Sunday, February 22, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent: Do you reject Satan?

1st Sunday of Lent Year B 2015:
Happy Lent to you all!  I know that this is a time of prayer and also of penance and self-denial.  So, thinking of Lent as a happy time might not seem quite right.  But, it is my experience that Lent is always a wonderful season of grace, where God helps us grow closer to Christ, to grow in our faith, and to overcome some of our imperfections.  So, while it is a season of suffering and self-denial, we become better people because of this season, which is why it is a happy season.
As a parish, this year we are going to spend time this Lent thinking about baptism.  In the documents of the Church, Lent is described as a season of preparation for baptism.  There are men and women from our parish who are getting ready to be baptized.  For them, Lent is a time to clear away whatever holds them down, to grow closer to Christ, and be ready to take the plunge, literally, at the Easter Vigil.  But, for those of us who are already baptized, Lent has a similar significance.  That’s because on Easter all of us will have a chance to renew our baptism.  Easter is a chance for us all to take the plunge again, so to speak.
An important part of the baptismal rite is the profession of faith.  As you may remember, the profession of faith in baptism takes the form of questions.  This is also true of all of us who are renewing our baptism, we will be asked to renew our baptismal promises.  There are 6 baptismal promises, there are also 6 Sundays in Lent.  So, for each of the next 6 weeks, we will take some time thinking about each of the promises.  You can read more in the bulletin as well.
The first baptismal promise is quite fitting with today’s gospel: do you reject Satan?  At first this might seem like an easy question: do you reject Satan?  Who’s going to say no to that?
When I was going to school in Boston, one of the ministries there was giving catechesis to learning disabled young people.  There was one young man who came for instruction named Charlie.  Charlie was preparing for confirmation.  The day for confirmation finally came.   He was all prepared and ready for the sacrament.  Part of the rite of Confirmation is to renew one’s baptismal promises.  So the bishop who was conducting the ceremony came up to Charlie and asked him the questions: Charlie, do you reject Satan?  Nothing…  Charlie, do you reject Satan?  Nothing… Everyone in the chapel was urging Charlie to make a response, but he had just clammed up.  So, the bishop said a final time: Charlie, we can’t go on with the confirmation if you don’t answer the question, so I ask you: do you reject Satan?  Charlie almost yelled: you’re darn right I do (only he didn’t say “darn”).  The place erupted and Charlie was confirmed.
Do you reject Satan?  You’re darn right I do.  We know that Satan is empty and hollow.  He has absolutely nothing to offer.  He only wants each one of us to be as miserable as he is.  He wants us all to reject God just like he did.  Do we reject Satan?  Of course.  But, do we really?  Over the next two weeks we will explore this further because the next two questions are: and all his works, and all his empty promises.  But, for today, let’s just think about this: do we reject Satan?
This rejection of Satan has to begin in our hearts and minds.  Of course we say that we reject Satan, but do we really?  Is my heart really set on God?   Rejecting Satan means to have a hard and fast resolution to follow Christ.  We need to have a resolution to turn away from evil, to take a hard look at our lives and see where we need to change, where we need to grow.  Rejecting Satan and clinging to Christ is the very first step in the spiritual life.  It will be impossible for us to overcome our sins and become faithful disciples of Christ if we don’t start with this fundamental stance toward Satan and toward evil. 

Do we reject Satan?  You’re darn right we do.  May this season of Lent be for us all a time of grace and renewal, so that we might reject Satan and hold fast to Christ our Savior.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faith is a relationship with Christ

