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 formed.org.  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. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter 2016: Alleluia

Easter 2016:
Alleluia, the Lord is Risen.  I love that word: Alleluia.  It is a Hebrew word that means: “Praise the Lord.”  Indeed, we praise the Lord today.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  He died and rose again so that all of us, even if we die, will live forever.  This word, Alleluia, captures the essence of our faith: we praise God because of all he has done for us.
On the night before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  He stooped down to wash them clean.  He said: do you realize what I have done for you?  As we think about the resurrection of Jesus, these words really strike home.  I think the resurrection is an event that we think is great for Jesus, but he did it for all of us.  There is a beautiful, ancient homily that reflects upon Jesus’ death.  It says that when Jesus died, he went into the realm of the dead to rescue Adam.  This is why Jesus died, so that he could reach all those who were imprisoned by death.  God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to seek all the lost children of Adam.  In his resurrection, he takes all of us with him.  Jesus says, do you realize what I have done for you?  As we proclaim that Jesus has been raised from the dead, we need to take it a step further and see that he rose, so that we might rise.  He lives, so that we might live.
This is a powerful and amazing message.  But, because it is something so central to our faith, it can be easy to take this message for granted.  I sometimes think about those GEICO commercials.  You know the ones?  You can save by switching to GEICO, and the response is: everyone knows that…  Sometimes the resurrection of Christ is like that: Jesus has been raised from the dead: everyone knows that…  But, stop and think about just how amazing this message really is.
We hear in the gospel today that the women went to the tomb to look for a dead man.  But, they didn’t find him.  That alone is pretty amazing.  Usually, dead people stay dead.  There is no doubt that Jesus was dead.  We heard the account of his suffering and death on Good Friday.  He was dead, but he didn’t stay that way.  Listen to the way it’s described in the gospel: the women were puzzling over the missing body, the disciples did not believe the story, Peter ran to the tomb and was amazed at what had happened.  Those first disciples were confused, amazed, surprised, and shocked.  They saw Jesus die.  There was no reason to suspect that he wouldn’t stay dead.  Even though Jesus had told them that he would rise, they were still shocked and amazed.  Jesus has been raised from the dead, everyone might know that now, but they certainly didn’t know that that first Easter Sunday. 
I love the way the gospel puts it.  The women tell the disciples and they don’t believe them because “their story seemed like nonsense.”  The greatest story ever told seemed like nonsense to Peter and the apostles.  Think about that for a second.  It seemed like nonsense.  The story was so amazing, so profound, so unbelievable, that even the apostles simply didn’t believe it early on.  The saving truth of the resurrection of Christ that most of us simply take for granted, was flat out not believed by the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  I think that when we take this story for granted we miss out on some of the power of the message.
Do you realize what I have done for you?  Ponder the mystery of the resurrection with new eyes.  Approach that empty tomb expecting to find a dead body.  Feel that sense of amazement when you see the open and empty tomb.  What could this mean?  How could this happen?  More than any other event in Jesus’ life, the resurrection shows us who Jesus really is.  Jesus Christ is the son of God.  He came here to die and rise so that we might live.  His death overcomes our sins, his death overcomes our suffering, his death overcomes our death.  His rising allows us to rise.  If we let this truth sink in, if we allow ourselves to be amazed, puzzled, shocked, and awed by that empty tomb, the effects can be amazing.
Like I said, this message wasn’t believed by the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  At least, not at first.  But, these apostles and holy women became the greatest saints ever because this story become much more than just a story.  They heard about the resurrection and didn’t believe. But, once they met the risen Christ, it changed everything.  If we want to be great saints, the same should happen for us.  We have heard this amazing story, but have we met the risen one?  Have we encountered Christ in our life in such a way that we truly realize what he has done for us?
What a blessing it is then, that we get to meet Christ right here.  The apostles met Jesus in the upper room after he was raised from the dead.  This is our upper room.  This church is our place to meet Christ.  This is the beautiful garden where we meet the risen Lord.  Right here on the altar, we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Right here, we see the risen Jesus.  He appears in a different form, to be sure.  But, it is the same Christ.  The Eucharist is Jesus, risen from the dead.  By meeting him here, he can transform us.

