my time in the seminary.  I noticed that there is a lot of time spent traveling and waiting.  Maybe it’s time in the car.  Maybe it’s walking between appointments.  Maybe it’s waiting at the doctor’s or whatever.  Think about your day.  How much time is really just waiting or travelling?  I try to use that time to have quick conversations with God.  I tell him what’s going on in my life.  I ask him for guidance.  I share with him my troubles and burdens.  Simply put, I just try to reach out to God.  I find that in my life, there are lots of these little minutes.  I can squander these times, or I can turn to God.  I can tell you that when I’m in the habit of reaching out to God in all the little moments of my life, my life sure seems to go more smoothly.
Time is just one obstacle to prayer.  Hopefully these two suggestions might help you to prepare the way of the Lord.  Check out the bulletin this week.  In my column I talk about some other common obstacles to prayer.  I hope you will find these things helpful.

Living with God.  In some ways it’s quite simple, but it’s not easy.  Hear the word of John the Baptist today and take action.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Actively seek to grow in faith by growing in prayer.  If you do, then this Advent will be a great season of growth for your life of faith.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Prayer is Living with God

First Sunday of Advent year A 2016:
I just love Advent.  It has always been one of my favorite seasons.  I can remember being a kid and just loving to see the Advent wreathe go up in Church.  It meant 2 great things.  1, school was coming to an end for vacation soon.  2, Christmas was right around the corner with feasting and presents.  I have always loved Christmas like no other day.  So to see these candles on display meant the time was coming near, the wait was almost over.
But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to value Advent in a new way.  No longer do I see it simply as a time of waiting for Christmas.  Now, I see it as a time of preparation.  And a time of preparation not only for celebrating Christmas as a parish.  But, Advent is also a time to prepare for meeting Jesus.  I don’t want to sound morbid, but we will all meet Jesus someday.  We don’t know the day nor the hour.  But, he is coming for each one of us.  Advent is a yearly reminder to be on watch for him.  But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Advent of Jesus is not simply something that happened at Christmas, or something that will happen at the end.  The Advent of Jesus takes place every day.
If we want to be prepared for meeting Jesus, we have to meet him in our daily lives.  If we get to know Jesus while in this life, then we will have communion with him for eternal life.  But, on the other hand, if we don’t know Jesus in this life, we won’t be able to recognize him on the last day.
So, make this season of Advent a powerful time to refresh your relationship with Jesus.  Get to know him all over again.  Of course, the key to any good relationship is communication.  When it comes to communicating with Jesus, we call this prayer.
During the next 4 weeks here at St. Jude we are going to reflect on prayer.  So, if you already have a perfect prayer life, I want to apologize right now.  Because the next 4 weeks are only going to be important if you feel like prayer is a challenge, if you feel like you would like your prayer life to improve.  It will only be good if you need some guidance on facing the challenges and obstacles of prayer.  But, if you already have those things all handled, it might be a bit dry for you.  If so, please bear with us…
Today we begin by simply trying to answer the question: what is prayer?  If I had you write down answers to this question, what would you say?  For some people, prayer is specific: the rosary, or the mass.  For some it’s really generic: it’s having a nice thought…  But, I think for most people prayer is something sort of ambiguous or difficult to pin down.  Well, if we don’t have a good understanding of what prayer is all about, it’s going to be really hard to have a good prayer life.
So, here is a definition that I like: prayer is living with God.  Prayer is living with God.  This definition is simple to remember, but it includes perhaps the most important part: prayer is about our experiencing God in the midst of our lives.  Think about the people you live with: maybe a spouse, a sibling, parent.  What kind of a relationship do you have with that person?  Maybe some days it’s great.  Maybe somedays it’s a fight.  Maybe some days there’s lots of communication, maybe some days it’s just peace and quiet.  But, if you think about these people you will see that there is sharing.  There is a sharing of space, a sharing of thought, a sharing of burdens, a sharing of joys, blessings, food, etc.  The one thing that is usually implied when it comes to living with people is sharing.
So, what about seeing your life as being lived with God.  Do you see him as being a living part of your everyday lives just like those very real and tangible humans with whom you share your life?  Or, does God seem distant and remote?  Prayer is living with God.  So, it means sharing with him.  Share your burdens at the beginning of a stressful day.  Share your morning cup of coffee with him, and just chat away like you might with a friend.  Share your blessings, your joys, your griefs, your struggles, your pains.  Most importantly, share, talk, love, laugh. 
In my experience as a priest, when I say prayer, I’m suggesting the building of a living relationship with the living God.  But, when people hear “prayer” they think of specific concrete forms of prayer, like Mass, Adoration, Rosary, Divine Mercy, etc.  Of course, all these prayers are great, and they certainly have a place in a prayer life.  But, I’m not just telling you to add one more thing to your already busy life; rather, I’m saying we need to make our lives prayerful. Prayer is living with God.  It includes prayer events, but it’s also a mindset, a lifestyle, a way of seeing the world that could change just about everything.
So, take some time this week and think about your understanding of prayer itself.  Do you see it as something overly formal, something overly general, do you have a solid understanding of what prayer is all about?  Do you live your life with God? 

