Saturday, August 28, 2010

Humility

The goal of Christian existence is actually quite simple: we must become like Christ.

But like all profound truths, this is easy to say and hard to do. Being followers of Christ means that we want to be like Christ, want to follow Christ, follow his teachings, his example. The goal of Christian existence is to emulate Christ.

One of the most difficult aspects of becoming like Christ is that we have to put on the mind of Christ. We have to develop the Christian attitude. This means that we not only need to act like Christ, but we also need to think like Christ, feel like Christ, love what Christ loves. Being Christian is not just about what we say and do, it is about being like Christ to the core of our being.

Essential to developing this Christian attitude is the virtue of humility. We hear about this virtue in our readings today. St. Thomas says that humility consists in keeping oneself in one's own bounds, not reaching out to things beyond one, but submitting to one's superior. This particular virtue is very difficult for us Americans. It is in our very nature to stretch beyond our bounds. We love the rags to riches tale, we believe in the American dream. This nation was founded by men and women who refused to submit to a distant king, they decided to break free. We pick up this attitude, it is in the air we breathe. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams and striving beyond ourselves, but this attitude can be contrary to the gospel. This attitude makes it difficult for us to rely upon God, makes it difficult for us to place our trust in God. With this attitude we place ourselves as the center of attention. We neglect those around us. All too often this attitude leads us down the road to depression when our far-fetched plans come to nothing. It is difficult for us to be like Christ with this attitude.

So we need to ask ourselves if we are humble. Are we humble people? Do we care not for our own good but for the good of others? Today's gospel acts like a humility thermometer. We can gain a reading on our own humility when we hear these words. Do we like places of honor? Do we seek attention? Do we have an exaggerated opinion of ourselves? Do we invite so as to be invited?

When I read these words I feel somewhat guilty. I don't feel as though I'm faithful to Jesus' command, I'm not as humble as I should be.

So what do we do about it? How do we become humble? It is perhaps the height of arrogance to think that we can just manufacture humility. We cannot just create humility by our own initiative: Today I will be humble, then I will tell everyone in the world just how humble I am. I will travel around the world touting my abundant humility. I have a friend Fr. Joe who always jokes that he is an abyss of humility.

Humility doesn't work this way. I think that humility is not so much the result of our efforts at attaining humility as it is the result of our relationship with Christ. Humility is a byproduct, if you will, of our relationship with God. The Letter to the Hebrews today tells us that we have drawn near to Jesus, the mediator of the covenant. This is how we learn humility, by drawing near to Jesus. He is the perfect example of humility: though he was in the form of God Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness: thus did he humble himself obediently accepting even death, death on a cross. The closer we grow to Jesus the more humble we become.

Today in the parable it is Jesus who deserves the head place at the wedding feast, he is the Son of God, the true Bridegroom. Yet, it is also Jesus who takes the last place, he decided to suffer and die for our salvation. We deserve the last place, yet by our union with Christ we are called up to a higher place, to the right hand of the Father.

This is the loft goal of humility. If we draw near to Christ, if we seek to emulate him, to put on the mind of Christ, to grow in humility, then we will be united with Christ in this life so as to live with him forever in the life to come: the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.

In a few moments we will receive a foretaste of that eternal banquet in the Holy Eucharist. Here in the Eucharist we draw near to Jesus to learn from him the ways of humility. We receive Jesus, become united with him, so that we can be united with him forever. God grant us the grace to be humble, Amen.

Cardinal Merry Del Val Litany of Humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected ... Deliver me, Jesus.


 

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
others may increase and I may decrease ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should… Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Cross is the Gate to Heaven

Today in the gospel, Jesus is asked if only a few are saved. We are hoping that he would just say: no, no everyone is saved. Rather, he somewhat agrees and says that we need to strive for the narrow gate. Many will seek it but will not be strong enough.

