Sunday, December 8, 2019

Good grain

2nd Sunday of Advent year A 2019 2:
St John the Baptist gives us an interesting image in the gospel today.  We hear that the coming messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  When I hear that I think of the sacrament of baptism.  We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and give the baptismal candle, the fire that represents Jesus.  But, then he says that the messiah will have the winnowing fan and he will clear the threshing floor.  This sounds like an image of the second coming, when Jesus will gather all his disciples to himself.  This threshing image is interesting, and we probably don’t think about it too often.
When I was in seminary, I was fortunate enough to take some classes in Greek.  As you probably know, the New Testament is all written in Greek.  I find it fascinating to read the Bible in the original language, because all translations have their limitation.  Now, it just so happened that this passage was one of the verses that we studied in our Greek class.  In fact, we all had to take turns reading the Greek out loud as we worked along with the translation.  Now, as you can imagine, the word “winnowing fan” is not a very common word.  And to make matters worse, it’s kind of a weird word to pronounce.  The Greek word is “ptuon”.  My friend John, who is a priest in Charlotte diocese, was reading out loud when we came to that word.  And he sort of butchered it.  So, the professor corrected him.  Then John went ahead and tried again.  Another failure and another correction.  He tried a third time and still was unable to say it.  So, the professor misunderstood John’s problem.  He thought he couldn’t remember that ptuon meant winnowing fan.  So, he stopped class and went to the chalkboard.  He drew a big picture of what a winnowing fan looks like, and he went into a 10-minute discussion on how a winnowing fan works.  My poor friend John was quite embarrassed.  And as his good friends, we all gave him grief, of course.
But, that lesson really came back to me this week as I was praying and reflecting on that image of the winnowing fan.  This is how it worked.  All the grain would be out on the threshing floor.  The winnowing fan is like a big pitchfork.  The farmer grabs the grain and tosses it into the air with the winnowing fan.  As it’s falling back down to the earth, the wind catches all the parts of the grain that are light and fluffy, like the stalk and the covering of the grain, while the grain, which is heavier, falls back down to the earth.  It’s a pretty ingenious way to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Nowadays we do all this with our big machines.  But, in the ancient days, this would be one of the methods used to purify the grain.  
Now, John the Baptist says that the Messiah is going to do that with the human race.  He is going to separate the wheat from the chaff, and he will do so with his ptuon, his winnowing fan.  So, we all want to be the grain, right?  Not the chaff.  We want to be gathered into the Lord’s barn and not burned in the fire.  
So, what do we need to do?  We need to become nice and heavy so that when the wind blows, we fall back down.  Now, I’m tempted to say that we should all just eat lots of Christmas cookies and we will get nice and heavy.  But, that’s not the kind of heavy we are talking about.  Rather, we need to become substantial.  In our character, in our conduct, in our actions, we need to be people of substance.  To me, there is nothing lighter and more insubstantial than sin, selfishness, ego, pride, etc.  These things are light and fluffy, and they will be carried away by the wind.  But, charity, goodness, kindness, love, these things are substantial and heavy.  These won’t be blown away by the wind.  
So, in our prayer this week, we can ask God to show us the places where we are light and fluffy, we want these to be blown away by the wind of the Holy Spirit.  And we can ask God to help us increase in our goodness, kindness, love, and humility.  These are the heavy things that will last.  Advent is a time to be ready for the ptuon of Christ.  May we become good grain, gathered into the Lord’s keeping.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Run forth to meet Christ