Now, I should warn all of you.  Living with God is not easy.  It’s not always easy to live with other humans either.  But, living with God is certainly worth it.  Having God in our life literally changes everything.  Jesus wants us to be prepared for that day when he will come to meet us.  The only way to be prepared for spending our eternity with God is to live with God now.  Make this Advent a month of prayer and discovery so that you can grow in your relationship with God.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

St. Jude Our Patron

Feast of Saint Jude 2016:
This weekend we celebrate with great joy our patronal feast day.  We are celebrating the feast of St. Jude, the apostle.  What does it mean to say that St. Jude is our patron saint?  Certainly, the Church is named after him.  So, this parish is dedicated to St. Jude in a special way.  I know that non-Catholics can sometimes find this confusing.  Does this mean that we worship St. Jude?  No, we worship God alone.  But, the saints are our examples, our heroes.  Also, since we believe that the saints are alive and well in heaven, they are also our powerful advocates and guides.  St. Jude is a terrific example for us and a powerful patron.
First, St. Jude provides us with an example of Christian living.  In fact, all the apostles do.  Think about that list of apostles that we heard in the gospel.  We probably think about them in glowing terms, these names call to mind great statues, huge basilicas, and heroic courage.  But, they didn’t exactly start that way: one was a crooked tax collector, one was a zealot, one betrayed Jesus, one denied him three times.  Over and again in the gospel, we hear them being petty, doubtful, and maybe even arrogant or aloof.  And what about St. Jude?  What’s interesting is that we know very little about him.  All we really have to go on are pious legends.  So, here we are at St. Jude parish, it’s a parish dedicated to a relatively unknown person.  How did he become so famous?  Well, according to legend he and Saint Simon were executed as martyrs for the faith.  Their bodies were brought to Rome and buried in St. Peter’s basilica.  However, pilgrims began to bring petitions to St. Jude.  They found that their prayers were being answered.  So, his fame spread.  And here we are at St. Jude Catholic Church 2000 years later.
The example of the apostles is that no matter where we are now, we can always move toward greatness.  No matter what kind of sinner we might be, we can always become great saints.  The apostles went from sinners, doubters, deniers, and unknowns, to great saints because of their relationship with the risen Christ.  When Christ gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, it changed their hearts and their lives. They became the great heroes of the faith not because of their own merits, but because of the power of God at work within them.  So, hopefully St. Jude be an example for us all.  We might not be important, or famous.  But, we too can be saints by God’s power.
Second, we call St. Jude our patron.  What does that mean?  It means that we can have a relationship with him, because he is not dead, but alive.  The saints are living with God.  They can pray for us, guide us, and help us. 
St. Jude is also known as being a patron for especially difficult and hopeless cases.  I remember learning about this for the first time.  I was a seminarian and I was assigned to St. Pius for the summer.  Fr. Bill Schooler is the pastor there, and he was formerly the pastor right here at St. Judes.  The first night I was at the rectory we were in the living room chatting and hanging out.  Fr. Bill had a cat who came slinking into the room.  Now, I’m not much of an animal person.  But, I think animals can sense that, so they are always trying to cozy up to me to get me to change my mind.  But, this, of course, makes me like them even less…  Anyway, Fr. Bill’s cat jumped right on my lap.  Fr. Bill told me that this cat would never do this normally.  Anyway, I asked what the cat’s name was, he said: She’s hopeless.  Hopeless, that’s a weird name for a cat.  So, he told me that he named her after St. Jude, who was the patron for hopeless cases because he got the cat while he was pastor here.  I found that interesting.
The reason that St. Jude is patron of those hopeless cases is because those people who went to his tomb would bring their most difficult and seemingly impossible cases and they would receive miracles in their lives.  So, I love having St. Jude as our patron.  No problem is too tough for him.  He can pray and guide us always.  Outside of the school we have that beautiful St. Jude statue.  I like to walk past it every day on the way to church.  Whatever problem or issue is weighing on me, I just hand it over to him.  I always say: St. Jude, this is your parish, not mine.  Help me out with this issue.  I’m telling you, it really helps.  Maybe you could try the same thing.