5th Sunday of OT year B:
This is an exciting time of year for me and for the parish.  This past week I had my first meeting with all the couples who are preparing to get married this year.  We have 13 couples from our parish who are preparing for marriage.  If you can remember, say a prayer for them from time to time.  I have meetings where I meet with the couples together, and I have meetings where I talk with them alone.  One of the questions I always ask them when I’m meeting them alone is “why do you want to get married?”  I mostly like asking this question because they always start to squirm.  Um, I don’t know, we love each other, um…  Isn’t that bad?  I put them on the spot like that.  And really, I’m not looking for any profound explanation of their love for each other, etc.  I just want them to ask themselves, why do I want to get married?  I hope it is because each of the spouses has a passionate desire to love the other spouse for the rest of his/her life.  I hope it’s because they greatly desire to enter into a permanent union, that they want to start a family.  I’m hoping that they want to get married, because they really WANT to get married.  I’m hoping there is passion and desire at the root of their decision to enter into this marital relationship.
Is faith really so much different?  Faith is a relationship.  Each one of us has a relationship with God, but also as a people we have a relationship with him.  Like any human relationship, there are two sides to the relationship.  I hope that the reason we are in this relationship is because we have a passionate desire for communion with God.  We certainly know that God has this desire for communion with us.
One of my favorite scripture passages is the famous John 3:16: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.  God loves the world, he loves us so much that he sends his son Jesus to be our savior.  We know that Jesus loves us, look at his self-giving on the cross.  We know that Jesus still loves us because he continues to give himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.  Today’s gospel passage tells us about the love Jesus has for us.  He heals Simon’s mother-in-law, he cured the sick, and drove out demons.  And as if that wasn’t enough, he gets up early the next day and says “to the other towns I must go.”
I think that very often we can picture God as being remote and lofty.  He’s the creator of the universe.  But, I think we do well to remember the passionate love of God.  He loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross.  Jesus came to raise us up.  His love is such that it took him to the cross.  Faith is a relationship, and it is a relationship based upon love and desire.  God loves us, and he wants us to be in communion with him.  What about our end?

Is our faith based on a passionate longing for communion with God?  Just like our human relationships, our relationship of faith has ups and downs.  There are times when we have that passionate love for God, then there are times when our faith isn’t so strong.  But, just like our human relationships, the key is fidelity and communication.  When I’m preparing couples for marriage I tell them that not every day will be perfect, they will have fights and disagreements, but fidelity and communication are the keys to lasting marriage.  Stay faithful to God.  Even when he feels distant, even when faith is a struggle, keep going.  Communication is essential.  Speak to God in prayer, listen to him in the Scriptures, welcome him into your life in this holy Eucharist.  Faith is a relationship of love.  God loves us very much, and just like the people in the gospel today, if we draw near to that love God can pick us up and heal our wounds. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Follow me...

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
In the Gospels, Jesus does some pretty amazing things.  We hear about him healing the sick, he tells the paralytic, “rise, pick up your mat, and walk.”  He raises the dead, “Lazarus, come out.”  He fed the 5000 with a few loaves and a couple fish.  He walked on water.  He drove out demons.  He changed water into wine.  He was transfigured on the mountain.  Ultimately, he died on the cross, and rose from the dead 3 days later.  The miraculous and amazing broke out everywhere Jesus went.  But, today in the Gospel, he does something that I think is every bit as miraculous.  Today he preaches the Good News.  Today he walks up to simple, ordinary fisherman and says, “follow me.”  The miracle? They followed.
With a simple word of invitation, these men left everything to follow Jesus.  This is truly miraculous.  Jesus doesn’t force, he doesn’t cajole.  Jesus doesn’t offer riches or gold.  He doesn’t try to swindle or convince them.  He simply and humbly invites them.  They leave everything to follow.  Let’s listen again to his invitation.
This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.  Three little sentences changed the course of human history.  Three little sentences changed the world.  These sentences, this invitation caused the fishermen to leave everything behind.  These sentences bring us here today.  Let’s spend a moment thinking about these sentences.
This is the time of fulfillment.  This is a rich and complicated sentence.  What is being fulfilled?  We know that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament.  Jesus came as that Suffering Servant who brings with him salvation.  But, I also think the fulfillment Jesus is talking about is the fulfillment of the human heart.  At the core of every human being there is a deep and passionate longing, a desire for something more, some thing greater.  People have been trying to fill this desire for centuries.  They have tried to fill it with money, power, pleasure, success.  None of these things are fulfilling, none of them take away that longing.  This is the time of fulfillment, because only Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  Only in Christ do we find what our hearts are longing for, only in Christ do we find communion with God, which is the fulfillment of all desires.
The kingdom of God is at hand.  Our desires are filled by God, by living with God.  We were created to live with God and to be with him.  Because of original sin we have lost that fellowship with God, that kingdom of God.  Jesus came to right the ship, to bring us back, to lead us to the Father.  The Kingdom of God is at hand. 
Repent and believe in the Gospel.  Repent and believe, this is the pathway to the kingdom, to the fulfillment we all desire.  Repent, turn away from your fallenness.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t condemn the fallen sinner, nor does he say that sin is just fine and we don’t have to change.  Rather, he just invites us to go after something new: believe in the gospel.  One basic truth of human existence is that our sins do not make us happy.  Repent and believe in the Gospel is an invitation to something greater.  Don’t we all want that?  Truly this is a powerful and inspirational message, there is something more, this is the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God is at hand.  No wonder those fishermen left everything behind.  They saw in Christ something more, something that would truly fulfill them.