1st Sunday of Advent Year A 2019:
Advent is upon us.  This weekend we light the Advent wreathe and we enter into the season of patient waiting for Christ.  We await the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas.  But, even more, we use this as a time of waiting for Christ when he comes again.  And he will come for each of us.  At the end of time or the end of our lives, whichever comes first, we will experience the Advent of Jesus Christ.  So, this season of Advent is our yearly reminder to prepare for the coming of Christ.
Notice that the first 2 weeks of Advent focus on the coming of Christ on the last day.  In today’s second reading and gospel, we are told to be awake, ready, prepared for Christ’s coming.  The final two Sundays of Advent will focus more on the birth of Christ and the feast of Christmas.  
Jesus gives us this interesting image: awake.  We should be awake and alert for the coming of Christ. Now, this doesn’t mean that we are supposed to stay up all night every night.  We would go crazy.  Rather, our spiritual life should reflective and aware, open to God’s presence in the world and in our lives.  What is the difference between being awake and being asleep?  When we are asleep, we are vulnerable, we are no longer aware, no longer in control.  Even in our dreams, we are unable to control things or participate in a meaningful way.   One of the recurring dreams that I have is one where it’s time for Mass and I can’t find the page in the book.  This is a crazy and stressful dream because I’m unable to control things and I have the feeling of being unprepared.
Well I thought of this dream when Jesus told us to be awake and alert.  When we are awake, we are aware of what’s going on around us, we can act, we can prepare, we can participate in the life we live.  I think this is why Jesus gave us this image in the gospel.  Being “awake” in the faith means being aware of God’s presence.  It means preparing ourselves to meet God.  It means that we become active participants in the work of salvation.  
I really like how the opening prayer for today’s mass puts it: grant you faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.  This is what it means to be awake and alert.  It means that we are not simply waiting around for Christ to come back.  It means that we are running forth to meet him.  How?  By our righteous deeds.  
Let me recommend 2 righteous deeds.  Do something charitable this Advent.  Maybe it’s the parish giving tree.  Maybe it’s a donation to our St. Vincent De Paul society.  Maybe it’s another charity that you want to support.  We can run forth to meet Christ by giving in charity.  Second, learn something new this Advent.  Don’t be stale in your faith.  Learn something new.  Go to the bookstore and find a good Catholic book.  Maybe it’s on one of the saints, or one of the sacraments.  If you would rather do something online, go to formed.org. Set up an account and commit to working through one of the video series’ online.  Our first reading says: from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  Take some time this Advent to learn from the Lord.  This too, is a great way to run toward Christ, whom we await during this prayerful season of Advent.
Advent is a time of waiting.  But, not a time of sleeping.  Awake, let us run forth to meet Christ our Lord.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Perseverance

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time year C 2019:
As we get close to the end of the liturgical year, we always here these apocalyptic messages in the scriptures.  Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple.  He talks about signs, deceivers, wars, insurrections, nations rising against nation, earthquakes, famines, plagues, awesome and mighty signs, persecution, even being handed over by your family members.  In the midst of all these horrible things, what are we supposed to do?  Do not be deceived, do not be terrified, persevere.  Easier said than done right?  But, so important.  Perseverance is one of the most important virtues to develop as a Christian.  Why?  We will be challenged, we will be persecuted, we will be tempted.  It might seem easy to follow Jesus when things are going well, but what do we do in times of adversity?
As I was reflecting on the list of calamities that Jesus describes in the gospel, I got to thinking: my problems are all way smaller than that.  War, famine, plagues?  Not exactly, too many emails to answer, too many cases to judge in the tribunal, weather turning cold.  And yet, I find persevering in these much smaller things to be difficult enough already.  How would I handle earthquakes and war?  Probably not too well.
But, it’s precisely through the little things in life that prepare us for the big things.  Those smaller moments are what help us to build up perseverance.  If we are hoping to remain faithful in the big moments of life, it starts by being faithful in all the small moments.
I think St. Paul is a great example for us here.  St. Paul had some amazing moments in his life.  Christ spoke to him and called him to be his disciple.  He preached the gospel.  He was persecuted, arrested, he even gave his life as a martyr.  This is why we know about him as a great saint.  He was tremendously valiant in the big moments of life.  Yet, what does he say to the Thessalonians?  When I was with you, I worked night and day in toil and drudgery so that I might not be a burden to you.  His final advice: keep busy and work quietly in the Lord.
St. Paul teaches us amazing courage in the hugely momentous events of his life.  But, he also shows that the way for him to prepare for those huge moments was to work quietly and contentedly for the Lord.  It was the daily toil of working for the Lord that prepared him for the big moments of life.  
This is so true for us too.  If we are going to persevere in the grand moments, we need to work on being faithful in the small moments.  If we want to make an offer of our life to God, then we need to give him the random Tuesdays of life too.  Do not be terrified, do not be deceived, persevere.  Not just in the big moments, but the small moments of life too.
If you are ever struggling with the daily toils of life, I would recommend praying the 4th sorrowful mystery of the rosary.  The rosary is my favorite personal devotion, and I like the 4th mystery the best: Jesus carries his cross.  The other sorrowful mysteries talk about momentous events in the Lord’s passion: agony, scourging, crowning, crucifixion.  These are big moments.  Carrying of the cross is the quiet mystery.  It’s the journey between the big moments.  
So, we can look to Christ who carried his cross.  He patiently went one step at a time.  St. Paul patiently worked between his big moments.  The same is a great lesson for us.  We can grow in our perseverance and be ready for the big moments in life if we work quietly in the Lord and carry our crosses daily.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Resurrection

