Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Christ the King of St. Jude Parish

Christ the King 2015:
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the king.  This is the last Sunday of Ordinary time, Advent starts next week.  In the gospel today, we listen to the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.  The words of Jesus are somewhat haunting: my kingdom is not here.  These words bring sadness, since Jesus’ kingdom is not here, he suffers and dies.  It can be easy to think that these words still hold true today.  Think about the terrorist attacks in France or Mali.  It seems like every time I check the news there is some outbreak of evil or violence.  Every time we experience evil, sin, death, we can think: his kingdom is not here. 
I sometimes meet people who are overly pessimistic.  The evil in the world has beaten them down.  They say, “the world is terrible, and there is nothing good.”  But, this kind of pessimism is incompatible with Christianity.  We are not allowed to be pessimists like this. 
True, the world is broken and fallen.  True, we experience real pain, real evil.  But, Jesus Christ has conquered the world.  Today, on this feast day, we proclaim that Christ is King.  This is a proclamation that the evil doesn’t win.  That Christ, and his kingdom of peace and justice, will reign for all time.
We do well to see where his kingdom does exist in this world.  Whenever we experience love, his kingdom is here.  Whenever we experience mercy, his kingdom is here.  Whenever we experience peace, justice, courage, strength, his kingdom is here.
The kingdom of Christ is not just something for us to take in and experience ourselves.  The kingdom is also something for us to spread.  This weekend is our stewardship weekend for November.  During this year for stewardship we’ve been praying this prayer for stewardship.  I love the way it ends: help us to spread your kingdom. 
This is the mission of St. Jude parish.  This is the goal of stewardship.  Really, it’s the mission of the whole Church.  Our mission is to spread the kingdom of God, to proclaim that Christ is king.  Indeed, this is our mission as St. Jude parish, a parish committed to the stewardship way of life.
I thought that I would share with you some of the ways that St. Jude Parish spreads the kingdom, ways that are only possible because of our commitment to stewardship.  I chose three areas, but there are obviously more.  We spread God’s kingdom by worship, education, and service.
The most important thing we do is praise and worship almighty God.  This is the heart of what it means to spread the kingdom.  Because, if the kingdom doesn’t reign in our hearts first, we will never be able to spread that kingdom.  It begins at the Holy Mass.  St. Jude offers 16 masses per week.  That’s 832 masses per year, not counting extra masses for weddings, funerals, and holy days of obligation.  By my estimates, there are over 2500 people per week who attend Mass here.  Our community comprises the young and old, rich and poor, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences.  Yet, we all come to this altar to praise and worship almighty God, to proclaim that Christ is king of our lives and of our hearts.  Combined Fr Bob and I hear about 8 hours of confessions per week, not to mention penance services for the parish and in the school.  There is a great love and commitment to the sacrament of God’s mercy here at St. Jude.  Last year there were 69 people baptized, 6 people welcomed into the church, 62 first communions, 92 confirmations, 17 weddings, over 70 funerals.  This is a parish that lives and thrives because of our dedication to worshiping God and celebrating the sacraments.  Worship is at the heart of what we do.  It brings the kingdom of God into our hearts.
Second, education is a huge priority for us here at St. Jude.  We have a wonderful school and religious education program.  Right now there are about 550 kids attending our school Pre-k – 8th grade.  There are 94 students enrolled in our religious education program.  Our faculty and staff are committed to Catholic education because we know this is an important way for us to spread the kingdom of God.  By passing along our Catholic faith we are ensuring that the good news of Christ will be proclaimed by the next generation.  We make a huge commitment to Catholic education here.  Last year the parish subsidized the school spending $715,000 dollars for Catholic education.  We gave another $90,000 in tuition assistance.  These contributions make it possible for parishioners to send their children to this school, so they have a chance to learn about the kingdom of Christ.  All of this is made possible by your generosity to the parish.
Finally, St. Jude is committed to service.  So many people have given of their time, talent, and treasure to serve the needs of others.  I certainly cannot name every activity that takes place here.  But here are some.  The social action committee sponsored outreach programs helping the Franciscan center, rescue mission, project linus, Matthew 25, literacy alliance, blue jacket, associated churches, just neighbors, habitat for humanity.  Members of our St. Vincent de Paul society visited 362 people, and distributed almost $20,000 in aid.  452 people were helped with holiday food baskets.  I don’t know if everyone knows this, but we set aside a portion of the parish offertory and use it for charitable works.  We call it our parish tithe.  Last year we made donations of over $27,000 for charitable works in the community and across the world.
I don't call your attention to these things so that we can be proud and gloat.  But, I want everyone in the parish to see the connection between supporting and participating in the life of the parish and spreading the kingdom of God.
All of these events and activities are possible because we have committed to a stewardship way of life.  You spread the kingdom of Christ when you participate in the life of the parish.  When you give back from your time, talent, and treasure, you are spreading the kingdom of Christ. 
It brings sadness to think of all the ways that Christ’s kingdom is not here.  But, we are not pessimists.  We are full of hope.  Christ has conquered sin and death.  Christ is Lord and King of the universe.  He is king in our hearts and king of the world.  And with eyes of faith, we can see his kingdom become more present in our world.