The gate we are looking for is the gate to heaven, the door to God, the door to everlasting life. This reminds me of something. One night I was flipping through the channels and came across CNN and Larry King Live. The guest that night was Pastor Joel Osteen. Have you ever heard of him? He was promoting his book Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to living your full potential. Now Joel is pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, where they get up to 45,000 people a week in this church. So Larry asked Joel a question: Will I who am Jewish go to heaven? He was asking if he could go to heaven without believing in Jesus. You could tell that Joel was really uncomfortable, I would be too. He basically answered that he didn't know, for him Jesus was important for salvation, but he didn't want to judge anyone.

Now this answer was ok, not great. I think Larry was looking for a fight and it was probably wise of Joel not to give it to him. Still I have wondered for years what I would have said if I were on the program. What I've decided is that there is a problem with the question. What is heaven? Is heaven the fluffy clouds and our wildest dreams? We talk about heaven often, but do we ever define it? I would define heaven as communion with God. Human beings were made with a capacity for love and communion. These desires can only be perfectly fulfilled in our communion with God.

So this is what heaven means. We were made to be united with God, and heaven is union with God, it is the fulfillment of all our desires. But, we have to ask: why don't we have this communion. If I were made for this communion, why don't I have it automatically? Sin! Original sin messed up our communion with God. Original sin severed the connection between God and humanity. But, God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. Jesus is the only way to heaven. In fact, Jesus is heaven. Heaven means we are united to Christ, part of his body. Our communion with him means perfect communion with God, also known as heaven. There is no heaven apart from Christ. It is not so much that one can go to heaven without Christ, rather there is no such thing as heaven apart from Christ.

I would have told Larry: I don't know if you are going to heaven, but I do know one thing, the only heaven there is is communion with God in the person of Christ. Everyone that goes to heaven will only go to heaven through the person of Jesus. Because it was through his death and resurrection that eternal life is possible.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus we have found that narrow gate. Certainly the way is difficult, for it took Jesus his very death and resurrection. The gateway to heaven is the cross of Christ. If we realize that the doorway to heaven is the suffering of Christ it helps us to understand how we are to enter through that gate. Through the grace of Christ we become strong enough when we bear with our sufferings and trials. Jesus saved the world through his suffering, when we join our suffering to that of Christ, we become strong enough, by God's grace, to enter the kingdom of heaven.

God calls many, in fact God calls all nations. Yet, there is only one way to heaven: through the suffering of Jesus. The only gateway to heaven is the cross of Christ. When we are united to Christ in our sufferings we become united to him forever.

As we turn now to receive the Eucharist we can offer our whole lives to Christ, be more intimately united to him so he can give us strength to enter through the narrow gate of the cross to the everlasting life of heaven.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Assumption of Mary

Solemnity of the Assumption 2010

    Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. This feast commemorates the day that Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul. This is an exciting feast. We should all be quite ecstatic about the assumption of Mary. Why?

    We have to start with the Resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection there is no Christianity, there is no Church. Without Jesus overcoming sin and death by his own death and resurrection, there is no good news. The very heart of the gospel is the resurrection. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. His human body lies in death no more. Rather, Jesus the second person of the Trinity takes to himself a human nature, dies, and rises. This is good news indeed because Jesus extends this life to all of us. Because of our common humanity, all of us have access to eternal life. We have access to the forgiveness of our sins. We believe in the resurrection of the dead.

At every funeral mass I celebrate, I'm struck by the Church's prayers. They are filled with our faith that Jesus has overcome sin and death. And that if we believe in Jesus, if we have faith in him and live as his disciples, we too will overcome sin and death. This is the gospel: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all those who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. Every Sunday when we gather here to celebrate the Mass we renew our faith in the resurrection. The Eucharist is the sign and foretaste of the resurrection here and now.

    From the earliest days of the Church, we have held that Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul. What this means is that the promise of eternal life is not some kind of aloof promise. Rather, Mary is already participating in the future life of the Kingdom. The assumption, then, is like the continuation of the Resurrection, the fruit of Jesus' rising from the dead. Jesus rises from the dead and ascends into heaven. In the Creed we say that he waits there so as to return to judge the living and the dead: his kingdom will have no end. The assumption of Mary shows that his reign has already begun.

