Saturday, June 20, 2015

The storms of life

12th Sunday of OT Year B 2015
Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth: who is this that even the wind and sea obeys.  I don’t know about you, but with all the rain the last couple weeks I have felt like the disciples: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?
This passage helps us to see that Jesus is who we say he is.  The disciples are starting to understand that there is something more here than just a simple man from Nazareth.  Even the apostles had to grow in their faith.
That is comforting for all of us.   We too need to grow in our faith.  Last week we talked about faith growing like the mustard seed.  The seed is a great analogy for faith, it starts out small, but grows over time.  Yet, why is it so important for our faith to grow?  Jesus says in the gospel: why are you terrified?  Don’t you have faith?  Faith takes away our fear.  Faith helps us to trust even when it is difficult.
As we all know, life is not all gumdrops and rainbows.  Pain, suffering, temptation, and hardship are a part of our lives.  Maybe not every day, but I do think that all of us have those difficult moments.  We have parishioners here going through all kinds of difficulties: physical ailments and diseases, the pain and grief of losing a loved one, the difficulty of losing a job, and just the stress and fatigue that seems to follow us wherever we go.  There is always bad news in the world around us too: think about the shooting this week, or ISIS or whatever.  It can be tempting to get cynical: everything is bad and that’s all there is to say about it.  Or even to doubt God: why would God let bad things happen to good people?  This is a question as old as humanity itself.  The story of Job from the first reading is probably 2600 years old.  What is the story?  How a man responds to evil being inflicted upon him.  He was a good person, but bad things befell him… really bad things.
So, if you have ever wondered why, you are in good company.  Now, I wish I had a great answer, but I don’t.  I know that a lot of people like to say that God has a plan when bad things happen.  But, something about that never seems quite right to me.  I don’t like the idea of God inflicting bad things upon us so that good things happen.  I like to think that God is more powerful than that.  He could just skip the middle and go right to the good things.  Also, we never want to say that God is the author of evil.  We know that he is all-good, there is no darkness in him at all.  Sure, God is all-powerful, so he could interrupt the natural world every time something evil is about to take place, but that doesn’t mean he causes evil.  Still, we are often faced with that question: why?  We might feel like the apostles: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing.
But, stop for a moment and let Jesus answer that question: Lord, do you care?   Of course he does.  If Jesus didn’t care, would he have become one of us?  If Jesus didn’t care, would have shared with us the Good news?  If Jesus didn’t care, would he have died on the cross for us?  Would he have given us the Eucharist as his lasting presence?  Of course Jesus cares.  All too often, when we are faced with difficulties in our lives, we want to ask the question why.  But, there really isn’t a satisfying answer as to why we suffer, why there is pain.  But, there is a great answer to the question: what.  In other words, instead of asking God why this stuff happens, we should ask God what he did in response to the pain and suffering of the human race.  His answer: he sent Jesus.  As St. Paul says today: he indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.  Jesus died, so that we might live. 

This doesn’t mean that the Christian life is a life without pain, suffering, or temptation.  We might experience those storms.  It might seem like Jesus is asleep below decks.  But, taking our cue from the apostles, we call upon him: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?  Asking that question in the midst of our difficulties is another way for us to grow in our faith.  When we ask that question during our difficult moments, we are inviting Christ into our daily lives.  He doesn’t always make the wind and rain stop that instant, but if we turn to him, he will always give us the strength to withstand whatever storms we might face in this life.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Faith, starts small...