As a parish, we are committed to Christ.  We proclaim him as our king, and as we go forth from this holy altar, we acknowledge and accept the mission our king has given us to spread his kingdom.  Our stewardship prayer expresses it so well: Lord, help us to spread your kingdom, where you live and reign forever, and ever, Amen.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

All Saints

All Saints Day:
            Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints.  Today we remember all those who have been found victorious, those who have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb.  Today we honor God our Father who is glorified through his work in the Saints.  Today we remember all those whose lives of virtue and holiness have won for them the rewards of eternal life.  We are inspired by their example, and aided by their prayers.  All you holy men and women pray for us.
While we celebrate the feast of all the saints, we are reminded that sainthood is not the vocation of a select few.  Rather, we are all called to be holy, we are all called to be saints.  At the beginning of every school year, I tell the kids that we all have one homework assignment in life.  Our goal is to become saints.  You can ask them, I’m sure it’s annoying, but I remind them about his vocation all the time.  But, it’s not just for the kids.  We are all called to be saints.  In fact, there are only two options: either to be a saint, or not to be a saint.  To be a saint means to be with God in this life and in the life to come, not to be a saint means to be distant from God in this life and in the life to come.  That’s it, there are no other options.  There is no middle ground, either you are a saint or you are not.  To be a saint means an eternity of happiness being with the God who loves us, not to be a saint means an eternity doomed to our own selfishness, pride, and sinfulness.  If given the choice, who would choose the latter?  But, every day we are given the choice, and when we sin we are choosing not to be a saint.  To seek virtue and holiness means to seek sainthood, something we should be seeking every day.
But, when we think about the saints, it can be somewhat depressing.  We see these great models of holiness: Mother Teresa picking up the destitute in Calcutta, John Paul II and his courageous witness to the dignity of the human person, St. Francis and his love of poverty and the poor, St. Therese of Liseaux, who loved others even in the small things.  The list goes on and on.  When I think of these great saints, I get a little down: how am I supposed to be a saint?  I am a sinner, I struggle and I fall, even if I true to do those things that the saints did, I find that I cannot do it.  But, that’s ok!
Saints do not become saints because of their own effort.  No one can become a saint on their own.  Rather, we become saints not because of something we do, but because of something that God does.  It is the power of the cross made present in our world that makes saints.  All of the saints you can think of, they lived their great lives, not because of their own power, but because of the power of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the one who makes saints.  Rather than depress us, this should give us great hope, because the same Holy Spirit that made John Paul II great, is present to you.  The same Holy Spirit that helped St Francis will come to your aid.  The power to become saints does not come from us, but it is available to us.
One great way to grow in holiness is by Eucharistic adoration.  This last week Bishop Rhoades mentioned that adoration is the most powerful devotion we have.  By spending time with Christ in the chapel, we get a chance to become more like him.  Eucharistic adoration is a great way for us to grow in our vocation to holiness, our vocation to be a saint.

