Sunday, July 10, 2016

Go and do likewise

15th Sunday of Ordinary time year C 2016:
Today we hear the inspiring story of the Good Samaritan.  It’s a powerful reminder of just what mercy is all about.  We have been celebrating mercy this whole past year.  We have been thinking and talking a lot about mercy.  Here again, mercy is in the forefront of our scripture passage.  Mercy is really at the heart of the whole gospel.  Mercy is at the heart of Christ, who came to bring us the Father’s mercy.
In some ways, this story really encapsulates the message behind the year of mercy.  Jesus gives us an example of mercy with the story of the Good Samaritan, then he says: go and do likewise.  This is a great way to live the year of mercy.  We should immerse ourselves in examples of mercy.  Of course, the most important is Jesus.  Reflecting on the mercy of the Cross, the amazing gift of the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Church.  All these things help us to see mercy, so that we can go and do likewise.  There are many other great examples, Mother Theresa, and the mercy she showed to the poorest of the poor.  Saint John Paul II and his courageous witness to hope and mercy.  Saint Faustina and her powerful message of mercy.  One thing that really stuck with me was when we had our mercy roundtable a couple months back.  Members of our community who are living mercy came and shared their stories.  We heard about jail chaplains, hospice ministry, and work with the poor and the needy.  If you feel like this year of mercy is flying by, it’s not too late to seek out some examples of mercy.
Go and do likewise.  That’s the big challenge isn’t it.  I mean, look at Christ on the Cross.  He is the divine savior of the world: go and do likewise.  Die to yourself so that others can live.  Jesus says, I give you myself in the Eucharist, can you give of yourself to feed and strengthen others?  Jesus came to bestow mercy upon us, but not so we can sit on the sidelines.  He says, Go and do likewise.
What can hold us back from living the merciful life?  I suppose there can be a number of roadblocks.  It could be our sinfulness, our selfishness.  We could be blocked simply by our inability or unwillingness to receive God’s mercy.  Hopefully, this year of mercy is a great time to overcome some of these issues.  But, the gospel also points to another roadblock of mercy: self-justification.
I don’t look very good in today’s gospel.  As a canon lawyer, I’m a scholar of the law, like the one in the gospel who tried to justify himself.  Also, you have the priest who walks on the other side of the road.  So, I’m getting it from 2 angles here.  Notice that this scholar of the law knows precisely what the law asks of him.  Jesus asks him: what does the law say.  He knows it: love God above all and your neighbor as yourself.  But, he wanted to justify himself: who is my neighbor?  Excuses.  He wanted an excuse to limit his living of this commandment.  He wanted to be able to draw limits to living the merciful life.  He wanted to be able to comfort himself with only going so far with living these commands.  Making excuses can be a powerful roadblock to living the life of mercy.
In the parable, we have the priest and the Levite, both of whom pass by the poor, beaten man without helping.  I’m sure they had great excuses.  More than likely, the insinuation is that they were heading to the temple.  There were laws in the Old Testament that stated that if a person came into contact with blood or a dead person, they were not able to perform ritual service in the temple until some time had passed.  So, they probably had great excuses: I’d like to help, but I’m on my way to the temple and if I get involved I won’t be able to worship God today.  But, that excuse kept them from living the life of mercy that Jesus to which Jesus is calling.  What about the Good Samaritan?  He had a number of chances to use an excuse: well, this guy can’t walk, so how can I help?  He puts him on his own animal and he walks instead.  He has a longer trip and he can’t stay to help the man.  So, he decides to take him to an inn.  Staying at an inn will cost a lot of money.  He pays for the inn out of his own pocket.  Each time, he could have had a good excuse as to why he wasn’t going to help.  Yet, each time, he doesn’t use an excuse, he simply responds in mercy.
So, here is your homework assignment.  Monitor your use of excuses.  Sometimes we use excuses to justify our behavior in the past.  I see this in confession sometime: forgive me father, I did this or that… but really I only did it because of this reason.  If we want mercy, we should just admit our faults.  Try it at home.  Sometimes we get into fights or arguments simply because we don’t take responsibility.  We want to justify ourselves, deflect blame.  I’m convinced we would all be better off if we just got better at admitting our faults and asking for mercy.  Sometimes we use excuses to pardon ourselves from doing something hard in the future.  I would make peace with that family member, but he wouldn’t listen to me anyway.  I would like to help the poor, but I just don’t know how I would get involved.  I would like to get more active in my faith, but I just don’t have any extra time.