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B 2015:
Now that the Easter season is over we are back in Ordinary time.  But, ordinary does not mean “plain.”  Rather, ordinary means the counted Sundays between the liturgical seasons like Christmas and Easter.  The word “ordinary” comes from “ordinal” or numbered.  So, here we are wearing green vestments.  I once had a class where we were reading some poetry, the professor told us that the color green symbolized hope.  So, I love to think of ordinary time as our season of hope, where we joyfully wait in hope for the coming of our Savior.
As we wait in hope, we live lives as disciples of Jesus.  We try to follow him in our daily lives, we learn from his teaching, and we try to grow in our faith.  Today in the Gospel, Jesus gives us some interesting parables about the kingdom of God and about growing in our faith, and he uses farming imagery.
I grew up out near St. Louis Besancon and my house is surrounded by fields.  I always loved this time of year because I could see the plants growing.  My favorite was when corn was planted.  I always thought it was impressive to see these little green shoots turn into 8-foot tall corn stalks.  What starts out as little seeds, become these huge plants. 
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus makes this an analogy for our faith?  What starts out as a little seed, becomes something big.  And I don’t know about all of you, but I want a big faith.  I want faith like the great saints, who did amazing things.  But, I think it is helpful for all of us to think about faith in terms of this analogy.  Faith starts small, and it grows over time.  So, how do we make our faith grow?
The first parable in the gospel might seem a bit strange.  Jesus tells us that the farmer does not know why the plants grow.  I think that’s pretty true.  We know how plants grow, we know how to take care of them, but can any of us really say “why” a plant grows?  It grows because it is a living thing; it grows because it has this internal will to live, which we all know comes from God.  Our faith is the same way.
We don’t know exactly how we grow in our faith.  Faith is a gift that comes from God.  It has its own internal will to live as well.  Our faith grows over time because God is causing its growth.
But, thinking again about plants, we all know that we have to do many things to create the best environment for plants to grow.  I have a friend who always says that his favorite trees are palm trees, because they only grow where it is warm all the time.  Plants like that don’t survive our cold winters; so, plants need a proper home.  We know that plants need sunshine and water.  Plants need to be protected from animals that attack them, and weeds that can choke them.
I think these things can be applied to our faith as well.  Our faith needs a proper home where it can flourish.  Isn’t that what the Church is?  This is our home.  Being a faithful member of this amazing parish family gives us the proper home for our faith to grow.  Trying to live a life of faith without being firmly rooted in the Church is like trying to plant palm trees on the North Pole, faith simply cannot grow without a warm home.  Just like plants need sunshine and water, we need the sacraments to feed our faith.  Last week we celebrated Corpus Christi where we had a chance to remember the amazing gift of the Eucharist.  This Blessed Sacrament is like the sun that shines on plants, it nourishes our faith and allows it to grow.  I think of scripture like watering plants.  The more we read the Bible and let the word soak into us, the more faith can grow.  But, we also have to protect our faith from those things that can harm it.  There is a lot stuff out there that is simply not good for our faith: think about the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the stuff on the internet.  These things can be like the animals that attack our gardens.  Just like weeds can choke the life out of our plants, our sins and selfishness can also choke out our faith. 