Isn’t that why we are here this morning?  We have heard the voice of Christ; we have heard his invitation.  We keep coming back here to Christ because we see in him the fulfillment of our deepest desires.  Just as he did by that seashore so many years ago, Jesus come to each of us in this Holy Eucharist and says, “come follow me.”  Will we follow?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Peter and Andrew

Today we hear an interesting story about Andrew and his brother Peter.  Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus: behold the Lamb of God.  He follows Jesus, stays with him.  He knows he has found the Lord, the Messiah.  His reaction?  I better tell Peter.  I need to let my brother know.  This is too good to be true.  I can’t keep this to myself.
Sometimes in our lives we are like St. Peter.  None of us finds Christ on our own.  Someone helps us.  Whether it be our parents, a friend, going to Catholic school, a teacher, an RCIA leader, I’m willing to bet that someone helped each one of us find Jesus.  Now, if you are like St. Paul and Jesus appeared to you in a vision, please stay after Mass because I would love to talk to you…  But, for the rest of us, someone led us. Think for just a second: who led you to Christ?  Where would you be without that person!
I am eternally grateful for the gift of faith.  I owe my parents for introducing me to the faith.  I also owe a great deal to Fr. Glen Kohrman and the RCIA at St. Patrick’s where I was a sponsor, because that experience helped me to awaken my faith.  One of the important things that drew me to the priesthood was the same inclination that filled St. Andrew.  “This is too good to be true.  This Jesus is amazing.  His gift to us is eternal life, the forgiveness of our sins, the precious gift of the Eucharist.”  I became a priest because I felt drawn to sharing with others the great gift I received, most especially the gift of the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of confession.  After having received so much, I felt called to give back.
Isn’t that what stewardship is all about?  Haven’t we all received more than we can possibly imagine?  If we stop to remember that all of this comes from God, that it is all too good to be true, we will be inspired to want to give back.  Indeed we are committed to Christ and living in gratitude.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord / Stewardship renewal:
Today we celebrate the feast day of the Baptism of the Lord.  This feast brings an end to the celebration of the Christmas season, and marks the beginning of ordinary time.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  Today marks the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry, during Ordinary Time we hear about this ministry, we hear his message and travel with him as he proclaims the Good News.  Ordinary Time is our chance to follow Christ, to walk with him, to grow closer to him.  Ordinary time is not simply “ordinary;” rather, it is a privileged moment for us to know Christ and follow him.
Today we hear the voice of God the Father say to Jesus “you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”  On the day of our own baptism God the Father said the same thing to each one of us, because on the day of our baptism we were united to Christ, we too are God’s beloved sons and daughters.
After this declaration from God the Father, Jesus goes out on mission.  Jesus is the beloved Son.  He knows the Father.  He shares the very substance of the Father.  He receives his very essence from the Father.  He hears “you are my beloved son.” The result, he goes out on mission.  I find it interesting that we are called to follow Jesus the same way.  We were baptized.  God calls us his beloved sons and daughters.  We have received everything from him.  We receive our essence from God.  The result?  We too are called to go out on mission, the mission of spreading the Gospel of Christ.
If you are like me you probably made a few New Year’s resolutions.  I hope you are doing well, I know I need to eat less and exercise more.  How about finding ways to spread the Gospel of Christ?  Every year we might make our own personal New Year’s resolutions, but as parish we do this as well.  Every year, as a parish, we renew our commitment to Christ.  This coming week you will receive some information from the parish about renewing our commitment to Christ, our commitment to stewardship this year.  Think of it is as our parish New Year’s resolution.  How do we renew our commitment to Christ this year?  How is God calling each one of us to carry out the mission of spreading the Gospel of Christ?
First, we begin where Jesus begins today.  We hear the voice of God the Father say: you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.  Through baptism we are united to Christ, through baptism we have entered into the death and resurrection of Christ.  We have received so much.  Everything we have comes from God, he has given us so much.  This is why we are committed to Christ and living in Gratitude. 
As pastor, I am extremely grateful for the amazing response to our stewardship renewal last year.  Our committed to Christ living in gratitude program from last year was a great success and it shows the tremendous commitment that each of you have made to Christ and to the parish.  Over the last year we saw an increase of over $75,000 in the parish offertory.  Your generosity made it possible for this parish to carry out the many ministries and activities that make this such a special place.  For example, our parish mission was a wonderful time of grace and blessing.  Those evenings of prayer, reflection, and community were only possible because of your generosity.  Many people told me just how moving those nights were.  I also spoke with people who had been away from the Church who felt inspired to attend the mission and renew their relationship with Christ.  The mission was only possible because of your financial support, but also because of the many parishioners who gave of their time and talent to make it possible.  
Of course, the mission is just one example of the wonderful ministries and activities possible because of your generous gifts of time, talent, and treasure.  We are committed to Catholic education, both at the school and in religious education.  This year we were able to give more families financial assistance to help them receive a Catholic education.  We are committed to the community, with our food collections, giving tree, and the many ministries supported by the parish tithe.  Your commitment to the parish makes it possible for prayerful liturgies.  You have made it possible for us to make some physical improvements.  We repaired the steeple and upgraded the sound system.  This year we will paint the ceiling and look at refinishing the floors.  We are exploring upgrades to the playground.  All of this is possible because of your generous response to the invitation of God, the invitation we all received on the day of our baptism: you are my beloved son or daughter.