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C 2019:
I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, AMEN.  You and I pray these words every Sunday when we recite the creed.  And how much do we think about these words?  Yet, this teaching is important for two reasons: it gives us hope in the midst of our sufferings and it gives us hope for the faithful departed.  
Our belief in the resurrection begins with Jesus.  He was the first to rise.  We not only believe in the resurrection as some future possibility, we already believe that Jesus is raised and lives forever.  We say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting because it is a true reality: Christ is living it right now.  Even more, all those who believe in him will experience the same kind of life: resurrection and life everlasting. 
But, what do we do with this of the Sadducees?  They talk about a woman who lost 7 husbands and who will she be married to in all eternity?  What’s really going on under this question?  First, they reject resurrection.  Second, they think that what they are rejecting is that resurrection is just like this life.
If resurrection and eternal life is just more of this life, then who of us would really want to sign up for that?  I know I wouldn’t.  Every time winter starts to set in, I start to look forward to eternal life where it never gets cold.  This life is full of pain, misery, suffering, and sadness.  If the resurrection is just waking up to more of this kind of living, then count me out.  
But, Jesus says something amazing: they are like angels, they are the children of God.  They will be like angels.  Certainly, that means that something major is going on here.  Jesus is saying that eternal life is completely different from this life that we experience.  This is something new, something more.  We profess each week that we believe in the resurrection of the Body.  And we see that when Jesus was raised from the dead, he still had his body.  But, it was different.  His body did not need food, but he ate anyway.  His body could walk through locked doors.  His body was not recognized on the way to Emmaus.  
So, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.  This is not just more of the same kind of life that we have now.  But, what, exactly, will it be like?  Sorry, I can’t really help you there.  Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has in store for those who love him.  Jesus tells us that it will be pretty amazing.  But, we will just have to wait for the details.  But, the promise of eternal life should fill us with hope in the midst of our sufferings.  
Also, we commend all our departed brothers and sisters to the grace and power of God’s mercy.  We pray that they are experiencing eternal life even now.   True, the resurrection of the body will take place all at once.  But, the saints and holy ones already share in the eternal life of the kingdom.
So, to summarize, Jesus declares quite boldly that there is a resurrection and eternal life.  This is important for two reasons.  First, this should fill us with hope and joy.  We experience pain and suffering in this life.  But, this life will end and be replaced with a new life that is more amazing than we can possibly imagine.  So, don’t be afraid to look forward to heaven sometimes when life feels tough.  Second, when we mourn the loss of our family and friends.  We know that we hand them over to God’s loving embrace.  We pray that they experience the peace of eternal life even right now at this moment.  
The words: I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, are words of hope for us and for our loved ones.  So, when we profess our creed each week, may these words fill us with hope in eternal life.  

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Come on down...