Jesus Christ has been risen from the dead, and he gives us his very body and blood here in the Holy Eucharist: everyone knows that…  But, today, on this Easter day, let’s not take this message for granted.  Rather, we renew our amazement, our wonder, our shock and awe at this profound message.  Reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus, we shout with our hearts: praise God, alleluia forever.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

Good Friday 2016:
We just listened to the story of love, the story of mercy.  We just heard how far God will go because of his love for us.  The Father sent his Son to save us; that love led Christ to the Cross.  Especially during this Year of Mercy, the cross proclaims a powerful message of mercy.  This is how much Christ wants to save us.  He couldn’t give any more.  He gave his life, he gave everything.  If we ever question the power of God’s mercy, if we ever question the depth of God’s mercy, we have to look no farther than the cross and we get our answer.  How far is Jesus willing to go to save, heal, and forgive us?  He is willing to go all the way, even into the grave.
Last night, at the Mass of the Last Supper, we heard the words of Christ: do you realize what I have done for you?  This simple and direct question is pointed at each one of us.  Do we realize all that Christ has done for us?  Asking ourselves this question in prayer can be a wonderful spiritual exercise, because recognizing the hand of God in our lives, empowers us to live as disciples of Christ.  This whole year we have been celebrating 25 years of Stewardship here at St. Jude’s.  The first principle of stewardship is to recall that everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  Indeed, we have much for which to give thanks.  Do you realize what I have done for you, Christ says to us.

Today, especially, we remember Christ’s passion and death.  I’m sure it is impossible to realize fully the power of the cross.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to save me and you.  Let this solemn day be a time to reflect on this powerful mystery.  Allow the saving power of the cross to affect your life.  One of my favorite actions of the year is our Good Friday veneration of the cross.  In a few moments, our beautiful crucifix will be brought forward, and all of us will have a chance to adore and venerate this precious cross.  As you come forward, I invite you to ponder the words of Christ.  Do you realize what I have done for you?  Answer that question by saying: yes Lord, I realize you gave your life for me, and I worship and adore you and your holy Cross.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Year C 2016:
We just heard the gripping account of the Lord’s passion.  I am particularly drawn to Luke’s passion.  Only in his gospel do we hear Jesus’ words of mercy from the cross: Father, forgive them.  Only in Luke’s gospel do we hear the dialogue with the good thief on the cross: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  Luke’s gospel reminds us of a very important truth: the cross of Christ shows the love, mercy, and compassion of our Savior.  Jesus died on the cross so that we might live.
This message of mercy is the absolute core of our Christian faith: Jesus is God, he died so that we might live.  This message gives our lives direction and focus.  This message gives us hope.  Even though we might suffer, even though we might die, we will live forever because of the death of Christ. 

But, I was thinking about our last spiritual work of mercy.  Today we think about instructing the ignorant.  I know that ignorant is almost like an insult.  We might call people ignorant as a way to demean them.  But, ignorant is a term that simply means a person who “doesn’t know.”  So, I know absolutely nothing about nuclear physics or rocket propulsion.  I don’t mind in the least if you call me ignorant about those things.  Ignorant is not a bad word, it just means we don’t know.  But, what about the message of Christ?  This message of mercy is the greatest message in the history of the world.  This one fact is the most important thing to know.  We are gathered here today because of this fact.  We are not ignorant to this important truth.  But, there are many in our world who simply do not know Jesus.  They don’t know the Church.  They don’t know the sacraments.  We all learned this message because someone took the time to instruct the ignorant.  And I’m certainly glad they did.  We have just heard the most important story in the world.  Now, it is up to us to be sure that others hear this Good News.  Holy Week is a great time to share the truths of our faith with others.  Maybe there is someone at work, maybe someone at school, someone you know: can you instruct the ignorant?  Can you share the Good News with them?  Invitation bags are prepared at the doors of Church.  Maybe they would be a good way for you to share the message of Christ.  He said to the Good Thief: today you will be with me in paradise.  He wants to tell that same message to others through you as well.