Our faith grows because God causes it to grow within us.  We all want that big faith that will move mountains, but we all need to remember that faith starts out as a tiny seed and grows over time.  This season of Ordinary time is a great chance for us all to ask ourselves if we are giving our faith a great environment where it can grow.  Our faith might start out small, but through the grace of God it can grow like the mustard seed.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Year B 2015:
The body and blood of Christ.  This is the feast we celebrate today.  We celebrate with great joy.  Today we profess our belief in the Blessed Sacrament.  We believe and profess that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Christ.  We believe that during the Mass the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  He is really and substantially present, though the appearances of Bread and Wine remain.
However, I was doing some research this week and I found an interesting poll.  According to this poll, only 50% of Catholics surveyed were even aware of the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist.  Isn’t that interesting?  Only 50% even know that we teach and believe that Jesus is really and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist.   Why would this be? 
First of all, I think that very often we just assume that everyone knows what the church teaches about a variety of issues.  Because of this assumption, I don’t know how often priests and catechists remember to talk about these fundamental beliefs.  So, I want to be sure that everyone this weekend hears this fundamental truth: the Eucharist is not simply bread and wine, it is not simply a representation of Christ, when we celebrate the Mass we don’t just “remember” what Christ did many years ago.  Rather, it is truly Christ, each Mass allows us to not only remember Jesus, but we enter into his story.  The precious gift of the Eucharist is Jesus’ lasting presence in our world.  The Eucharist should be an important part of our lives.  In fact, Vatican II called it the source and summit of our Catholic faith.
But, a second reason why many people are probably unaware of this teaching is because most of us stopped learning about our faith when we were in grade school.  I know that was the case for me.  I went to Catholic grade school at St. Louis Besancon till 6th grade, then took CCD classes till confirmation.  That was about it.  But, that didn’t make my faith all that interesting or exciting.  I thought of my faith as something in the background.  Once I started learning more about my faith that it became so much more exciting.  I bought a book on the Eucharist and I was totally blown away.  I mean, I guess I always knew it was Jesus, but reading this book really opened my eyes to understand just how amazing the gift of the Eucharist really was. 
I remember running across a quote from the Cure of Ars who once said if we really understood the Mass we would die of joy.  That quote rocked my little world.  I was always going to Sunday Mass, but I never quite felt like I was going to die out of joy.  Maybe it’s the same for you.  But, once I started learning more about the Eucharist, all of a sudden I couldn’t get enough of the Mass anymore.  I started going to daily Mass.  It was a great and prayerful experience.  Then someone told me about the Adoration Chapel at St. Jude’s.  I started coming here.  I felt like a moth attracted to a flame.  I couldn’t get away from the Eucharist if I tried.
The rest, as they say, is history.  I started feeling a pull toward the priesthood.  The priesthood and the Eucharist are intimately connected.  If it wasn’t for the priesthood we wouldn’t have the Eucharist.  But, if it wasn’t for the Eucharist the priesthood would have no meaning.  Yesterday I went to the ordination of 4 men for our diocese.  Again, I felt that powerful call of the Eucharist.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that I found that renewed interest in the Eucharist all those years ago.  It changed the way I saw the mass, it changed the way I lived my life, it even led me to become a priest.  The Eucharist literally changed my life. 
The Eucharist can do the same in your lives as well.  Learn to love the Eucharist more and more.  If you do, you will see that it is the Eucharist that gives us the grace and strength we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  So, no matter what your vocation is, the Eucharist should be central.  The Eucharist makes you a better husband or wife, mother or father.  This is because the Eucharist gives us the presence of Christ in our lives, and it teaches us the great lesson of self-giving love. 
Become enamored by the Eucharist.  Fall in love with it.  During the homily yesterday, Bishop Rhoades had words for the newly ordained priests.  He said to them: don’t just say the words of Mass, really pray the words of the Mass.  I guess I would say the same thing to all of you today.  Don’t just say the words of Mass, really pray them.  If you draw near to the body and blood of Christ, Jesus himself will draw near to you.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost 2015 Year B:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is the day when we remember the birth of the Church as we know it.  For once the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church, she began to carry out her mission.  The Church’s mission is simple: the Church is called to carry out the very mission of Christ.  Just as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so the Church is called to teach, lead, and sanctify.  The Holy Spirit gives the church the power to act in the person of Christ for the salvation of the world.  Today we do well to remember this fundamental calling.  It is also good to remember that this mission was not given to the apostles alone, but to the whole Church.  Each one of us is called to embrace this mission and fulfill it in our own special vocation.  Whether we are married, single, priests, sisters, lay persons, we have all received God’s Spirit, given to us to empower us for our mission.
Now I don’t want to cause a lot of fear and anxiety, but it is not too much to say that every one of us is responsible for carrying out the mission of Christ.  All of us are responsible to preach the gospel, to lead others closer to Christ, to make this world a holier place where God can dwell.  I think that now, more than ever, the world needs the truth of the gospel.  There is a bunch of crazy stuff going on in our times.  There is war and violence.  There is poverty and pain.  There is immorality and the weakening of the life of the family.  These things are all around us. 
But, in many ways, things are not so different than what the apostles faced.  Look at what they accomplished.  Because of their preaching millions and billions of people throughout the whole world came to know Christ.  They started with nothing, outside of a few people in Jerusalem, no one had heard of Jesus.  They were able to do great things.  If we can zero in on how they were able to carry out their mission, it will enlighten us as to how to carry out our mission.  Jesus explains it well: the Father will send the Spirit of Truth, he will testify to me, then you will testify. 
As I said above, it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church to carry on the mission of Christ.  It was the Spirit that moved in the hearts of the apostles to preach the good news.  The same Holy Spirit is alive and with us today, it is this spirit that allows us to fulfill our mission as well. 
First, the Spirit testifies.  I think it is perfectly natural and ok to remember that we still have a lot to learn.  None of us is there yet.  We all need to open our hearts to the message of the Spirit.  Where do you still need to grow?  Maybe it is in accepting some truth of the gospel.  I know that so many people in today’s society fail to see the truth of our belief about marriage.  So many people struggle to see the value of every human life.  So many people find it difficult to move away from sin.  No matter where we are on this continuum, today is a day for us to open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth.  He will teach us and strengthen our faith in the truth. 
Then we testify.  Once we listen to the Spirit of Truth, he will strengthen us for our ministry.  I think it always works like that: we are growing in our personal faith, but then we express that in our lives.  One without the other is incomplete.  If we grow in our life of faith, but it doesn’t move us to look beyond ourselves, we become that inward looking Church that Pope Francis has been denouncing.  But, if we are working in the world without being guided by the Spirit of truth we become political activists or social workers.  Both have their place, but that is not the same as carrying out the mission of Christ.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ascension