What, then, is the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner that remains isolated from God?  This is a question I want each of you to ponder.  Because all of us are sinners, but we should all want to be saints.  In my opinion, the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner who remains isolated is openness.  Are we open to God?  Do we allow God into our life?  Do we allow God to direct our daily actions?  Do we listen to the voice of God, do we trust him, love him, want to be with him?  Do I come to him here in this Eucharist to receive the strength I need in my life?  If we let God in, he will do amazing things, we will become saints!  If we keep him out, it will be the biggest tragedy we can imagine.  So I leave you with a question: do you want to be a saint?  If the answer is yes, be open to God and let him into your life.

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday OT year B 2015:
Every year as we get closer to Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, we hear readings about the end of time and the last judgment.  We even started talking about it a bit last week: we are all called to be Saints.  Either we are saints or not.  Now, we might not like to think about things like death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  But, it comes up every year.  We get a chance to think about eternity.
Normally, when we think about Jesus, we think of him as the merciful judge.  We think of him as the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep.  But, today in the gospel we hear something a little bit different, when talking about the scribes he states, “they will receive a very severe condemnation.”  Obviously, we don’t want to be like those scribes, do we?  We want to be like the generous widow who gave all she had.  We want salvation, not condemnation.  We want to be saints.
But, what do you envision when you think about the last judgment?  I think very often we get the idea that God sits us down, takes a long hard look at us, then measures up how many bad things we did versus how many good things.  In other words, God is like the great task master.  Or, some people think: Oh everything is just fine, God doesn’t really care what I do…  Neither one of these is a very good option.  Jesus talks about condemnation in the Gospel.  What does salvation look like?
What does it mean to be a saint?  It means to be Holy.  Saint is a word that means “holy person.”  God alone is Holy.  The saint is a person who is a lot like God.  Salvation means spending eternity in communion with God.  If we are going to spend eternity with God, then we have to become like God.  The final judgment is like a compatibility test.  Are you compatible with God for all eternity?  God is pure love, pure holiness, pure light.  Do we have enough love, light, and holiness to be with him?  The scribes may have talked the talk, they knew the law, they were the teachers and leaders in the faith, but they were proud, arrogant, and showy.  None of these things were compatible with God.  The widow, on the other hand, was humble, poor, and generous.  She is compatible with God.
So, how do we become compatible?  God will change us, if we let him.  But, it happens through our action.  One of the best classes I ever had was a class on the philosophy of John Paul II.  Before he was the Pope he was a teacher of philosophy.  His thinking was incredibly dense and difficult to understand.  It was a really challenging class.  We read his book “The Acting Person.”  In this book he captured so well the effect that our action have on us human beings.  He said that our actions have an effect on us in that they mold us into the people we become while we are still in the state of our human development.  In other words, the stuff we do makes us the people we are.  Our bad actions make us into the kind of people that are not compatible with God, our good actions make us into saints.  It is not simply enough to want to be good, to want to be a saint.  Rather, we become holy by responding to God’s grace and taking action in the midst of our daily lives.  The scribes knew all about holiness, but none of them were Holy.  The widow may not have been an expert at the Torah, but she was humble, kind, and generous.

What kind of people do we want to become?  In that book I mentioned, John Paul said that all of us are free to become the people we want to be.  So, no matter where we are right now, by the power of God’s grace, we can become holy, we can become saints.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vocations to the priesthood