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C 2019:
Today’s gospel story is just such a great and inspirational story.  It’s so vivid too.  It’s easy to imagine little Zacchaeus climbing up the tree to see Jesus.  Imagine Jesus looking up there at him.  He probably looks a little bit ridiculous.  And Jesus simply invites him: come down, I’m staying with you today.  Zacchaeus is so moved by Jesus’ invitation that he pledges to give away half his property.  Half!  Talk about an amazing response to Jesus’ simple invitation.
So, this is a beautiful story and an inspirational one.  But, notice that at the end of the gospel Jesus has a brief statement that shows that the story of Zacchaeus has far-reaching implications.  Jesus says: the son of man has come to seek and save what was lost.  In other words, Zacchaeus embraces the call of Christ and becomes his disciple.  But, he is also an image for all of us.  Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost.  This includes the whole human race.  Each one of us should see ourselves in the Zacchaeus story.  Jesus is still inviting us.  How do we respond?
When I was praying over this passage, the words of Jesus really stuck out to me: Zacchaeus come down quickly.  It reminded me of back when I was a kid.  I remember summer vacations.  During the day, I’d turn on the tv.  And there was never anything on (except for maybe soap operas).  I remember it being so boring.  But, one show I would always like to watch was “The Price is Right.”  This was back in the days of Bob Barker right.  You all know the show right.  The contestants are chosen from the crowd.  And what happens when they are chosen?  The announcer says: Jim Smith… come on down, you’re the next contestant on the price is right.  So, what would Jim do?  He’d jump up out of his chair.  He’d start yelling and screaming.  He would sprint to the stage area.  And he’d be the next contestant.  I’m remember dreaming about hearing my name be called: Jake Runyon, come on down…
Isn’t this what happens to Zacchaeus?  Jesus says to him: come on down.  The gospel says: he came down quickly and received him with joy.  He was excited.  He received him with joy.  And in his enthusiasm, he decided to change his whole life: his giving to the poor and paying back people he ripped off.  Now, that’s excitement.
How about you and me?  How do we respond to the invitation of Jesus?  Do we jump up and down with joy and excitement?  Does the invitation of Jesus cause us to be so moved that we change our whole lives?
Maybe so.  Maybe not.  I’ve certainly met people along the way who have had these kinds of dramatic conversion experiences.  They have felt that surge of excitement when Jesus said to them: come on down.  But, I think that for the rest of us it’s not so dramatic or exciting.  But, that does not mean that Jesus is not still calling us.  That doesn’t mean that we should not respond with joy.  
I thought St. Paul’s words were helpful for us today: we always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling.  In other words, we are not done yet.  Yes, Jesus is calling us.  Yes, we should respond with joy.  But, this is a process that takes place over the course of our whole lives.  One great way to enter into this story is to use these words of St. Paul.  Lord, I know you are calling me like you called Zacchaeus, make me worthy of this great call.  Help me to respond to your invitation with great joy.  Maybe we don’t jump around like the contestants on the price is right.  But, we can ask God to help us to respond to his invitation with the same joy that filled Zacchaeus.  Jesus says to each of us: come on down.  How will we respond?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Training in Righteousness

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time year C 2019:
St. Paul tells Timothy today about the importance of the Scriptures.  Not only can they teach us about Jesus Christ, but the scriptures are helpful for teaching, refutation, correction, and, my favorite, “training in righteousness.”  I love this phrase: training in righteousness.  I like the idea that the Christian life is a life of training.  Why?  It means no matter where we are along the journey, we should just keep plugging along.  We are in training.  We haven’t finished anything.  We can keep on working, growing, changing, improving.  I find this concept of training extremely hopeful and encouraging.  Let’s keep up the training.
Today’s gospel gives us something to think about as we are training in righteousness.  Today Jesus gives us another parable and another example.  Yet, this is not really an example of someone we should follow or imitate.  He gives us the example of an unjust judge.  Even this man would render a just decision because of the badgering of the widow.  We had a similar situation a couple of weeks ago.  Do you remember the parable of the dishonest steward?  Remember, he was getting fired so he made deals with the master’s debtors as a way to find a place where he could go once the master got rid of him. 
Normally, when we hear the preaching and parables of Jesus, he gives us amazing examples that we want to emulate.  Think about last week, we heard about the Samaritan who was healed and gave thanks.  He was a good example for us to give thanks to God for all his blessings.  Or think about the Good Samaritan who took care of the man who fell in with robbers.  He was a good example of mercy and kindness toward one’s neighbor.  Think of the parable of the prodigal son.  He was a good example of a man who recognized he was a sinner, but had the courage to return to the Father’s loving embrace.
Yes, all of these are good examples.  But, what do we do with the dishonest steward or the unjust judge?  Jesus gives them to us as examples as well.  Only these are not positive examples.  Rather, these are negative examples, but they teach us important lessons.  
Isn’t this the way that life goes too?  I approach life with these two rules in mind.  Everyone is an example and every experience can teach us something.  We can learn from everyone and everything.  We want to emulate the qualities of good people or good experiences.  But, when we encounter bad people or bad experiences, we can learn from these things too. 
This is not always the easiest thing to do in reality.
Yet, everyone is an example.  Think of a painful experience you had in your life.  Now think: what can I learn from that experience?  Sometimes it’s very basic: I promise never to do or say something like that in my own life.  It is definitely the case that all of us will experience sadness and pain in our lives.  But, do we let it beat us down?  Or do we let it build us up?  Everyone is an example.  Every experience can teach us something.  
Jesus uses the unjust judge to teach us to be persistent in prayer.  By doing so he is reminding us that even our negative and painful experiences in life can truly open for us pathways to grace and goodness.  This is not easy.  This process requires the ability to open our hearts and minds to Christ in the midst of our pain.  All scripture can help us to train in righteousness and so can our experiences.  If we have the right perspective then everyone is an example and every experience can teach us something, even our pain and difficulties.  Let’s ask the lord to help us to train in righteousness through his words and example and from the people and experiences we have in our lives.  Lord, help us in our training in righteousness.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The generosity of God