Next week we will have a chance to commit to our stewardship of treasure.  Next Sunday all of us will have a chance to renew our commitment.  You will be receiving information about our commitment Sunday in the mail.  Please prayerfully consider your renewal this year.  In a couple weeks you will also be receiving information about renewing our commitment to stewardship of time and talent.  We will be holding a ministry fair in February.  The next few weeks will be a wonderful moment of growth and renewal for our whole parish.  May God continue to bless this parish, may he inspire each one of us to grow in our vocation as beloved sons and daughters of God.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christ is Born!!!

Christmas 2014:
            First of all, let me say on behalf of Fr. Bob and everyone at St. Jude: Merry Christmas to all of you.  We celebrate this feast with great joy.  Christ is born for us. God our Father sent his only begotten Son into the world to bring us healing and peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, he came as our Savior to bring us everlasting life.  Today we celebrate his birth.  In our beautiful manger scene behind me we see this little child, who is the hope of the whole human race.  Without him, without this little baby, we are lost, doomed to death as punishment for our transgressions; but with Christ, with this baby, there is hope, salvation.  No wonder we are filled with joy today. 
There is a lot to love about Christmas.  I love everything about Christmas: presents, parties, food, family, fun, cookies, cakes, chocolates, pies, cookies...  But at the heart of everything we do during this Christmas season is this little baby.  Without Christ there would be no Christmas, without Christ we would not be here, without Christ there would be no Christianity, no Church, no Mass, no salvation, no parties, presents, or chocolate.  Today as we celebrate Christmas, let’s think a little bit about this baby of Bethlehem.
This week as I was contemplating Christmas and pondering this little baby I thought about The Hobbit.  Now, this might seem a bit strange.  The Hobbit is a story about a strange man, Bilbo Baggins, and his adventure with a bunch of dwarves.  It takes place in a land called Middle-Earth, and it is clearly a work of fantasy, a work of fiction.  Now, perhaps the story has a higher motive, thinking about good winning over evil.  But, at the end of the day, the Hobbit is not real.  Bilbo doesn’t really exist.
Is this how we think about the birth of Jesus?  Do we think of it as fiction?  Just a morality tale?  It is certainly true that it happened a long time ago, over 2000 years ago; and, it is certainly true that it was far, far away, in a little town called Bethlehem.  There are certainly mythical elements involved: we hear about angels talking to people, about Jesus being a divine figure. 
But, this story is no myth, this story is not fiction.  This story is real, Jesus was really born, he really had a mother, he lived in a real time and place.  In our day and age, God is relegated to the realm of ideas and principles.  It is completely acceptable for someone to be spiritual, or to believe in God, just so long as we don’t allow God to affect our real life.  God is allowed to act in the spiritual realm, but not in the material realm, that is the realm of science and physics.  God is allowed to exist in the spiritual, ethereal plane, but not in the material, concrete world.  But, if God cannot act in the material world, then he is not God, for to be God means to be the maker and sustainer of everything. 
The birth of Christ shatters this modern conception of God.  When we say that this little baby is the Son of God, who became man, we are saying something amazing.  We are saying that God is not only above and beyond the material world, but that he entered the world he created.  We are saying that God not only created the human race, but that he became human in order to share his divine life with us.  When we say that this little baby is God we are saying that God is real, that he exists in the real world, that he is tangible and concrete.  The birth of Christ is not some mere myth or morality story.
So, my friends, we celebrate this feast of Christmas with great joy.  We celebrate the fact that Jesus is really God.  That while this story is set a long time ago in a city far, far away, this really happened.  Jesus is God, he was sent to be our savior.  And just as Jesus came into the real, concrete world 2000 years ago, he continues to come into the reality of our lives.  We live every day in the presence of God, he is not remote, he is not distant.  He loves us, cares for us and is present in our lives.  In a sense, every day could be filled with the joy of Christmas because every day can be a day where we experience God’s presence in our lives.  He is not distant, but close.

