Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hello from DC

Hello everyone,

I know it's been a while since I've posted something here.  I'm still in DC studying canon law for the summer.  Things are going well.

I've completed my first month of classes.  I had a course on the protection of rights in the Church.  This course specialized in procedures concerning hierarchical recourse against an administrative decision in the Church.  One thing we had to do was read decisions from the Signatura. These decisions were in Latin, but were a great way to get to know the procedural law of the Church, quite fascinating.

The other course was a survey of Eastern Law.  Maybe we don't realize it all that often, but the Latin Catholic Church is not the only Catholic Church out there.  There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches that are governed by their own sets of laws, live their own traditions, and celebrate their own rites.  This class was quite fascinating and eye-opening.

Next month, I have a course on selected issues in chancery practices.  Hopefully, this will be a practical course that will help me understand the ins and outs of being a canon lawyer in service to the diocese.

Last night, I had the privilege of being here in DC for the celebration of the 4th of July.  It was amazing to see the fireworks from all over the city.  It was really an amazing event.

I guess that is about all for now, I will try to update more often.
God bless,
Fr Jake

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Explanation of our hope

6th Sunday of Easter Year A:
Today in the letter of St. Peter he instructs us all to be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.  So that got me thinking, what is our hope?  If I’m going to have to give an explanation of my hope, I better know what that is.  We use the word “hope” quite often in our daily lives: I hope it doesn’t rain, I hope to see you later, let’s hope Notre Dame wins this weekend...  However, Hope is a theological virtue.  It is something quite profound.  Reflecting on hope led me to a writer named Josef Pieper, a renowned philosopher, who once wrote a great little article on Hope.
For us to understand hope, we first have to understand our human situation. Until death, men and women are perched on the knife blade between heaven and hell. 
Pieper explains man’s condition well when he states, “man finds himself, even until the moment of death, in the status viator, in the state of being on the way.”   This state of being on the way is natural for us because we were made from nothing and are progressing toward fulfillment (life with God in the Kingdom).  We do experience life as a journey, after all.  However, Pieper notes that though we are moving forward, we are frighteningly close to the nothingness whence we came: “the proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things.”   This rings true to our human experience, have you ever had a brush with death (a car crash for instance)?  Didn’t it feel like you were just moments from nothingness?  Since we come from non-being, we have the ability to return to this non-being: “by the very fact that it [the human person] stems from nothingness, its power can revert to non-being.”  
Yet on the other side, we long for the perfect fulfillment of heaven: “Beatitude is understood primarily as the fulfillment objectively appropriate to our nature… this fulfillment is the Beatific Vision.”   In other words, while we feel close to nothingness, we have this interior longing for a fulfillment beyond this world.
So man seems to be constantly tempted toward nothingness while he strives for fulfillment.  This tension between nothingness and fulfillment is the existential condition of living man.  And, this condition presupposes two possibilities, namely nothingness and fulfillment.  Pieper notes that hope is the virtue necessary for living a human life, torn as it is between being and nothingness.   Hope is the virtue (power) that God gives us to deal with this maddening tug: our mortality on one hand and our striving for heaven on the other.  So, if we are ever feeling torn by the troubles of this world and our longings for the world to come, between mortality and everlasting life, we should ask God for the gift of hope, the virtue for those on the way.
The gospel we have just heard should help us grow in our hope.  Jesus says, I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.  Christ will not allow the nothingness to win.  He came to lead us to new life.  We are full of hope, because we know that Christ is with us.  Even when life is tough, even in the midst of our most troubling circumstances, Christ has not abandoned us, he is with us.  Need proof?  Look no farther than the Eucharist.  This is Christ’s lasting presence with us.  He is never that far from us.  He is as near as the adoration chapel, the tabernacle here in Church, the altar when we celebrate Mass.
Give an explanation of our hope?  No better explanation than to say that I am full of hope in this life because Christ is never far from me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Mass is our Road to Emmaus