30th Sunday of OT year B 2015:
            The readings this week focus powerfully on following the call of Christ.  In a way, all of us are the blind man in the gospel.  Bartimaeus is like an icon of every human being.  We were all born blind.  Maybe not physical blindness, but we all inherited the blindness of sin and selfishness.  We know that without Christ in our lives we are like Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside and calling out to God: have pity on me.  Whether we realize it or not, we were made for a deep and lasting union with God.  Our hearts are restless without God.  We might even be blind to the fact that we need God.  How many people in our world are looking for the secret to happiness?  So many people offer an illusory path to fulfillment, but it won’t be found in money, power, pleasure, or success.  Fulfillment is found in Christ.  Once we realize that we are blind and helpless without God, then we need to call out to him like the blind man.  When we encounter Christ, the only viable option is to follow him. 
            As the Second Vatican Council stated so clearly, the vocation of all the baptized is holiness.  We are all called to follow Christ.  The vocation to holiness is lived in the concrete experience of our daily lives.  Each of us will live this call differently depending on our station in life.  If you are married, your call to holiness is lived by loving service to your spouse.  If you are parents, your call to holiness is lived by laying your life down in service of your children, your family.  If you are single, your call to holiness is lived by following Christ and sharing his Good News with others.  And, as we read in our Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews, some are called to the priesthood.
            I would like to speak a little about the call to the priesthood.  Perhaps it has always been an issue in the Church, but we need more priests.  We need young men of good quality to hear the call from God and to have the courage to follow Christ like Bartimaeus.  I certainly believe that God continues to call men to serve as priests, but it can be quite difficult to hear his call in our world.  There are many distractions and false voices out there.  How can we help foster the call to the priesthood?
            First, we have to understand the vocation.  The letter to the Hebrews gives a great job description of the vocation to priesthood: every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices before God.  What a perfect description of the priesthood.  Priests are called to be the representatives of the human race to offer sacrifice of God, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the world.  There is no better description of what is at the heart of the priestly life.  My call to the priesthood was born out of a powerful attraction to the Mass.  I started attending Mass daily, usually here at St. Jude.  I felt that the Eucharist was drawing me ever closer to the priesthood.  In the power of the Eucharist, I discovered that the center of the priestly vocation was the sacrifice of Christ.  Jesus laid down his life because of his love for all of us.  In a similar way, the Priest is called to lay down his life for Christ by serving his Church and by ministering to the people, especially through the sacraments.  It’s amazing to be a minister of God’s grace.  It’s unbelievable to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession, to welcome new members in baptism, to comfort the sick with anointing.  The priest is a bridge connecting God and human beings, that’s the job description.  But, how did I know it was my vocation?
            I recently visited a classroom and the kids asked me questions.  One of the questions was: how did I know I wanted to be a priest?  I said, easy: God called me on my cell phone and told me to be a priest…  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Like I said, I found a powerful attraction to the Eucharist.  I wanted the Mass to be an important part of my life.  But, that is not why I became a priest.  Like the letter to the Hebrews states, no one takes this honor, this vocation, upon himself, but only when called by God.  Through my life of prayer I felt this calling that wouldn’t go away.  I felt God was inviting me to follow this pathway to vocation.  I felt the courage to explore this vocation because of the supportive environment in which I lived.  My family was extremely supportive.  No one thought I was crazy for exploring the call.  My friends said things like: I can see you doing that.  My employer told me to go for it, and if it didn’t work out I could get my job back.  I always tell people that the only reason I became a priest is that I thought God wanted me to be a priest.  But, I never could have responded to the call if I didn’t have the support and blessing of my family, my parish, my friends, and my community.
            This is what we need to do as a parish if we are going to help foster more vocations to the priesthood.  Men from our parish are being called to the priesthood right now.  Look around, it might be your son or nephew, it might be the young man sitting next to you in Church.  We are not the ones who call people to the priesthood, that is what God does.  But, our job, if we want more priests, is to be helpful and supportive.  Do your sons know that you would support them if they followed the call?  Do you pray for the young men in our diocese that are studying for the priesthood?   

