Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kathryn Strickler

It is with a heavy heart that I make this post.  I ask all of you, in your charity, to pray for the repose of the soul of Kathryn Strickler.  She was a Junior at Marian who died on Friday from complications due to her diabetes.  Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday evening.
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace, Amen.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God,
Rest in Peace, Amen.

In Paradisum deducant te angeli, in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lazarus at the door

26th Sunday OT Year C

    We have often heard it said that the gospel should comfort the afflicted, but afflict the comfortable. Today's reading certainly falls into the "afflict the comfortable" category. Jesus is giving us an important lesson. It simply is not sufficient to worry about ourselves and our own needs. It is an absolute command of the gospel, a command from Christ himself, to love our neighbor. The rich man in the gospel is tormented in the flames for all eternity because he failed to help Lazarus.

    Personally I find this parable particularly difficult to take. If you listen carefully you will notice that the rich man never even notices Lazarus. Jesus tells us that Lazarus was at the rich man's door, but he never says that the rich man walked past him. It never says that the rich man spurned or abused him. It never even says that the rich man exploited Lazarus or did any other thing against him. In other words, the rich man didn't do anything to Lazarus, which is precisely the point. In the sacrament of confession we are quite good at confessing our sins: those actions against God, others, or self. But, when we examine our conscience do we even notice those things that we have failed to do? The scariest thing about the story of Lazarus is that the rich man never even noticed Lazarus. How many people just like Lazarus do we walk by on a daily basis? How often is there some good that we should be doing that we simply fail to do? How often are we wrapped up in the concerns of our own lives, our own families, our own situations that we fail to help those in need?

    Today we will see a video about the annual bishop's appeal. You will see some of the many things the diocese does with the funds collected in the annual appeal. Many of these worthy efforts are like Lazarus sitting at your door. You may not have even noticed that the diocese has had a huge increase in seminarians, but with that increase comes a great need for financial support for their education and formation. You may not have noticed that the diocese is increasing its catechetical efforts, especially toward young adults. You may not have noticed all the many programs the diocese offers to prepare couples for marriage. You may not have noticed the many charitable outreach programs funded by the Bishop's appeal. This video may point out many ways you can help those in need, ways you never noticed before. So that, unlike the rich man in the parable, we will not neglect to help those in need.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Feast of St. Matthew

25th Sunday OT and Feast of St. Matthew:

    Today in the gospel we hear something we expect: you cannot serve both God and mammon. But, we also hear something we do not expect: the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently. I think we all know by now the dangers inherent in money. Money is a tool, it is neutral of itself. However, it is an extremely sharp and delicate tool. Think of all the good you can do with money: support your family, serve the poor, support the parish, etc. But, the more one handles money, the easier it is to slip and be hurt by this tool. It is easy to give in to the prevailing culture of consumerism. It is easy to think that our worth depends on how much we have. It is easy to think that we need the bigger house, the nicer car, the cushy life. Falling for this mentality is quite harmful for our spiritual life. Jesus is exactly right, pursuit of wealth for its own sake becomes a religion with money as its god, making it impossible to follow Christ.

    St. Matthew is a great model and inspiration for us. Do you remember the story? St. Matthew was seated at his customs post, he was a tax collector. In the Bible, a tax collector is synonymous with a person who has bought into the consumerist mentality. They were known for defrauding others. They would charge more than was necessary for the tax and keep what was left for themselves. Yet, when Jesus approached him and told him to follow him, Matthew left behind his job, his wealth, his unhealthy attachment to money, and he followed after Christ. If you ever struggle with consumerism, ask St. Matthew to pray for you.

    But, the other part of the gospel is a bit more troubling. It sounds like Jesus is asking us to be dishonest. We get the example of that crooked steward who knows his days are numbered. So he calls in his boss's customers, rips off his boss to try to find favor with the customers. How is this an example of Christian living? Jesus explains: the children of this world are more prudent than the sons of light. In other words if we look around us we see many examples of people working hard to attain their goals. Think, for example, of world class athletes: they put in long, hard hours to attain their goals. They push themselves, straining to achieve success on a football field. And they do all this for something that is passing: a football game, for example. Yet, do we work that hard for something that is eternal, our eternal life? Jesus is telling us that we should use all of our human ingenuity, our drive, our prudence, our cunning, not only for our own advancement, but also for the spreading of the gospel. We often use our gifts and skills to succeed in work, sports, or society; but, do we use them for the promotion of the gospel?

    Again, St. Matthew is our model. St. Matthew was an educated man. We know this because he was able to write, only a few could write in those days. This made Matthew one on the upper echelon of society. But, instead of using his skills only for his own promotion, he decided to use his gifts and skills for the promotion of the gospel. And look at the result! For 2000 years now Christians have been reading his gospel as a way to grow closer to Christ. At one point in his life St. Matthew was this dishonest steward, using his gifts and skills for his own good; but, after his encounter with Christ he felt it necessary to use his talents for the promotion of the gospel.

    How is God calling you to service? I am absolutely sure that each and every one of you has some special gift, some special skill, that God wants at his service. We might be tempted to use these gifts for our own good, but through the prayers and example of St. Matthew we should put them to use for the gospel.

St. Matthew is our patron saint. This means that our parish should take on the personality of its patron. We too should strive to serve God, not money. To put our gifts at the service of the gospel. If the things we do take us away from our relationship with God, we need to leave them behind and follow the Lord. Ask St. Matthew to pray for us, to help us all leave behind our customs post and follow the Lord.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

God’s Outlandish Love

24th Sunday OT Year C

    Today in the gospel we hear one of our most well-loved parables. The parable of the prodigal son always speaks to us. Each one of us hears something different when we hear this parable. Sometimes we feel far from God, our sins and our bad choices make us feel like the prodigal son. Yet we know that we can always come back to God, who is the Father in the story, who catches sight of us while we are still distant. Sometimes we are challenged by the depiction of the older son. Are we ever jealous of God's mercy? Are we judgmental and harsh, when God is loving and merciful? Other times we are inspired by the example of the Father in the story: how many of us are hesitant to rush forward and forgive the person in most need of our forgiveness, especially those in our family. Yes, the parable speaks to every one of us.