What a great feast day for us.  St. Jude is a wonderful example for us of being a saint, and he is a powerful intercessor.  As his parish, we turn to him today and always.  We ask for guidance and prayers.  No problem is too tough for him.  So, today and always we pray: St. Jude our Patron, pray for us.

Monday, October 24, 2016

O God, have mercy on us

30th Sunday of OT year C 2016:
We have all heard this parable before.  We see the bad Pharisee and the good tax collector.  But, it’s more complicated than that.  It is important to remember the historical context of the gospel.  It is easy to think of the Pharisees as the bad guys of the gospel.  Jesus is always arguing with them and pointing out what they are doing wrong.  In fact, we have a term “pharisaism” which means something like “hypocritical or fake.”  So, it comes as no surprise to all of us that Jesus once again talks about a Pharisee who is messing up.  But, the Pharisees were the religious leaders at the time.  In fact, everyone listening to Jesus would have thought of the Pharisees as being the good guys.  In a way, the Pharisee is a good guy, right?  He is not greedy, dishonest or adulterous; he fasts, tithes, and generally does all the right things.  The tax collector, on the other hand, was synonymous for a sinner, because they were famous for dishonestly accruing wealthy by taking money from the people.
But, Jesus is not criticizing this hypothetical Pharisee because of his actions.  Rather, Jesus is trying to show the necessity of the conversion of the heart.  Everything the Pharisee does in life is great, we should strive to be as virtuous as he is.  But, he doesn’t have the right attitude in his heart.
When I hear this parable, I think of it as a great examination of conscience.  I ask myself 2 questions: do my actions live up to the example of the Pharisee?  Number 2, does my attitude live up to the example of the tax collector?  This parable helps me to see that my actions and my attitude need conversion.  I know I’m a sinner.  My actions are not as virtuous as the Pharisee.  So, I try to make the words of the tax collector my own: be merciful to me a sinner.
Over the past year we have been living out this Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis has given us a great gift with this special year.  By having a whole year dedicated to remembering God’s amazing gift of mercy, it gives us a chance to renew our faith in God, our hope for forgiveness, and our love for God and our neighbor. 
As a way of celebrating this year of mercy, we are dedicating this year’s parish mission to the theme of mercy.  We are blessed to have Dr. John Sehorn as our presenter this year.  Dr. Sehorn is a professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver.  I have known him and his family for years, I met him when he was studying at Notre Dame.  John has a terrific ability to present information in an approachable and engaging manner.  I really think you will love his talks.  The theme is mercy, and the way we are going to reflect on mercy is really interesting.  Each night we are going to hear the thoughts of a different saint: Athanasius, Augustine, and Leo the Great.  Each one of them has interesting insights into God’s mercy.  I’m guessing that most of us have probably never heard the unique insights of these extraordinary teachers of the faith.  John is going to be able to shed some new light on the mystery of God’s mercy by teaching us the insights of these wonderful saints.  I think this will be a fantastic way for St. Jude parish to celebrate God’s mercy during this jubilee year of grace.  I hope all of you can join us.