            All of us are called to holiness, all of us are called to encounter Jesus and follow him.  This is the only pathway to happiness and fulfillment.  But, let’s pray today for those that God is calling to the priesthood.  Let’s support them with prayer, with encouragement.  Let’s make St. Jude a place that welcomes and supports the call of Christ.  Come follow me.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


25th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
The apostles are great examples for us.  Think about the many wonderful things they did.  The traveled around preaching about Jesus Christ.  They suffered, many of them died for the faith.  Their lives of witness have been inspiring people for 2000 years.  But, sometimes in the gospel they are also examples of how to mess things up.  Take today for example.  In the gospel today they are arguing about who is the greatest.  Eventually these men would be known as the heroes of our Christian faith, humble servants of Jesus Christ.  But, in this gospel story, they were prideful and arrogant, arguing over who was the greatest.  I take comfort in this passage.  If there was hope for the Apostles to change there is hope for you and me.
Jesus tells us the first will be last and the last will be first.  In other words, Jesus is teaching us about humility.  St. Thomas Aquinas called humility the mother of all virtues.  We cannot grow in any virtue, without humility.  Humility is that fixed and firm disposition in our souls that allows us to approach God without pride or arrogance.  Humility is acknowledging that God is God and we are not God.  It is recognizing that we are sinners and that Christ is the savior.  Rather than trying to figure out who’s the greatest, humility tries to serve everyone as being greater than oneself.
So, that is your homework assignment this week: grow in humility.  But, that is easier said than done.  Humility is a strange virtue, it cannot really be gained by pursuing it.  If you went home today and just tried to be more humble, you would probably end up becoming quite proud of your humility: look how humble I’m becoming…  Rather, humility is gained by first looking at the truly humble.  We can think of examples in our own lives, or people like Mother Theresa.  The greatest example is Christ himself.  Though he was God, he died for our sake on the cross.  He continues to give himself to us in the humble appearances of bread and wine here at Mass.  Whenever we look at this cross, or this tabernacle, it’s like attending a school of humility.  Who am I to be proud, when the Son of God died for my sake?
Second, we grow in humility when we acknowledge our imperfections.  I, for one, know I’m a sinner.  I’m weak, sinful, and selfish.  That is why I go to the sacrament of confession.  Many of us might not like going to confession too much, but it is a great way to grow in humility.  When we confess our own sins it makes us less likely to stand in judgment of those around us. 

Today in the Gospel the Apostles had a long way to go in the pursuit of true humility.  Maybe we have a long way to go as well.  But, with Christ as their teacher, the apostles became humble servants of God.  With Christ as our teacher, may we become humble servants of God as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