Ascension 2012 year B:
            Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into glory.  This is an interesting feast day, because on the surface it is a bit odd for us to celebrate the day that Jesus left earth. 
Ascending is not the same as departing.  Listen to the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we celebrate the memorial of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven.  You see in the mind of the Church the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all form one mystery.  The ascension is not fleeing or departing; rather, it is the completion of the resurrection.  Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead simply to remain in the world as it is.  Rather, he rises from the dead as a great victory, a conqueror, and he takes his place at the right hand of the Father, arrayed in glory.  You might be thinking: that’s great for Jesus, he deserves that after his death and resurrection, but how does it relate to us who are still on earth?
I think there are 2 interesting aspects of the ascension that help us to see its importance in our lives.  First, when Jesus goes up into heaven, he doesn’t simply disappear or vanish.  Rather, he ascends in a bodily way.  This should be for us a powerful reminder that the ascension is not so much about Christ leaving us, as it is about Christ taking us with him.  Jesus does not leave behind his human nature, he takes it with him.  So each and every one of us are still united to Christ in our common humanity.  Jesus Christ is indeed the eternal son of the Father seated on his throne arrayed in Glory, but so are we, if you think about it.  Christ takes us with him.  Jesus doesn’t leave us at the ascension, instead he gives us a chance to leave behind sin, weakness, and the fallenness of our world because we are united to him and he is already enthroned in glory.  We can share in that glory even now.  We might not experience this glory in a full and complete way in this life, but we catch glimpses of it.  Christian life is not simply a matter of trying to get to heaven someday; Christian life is about living heaven right now.  This can only happen because of the ascension of our Lord into glory.  So that is number 1, the ascension is not so much Christ leaving us as it is him taking us to be with God even now.
Number 2 Jesus never abandons us, rather he is with us in a new manner.  We hear in the gospel that Jesus instructs the disciples to do many amazing things: healing and picking up serpents, etc.  These things should strike us as crazy: but, that is the point, without Christ these things would be impossible, but Christ has not left us: he remains.  I’m certainly not telling anyone to go buy deadly snakes or drink poisons, but think about the even more amazing things that people do all the time because of God’s help.  I know of people who fight deadly diseases without losing hope, I know of people who overcome powerful addictions and get their lives back on track, I know of people who give their time, talent, and treasure for the good of their neighbor, I know of people who are scared, lonely, and hurting, but they keep fighting every day.  In my opinion these things are even more amazing than handling deadly snakes.  How do they do it?  By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost where the Spirit is poured out upon the Church.  Christ never leaves us; rather, he is present through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is shown most clearly in and through the Church.  Christ continues to be among us in and through the Christian faithful.  We are built up by the presence of Christ in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood.  So while the ascension might look like Jesus’ departure from earth, through the Church and the sacraments we see that Christ is more present in the world, not less.  In fact, the Church has spread to the corners of the earth to bring in more people to be united with Christ.

