Saturday, October 23, 2010

Humility and Supplication:

30th Sunday OT Year C:

    A couple of weeks ago we heard the story of the 10 lepers. If you remember Jesus healed all 10 lepers, but only one returned to thank God. The point of that story is conversion. Christ comes to heal us, we return and give thanks. A story like that one is easy for us to accept. We think of leprosy as an image for sinfulness. Christ can heal sinfulness and help sinners on the way to conversion. Today's gospel is more unsettling. This passage is not directed at the "sinners," it is directed at the "saints."

The first thing to remember when we contemplate this passage is the objective state of things. As an impartial observer, which person would we rather be? Jesus carefully chose his examples today. The Pharisee does everything correctly. First, he avoids sin: he does not commit adultery, he is neither greedy nor dishonest. Second, he does acts of virtue: he fasts and tithes. We should not construe the parable to mean that these things are bad. They are not. In many ways, the Pharisee is giving us a model to follow. It is good to fast, tithe, and avoid sins. On the other hand, the tax collector is an image of the grievous sinner. Tax collectors were famous for their dishonesty. So, Jesus is certainly not condoning dishonesty and sinfulness. Jesus is certainly not saying that sin is ok.

If that is not the point of the parable, what is? We just looked at the objective state of things: one man committed acts of virtue, one vices. What about the subjective state of things? Let's begin with the tax collector: what is going on inside of him? O God, be merciful to me a sinner. His disposition is one of supplication: he is begging mercy from God. Also, his is a humble disposition: he was in the back of the temple and would not even raise his eyes to heaven. (As a brief aside, this is why Catholics always sit in the last pews…) From an objective standpoint he is certainly a sinner; but, from a subjective point of view there is hope for him. He has that which is necessary to grow closer to God: humility and supplication, which is why the book of Sirach says that the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds and goes straight to heaven. Humility and supplication are essential for a relationship with God. What about the Pharisee? Objectively he is doing everything well. Subjectively, he is a mess. Listen again to how Jesus introduces the prayer: "spoke this prayer to himself." Despite all his good actions, the Pharisee is not in communion with God: he spoke the prayer to himself. There is not a hint of supplication in the prayer of the Pharisee, the whole point of his prayer is self-congratulation. There is certainly no humility: he took up his place and called attention to how much better he was than the rest of humanity.

So Jesus is not saying that it is better to be a huge sinner. What he is saying is that everything we do must be directed toward having a relationship with God. Our actions can certainly lead us away from this relationship, which is why it is so important to grow in virtue. But, our external actions alone do not guarantee a healthy relationship with God. In fact, they can be for us a source of pride, which leads us away from God. No, what is essential is to develop a relationship with God, which is predicated on humility and supplication. This internal disposition allows for conversion, allows for a healthy relationship with God.

How can we be sure we maintain our humility? I mean the more we try to live a life of holiness the easier it is to fall into the trap of the Pharisee's pride. Let's look to St. Paul: I am being poured out like a libation. This is a beautiful image for Christian life: we should always be poured out. If we are always pouring ourselves out in prayer, pouring ourselves out in service of our families and community, then it is hard to fall into the kind of pride that can cut us off from God.

Where can we find another example where in great humility someone pours himself out for the good of others? Oh… how about the Holy Eucharist?

Vocations’ Day:

This past year Bishop Rhoades named me as assistant vocation director for the diocese. This past week I was asked, in that role, to offer Mass at Marian and St. Joe High Schools. The theme for this homily was vocations. I ask everyone reading this blog to pray for vocations.

Vocations day homily:

    Today we are having our annual vocations day. You know that this means that we are here to talk to you about religious vocations: the vocation to be a priest, brother, or sister. This is true! We are here to talk to you about these things. But, I want to give you a little bit of context. The religious vocation does not come out of nowhere.

What does the word vocation mean? It comes from the Latin Vocare, which means "to call." A vocation then is one's calling. Who is doing the calling? What are we talking about here? We are talking about God. He is calling you to something. God has a plan for each and every single one of us: holiness. This is the universal vocation. No matter what you might think God is calling you to be, you are most certainly called to be holy. But, Holy is one of those words that everyone knows what it means until I make you give me a definition. It is hard to pin down. What is holy?