25th anniversary of stewardship

24th Sunday of OT Year B:
            This year we are marking an exciting anniversary for St. Jude Parish.  This is the 25th year of Stewardship here at St. Jude.  As you know, Stewardship is an important part of our parish identity.  Stewardship affects just about every aspect of our parish life.  When I first came here to St. Jude so many people commented to me about the fact that we are a stewardship parish, these people felt stewardship was one of the things that made our parish unique.  But, over the last couple years I have also had many parishioners approach me to ask me just what it means to be a stewardship parish.  Many of us were not a part of the parish 25 years ago when all of this started.  So, I thought that this 25th anniversary would be a great way for us to reflect on stewardship and prepare for the next 25 years of Stewardship here at St. Jude.
            Stewardship had an interesting beginning here at St. Jude.  It began during the time of Fr. Bill Schooler, who is a great friend of mine.  I was asking him about Stewardship and he told me that during the first month of his time here as pastor he got a call from the diocese.  The finance department informed him that the parish didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover the upcoming payroll checks.  What a great way to start as a new pastor.  So, the diocese told him that they would loan the parish the money they needed, but that Fr. Bill needed to increase the collections.  So he started searching for programs.  He found this couple from Florida who would travel to parishes and talk about Stewardship.  So, Fr. Bill decided to invite them into the parish.  He told me: I was looking for a program, but what I got was a conversion.
            You see, Stewardship is not a program.  And Stewardship is not really about money.  Rather, stewardship is a way of looking at absolutely everything in our lives.  Stewardship is not a program but a philosophy of life.  I know that for many people, when we hear the word stewardship, we hear “asking for money.”  So, I’m sure that many people are probably a little bit leery about this year for Stewardship here at St. Jude.  You might be thinking “great, Fr. Jake is going to be asking us for money for a whole year.”  Don’t worry.  We will talk about stewardship of treasure and tithing during the course of the year, but that is only because treasure is a part of our lives.  Stewardship affects every aspect of our lives, not just our finances.  This year for stewardship is not a fundraiser or a capital campaign.  Rather, this year for stewardship is a chance for everyone here at St. Jude to experience the life-changing effects of a conversion experience in our lives.
            So, today I thought I would present the basic outline of what stewardship is all about.  Then, during the course of the next year, once a month we will have a stewardship Sunday where we reflect on some aspect of stewardship, especially the way that stewardship has benefited our parish over these last 25 years.  Also, during this year for stewardship we will have a banner hanging up here by the tabernacle, and we will also say a prayer for stewardship at all the masses.  If you think this sounds like a program, I would ask you to be open to the experience of conversion.  Embracing the stewardship way of life is a life-changing experience, but it is a conversion.
            Stewardship begins with discipleship.  Stewardship only makes sense if we are followers of Christ and if we believe in the message of the Bible.  By no means, however, is this easy.  Listen to what Jesus says in the gospel: you must pick up your cross and follow after me.  The pathway to Christian discipleship often leads through the cross.  Self-denial and self-sacrifice is the path that Jesus sets before us.  But, the life-giving message of Jesus continues to resound even in our day: whoever wishes to save his life must lose it.  The more we give of ourselves, the more we receive from God.  This is the basic message of the gospel.  But, Jesus doesn’t simply ask us to give of ourselves, he begins by giving himself for us.  On the cross, Jesus gave himself for us, he continues to give himself for us in the Eucharist. 
            The first principle of stewardship is recognizing the generosity of God.  The Bible begins with the story of creation.  God created the heavens and the earth, the sea, the dry land, the plants, the animals, and human beings.  God created everything.  Without God there would be nothing.  Without God we wouldn’t exist.  Because of God’s generosity, we have air to breathe, water to drink.  The generosity of God is responsible for everything we have.  But, also, responsible for everything we are.  Our gifts, our accomplishments, our families, our resources, all these things are gifts from God.  This is why stewardship is life-changing, because even in the midst of difficulty or suffering, we recognize that without God we would have absolutely nothing. 
            Once we recognize that everything comes from the goodness of God, the natural response is thanksgiving.  One of the best things we can do to grow in our spiritual life is to take 5 minutes a day and to thank God for the gifts he has given us.  Giving thanks really changes our perspective.  It reminds us of God’s goodness.  All too often it is easy to get bogged down by the difficulties of life, but if we take 5 minutes a day to give thanks, it really changes our perspective.  This is the second principle of Stewardship, we give God thanks for everything.
            So, first we recognize God’s generosity, then we give thanks for his blessings.  After that, comes the word Steward.  If God gave us everything because of his generosity, then we no longer see our time, talent, and treasure as belonging to us.  Rather, these things belong to God.  A steward is a person who manages the things of another person.  Everything we have and everything we are belong to God, yet he asks us to manage them for him.  Remember parable of the talents.  The master entrusted his possession to these stewards, but on his return he expected the stewards to use those talents to make an increase. 
            This is the final stage of Stewardship.  First, we recognize God’s generosity, second we give him thanks, third we recognize that we are stewards of God’s gifts, finally, we seek ways to use these gifts to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.  This is why stewardship is not a program, it’s a conversion.  It’s picking up our cross, it’s giving away our lives.  It’s a way of putting our faith into action.  For 25 years, this has been our commitment here at St. Jude.  For 25 years, this parish has tried to live in response to the generosity of God.  The results speak for themselves.  St. Jude parish has touched the lives of thousands of people not only here in Fort Wayne, but across the whole world. 