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A:
We have heard it said many times, “life is a journey.”  But what does that really mean?  Next, at the end of this month I will be going on a journey.  I’ll be leaving for 2 months to study Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.  This is my 4th summer out of 5.  The journey to DC involves many steps.  I will have to pack all the stuff I need for 2 months into my car.  I will have to stop for gas.  I will have to look up directions.  I will have to stop along the way for the necessities and food.  Each of the little steps along the way are all leading to DC.  But, I can certainly say that I’m not thinking about my destination at every moment along the way.  Also, not every moment is pleasant or amazing.  But, each little step on the way are all possible because I need to get to DC.
Life is a journey.  We are all on our way to Christ.  Every human being on earth will see Christ face to face.  He is the destination of this journey.  Maybe we don’t see that destination every day of our life, and not every day is a day where we see and feel Christ as a part of our lives.  Some days are filled with sadness and pain.  But, the more we can remember the destination, the journey takes on a new meaning.   Even in those parts of the journey that might bring on weariness, or where we might lose hope, if we have Christ before us the journey will always be possible. 
St. Peter, in the second reading, tells us to conduct ourselves with reverence during our sojourning.  I love that word, reverence.  It means to be quiet and respectful, conscious that we live every day in God’s presence. Where do we find this reverence?  St. Peter goes on to say that the resurrection is the source of our faith and hope.  For the apostles, the resurrection was absolutely decisive.  It was that event that changed everything.  We know that the disciples all fled Jesus, denying or betraying him.  But, in the first reading we hear Peter preaching boldly about Christ.  The difference between the scared frightened disciples on Holy Thursday and the fearless proclaimers of the Word afterward was their experience of the Risen Christ.
The same is true for us.  It will be our experience of the Risen Christ that will give us the reverence we need for our sojourning, the faith and hope we have in God.  Now, you might be thinking: great, all I need is an experience of the Risen Jesus and everything will be just fine.
Now, it is certainly the case that Christ has appeared to people over the ages, so I won’t rule that out.  But, there is an experience of the Risen Jesus that is much closer to home.  In fact, we are all doing it right now.  It’s the Mass of course.
On the Road to Emmaus we hear about 2 disciples meeting Jesus.  What I love about this passage is what the gospel tells us and what it doesn’t.  First, we hear that one of the disciples was named Cleopas.  Really?  Cleopas!  Who was Cleopas?  Up till now we have never heard his name in the gospel.  He is not one of the twelve.  We know he was a follower of Jesus, but he was a rather minor character.  The other guy doesn’t even get named.  So the gospel tells us that it was not just the super-famous apostles that see the Risen Lord.  Also, I see that unnamed disciple as standing in for all of us.  We are on this journey, and Jesus still comes to us the same way he did then.  First, in the Holy Scriptures, second in the breaking of the bread.  In these two ways Christ continues to manifest himself to all his disciples.
What makes a person a Christian is an experience of the Risen Christ, and Jesus, in his divine wisdom, has decreed that the one privileged medium by which he is able to manifest himself to the world for the rest of time is the Holy Mass.  Right here we continue to read the scriptures, and Christ continues to break the bread. 

Life is indeed a journey to Christ.  No matter what we face in this life, we will be able to conduct ourselves with reverence because of our faith and hope in the Risen Jesus.  It is precisely through the Mass that we experience the Risen Christ.  No wonder the Mass is such an important part of our journey through life.  Every time we gather here Christ is made known to us through the reading of Scripture and the breaking of the bread.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

JP2 we love you

I can still remember the day quite clearly.  I remember that it had started to rain.  I had a poncho on, but I stuck my head inside the poncho and made a little tent for myself.  I had brought along a little paperback book and I was reading it as we were passing the time.  I still remember this day being one of the more impressive days of my life.

Where was I?  I was in a canyon waiting for John Paul II to come in for the evening prayer at World Youth Day in Denver.

I had never seen such a vibrant expression of my Catholic faith before.  Here there were like a million people all drawn there to see this Pope.  I thought it was way toooo cool.

Years later I would think of my experience again when I started to ponder my priestly vocation.  I can say that John Paul was important there too since I read Pastores Dabo Vobis which very clearly helped me to understand what a vocation to priesthood meant and what I needed to do in order to become a priest.

John Paul died while I was in the seminary, but he was crucial in my priestly formation.  It's too bad I had never had the chance to say "John Paul our Pope" during the Eucharistic prayer.  But, now I will get to say something even better: St. John Paul II... ora pro nobis.