The Biblical concept of holy always relates to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. So holiness is something that pertains to God. What things were called holy in the Old Testament? The temple was called holy. Why? God dwelt there. The vessels were called holy. Why? Because they were set aside for the God's use. The same is true today. As you all know I'm the associate pastor at St. Matthew's Cathedral. How many of you have ever been in that Cathedral? So most of you know that it is a pretty big space, what would you think if the next time you walked in that Cathedral if I decided play baseball in that Church? You would instantly know that I shouldn't be doing that. Why? Because God lives there in the tabernacle. The Church is a holy place. What about sacred vessels? What if you walked into the rectory where I live and you saw me drinking my morning coffee out of a sacred chalice? Wouldn't that be offensive? Why? That chalice has been set aside and is only to be used for sacred things.

Apply these two concepts of holiness to ourselves. God lives inside each one of us. This is our theology. We believe that on the day of our baptism, the Trinity began to live within us. God dwells in us. Also, we believe that on the day of our baptism we were consecrated, set aside for the service of God. This is very important. How often do we live like God is living inside of us? Yet, how easy is it for us to fall into sins of gossip, bad language, impurity, being uncharitable toward others? What about service? We were set aside for service of God. Yet, when we do our own thing, ignore our neighbors, and skip Mass we are not doing this service. Whenever we think about holiness this should be the first thing we think of. We are holy because God dwells within us and we were set aside for the service of God and our neighbor.

Now some of you might be thinking: Great! I never signed up for that. I mean, isn't it a drag to have been made holy? Now I have to go around being holy. The answer, of course, is no. Holiness is the pathway to happiness. Who made us? God. Why did God make us? To know, love, and serve him in this life so as to be happy with him forever in the life to come. God made us, and he made us to be happy. Think of holiness as the instruction booklet of the human person. If I want to be happy, if I want to do what I was created to do, I have to live up to this holiness. What would happen if I bought a blu-ray player but instead of putting the disks in the slot I jam bananas in there? It wouldn't work. The same is true for us when we sin. When we sin we are violating the very fabric of our being, we are ignoring the instruction manual for happiness.

So what is the key here? First, dwell with God. God lives within you. Get to know God. Speak to him often. Develop a prayer life. Get to know Jesus. Spend time with him in the Blessed Sacrament. If being holy means that God is living within you, you need to establish a relationship with him. Second, serve God. We do this first and foremost by our worship. Whenever we gather to pray at the Mass we are offering perfect worship. That's why we need to go to Mass every Sunday. The Church tells us to go to Mass on Sunday's because it is good for us! It leads to happiness.

These are the ways in which you live out your call to holiness. The more you do this, the more you will be able to then look and see exactly how this calling to holiness will be lived out in your particular circumstance. As I said, holiness is the universal vocation. Marriage and celibate priesthood or religious life are the specific vocations. Every single one of you is called to the universal vocation, and every single one of you is called to a specific vocation. But, you will never be able to figure out your specific vocation unless you are living the universal vocation.

When I was discerning a call to the priesthood, I found the greatest place to pray was at Mass. Every time I went to Mass, and when the priest held up the Eucharist, I prayed: God tell me what you want me to do with my life. Today as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, let that be your prayer: God, tell me what you want me to do with my life. And, pray for the courage to follow the Lord.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

All Scripture is Inspired

29th Sunday OT Year C:

Today in our second reading St. Paul teaches us about Scripture. The holy Bible, the Sacred Scriptures, have been called the Word of God. St Paul tells us today that they are capable of giving us wisdom for salvation. Wow, wisdom for salvation! How often do we think of the Bible in these terms, do we make the Bible an important part of our lives? Have we, like St. Timothy, known these Scriptures from our youth or do we need to get to know them?

