Friday, November 10, 2017

Start your training now

32nd Sunday of OT year A:
In today’s gospel we hear another parable.  This time it is the wise women vs. the foolish women.  I remember the first time I heard this parable as a child I thought it should have been a parable about sharing.  I’m the oldest of 11 kids.  So, sharing has always been one of the most important family virtues that can keep peace in the home: we would yell, mom, Nick is eating my candy: make sure you boys share… 
But, I don’t think this parable is about sharing, obviously.  I think the parable tells us everything we need to know at the beginning.  Five were foolish, five were wise.  This parable is about what it takes to be wise.  We all know the bridegroom is coming.  We say every week when we pray our creed that we are awaiting the return of our Savior.  Therefore, we want to be the wise ones ready to welcome him when he returns.
So, how to be wise?  We need to be prepared.  Jesus will come back at some day, at some hour, none of us knows.  Further, none of us knows the day when we will die.  Rather, we should be prepared to meet Christ at every moment, during every day.  Not to be morbid, rather we should be excited to meet our savior when he returns.  But, we want to be wise, not foolish.
So, the difference between the wise and the foolish was that the wise had oil.  I think that is pretty interesting.  I know that in ancient times, oil was considered a source of strength.  Wrestlers would put oil on their bodies before matches.  When people were sick, they would rub oil on their wounds.  Also, oil is used in the bible to be a sign of God’s favor and blessing.  Oil was poured on the altar and in the temple.  Oil was poured on Aaron and the priests.  Oil as produce was a sign of God’s favor, because olive trees took a long time to produce oil. 
I find this fascinating.  Strength and blessing.  What does it mean to be wise, to be prepared?  It means to be strong and to be living with God’s blessing.  So, if we want to be the wise ones who are ready for the Lord’s coming we need to be strong, we need to live with God’s blessing.
I don’t know about you, but this seems like a pretty good description of the spiritual life.  To grow strong by prayer, to know God’s blessings by living in gratitude.  If we want to be wise in the Lord and ready to great him, it’s vital to grow in our spiritual life.
But, we should all remember that this is not easy or automatic.  There are no shortcuts in the spiritual life.  I’m sure when we all read this parable we certainly want to be the wise ones.  We don’t want to be locked out of the kingdom of heaven.  But, growing in strength and in God’s blessings is a daily process.  Being wise is about growing in faith and in prayer.
We should start thinking about it in terms of training.  Think about it like exercise.  If I want my muscles to be strong, if I want to lift 200 pounds, I can’t do it all at once.  But, if I start small, and I make gains over time, eventually there’s almost no limit to how strong my muscles can get.  The same is true about our spiritual life.  We want to be strong, we want to be wise, we want to be saints.  But, we cannot do it all at once.  It takes constantly daily commitment.  It takes commitment to prayer, commitment to the bible, commitment to service and for living in gratitude. 

My friends, none of us knows the day or the hour.  Rather, than just hoping we will have the oil we need to welcome Christ, we should see today’s gospel as an inspiring challenge.  Are you ready to welcome Christ right now?  If not, no better time than now to start your spiritual training.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vocations Sunday

31st Sunday of OT:
I laughed to myself this week when I was reading this gospel.  Jesus says call no one on earth your father.  I found this ironic, because this is national vocation awareness week and I wanted to talk about vocations to the priesthood.  So the day we hear: call no one father, I wanted to talk about becoming a priest, where everyone calls me father.  God has a great sense of humor.
I think it is pretty clear from the whole passage that Jesus is not so much saying that we should have or use titles.  Rather, we shouldn’t seek titles because we are looking for honor and privilege.  If a young man wanted to become a priest because he was seeking honor, attention, and titles, he would certainly be violating our Lord’s direction to humble service.  But, calling priests “father” has more to do with the mission of the priesthood, which is to bring God’s love to his people. 
God is our Father in Heaven.  My job as a priest is to make help people our Father’s love here on earth.  So, calling me father reminds me of that mission.  And it’s a wonderful vocation.  To be a priest is more amazing than I can describe.  Helping people grow closer to God is truly an honor and a joy.  I’m thankful every day for God’s calling to the priesthood.
So, this is a week for the whole church to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life.  But, every religious vocation has its roots in the vocation that every one of us received at our baptism, that is the universal call to holiness.
I am a firm believer that the key to a resurgence in priestly vocations across the world is the commitment to holiness.  Every one of us is called to be saints, we are called to be holy.  But, we are called to live out that holiness in a unique way.  Lots of people are called to holiness through the vocation of marriage.  Some are called to be holy as religious sisters, brothers, or priests.  But, we are all called to be holy.