The tax collector today shows us that the pathway to salvation, the pathway to God’s mercy, is the humble and contrite heart.  O God, be merciful to me a sinner.  This sentence is a great summary for the year of mercy.  I’m praying that our parish mission will be a great moment of grace for all of us.  That our hearts might be moved by the hope of God’s forgiveness.  Even if we cannot emulate the virtuous actions of the Pharisee in today’s gospel, I hope we can emulate the humility of the tax collector and pray: O God, have mercy on us.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The mass is our place to give thanks

28th Sunday of OT Year C 2016:
Our readings these last couple of weeks have been teaching us about the attitude of the Christian person.  I know that it is easy to talk about actions: we need to be kind, loving, just, holy.  But, attitude is so much more difficult.  Attitude is the internal, action is the external.  I know that I can find it much easier to control the external, but the internal is tough.  Last week Jesus taught us about humility: when you have done all that was commanded say, I am an unprofitable servant, I have only done what was commanded.  This attitude of humility ensures that Christ will remain the center of our live and the heart of what we do.  Having an attitude of humility is essential if we want to be followers of Christ, because Christ was humble and he calls us to follow him.
Today we hear about another important attitude, the attitude of thanksgiving.  In the first reading, and in the gospel, we hear about the healing of lepers.  In both readings, God has pity on these suffering souls and brings them healing.  In the first reading, Naaman is healed by plunging down into the water.  In the gospel, the lepers are healed by begging Jesus for pity, for mercy.  In both readings, we hear about the joy of the person who was healed.  Naaman is ready to give a large gift to the prophet, the Samaritan comes back to praise Christ, “glorifying God in a loud voice.”  These two should be great examples for us.  The proper response to the gifts of God is thanksgiving.  An essential attitude for the Christian man or woman is an attitude of thanks.
But, this attitude is not simple, and it’s not automatic.  Parents out there, how many times do you have to instruct your kids: “now what do you say?”  For whatever reason, gratitude is not natural to us, we have to learn it, grow in it.  But, when we do, it can change our lives.  Just think about some of the things that can be a source of tension in your life.  Family.  Sometimes we can get into disagreements, fights, resentment.  There can be a lot of negative tension in our families.  Imagine if everyone in the family had an attitude of thanksgiving about everyone else in the family, might that not change everything?  Jobs.  Many people struggle with tensions at work.  What about being grateful for the chance to earn an income, being grateful for the chance to interact with people in the workforce, grateful for the chance to do something meaningful? Many people are frustrated with politics.  But, I am certainly grateful to live in this great nation.  Is our nation perfect?  Certainly not.  But, it is still a great nation, for which we have much to give thanks.
So, my contention is that the attitude of thanksgiving can change our daily circumstances in ways you can’t believe.  Without actually changing the situations of our lives, if we are specifically and consciously thankful for the good things of life, the negative and difficult things become so much easier to deal with.  Make thanksgiving an important part of you daily lives and you will not be sorry.
But, we can start by following the example of Naaman and the Samaritan.  Naaman was cleansed by washing in the Jordan.  We have been cleansed by washing in the waters of baptism.  Naaman wanted to give something to thank the God of Israel.  Instead he takes dirt.  What is that all about?  He wanted the land of Israel so that he could offer sacrifice on the land.  We have been washed in baptism, and we offer sacrifice too.  Right here at Mass we offer the sacrifice of Christ.  In the gospel, Jesus has pity on the leper, and the Samaritan returns glorifying God in a loud voice.  We have received the mercy of God.  I’m conscious of that every time I go to confession.  In that sacrament we receive the mercy and compassion of Christ.  What is the response?  To glorify God with a loud voice.  Again, we do that right here.  Mass is the place for us to be thankful to God.  Mass is not about what we can receive, Mass is about what we give, namely giving God thanks for all his blessings.  Mass can be the most powerful teacher of gratitude we have.  By learning an attitude of thanksgiving, the mass can literally change our lives.