Many people can be somewhat intimidated by the Bible. First of all it is a big book, there are actually 73 books in the Bible: 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. It can also be a difficult book to read: Sure, books like Genesis or the gospels are full of narrative, which makes them easy. But, books like Leviticus, or even the prophets can be very difficult to read. Then there are many things in the Bible which are difficult for us to understand, like our gospel passage today: is Jesus saying that God is like an unjust judge? Actually he is not. Rather, Jesus is employing a story-telling technique that makes a connection between two things that are only barely alike. If the unjust judge will deliver justice because of persistence, how much more will God, who is supremely just…

Yet, for all its difficulties and obscurities, the Bible is worth the effort. It is the word of God. Paul says: all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, refutation, and training in righteousness. Inspired by God! The word St. Paul uses here is theopnuestos, which literally means "God breathed." What a beautiful expression! God is the one who breathes out the words of Scripture. They are written by human authors, but God breathes in and through them. It is almost as if the human writers provide the voice, but God provides the air that breathes out the words. What an unbelievable treasure we have here! When you hold the Bible in your hands, you are holding God's word, God's breath. The Bible is not just some ordinary book or novel.

Paul says that Scripture is useful for teaching. Today in the first reading we hear about the role of Moses in the battle versus Amalek. We hear how God worked through the hands of Moses to give aid and strength to his people in their time of need. When we read the Bible, we learn our story. We are the spiritual descendents of Moses. The Bible is our story, and when we read it the Bible teaches us about where we come from.

Paul says that Scripture is useful for the training in righteousness. In our struggle against sin and our desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus, the Bible can train us in righteousness. Look at the Gospel, Jesus teaches us to pray without becoming weary. There are many of us, here in this parish, who are weary. One of the most humbling aspects of being a priest is the fact that people share with me their struggles: Many of you are struggling with a family situation. Many of you are struggling with an illness. Many of you are struggling with some kind of sin. Christ is telling us in the Scriptures that all of us struggle, all of us grow weary. Yet, Jesus tells us to keep up our prayers, remain faithful even in the midst of our struggles. This is truly training in righteousness: even in the midst of our difficulties, even when we are weary, the only way through these tough times is faithfulness.

Paul gives Timothy a stern command at the end of the reading: proclaim the word. This command is given to each one of us as well. Drawing close to Christ, being his disciple, always includes an evangelical aspect. The faith cannot remain our own personal possession; rather, the faith impels us outward to share the good news with others. This is another important reason for us to become well-acquainted with the Holy Bible. Not only can these inspired words give us the wisdom for salvation, but when we share them with others, we share with them this wisdom as well. The better we know the Scriptures, the better we will be able to help others get to know Christ.

In the Holy Scriptures we encounter the Word of God: Jesus Christ himself. No wonder then that the Church has always read the Bible when it gathers around the altar. Here at this holy Mass we encounter Christ, first when we read the holy Scriptures, second in the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Bible is the Word of God. The holy Mass helps us to fulfill our mission: to proclaim the word. Here we are strengthened by the Holy Eucharist and formed by the word of God so that when we go forth from this Mass we can share with others the wisdom for salvation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanksgiving, and not the turkey kind

28th Sunday OT Year C

Today we hear of the Samaritan leper returning to Jesus to give thanks. All of Christian life is a life of thanksgiving. In fact, I would go even further, that all of human existence finds its meaning in thanksgiving. It is so important to be thankful.

I am reminded of a time when I was in the seminary. One day I received a package in the mail. This package was a care-package from the youth group I was a part of before I entered seminary. Inside there were snacks, cookies, and other little things meant to brighten my day. I opened the box in the mailroom, and there was another seminarian in that room. I don't remember exactly what I said, but at some point I said: "I need to send out a thank you note after getting a box like this." He looked at me a bit puzzled and said: "I never do that." What? "I never send out thank you notes." I was shocked, and a little disgusted. This guy was a deacon, which meant he was less than a year away from being a priest. He had been in the seminary for years and must have received countless boxes, gifts, cards, etc, and he never once sent a thank you note. I was really troubled by this. Thanksgiving is essential to what it means to be Christian, how would he be able to preach this message if he never gave thanks.

What does it mean to give thanks? It is actually a process. First comes the gift. I received a gift from the youth group. This means that I have to recognize it as a gift. No one had to give me anything. When that youth group decided to send me a present, they did so out of love. I recognize that it was a free gift, and I accept it. This recognition and acceptance is essential. The next step is a reciprocation of love. When we find ourselves in the presence of love, it should make us want to return love. A thank you note is a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it says that I have recognized the gift, accepted the gift as a gift of love, then I have shown my love and appreciation by reciprocating this gift in whatever way possible.