If you are a parent or grandparent, try to have a conversation with your children/grandchildren this week.  Encourage them to live out their vocation to holiness.  Holiness is a great adventure, because it means living in communion with God and following his voice.  Literally nothing is better than living a life with God.  As the church, we all need to encourage our young people simply to follow Christ, to grow in holiness, to listen to God’s voice.  If they do that, we will have amazing priests, sisters, brothers, but also amazing married couples and amazing people living out their call to holiness.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pray for us St. Jude

30th Sunday of OT and feast of St. Jude:
What a great weekend for our parish.  We are celebrating the feast day of our patron, St. Jude.  He was an apostle and friend of the Lord.  He is our friend as well and he is praying for us, leading us, and guiding us.  St. Jude, pray for us.  We were also blessed yesterday that Bishop Rhoades joined us for the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation.  He called down the Holy Spirit on 45 of our young people.  It was a great Mass and a moving experience for all who were there.  Indeed, this is a great weekend, we get to experience God’s love and guidance.
Not only that, but in our gospel, we also hear about love.  But, maybe in a slightly different way.  In the gospel, Jesus gives us the great commandments: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. 
Now, I’m sure we are all quite familiar with this gospel message.  I know that I learned from an early age that the great commandments tell us to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves.  So, this might not seem like a new message.  But, something really struck me as new when I was thinking about this passage.  I think there is a tension hidden inside of these commandments.
Has it ever struck you as strange that God commands us to love?  Doesn’t that seem incompatible?  We all know what a command is.  A command is an injunction ordering one to do something or to avoid something.  You shall not steal, this command seems quite straight forward.  But, love seems quite different right?  Love is a free act whereby a person actively wills the good and the intentions of another.  So, how or why do we follow this command to love God, neighbor, and self?
I think the first question to ask is why should we love God?  I think there are two reasons people often use to try to love God.   Neither is bad, but I think they can end up being incomplete.  First, there is this notion of duty.  We love God because it is a duty, he has commanded it, we must try to do it.  And, it’s true.  I do think we have a duty to love God.  But, simply thinking about the command to love God and our neighbor as a duty certainly seems to take away some of the awe, wonder, and excitement of love.  If love was simply a duty, doesn’t that seem kind of boring sometimes?  I mean, I have a duty to pay my taxes.  But, I don’t find that particularly thrilling.  Think about St. Jude and all the other martyrs.  They literally died because of their love for Christ.  Now that’s exciting.  I doubt he thought of it as some dispassionate duty, but rather it was something much more.
However, this leads me to the other reason to love God that is also incomplete.  Many times we try our best to love God because it leads to pleasant emotions.  In other words, loving God feels good sometimes, so that is why we do it.  Now, I’m not saying loving God shouldn’t feel good.  I had a great holy hour this morning before Mass.  I could definitely feel God’s presence.  It was wonderful.  But, we don’t always FEEL great when it comes to loving God.  Sometimes our life of faith is tough, sometimes it’s the cross.  We might be tempted to think that something is going wrong.  But, it’s not.  Love is not simply a matter of feelings.  Love is a decision to give one’s life for the good of another.  Sometimes that feels great.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s ok.
So if we shouldn’t love God simply out of duty, nor simply for the good feelings it can cause sometimes, why should we love God?  Bishop Rhoades said it so well yesterday at the confirmation mass that I told him I was going to steal it for today’s mass.  At the end of his homily he was encouraging all the young people to embrace their vocation to holiness, to strive to be saints.  He said, “being a follower of Jesus is a great adventure, and if you follow him you will have a wonderful life.  If you don’t follow him, your life will be boring and mediocre.  Jesus is calling you to a life of greatness.”  Why should we love God?  Because we want a life of greatness.  We should love God because we don’t want to be mediocre.  We should love God because following Christ is the only pathway to a life of fulfillment and peace. 