Divine Mercy in the sacrament of Confession

2nd Sunday of Easter:
Today we celebrate what is called Divine Mercy Sunday.  Today we hear in the gospel Christ bestowing the power of his mercy upon the apostles.  Receive the power of the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.  How amazing a gift is this?
As a priest I am privileged to have received this power of absolution, this power of forgiveness.  If I stop and think about it, it gives me goose bumps to think that Jesus Christ himself handed this power to the apostles, and they handed it down to the next generation, who handed it down, etc all the way to me on the day of my ordination. 
One question I get sometimes is this: why do I need to confess my sins to a priest?  I just ask God to forgive me.  Now, I certainly would never say that God cannot forgive sins outside of confession.  He is God, he can certainly do that.  But, the reason why we confess our sins to priests is because this is the express will of Christ.  He was the one who instituted the sacrament of confession.  And, since he is the Son of God, maybe he knows what he is doing.
There are many benefits to confessing our sins to priests.  First, sin loves to hide in the darkness.  There is nothing better to allow sin to flourish and grow than the dark hidden places in our hearts and souls.  When we let sins stay there, deep down, they have the ability to weaken us and drag us down.  Confession does not allow us to leave sins in the dark.  It takes great courage to say your sins out loud, but when you do, the light of Christ is able to shine into those dark places.  Do don’t be afraid to say your sins to a priest, don’t let them hid in the dark.  Go behind the screen if you want, it is about saying the sins out loud that conquers them.  Also, don’t go in there trying to explain away the sin, that is like leaving it in the darkness, just go into confession and confess your sin.
Another benefit of confessing your sins to a priest is that you get a chance to hear some advice.  I don’t pretend to be an expert or some kind of wonder counselor.  But, I have received extensive training in seminary and I have a great deal of experience of helping people in the confessional.  I know that in my own life, I have gained many wonderful little insights by priests in the confessional.
A third benefit is that we get to hear the words of absolution.  There is something deeply soothing about these words: I absolve you from your sins.  Trusting in the power of God and in the fact that Christ gave this power to the priests, we know that when we hear these words, our sins are forgiven.  What a wonderful gift that is.  We do know that God can forgive sins whenever he wants, but we also know that he definitely does when we make a good confession and we receive our absolution.  I wish I could describe the way that people’s faces change whenever I say the words of absolution.  I can see their worries and concerns melt under the light of Christ’s mercy.
These are all great benefits.  But there is another one.  When Christ appears in that room he says: peace be with you.  This is the ultimate goal of the sacrament of confession, the peace of Christ.  We all know from experience that our sins do not give us peace, they do not give us joy.  Christ wants his peace to dwell in the hearts of every disciple, which is why he gives us the sacrament of confession.  Confession is the medicine of peace, it is the pathway of peace in our lives.  Some people think that confession is something you do when you have gotten rid of all your sins.  But, this is not true, this is what sin wants: to stay in the darkness.  Rather, confession is the medicine that cures the disease of sin. 