But, when I was reading this gospel this week something new struck me about the parable. If you notice Jesus tells three straight parables. In the first two parables the theme is quite easy to detect: we hear that God is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and he is like the woman who seeks after her lost coin. God goes after the lost. Yet, in both stories something else happens as well: the shepherd and the woman both rejoice at the return of the lost sheep and coin. We notice this same thing in the story of the prodigal son. When the son returns the Father throws a great banquet. One theme that runs through these three parables is the great joy of God. God rejoices when the lost return. God rejoices when the sinner comes to his mercy. The central character in the three parables is God, not us. These parables are about God's mercy. Sometimes we lose sight of this fact when we read the parable of the prodigal son: Jesus is trying to teach us about the generosity of God's mercy.

Last week a parishioner asked me if I had been ordained for a year yet. No, I was ordained on Oct 31st, so not quite a year. But, her question got me to thinking about this past year. It has been quite amazing. To be a priest is more fun than any human being should be allowed to have. And some of the greatest moments I've had over the past year came in the sacrament of confession. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to help people with their burdens. People come to me hurting, sad, weighed down by their sins and because of God's gracious mercy I'm allowed to say to them: I absolve you from your sins. I think that part of what makes these experiences so profound for me, the minister, is that I get a front row seat for the conversation between the prodigal son and the Father, I get to be there when the good shepherd finds the lost sheep, when the woman finds the lost coin. The joy and enthusiasm of God for the repentant sinner flows through me in the sacrament of confession. This joy is a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

If you think about it, heaven is the party described in today's parables. The Father in heaven sent his Son to bring back those who were lost. And when the son returns with all the sinners who trusted in him, there will be an everlasting banquet. This banquet is more than we deserve. No shepherd would throw a banquet when he finds a lost sheep, no woman would call everyone to tell them she's found a coin. But, God's mercy and love is outlandish. He loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus to bring us back to Him, to search for what was lost.

In a few moments we will receive the body and blood of Christ, which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Here at this Mass it is not so much that we find Christ. Rather, Christ finds us. And while we sometimes feel like we are still a long way off, Christ catches sight of us and brings us into communion with him, for he is the good shepherd who came from the Father to seek out what was lost.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Truth is Beautiful

23rd Sunday OT Year C

    Jesus never swindles us. No, he tells us right up front the risks involved in discipleship. Whoever cannot carry his/her cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple. These are harsh words from Jesus. But, they are so true. All he is saying is that it is impossible to be a disciple half way. Discipleship includes trial, suffering and self-denial. And when it comes to discipleship, Jesus asks for 100% percent of us: nothing less will do.

This is a strange passage if you think about it. Jesus is not doing much of a pitch job here. Think if we did the same thing with our RCIA program. If we told people all about the difficult side of Christianity: the self-denial and sacrifice that it takes to be a Christian, we might not get too many takers. So, what's Jesus doing in this passage?

Listen again to the first passage: great crowds were traveling with Jesus. These people were already with Jesus. Why were they there? Jesus drew these people. If we understood for just one second the truth of the Incarnation, we would die of delight. Though we were lost and could not find our way back to God, he loved us all the more and sent his only son to save us. Jesus Christ is God!!! If you have never been struck by the amazing beauty of this fact, think about it. Jesus, a man born 2000 years ago to a poor peasant girl named Mary, who traveled around teaching Good News, was not just some preacher. He is God! God became human so that humans could go back to God. It is important for us to listen to the teachings of Jesus, listen to the teachings of the Church, to be formed by the Word of God. But these things all require something fundamental: a basic attraction to Jesus. The good news of the Incarnation is so amazing that if we stop to think about it, we will automatically want to be close to Jesus. The truth is beautiful, and of itself we are attracted to it.

In a similar way, this is what St. Paul is doing in the second reading. In this short letter, Paul is asking a disciple, Philemon, to welcome back Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother. Now Paul, as an Apostle, could have been more direct. He could have commanded Philemon to release Onesimus, but he doesn't do that. Rather, he presents his case in a way that should appeal to Philemon: won't you welcome him back as a brother. Paul is hoping that Philemon will be so attracted to the beauty of the teaching, namely that each human person has innate value, that he will be moved to release Onesimus from slavery.

The Truth is Beautiful! Ultimately, we cannot be Christians simply because our parents wish it, we cannot be Christians simply because it is the right thing to do. We will never follow God's commands and precepts, we will never be able to live out our faith: the cross that Christ asks us to carry will be too heavy, unless we are swept off our feet by the beauty of Christ.

One place where we are always able to encounter this beauty is here at the Holy Mass. Right on this altar we see Jesus! In the Holy Eucharist we encounter the person of Christ, we see his body and blood. Christian discipleship is not for the meek of heart. It takes courage and determination to follow Christ, to pick up your cross and to follow him, to denounce all the things of the world that lead you away from Jesus and cling to Christ. All of these things will be impossible without a deep love for Christ. A love deepened and strengthened by the power of the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus never swindles us. He just stands before us as he is: fully God and fully man. He invites us to follow him. He tells us straight out the cost of discipleship: denial and self-sacrifice. But we must ask ourselves a question: having encountered the beauty of Christ, is there anywhere else we would rather go?