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time year C:
The story of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God creates the entire universe out of nothing.  Without God there would be nothing.  God creates man and woman in his image, after his likeness.  Without God we would be nothing.  Adam and Eve turn away from God with the Original Sin, God continues to take care of them.  God helps the people of Israel by raising up Joseph in Egypt.  After they were enslaved in Egypt, God frees them by leading them through the Red Sea.  After the people were taken out of the land by the Babylonians, God rescues them.  In the fullness of time, God sends his Son Jesus to be our savior.  He generously gives himself up on the cross, handing over his life for us.  Next, God sends the Holy Spirit as a generous gift that gives spiritual power to the Church.  This Holy Spirit continues to be the gift for the Church as we receive this power through the grace of the Sacraments.  You and I have received the forgiveness of our sins in baptism.  We have received the gift of the Spirit in confirmation.  We receive mercy in Confession.  We receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  From the start of creation to this very moment, the whole story is a story of God’s generosity.  
If we see everything through this lens of the generous God, what should be our response?
The generosity of Christ is on clear display today in the gospel.  He freely chooses to heal these men, afflicted with leprosy.  He did it out of sheer love, out of generosity.  All 10 received the amazing gift of God’s mercy.  Now, I’m sure that they were all appreciative.  I’m sure each of them were happy to get their health and their lives back.  Yet, only one converts the interior disposition of gratitude into action.  One man returns to give God thanks. 
You and I are not much different than the men in the story today.  True, you and I do not have this particular disease or affliction.  But, we have our sins, we have our weaknesses, our illnesses.  We have our troubles and temptations.  And yet, we also have received tremendous graces and blessings from our God.  I’m sure that if I asked everyone here in Church: are you appreciative of all that God has given you?  I’m sure we would all say yes.  But, does that sense of thanksgiving actually change our lives?  Does it change the way we live?  Does it change our actions?
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I try to practice 5 minutes of gratitude every morning.  I think of three things I’m thankful for.  Then I think of three things that would make today great.  This practice only takes 5 minutes, but it makes a tremendous difference on my day.  It’s one thing to be appreciative of God’s blessings.  But, the Samaritan in the gospel reminds us that thanksgiving should also affect our lives and our actions.
Thanksgiving is not only central to our lives, it’s at the very heart of the Mass.  In fact, the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”  What do we say in the preface: it is truly right and just to give you thanks.  This mass and every mass is a chance for us to turn our appreciation for God into the very act of worship.  The mass is not only a great gift for which we should be thankful.  It’s actually the worship where we give God thanks for all his many blessings.  
So, as we celebrate this mass, let’s take on the attitude of the Samaritan from the gospel.  Let’s be thankful to the generous God who has given us everything.  But, let’s also seek to make this thanksgiving more than just our attitude.  Rather, it should affect our lives and our actions as well.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The gift of faith