One thing that really makes me happy is the devotion to the sacrament of confession here at St. Jude.  Many people come to confession here.  It is a wonderful sacrament that leads us to the peace of Christ.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil:
Tonight is the night!  The best night of the whole year.  The night we remember Jesus and his rising from the dead.  Tonight is the night that makes everything new.  Tonight changes everything.
Over the last couple of days we celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper, we celebrated his death.  But by themselves these events are not entirely ground breaking.  People have eaten Paschal dinners before, people had died on the cross before.  But, never has anyone risen from the dead like this.  In fact, it is because of Jesus’ rising that his death and last supper take on a new significance.  This is not simply a matter of resuscitation, this is not simply a medical advance.  This is an entirely new event in the course of human history.  This Jesus who died, is dead no longer.  As a result, it is not simply enough to say that Jesus WAS alive; now, and forever, Jesus IS alive.
When Jesus rises from the dead he takes all of us with him.  One of the things I like about this Easter Vigil are the extended readings that we hear.  It gives us a yearly chance to relive the whole sweep of salvation history.  We recognize that God made us, but because of the Original Sin, death enters the world.  Yet, God never abandons us; rather, he guides and shepherds his people throughout all of history, culminating Tonight.  Everything in the history of the world has been leading up to this night, and everything since this night is seen in a new and amazing light.  For Jesus has broken the bonds of death.  No wonder the message of tonight’s gospel is “do not be afraid.”
No wonder this night is not like any other.  For it is this night that gives the human race new hope.  It is this night that the human race receives the gift of new life.  No longer are we imprisoned by death and destruction; now, all those who believe in Christ will live just like he does. 
What could possible give us fear?  If Christ has destroyed death, there is nothing left to give us fear.  Christ has destroyed sin, he has destroyed evil, he has destroyed death.  And even if we end up facing these things in this life, we know that they no longer have the last word.  Evil doesn’t win!  That is the story of the cross.  That even though we live in a broken world, that brokenness is not the last word.  The last word is that one spoken from Christ: do not be afraid. 
What a great joy it is for us to gather here tonight and renew our faith in the resurrection.  We get a chance to hear Christ say to each one of us: do not be afraid.  What gives you fear or anxiety?  What causes you trouble or concern?  I want us all to call to mind some concern we face, something that gives us anxiety, causes fear.  Now, take that thing and stack it up against the amazing wonder of the Resurrection and how does it look now?  Pretty small I imagine…  Why do we let the trials and troubles of this world cause us fear?  Jesus is alive!  Death has no power over us, and Jesus can come to our aid in difficult times.  Our faith and the power of the sacraments help us in difficult times.
Tonight many of our community will be receiving these sacraments for the first time.  Hear the words of Jesus: do not be afraid.  These sacraments are the doorway to new life.  They are Christ’s gift to us.  They give us the power to overcome fear or anxiety; they give us the power to live lives of holiness, to grow closer to Christ.

My friends, Jesus is alive, what could possible cause us to be afraid in the light of such an awesome truth?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Good Friday 2014
We continue through our three days of remembering all that Christ has done for us.  Last night he stooped down to wash away our sinfulness, he fed us with the Holy Eucharist, and he handed on his ministry to the first priests.  Today he shows us exactly how far he is willing to go for each one of us.  It is not too much to say that there is nothing more that Christ could possible give us.   
He hands over his body.  The pain and anguish of Christ on this Good Friday is hard to ignore.  Last night he suffered the pain of betrayal at the hand of one of his chosen followers.  Then he quickly suffers the pain of abandonment by the rest of his chosen followers.  This morning he suffers the pain of being mocked, the pain of being misunderstood, the pain of being unjustly condemned.  His physical pains are well known as well, there is the crown of thorns, the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, the falls on the way.  Also on the way to the cross, he suffers the pain of seeing his mother in anguish.  His hands and feet are pierced.  He is left to die on the cross.  Crucifixion is a particularly nasty death as the cross kills by a slow and painful asphyxiation as a person’s lungs fill with fluid.  Even after his death, Christ’s heart is pierced with a lance, and blood and water flow out. 
I would venture to say that any suffering that a human being could possibly experience in this life was experienced by Christ.  Think about any pain you have ever suffered, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual.  Christ suffers it today.  The great lesson that we learn today is that we do not have a Savior who is unable to relate to us in our suffering and pain.  No matter what we face in this life, and there are often times of pain and difficulty, was experienced by Christ.  In the crucifixion, Christ gives us the key to understanding how to be strong in the face of pain and suffering.  He says simply: I thirst.
Remember back a few weeks ago, we heard how Jesus thirsted for the faith of the woman by the well.  Jesus’ great thirst is really a thirsting for love.  He longs for each one of us.  He loves us and wants nothing more than to draw us to himself.  It was his thirst that brought him to this earth, and it was this thirst that brought him to the cross.  It was this thirst that provides for him the motivation to take each step, it gives him his reason and purpose for undergoing his passion and death.  

What a great lesson our Lord teaches us.  What is our thirst?  In the heart of every human person there is a thirst for God.  He made us, we belong to him, we will only be happy when we are in communion with him.  Jesus himself is the living water that can satisfy our thirst.  So, whenever we suffer in this life, it reminds us of the thirst we have for something more.  We thirst for a life without pain, a life without suffering, a life in communion with God.  And by recognizing this thirst in the midst of our sufferings, it becomes a pathway to faith.