So today we celebrate the ascension of Our Lord into glory.  We celebrate the fact that Christ has ascended to heaven and has taken all of us with him, and as members of his faithful it is our duty to spread this Good News to the end of the earth.  For the ascension of Jesus is not the end of his mission; rather, the ascension of Jesus is his entrusting of that mission to all of us.  Let us, together with the whole Church, pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord to all the earth.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

All you need is love

6th Sunday of Easter Year B 2015:
Today’s readings focus on love.  I was thinking about the importance of love.  I think we could call it the most fundamental of all human emotions.  Is there anything more important to us than love?  Think about how many songs there are about love.  As I was reflecting on the readings this week all I kept hearing Beatles’ songs in my head: all you need is love…  Or think about all the movies about love, all the books about love.  This weekend we are remembering our mothers, a lot of love there: the love our mothers have for us, and the love we have for our mothers.  In the heart of every human being there is a great longing for love.  Love motivates us, inspires us.
So, in today’s gospel, when Jesus gives us his great command to love, it makes a lot of sense. In so many ways, this one law simplifies and summarizes the mission of the Christian disciple, our mission is to love.  We are supposed to love, we can feel it deep down in our hearts.  And the stakes are high, in the second reading St. John tells us: if we don’t love, we don’t know God, for God is love.  Wow, pretty amazing.  If we don’t love we don’t know God.
I think we all want to know God, don’t we?  Love is the pathway to our relationship with him.  If we have love, we know God; if we don’t, we won’t.  Pretty powerful.  John Paul II once said that love is the fundamental vocation of every human being.  So whether you are a mother, a father, a child, a priest, a religious sister, it doesn’t matter, we are called to love.  Only by love will we find happiness and fulfillment in this life.  Why is love to important? 
St. John gives us a great insight in the second reading: because God is love.  God is love.  It is so simple, yet so beautiful.  This one sentence might have been the first thing we learned about God in school or in religious education.  I think I can remember making signs that say: God is love, when I was a kid.  A few years back Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical titled Deus Caritas Est, God is love.  Yet with anything that is so basic and fundamental, it can easily be one of those things we take for granted without really thinking too much about it.
God is love.  How do we know that God is love?  He created the universe.  God is sufficient in himself, he didn’t need to create us, but he did because he loved us.  Then what happened, we went astray.  How do we know God still loved us?  He sent Jesus to be our savior.  How do we know Jesus loved us?  He died on the cross.  How do we know he still loves us even today?  He gives us the Holy Eucharist.  If we have eyes to see it, we can see the love of God everywhere around us.  We know that God loves us because he made us, he sent Jesus to save us, he feeds us through the Eucharist.  There is a lot of love there.
            Since the whole universe is made through love, and since we were made through love, this is why love is so important to us.  Love literally brought us into existence, and if we are going to be true to who we are, we need to love.  God is love, he made us in his image and likeness, so if we are going to be happy we need to love.
But, one thing we might forget if all we do is listen to love songs or watch romantic comedies, is that love is hard.  Love is never easy.  Jesus tells us to love today, but he tells us to love one another as he loved us.  Look again at the love he has for us.  He died for us, he gave everything for us.  Now, if we want to know God, if we want to inherit the eternal life Christ promises us, if we want to a share in that resurrection, we must fulfill the command of Christ: love on another.
If you are like me, you hear Jesus’ command: love one another as I love you, and you might get a little discouraged.  How can I love like Jesus loved?  I’m too weak, too sinful, too proud, too selfish.  But, rather than seeing this as a condemnation, let the words of Jesus inspire you all over again.  When Jesus commands us to love he does so because he really thinks we can do.  And he really knows that this is what is absolutely best for us, even though love is never easy.  Ask your mother today on Mothers’ Day if love is easy.  But, love is always worth it. 
What a beautiful gift we have in the Holy Eucharist.  This sacrament of love is given to us by Christ to be a great lesson in humble, serving, love.  He literally gives himself away for our benefit, and then he calls us to go and do likewise.  This I command you, love one another. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bear much fruit