Excuses can be a real barrier to living the life of mercy.  Take some time this week in prayer and ask God to show you the excuses you have been using that stop you from living the life of mercy.  Jesus wanted to lead this scholar of the law to eternal life.  He wants to lead us to eternal life.  This is the mercy he wants to give us.  Christ shows us the great example of mercy and then he says: go and do likewise. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Happy 4th of July: citizens of 2 worlds

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C 2016:
Jesus sends out the disciples to carry out his own mission in the world.  But, notice something really important from the beginning of the story.  It says he sends out, not just the 12 apostles, but he sends out 72 other disciples.  He tells them to say “peace be with you” to each of the houses they visit.  He tells them to cure the sick and to proclaim the gospel: the kingdom of God is at hand.  In other words, he tells these disciples: go and be like me, share the good news, bring comfort to the afflicted, teach people about the truth of God’s word.
I see in this story a powerful reminder that all of us are called to continue the saving work of Christ by living our faith out loud in the world around us.  Our faith in Christ cannot remain simply a private matter that we do in the comfort of our homes or our churches.  Jesus sends us out into a world that really needs us. 
Speaking of the world, I always get a little patriotic this time of year.  I really love the 4th of July.  And, for the last 5 years, I have spent July in Washington DC, studying canon law.  I can’t tell you how happy I am to be done with that degree!  What a relief!  But, I will miss being in DC for the 4th of July.  It’s hard to get more patriotic than that: being in our Nation’s capital city on the celebration of our nation’s birthday is pretty special.  The fireworks, the monuments, it’s a pretty special thing.  The 4th of July always reminds me of the privilege it is to be an American.  We are blessed to live in a country like this. 
But, we are also living in a strange time.  We love our country.  But, there is also a lot of unrest.  Many people are quite dissatisfied with the state of our country.  I know this by watching the political process unfold, and I also know this just by my conversations with you.  Many people feel lost or powerless as the country seems to be changing before our eyes.  If that’s you, my question is: what are you going to do about it?
So, on this 4th of July I want everyone to think and pray about America.  One of the true marvels of our democratic system of government is that we have a voice.  We have a responsibility to engage in the public square.  We have opportunities to participate in the governance of our nation when we vote, when we keep up with the issues, when we contact our representatives.  But, we also have opportunities to engage in the culture, to express our views to others, to engage in dialogue, and to win the hearts of our brothers and sisters in this nation.  We have this responsibility as citizens of this great nation.  But, we also have this responsibility as disciples of Jesus.  He sends us out into the world.  We are lambs amongst wolves sometimes.  But, we are still called to share this good news with the world. 
Frequently, this is becoming more and more difficult.  We live in an age of individualism and relativism.  Pope Benedict called it the dictatorship of relativism, where our ability to share the truth is hampered because it doesn’t fit into our modern culture.  Pope Benedict called us to resist this dictatorship, to be bold in our sharing of the lasting truth of Christ with the world who needs it so bad. 
How to do this?  Let me give you three concrete suggestions.  Remember that when we were baptized we were anointed with Chrism and the priest/deacon said: just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.  We share that anointing; we share that mission.  So, think about priest, prophet, and king.
First, priest.  The priestly mission of Christ is aimed at making the world holy.  So, pray for our world and for our nation.  If you feel things are bad, and you wish things could change, pray about them.  We should pray for our nation every day.  We should fast, do little sacrifices for the good of our world.  Every week give yourself some concrete homework assignment, pray for peace, fast for an end to abortion, offer mass for the unemployed, etc.
Second, prophet.  Get informed on concrete issues so that you can share the truth with the world.  How many of you feel like you could come up here and give us all a presentation on some hot-button issue: contraception, gay marriage, euthanasia?  Probably not too many.  But, many times we will be challenged whether at work, at school, in line as we are waiting to pick up our kids.  How informed are you?  Read, study, learn.  We can’t be prophets if we don’t have a good message to tell.
Third, King.  Make sure to put our words into action.  Exercise this ministry by voting your conscience, by engaging in the public dialogue, by expressing your concerns to public officials.  If we believe in Jesus, if we think he can lead us to happiness in this life and in the life to come, shouldn’t we share that with the world?  Our faith should have an impact in our whole lives, not just in private, but also in public.