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time year C 2019:
The apostles have a really great request from Jesus today: increase our faith.  How many times have you and I said these words to the Lord?  In times of difficulty, trial, suffering, pain.  We are tempted to cry out: Lord, increase my faith.  I really appreciate the sentiment from Habakkuk in our first reading: Lord I cry for help and you do not listen.  What is God’s response: wait for it, it will surely come.
Doesn’t it seem like we are in the middle of a tension?  We experience pain, suffering, trials, and temptations.  And yet, we are a people of faith.  We believe that God hears us.  We cry out to him.  Our faith is strong.  We know that we strive forward to the promise of eternal life.  And yet, we have to wait for that time of fulfillment.  We already believe in the coming of God’s kingdom.  Still, we are not yet there.  
This is why faith is so important for us in our lives.  Faith is precisely that virtue that enables us to continue down this pathway of our lives, fixed on the life to come.  We read in the Letter to the Hebrews that faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.  Faith is so important because of the tension of human existence.  We live stretched out between heaven and earth.  We live here on earth, but we long for the life of heaven.  Faith is the evidence of things not seen.
Yet, faith is a gift.  We call it a theological virtue.  This means that it comes from God.  We first received this gift of faith at our baptism.  All the baptized received the gift of faith.  Yet, why do people fall away from Christ?  I’m sure all of us can think of friends and family members who have received the gift of faith at baptism and yet do not experience or live out their life of faith.  
We need faith.  Yet faith is a gift from God.  So, we can pray like the apostles: increase my faith.  But, also, we can learn a valuable lesson from the second reading today too.  St. Paul says to Timothy: stir into flame the gift of God you have received.  I think faith works like this too.  We receive this gift from God.  We can ask him to help us increase our faith.  Yet, what do we do with these gifts?  We have the responsibility to fan the gift of faith into a flame.  
Faith is not a passive virtue.  It doesn’t just automatically kick in and take care of all our problems when we face tough times.  Faith is a virtue that requires some time and attention to fan into flame.  All of us should ask ourselves: what do I do on a daily/weekly basis that helps me to turn the gift of faith in to a flame?  
Let me tell you the absolute basics: daily prayer, regular confession, and Sunday Mass.  These things are the very building block of a life of faith.  Without these, we will lose our way.  Our faith will feel cold and distant.  
But, what about taking it to the next level?  How to we stir the gift of faith into flame?  First, I would challenge everyone to continue to be fascinated by the holy.  What is it that fascinates you about God or the Church?  Maybe it’s one of the sacraments, maybe it’s the life of a saint, maybe it’s the church’s work to spread the gospel to distant lands.  Do you have a Catholic passion?  I have a brother who is slightly obsessed with Star Wars.  He follows all the blogs.  He watches all the trailers in super slow motion.  He comes up with his own ideas and theories.  He has a real passion for Star Wars.  I don’t have to convince him to spend time and energy learning and fueling his passion.  He does it because of his drive and enthusiasm for Star Wars.  We should all have such a passion for the faith.  We should all have such a passion for the Mass or for the Bible or for learning about the saints.  Imagine how much our faith would grow if we spent our time and energy digging in deeply on the truths of the faith.  And honestly, what’s more exciting: and adventure in a made up galaxy far, far away, or the drama of the loving God who gave his son as a ransom for us sinners?  Fan the gift of faith into flame by learning about your faith, become passionate about the faith.  
Life is hard sometimes.  It seems like I say that all the time.  While we live our lives here on earth, we long for so much more.  This is why we need faith.  Faith is the evidence of things unseen and the realization of things hoped for.  Lord we pray, increase our faith.  Help us to fan into flame this gift you have given us.  

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Put God first:

25th Sunday of ordinary time year C 2019:
There are people out there who swear they can be more efficient by multi-tasking.  Some people think that they can get a lot of stuff done all at the same time.  But, I don’t think this is true.  I find that if I try to do multiple things at once, I end up doing all of them badly.  Have you ever been talking to someone and they keep saying “uh, huh”, then you look over and they are messing with their phone?  That person is trying to multitask.  But, I’m betting he or she didn’t hear a single word you said.  I’ve read studies that show that humans really can’t put their attention on more than one thing.  So, it’s much better to keep our focus on one task at a time.
In the gospel, Jesus tells us that we can’t try to be spiritual multi-taskers either.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.  You will end up loving one and hating the other.  Mammon is a Hebrew word that means money or profit.  I like to think of it as the business or practical side of our lives.  And there’s no getting out of it.  We all have to take care of our finances.  Even as a priest, I have my personal finances to manage and I have the parish’s finances to manage.  All of you have many practical things you have to do in your lives.  We all have work to do.  Appointments to keep.  Etc.  All of that fits into mammon.  But, are we trying to multitask? Or is God number 1 in our lives?  
It can be easy to think about our relationship with God as just one of the things in our lives.  We have our jobs, our families, our relationship with God.  But, Jesus is always clear on teaching that God has to be number one.  What’s the great commandment?  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, then love your neighbor as yourself.  God has to be number one.  Why?  Because we are not good at multitasking.  If we try to keep God on the same level as everything else in our lives, then we end up not doing any of it very well. 
But, the nice thing about putting God number one in our lives, is that he actually helps us to do everything else better.  Having a great relationship with God will make us better mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, whatever…  Putting God number one makes us more honest, dependable, trustworthy.  All of these qualities help us in all aspects of our lives.  
So, how can you tell if God is number one?  Just do some tracking.  Do we spend time in prayer?  Do we spend time serving others?  Do we think about God in our daily lives?  I read a book on productivity that had an exercise where I had to track every minute of the day for a week to see where I was spending my time. It was sort of shocking just how much time I wasted.  Or how much time I was spending on things that weren’t that important.  Track your time.  How much of it does God get, how much do we spend in serving others? Also, look at your finances.  We think we spend money on only the important things.  But, I know that I don’t always spend it on the right things.  One thing that really helped me with that was putting my tithe as the first withdrawal every month.  My paycheck is deposited on the 15th.  My online giving comes out on the 17th.  This helps me to try to put God first in my finances as well. 
Jesus is absolutely correct.  We cannot serve both God and mammon.  We cannot multitask when it comes to the spiritual life.  We have to put God above all things.  And yet, when we do, it’s so rewarding.  Never be afraid to put God first in your life.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The humility of Christ