This is why the saints are so inspiring to me.  They certainly followed these 2 great commands of Jesus.  But, they did so not simply out of duty or because of emotions.  They followed these commands because they recognized that following Christ is the only great adventure that satisfies the longing of our hearts.  So, as we celebrate this feast day of St. Jude, we ask him to pray for us.  May we emulate his great love for Christ and follow in his footsteps along the great adventure of faith.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Christ sends us to work

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
In just a few minutes, we will hear from our mission speaker for the year.  Tyler Kolden is going to talk to us about missionary work in Eastern Russia.  So, I have a shorter homily than usual.  I just want to bring up 2 points from the gospel that really struck me today.
First, just remember how the gospel begins.  Jesus says: the kingdom of heaven…  Before we even get into the parable, the whole truth is made plain.  We aren’t talking about a piddly little bit of money.  “The usual daily wage” in this story is nothing less than heaven.  It’s nothing less than eternity with God.  So, I don’t care who you are or what you have done in your life: heaven is way beyond anything we could ever hope, imagine, and certainly way beyond anything we could ever deserve.  No matter who we are, we should really remember: we are getting a really good deal.  The people in the gospel were jealous because of the generosity of the landowner.  We might be prone to jealousy sometimes too, when we look at the gifts of others.  But, each of us should reflect on the promises of God and our hearts will be filled with thanksgiving.  So that’s number 1: this story reminds us that we are getting an amazing deal.

Second, it really struck me that the landowner sent those people into his vineyard to work.  Work!  Now, I just got done saying that God gives us much more than we can ever hope, imagine, or deserve.  But, we should see ourselves as active workers in the Lord’s vineyard.  Working for God is not just the job of the priest or the bishop or the pope.  Sure, it’s my full-time job to be pastor here at St. Jude.  But, all of us are called to work full-time for Christ.  Are you a mother?  Take care of your children for Christ.  Are you an accountant?  Treat your customers fairly because of Christ.  A Doctor?  Serve patients out of love for Christ.  This past week I was discussing the sacrament of Confirmation with the parents of our young people who are about to be confirmed.  The Church teaches that the sacrament of confirmation “obliges them more firmly to be witnesses of Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith.”  That’s true for all of us.  Christ sends us into the vineyard to work.  
So two keys.  First, God's pay is more than we can ever imagine; but, second, it’s good for us to remember that he sends us to work.  Christ has a mission for each of us, and his reward is beyond all comprehension.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

God's mercy is amazing

24th Sunday of OT year A 2017:
I learned long ago that I can’t say it better than Jesus.  So will my heavenly Father do to you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.  Jesus’ message is so clear: if we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive.  I can’t really improve on the message.
But, I do want to talk a little bit about this passage.  This is one of my favorite passages, but this passage is also a big pet peeve of mine.  I once had to work on this in my Greek class and it was really eye opening for me.  Our translation says that the first servant owed a huge amount and the second servant owes a much smaller amount.  When you hear that, what kind of dollar amount would you put on it?  Huge amount: 100?  1000? 1,000,000?  The smaller amount?  5 bucks?  But, the text actually says that the first servant owed 10,000 talents and the second one 100 denarii.  I think our bible translator decided to interpret these numbers because we aren’t generally aware of these amounts.  But, if we study these amounts a little bit it really changes the gravity of this passage.
The first servant owes the master 10,000 talents.  How much is a talent?  There are a lot of debates out there about a talent.  But, a pretty good estimate would be the amount of money a laborer would make in a whole year.  So, this man owes 10,000 talents.  Say 20k per talent, that’s 200 million dollars.  Saturday’s powerball is worth 132 million.  So you could hit that and still be 68 million dollars short. 
This homily is not about money.  But, just let the sheer enormity of the amount sink in a little bit.  How much does this guy owe?  More than anyone can possible imagine.  The same is true for us.  We owe God more than we can possibly imagine.  It’s impossible to pay back God for his amazing generosity.  He has given us life, breath, forgiveness, faith, sacraments, our families, our friends, our jobs, and on and on.  Nothing we can do can repay the debt.  That’s why we ask God for forgiveness.  We know we can’t pay him back.  We ask him for his love.
I think the much smaller amount is interesting too.  The fellow servant owes the other 100 denarii.  A denarius was about how much a person made working for one full day.  So to put it into modern terms we are talking about $50.  So 100 denarii is like $5000.  Now, this is clearly much less than the 200 million.  But, it’s still substantial. 
I found this to be just as important to me.  Jesus encourages us to forgive not just small matters, but big matters as well.  5000 is not a small amount of money to me.  And the offenses that other inflict upon us might not seem small.  But, Jesus is still encouraging us to be forgiving.
I found that studying the actual amounts listed in this parable makes the story so much more dramatic.  The stakes are large.  Forgiveness is no small thing.  It’s huge.

But, forgiveness is not easy.  I mean there is a reason why Jesus has to talk about forgiveness so much.  That’s because forgiveness is really hard.  If you find yourself struggling with forgiveness, spend some time with this parable.  Recognize your own debt to God.  Go to confession and have your own sins forgiven.  Ask those whom you have offended for forgiveness.  The more you know and experience forgiveness in your own life, the more you will be able to share forgiveness with others.