5th Week of Easter year B 2015:
Bear much fruit and become my disciples.  Our gospel today ends with this inspiring message from Jesus.  He has big plans for us.  He wants us to carry out his mission in the world.  He came to bring us good news, to heal the sick, to lift up the fallen.  And, he wants to continue his saving ministry, but now he does it through us, his disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is good to remember that Jesus has work for us to do.  He wants us to bear fruit.
But, one thing is for sure, we are always busy.  The other day I was talking with a parishioner here and we were discussing our busy schedules.  I was saying that I had several meetings, masses, confessions, and visits to the hospital and homebound, all in one day.  She says: oh yeah, try being a mom.  Good point, she got me there.  The joys of modern parenting: wake up early, get the kids up, cleaned up, dressed, fed.  Make them lunch.  Get them to school.  Take them to the doctor.  Pick them up from school.  Take them to practice.  Wait in the car.  Sit in the rain and watch them play soccer.  Wait in the car some more.  Help them with homework.  Make sure they eat properly.  Get them to bed on time.  On and on.  It seems like we just keep getting busier and busier. 
So when we hear Jesus say: bear much fruit.  It sounds like we need to add even more to our busy lives.  But, I think it is important to remember that our life of faith never competes with our daily lives.  We don’t have to choose between loving God or loving our families.  Rather, we should see these things as being beautifully united.   Have you ever thought of waiting in your car for your kids as an act of prayer?  Or simply being kind and respectful at the grocery store or while driving can be an act of discipleship of Jesus.  How can we see everything in our daily lives as an act of love or prayer?
Remain in me, as I remain in you.  I think this little line really holds the key to the life of discipleship as we go about our busy lives.  It is certainly true that Christ calls us to bear much fruit, that we are called to lives of active discipleship.  But, if we don’t remain in him, we will lose our focus.  Staying connected to Christ is the only way to be sure we are doing everything for him and with him.  Like I just said, being a disciple does not compete with our daily lives, but it gives our lives meaning and direction.  Staying connected to Christ is the key to discipleship.
I am convinced that there is no better way to stay connected to Christ than through the sacraments.  Jesus gave us these gifts as his abiding presence among us.  By the power of the sacraments we stay connected to Christ and he lives within us.  This weekend is a special weekend for us here at St. Jude, Saturday morning we celebrated first Holy Communion and Sunday afternoon Bishop Rhoades will be here for Confirmation.  It is a joy to see these sacraments at work in the lives of our young people.  At the first communion mass I asked the kids: “what do all 7 sacraments have in common?”  One child responded: Jesus.  What a perfect answer!  Through the power of the sacraments we get in touch with Jesus.  Through the power of the sacraments, we remain in Jesus, we stay connected to him.  This is how we find the power to bear much fruit for him in our daily lives.
So, think again about the power of these sacraments.  Especially consider the sacraments of confession and Eucharist.  If it has been a while since you’ve made a confession, plan on going in the next week.  Ask Christ to forgive your sins and grow closer to him through that sacrament.  Make a commitment to grow closer to Christ in the powerful prayer of the Holy Eucharist.  There is no better way to stay connected to Christ than to receive him in this sacred mystery.  Maybe even consider attending Mass during the week.  (Mention the magnet)  I know that the daily celebration of the Eucharist has been an important part of my spiritual journey even way before becoming a priest. 

Jesus has great plans for us, whether these plans include taking care of your kids, being kind to others, or giving of your time, talent, and treasure for the building up of God’s kingdom.  He wants us all to bear great fruit.  But, as Jesus says today: without me you can do nothing.  Here at this mass, and through the power of all the sacraments, we are here with Jesus.  And through this powerful connection with Christ we can go out from this mass and bear great fruit.