22ndSunday in Ordinary time year C:
Today in the gospel Jesus calls us to grow in the virtue of humility.  St. Thomas Moore calls humility the low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.  Beautiful image.  All heavenly virtues can grow within us if we are rooted in humility.  I’m tempted to go on at this point and tell you just how well-suited I am to teach all of you about humility because of just how humble I am. I don’t normally like to brag, but my humility is really pretty incredible.  Ok, that’s a joke.  Humility is an important virtue for all of us.  But, I’ll be the first person to admit that humility can be so tough.  We can say we want to be humble, but then someone at work gets recognized and we can feel ourselves getting upset; or then it seems like our family doesn’t appreciate us; or, then we go through a tough time in our lives and we ask God why he chose us to endure such suffering. Humility is tough.
So, I wanted to reflect on two questions so that all of us can learn more about humility.  First question: why be humble?  Second, how to learn humility?
Why be humble?  We all know that we are supposed to be humble.  We know that the saints are humble.  We know that being humble is something that Jesus wants from us.  But, are these answers compelling enough to motivate us to grow in humility?  I don’t know about you, but I often lose motivation when I’m trying to do something simply because I’m supposedto do it.  Why are we supposed to be humble?  The short answer is that we are supposed to be humble simply because Christ was humble. I think that sometimes we make it all too complicated.  Christianity is not a system of rules and obligations.  Christianity is entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ and conforming our life to his.  If we are going to bear the name Christian, then we have to become like Christ.  It’s that simple.  Now, all the moral laws, the obligations, the teachings of the Church, they all help us to become more like Christ.  But, I think we can often lose sight of the fact that everything we do is supposed to help us become more like Christ.  So, if our motivation to grow in humility is simply because it’s some abstract obligation, I bet we won’t be successful.  But, if we consciously remember to become more like Christ every day, we might see ourselves desire to grow in humility, as painful as it can be.
Ok, now we are motivated to grow in humility.  How do we learn humility?  I think the best thing we can possibly do to grow in humility is to study the life of Christ.  Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.  Yet, he was humble enough to become fully human.  His entire life is like a documentary on the virtue of humility. He could have ridden down on the clouds, he became flesh in the womb of a simple girl.  He could have been born in a palace, he was born in a stable.  He could have been laid down on silk, he was laid in a manger.  He could have apprenticed at the finest schools, Joseph taught him a simple trade. He could have picked the best and brightest disciples, he picked humble fishermen.  The author of life itself, handed over his life on the Cross, the most despised and humiliating kind of death imaginable at the time.  He should have been buried under a great pyramid, it was a small and simple tomb.  His rising could have been witnessed by millions, no one actually saw him rise from the tomb. 
If you just take one of these examples and use it for contemplation, you will find that Christ can teach us all humility.  If we seek to be like him and emulate the example of his life, we can’t help but grow in humility.
But, I want to talk about one last example of the humility of Christ, the Eucharist.  Jesus left us the Eucharist as his lasting presence among us.  The Blessed Sacrament is truly his Body and Blood.  It is not a mere symbol.  It does not just remind us of Christ.  It is him.  I know that many people read that there was a survey recently that stated only 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.  It’s a shocking number.  I’ll say that my experience is that the vast majority of people I encounter believe in the Eucharist.  I mean, that’s why you are here right?  It’s truly the Body and Blood of Christ.  Yet, I think this number of people who don’t believe shows Christ’s humility even more. He’s so humble, that people fail to acknowledge his presence.  Maybe the reason that people find it hard to believe in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is because all of us find it hard to be humble.  Maybe those people who don’t believe in the Eucharist might say: well, if it was a bit more flashy, I’d believe.  No, Christ was, is, and will always be humble.  
You and I believe in him.  We strive to embrace his life.  We want to become like him.  As we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, we are once again in his humble presence.  So, we can learn from him how to be humble. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Life is hard sometimes... embrace it.