This is the 4th of July weekend.  We live in a great nation.  I’m proud to be an American.  But, as the Dwenger motto goes, we are also citizens of 2 worlds.  We are also disciples of Christ.  I’m proud to be an American, but as Jesus says, rejoice because your names are written in heaven.  Don’t be afraid to share your faith.  More than ever, our nation needs the goodness, compassion, and truth of Christ.  The harvest is great and the laborers are few.  The Lord wants to send us into the world to bring his good news, how will we respond?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Christ says, Follow me

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C 2016:
Today in the gospel Jesus says: follow me.  Hopefully these aren’t just words we hear, hopefully Jesus’ invitation to follow him is a call that each one of us has heard in our hearts.  Hopefully this is a call to which all of us are responding every day.  Isn’t that what brings us here to Mass?  Jesus has called us, and we are here. 
Yet, when Jesus calls us, he never stops calling us.  Following Jesus is not a one-time decision.  Following Jesus is an ongoing call to change, to grow, to become saints.  So, I guess I want to ask you, as I ask myself, how is it going?  As Christians, we see every day as a new day where Christ says: follow me.  Sometimes it can be easy to look back, to fall into old habits, or to end up looking like people who don’t follow Christ.
So, where did it start for you?  When did you hear the call of Christ, what changes did it cause?  For me, I was baptized as an infant, I went to Catholic school till 6th grade, then Heritage High School for Junior and Senior high school.  Now, I always went to church, but I don’t think I could say that I saw every day as a chance to hear the call of Christ to follow him.  I mean, other than that one hour a week, I effectively lived my life as though God weren’t real, or at least, like God wasn’t a real influence on my life.  He just never really entered into my life.
All that changed because my brother-in-law asked me to be his baptism sponsor for the RCIA.  As a result, I started going to classes with him about the faith.  I really started getting more interested in reading and studying my faith.  Even more important, I started a habit of daily prayer.  This is when I heard Jesus calling me: follow me.  I noticed I had to make some changes in my life.  I started going to daily Mass, I started going to confession once a month, I started cleaning up my language, I tried to be more respectful to people around me.  All of these changes involved some sacrifice, but all of them made my life better, not worse.  Because of all this, I also started hearing the call of Jesus to go to seminary.  So, I ended up going to seminary.  It has been an adventure ever since.  But, we never stop growing, changing, following Jesus.
The people in the gospel weren’t quite ready to let go, they weren’t quite ready to follow Jesus without looking back.  But, we should never fear letting go.  Following Jesus might mean sacrifice, but he always makes our lives better, not worse.  Pope Benedict said something once that really stuck with me.  He said, Christ doesn’t ask us to give up anything authentically human.  Rather, he asks us to give up sin, which doesn’t belong to us anyway.
Don’t be afraid to follow Christ.  Don’t be afraid to let go.  Nothing in this world is worth holding on to.  Only our faith, our relationship with Christ will bring us salvation.  So, what’s holding you back?  I’ve been thinking about that question a lot recently in my own prayer life.  What’s the next step, where is Jesus leading us?  What is holding me back from following Christ?  Is it the shows we watch?  The music we listen to?  The conversations we have?  The websites we see?  What is it in your life that’s holding you back?  St Paul reminds us today: for freedom, Christ set us free, do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  What’s holding us back? We will only hear the answer to this question if we are in dialogue with Jesus.  That’s the nice thing, it’s Jesus who will show us the way.