Apply this on a grand scale: We are not responsible for our existence. Everything we have comes from God. I did not make myself. I am also not responsible for my continued existence. Nothing I have really came from me: my intuition, work-ethic, creativity, vocation, everything. Every breath you take, every dollar you make, every minute of your life is a pure gift from God.

[The following section will not be read at Mass, but I want to post it on my blog As many of you know, I am the Chaplain to Marian High School. These past two weeks have been very trying. I ask you please to keep Marian's students, staff, and faculty in your prayers. About two weeks ago, a student died, she was only 16 years old. This past week a Mother of 5, two of whom are current students of Marian, died in her sleep. Just yesterday I attended the funeral. There has been much sadness and many heavy hearts at Marian over the past two weeks. Yet, even these experiences teach us, in a mysterious way, to be thankful. There are no guarantees in life. Every day is a gift. Every person is a gift.]

What to do with a gift? First we recognize it. The more we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, the more we will appreciate it. When we recognize a gift, it is important to accept it. We see everything around us as a gift that comes from God, and we know that he gives us these gifts out of love. When we experience God's love, the only appropriate response is love, the appropriate response is thanksgiving. When we recognize that God gives us everything out of his life-giving love, the appropriate response is self-donation. When we give of ourselves to others, we are returning God's gift of love. When we gather here to worship almighty God, we are returning God's gift of love.

The leper in the gospel understood the appropriate response to Jesus' gift of healing was to return and give thanks. Naaman in the first reading took this even one step further, he recognized that to give thanks to the God who saved him meant that he needed to worship God. But, why did Naaman need to take that dirt?

Let me return to my story. Do you think that seminarian who refused to send thank you notes was thankful? I think he probably was. But, what was missing? He never expressed his thanksgiving. Naaman took that dirt because he knew that God dwelt in Israel. He knew that if he were going to worship that God, he could not simply do so internally. He understood the connection between worship and thanksgiving. For him to give thanks, he had to express his internal gratitude with external praise.

It is not coincidence that Christians named the Blessed Sacrament Eucharist. The very word means thanksgiving in Greek. When we gather here, every Sunday, we give thanks to God. Is there any wonder we are drawn to the Eucharist? The worship we render to God here at the Mass is the very thanksgiving we offer to God for all that he has given us. But, God is not to be outdone in generosity. When we recognize that everything we are and everything we have are gifts that come from God, and when we accept these things as gifts of love, we come here to give God thanks and praise. God goes one step further, he gives us the Eucharist, the body and blood of his son, the greatest gift of all.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Faith in action

27th Sunday OT year C

If you had faith you could uproot this tree… Have you ever been able to uproot a tree with your faith? Me neither. Does that mean that we don't have faith? No.

What is faith? We have a difficult time understanding this concept in our modern world. Ever since the time of the Enlightenment, faith has come to mean something intellectual. To say "I believe" means "I agree." I believe that if I jumped off St. Matt's bell tower I would be very badly injured, etc.

But faith is ever so much more than just intellectual assent. First, faith is a theological virtue. This means that faith is a gift that comes from God. It is not a product of our own will and desire. Faith is a gift of grace. That is why the prayer of the apostles should be our prayer: Lord, increase our faith. Notice that Jesus doesn't ridicule the apostles for asking for faith. Rather, he just goes on to show how powerful faith can be. All too often we think that faith is something we do; rather, faith is a gift from God.

Another major problem in our modern world is that we tend to think of faith as something that is just internal. But faith is more than just our belief in God. Faith also includes what we do with this belief.

Listen again to the words of St. Paul: stir to flame the gift of god you have received. So it is God's gift, our job it to fan that gift into a flame. For we did not receive a Spirit of cowardice, but one of power and love and self-control. In other words, we will fan into flame the gift of faith God has given us when we love and show self-control. So, we need not only faith, but we need also to be faithful.

We pray as did the apostles: Lord, increase our faith. He does this especially in the Eucharist. Then when we go forth from this Mass we fan that gift into flame when we love those around us.

Now we will have a chance to make a pledge to the annual bishop's appeal. You will each be given a chance to put your faith into action. We ask that you please be generous as you support the work of the Church throughout our diocese as well as here in our parish.