21stSunday of Ordinary Time year C:
My normal routine for writing homilies always starts the previous Sunday.  After I’m done with the weekend masses, I try to read next Sunday’s readings at the end of the day.  Then, during the course of the week, I keep thinking about the readings and go over them in my mind.  That way, by the time Friday or Saturday comes around, I’ve got a few ideas about the readings that I want to share with all of you.  This week, one particular idea just kept coming up over and over. It might seem like a strange idea. But, it’s the one I got for this week. Ready?  Life is hard.
Now, what do I mean?  The letter to the Hebrews keeps telling us that there will be affliction and difficulty.  But, this is discipline from the Lord.  It will make us better and stronger.  Jesus says, strive to enter the narrow gate, but many will not be strong enough.  Life is hard.  There will be difficulties, pains, sorrows, trials, and tribulations.  
But, I’m not telling you anything that is new right? I mean, every one of us knows this to be true.  We know that life is tough.  We experience it all the time.  And yet, it’s so easy to gripe and moan about our troubles.  I know I do it.  I often remark that I have my Ph.D. in gripology.  I’m particularly fond of griping about the winter.  It’s as nice as can be these last couple weeks, and I’m already starting to dread the sleet and the snow.  What are your favorite gripes?  Friends, family, co-workers, people we meet, sickness, sadness, crisis?  A lot of this griping comes from an attitude that life shouldn’t be tough.  It shouldn’t have difficulties.  We shouldn’t have any problems.  So when we do have difficulties, we find it offensive and problematic.  Sound familiar?
But, that’s not the message from the Scriptures this week. Letter to the Hebrews: do not disdain the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when reproved; discipline seems like a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later is brings peaceful fruit; (and my favorite) strengthen your drooping hands and your week knees.  All these trials and difficulties can just serve to make us stronger.  They can serve to help us grow in our faith.  We can grow in holiness, goodness, and charity.  And make no mistake, we need to get strong.  Jesus says, many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.  Now, one important caveat here: we do not get strong on our own.  It’s all by God’s grace.  We need to embrace the pains and sufferings of this life.  We can use them as chances to beg the Lord for grace, mercy, and strength. Doing that, the pains of life make us strong.  And we all know we are going to get these pains whether we want to or not.  Life is hard.  
The saints really do a great job of teaching us these lessons. The saints embrace the sufferings of life, use them as opportunities to grow closer to God, and they become marvelous examples of holiness.  St. Rose of Lima’s feast day was this past Friday.  She’s a great example of this.  She had many sufferings in her life.  She grew up poor.  She had times of loneliness and sadness.  Times were God felt far and distant.  But, she made these into opportunities to grow in her faith.  I want to read a quote from her: “If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace… without a doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions.  All people throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities, and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace.”  Wow.  I thought about that for a time and thought, our culture does the exact opposite.  We do everything we can to seek good fortune, while we do everything we can to avoid pain and trouble.  St. Rose says we need to do it the other way because it will help us grow in God’s grace.  
What a marvelous example for us.  Life is hard.  Ok, no getting around it.  But, do you ever pray for more difficulties?  Probably not.  But, listen again to the scriptures: strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.  Strive to enter that narrow gate.  Call on the Lord in your times of weakness.  Embrace sufferings and difficulties for they will make us stronger.

Good grain

2 nd  Sunday of Advent year A 2019 2: St John the Baptist gives us an interesting image in the gospel today.  We hear that the coming mes...