So, do you remember that first time you really heard Jesus’ voice saying: follow me?  But, have you listened to that voice recently?  Following Christ is an ongoing, daily reality.  As we receive Holy Communion today, we open our heart to Jesus and listen to him say: follow me.  Don’t be afraid to follow Christ.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday

            The teaching is fairly simple on the face of it: we believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: 1 God, 3 persons.  Though it is simple, it is hard to comprehend, in fact we never fully comprehend this mystery.  For us personhood and individuality go hand in hand: every person is also a separate substance.  But, when it comes to God, this is not the case.  Rather, God is one substance, but three persons in a loving communion of persons.  This is the teaching, but where does it come from?  When I was in the seminary I had the good fortune to take a full 3 credit course on the Trinity.  During this course I was able to learn exactly how this doctrine has unfolded in the history of humanity. 
We begin with the faith of the people of Israel, who, beginning with Abraham, believed in only one God.  In the face of the polytheism of the ancient world, Israel came to know the one true God.  This was not a discovery of reason, rather God revealed himself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  This one God continued to be in relationship with his people, speaking to Moses in the burning bush and face to face on the mountain.  He continued to guide his people through the words of his holy prophets.  Christianity is based upon the faith of the people of Israel.  So, we inherited this faith, this revelation the God is one and that there is only one God.  The gods of the heathens are naught!  They don’t even exist.  So Judaism is a monotheistic faith, and so is Christianity.
However, the birth of Jesus does change things.  It doesn’t really change God!  We hear in the first reading that the Wisdom of God was with God from the beginning.  Since the early days of the Church, Christians have seen the Wisdom of the Old Testament as a type referring to Christ, who is the Word, the Logos, of God.  So Jesus, the divine word, existed for all time, even before the incarnation.  Yet, when God becomes Man it furthers the revelation of the nature of God.  God reveals more about himself to us.  We maintain our faith in the unity of God: God is one.  But Jesus is God!  Not only that, but the Father sends us the Spirit through the Son.  Last week we celebrated Pentecost, so it is fitting that we celebrate Trinity Sunday on the following Sunday, since the coming of the Holy Spirit is the last revelation of the mystery of the Trinity.
So this is how we arrive at the teaching of God as Trinity.  We inherit the faith of the Old Testament, which held that God is one.  The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus reveal to us the Son.  And with the coming of the Holy Spirit the revelation of the mystery is complete.  There is one God, who is the Father who sends the Son so to give the Holy Spirit.  God is one, but three persons.
It is certainly true that the Trinity is a mystery.  But, this doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything about the Trinity.  Rather, it means that we can say many true things about the Trinity even though we can never get to the fullness of the Truth about God’s existence.  So, it is important to study and pray as a way to bolster our faith.  I want to challenge everyone to do a little reading on the Trinity this week.  Get out your catechism (if you don’t have one, go buy one).  Read, pray, and study a little bit about the Holy Trinity.
Even this Mass is like a great catechism lesson on the Holy Trinity.  The whole Mass is a prayer to the Father in heaven, where we glorify God the Father, in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that most of the prayers of the Mass are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  So, the mass is a prayer that lives in and through the whole blessed Trinity. 
This should be a reflection of our whole lives.  The sacrifice of the Mass teaches us not only the Trinity, but also how we are to live!  Our lives should be directed to the glory of God, through our communion with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In closing, let us pray to the blessed Trinity: Glory be…