We experience this same presence of Christ in a very powerful way right here as we celebrate this holy Mass.  That little baby is truly God, and his is present in the Holy Eucharist.  Right here at this mass Christ comes to us, not as a little baby, but as his body and blood.  Today we celebrate his birth among us, and we welcome him into our lives as our savior and redeemer, but we do so by welcoming him into our lives in this Holy Eucharist.  Jesus Christ is real, he is not a myth, not a morality fable, not a hobbit from the Shire.  Jesus is a real person, who came to save us, who wants to be a part of our lives even today.  Today we celebrate Christmas, a day to love Christ, to serve Christ, and to follow Christ.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

We await in joyful expectation

3rd Sunday of Advent year B:
So far this Advent we have looked at the themes of Joy and Devout.  This is a season of joy and devotion.  Today we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of Lent.  We light our rose colored candle and enter into the final days of Advent.  Our sense of expectation and anticipation is building.  Christmas is almost here.
Today we look at “expectation.”  Expectation signifies that something is coming.  I know there are a lot of people who are waiting with expectation for the next Hobbit movie to come out this week.  Or my brothers were all excited with expectation because last week a Star Wars trailer was released.  Maybe it’s the excitement of a new house, a new car, a new job.  That sense of expectation can be thrilling.  Advent is a season of expectation because we are expecting the celebration of Christmas.  But, the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Advent a chance for the Church to enter into the expectation of the people of Israel as they awaited the coming of the Messiah.
Listen to the people who are interrogating St. John the Baptist in the reading.  It is clear that they are expecting something more: are you him?  They were actively looking in expectation for their savior, they were living with their eyes open, hoping to get a glimpse of him. 
What a great lesson for us!  We await the coming of our Savior.  We know that Jesus who was born for us will come again.  Are we eagerly awaiting his coming?  Do we expect his arrival?  I really like this word “expect.”  Doesn’t it sound a whole lot more definite than something like hoping, or wishing?  I’m hoping for the coming of Christ, or I’m wishing for the coming of Christ.  Rather, we expect the coming of Christ.  We KNOW it’s going to happen. 
But, what is funny about thinking about expecting the coming of Jesus is that I believe that he is coming to us even now.  If we truly await him with joyful expectation, I think we actually see the way he is visible in our lives.  It happens all the time.
I don’t need to tell you that it has been a tough couple of weeks here at St. Jude.  We have had 7 funerals in 16 days.  Many of these situations have been tough.  It is easy to get distracted.  But, I have seen Christ present in so many ways.  I will tell you that Fr. Paul’s passing was a real shock to me and to so many other people.  But, I have to say that his funeral mass was a really prayerful experience for me.  There were many priests in attendance, many people from our parish and from all over, the bishop was there.  Fr. Tom Shoemaker gave a splendid homily about Fr. Paul and about his life and ministry.  It was a profound a moving experience.  True, it was sad.  But, Christ was there.  I celebrated 2 funerals for members of my family.  I was intimidated to look out and see my aunts and uncles.  But, these were prayerful and powerful experiences.  Again, they were sad, but I knew Christ was there.
I guess my point is this.  If we are a people who live in the expectation that Christ will come again, we become the kind of people who see him in our daily lives.  I know that Christ is not some distant reality.  He is a part of our lives.  He is the center of this parish.  I see him in you, I see him in the sacraments, I see him here at St. Jude.  If we have the eyes to see, we will see that Christ is very much a part of our lives.

As we celebrate this third Sunday of Advent, as we light our pink candles and realize that Christmas is right around the corner, I think it is a great time to remember that Christ is around every corner.  Christ is here with us.  We celebrate this Holy Eucharist full of expectation.  We know that Christ will come again, but we also know that Christ comes to us through the power of this Blessed Sacrament.