            Today in the gospel Jesus asks his disciples to pick up their crosses and follow after him.  That is what Stewardship is all about.  It’s giving our lives to Christ, because Christ gave his life for all of us. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

22nd Sunday of OT Year B:
We hear an interesting set of readings today.  These readings get to the heart of something I think is very important: namely the difference between the rules and a relationship with Christ.  Christianity is not simply a set of rules and regulations.  Jesus does not set out for us a bunch of hoops to jump through, he wants us to follow him.  He is calling us by name.  He invites us to be his followers.  He tells us that he will lead us to his Father.  He promises to give us life eternal.  Jesus did not come to simply give us a new set of rules.  His criticism of the Pharisees shows that pretty well.  Jesus doesn’t want us to jump through hoops, he wants to change our hearts.
But, does this mean there are no rules?  No regulations?  No guidelines?  As you know, I just finished my degree in Canon Law and I was appointed as a judge for the diocesan tribunal.  I don’t think I would be a very good canon lawyer if I just threw out all the rules and regulations.  There are 1752 canons in the code of Canon law, and it is my job to uphold those laws, those rules.  But, why do those rules exist?  The law of the church helps to organize the outward structures of the church, it safeguards the rights of the faithful, it gives structure and coherence to the body of Christ.  The law of the church is never a substitute for faith in Christ.  Rather, the law presupposes a personal relationship with Christ.  Without faith in Christ, the laws of the church all seem pretty silly.  Law and faith, it seems to me, go hand in hand.  You really cannot have one without the other.  Canon law without faith is silly; faith without canon law would be anarchy and chaos. 
So, I think we always need to have a good mix between structure and spontaneity, between law and faith.  If it’s all one and none of the other things will go poorly.  A healthy life of faith is structured, but also spontaneously moved by Christ and the Spirit.  But, some people’s life of faith is nothing but rules and regulations.  For these people, there is mortal sin everywhere, and they are just trying to dodge it.  Here, the only reason we would go to church is to be sure we don’t end up going to hell.  Of course, I certainly don’t want to go to hell.  But, it seems like the life of faith is more than just the rules, just dodging sin.
But, we can go to the other extreme as well.  Some people say that all that matters is their relationship with God.  This extreme usually says: I’m a person of faith, but I don’t need religion.  I can talk to God any time I want to, but I don’t have to go to church.  I believe in God, but I don’t believe all those rules the church made up, etc.  A life of faith like this has no root, no foundation, no guidance, no anchor.  Without structure, human beings end up in anarchy.
So, there always has to be a good mix.  If you tend to be a more rule-driven person, spend time praying to Christ as a way to build up that relationship with him.  Ask him to fill your heart with the guidance of the Spirit.  If you have that spiritual relationship with Christ, make sure you learn more about the implications of this relationship.  Learn why the Church teaches what it does.  Make sure your life of faith is structured with sound teachings.  Faith without rules is anarchy, but rules without faith do not make sense either.  If we are going to grow in our life of faith, we need to grow closer to Christ, but also to learn the teachings and practice of the faith.
I would like to end today by talking a little bit about a new program that we will be offering here at St. Jude.  This program is called “Why Catholic?”  I think this is a great program to help us to make sure we have a good balance in our life of faith.  The program is designed to answer that simple question: Why are we Catholic?  I know there are people out there who know the rules and regulations, but could probably grow in their relationship with Christ and with others here at the parish.  Also, there are those that have that relationship with Christ, but don’t really feel like they know why the Church teaches what it does.  I think all of us could grow in our understanding of theology and church teaching.  So, you could go home and read the whole catechism, which might seem daunting.  Or, you could participate in why Catholic?  Why Catholic is based on the catechism and it explores the 4 sections of the catechism, the creed, sacraments, moral teaching, and prayer.  The first section that will be covered in Why Catholic is prayer.  So if you have ever wanted to learn more about prayer, this is the perfect thing for you to do.  I think Why Catholic? Will be a great program to help us all grow in our faith.  I will give some more information about Why Catholic at the end of Mass.
Jesus did not come to earth simply to give us a new set of rules, or hoops to jump through.  He calls us to a change of heart.  But, we will never be able to have that change of heart unless we listen to his voice, a voice that speaks to us through the teachings of the Church.