    When we celebrate the Assumption of Mary we are celebrating the kingdom of heaven. It has already begun. Dwelling on this belief should inspire our faith. It reminds us that if we want to be like Mary, in her blessed life in the kingdom to come, then we need to imitate her here and now. Mary exclaims today in the gospel: my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has done good things for me and holy is his name.

    Every Sunday when we gather here at Mass we gather in the name of Jesus, to celebrate his resurrection. Today we also remember the fruits of this resurrection bestowed upon his blessed mother Mary. As we receive the Eucharist today we can ask for the grace to be like Mary. We can ask for the grace to be open to God's will, to be a follower of Christ, ready to proclaim God's greatness. So that when our time on earth is done we too might proclaim the greatness of the Lord for all eternity. We ask Mary to pray for us as we say: Hail Mary…

    

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ready or Not…

19th Sunday OT year C

    Whether we like it or not, the day is coming. It seems to me, the world can be broken into two camps: those who eagerly await that day, those who love to count down the days; and, those who fear its approach, those who are filled with dread at the very thought of it. I'm talking, of course, about the beginning of the School year. For parents, there are those who love to see this day come, those who would wish nothing more than to see their child off to school, so as to gain a bit of peace and quiet around the house. My Mom was this way! Imagine having 11 of us running amok for a whole summer and you would want to see us off as well. Still, there are those parents saddened by the beginning of school, many of whom experience an empty home during the school year. Then there are the kids, most kids probably say they don't like the beginning of school. They don't look forward to getting up early and doing homework, etc. That was me, I hated to see the beginning of the school year: fun time was over. But, other kids really enjoy school, they enjoy spending time with their friends, reading, studying, etc. But, no matter if you are looking forward to that day, or dreading it: the day is coming, we can neither speed up its arrival or delay its coming.

    The same is true about the end of the world. That day is coming. We believe and profess every Sunday that we are waiting for the coming of Christ: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We profess this every week. This should be something joyful for us. The coming of Christ should excite us. The day is coming when Jesus will return in his glory, inaugurating the Kingdom of God in its fullness. On that day, death will be no more, sin will be defeated and evil will be wiped out forever. On that day the light of Christ will shine into the dark recesses of all humanity, illuminating it and restoring it to its original beauty. We should long for this day, pray for its coming. Yet, at the same time, this day is frightening. For our Lord will come in Glory to judge the living and the dead. Are we ready for the judgment? When Jesus comes, will he find us to be faithful? Built right into the fabric of Christian existence is this paradox: we both eagerly await the coming of Christ and fear his coming. Peter recognizes this in the Gospel: Lord is this message for others, or for us as well? In other words, do we get out of the judgment? Surely as followers of Jesus, we shouldn't have to worry about the coming of the Savior, right? Don't we get a free pass? No! Jesus is quite emphatic. We as Christians have been given more, we have been blessed to receive the saving truth about Jesus. We know he is coming! There are many in the world who haven't a clue. We know, therefore we, above all, should be ready.

    So, how do we get ready for the coming of Jesus? We will only be ready to welcome Christ on the last day if we are well-practiced at receiving Christ into our lives on a daily basis. We do this through our daily prayer: every day we should invite Christ into our lives, ask him to help us overcome our sinfulness, ask him for the grace to be led by the Holy Spirit. Second, we receive Christ in the sacraments of the Church. We will be ready to meet Christ on the last day if we meet him often in the sacrament of confession, we will be ready to receive his mercy on that last day, if we receive it here and now.

    Finally, our faithful participation in the Eucharist is the perfect way to be ready to welcome Christ at the end of time. At every Mass, we hear God's word, we make known to him our needs, Christ comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament, and we pray every Mass "as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior." So, if we are eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ, the Mass helps us to participate in that coming even now. But, if we are weary of the coming of Christ, if the coming of Christ scares us, the Mass should calm our fears and encourage us to seek Christ on a daily basis.

    The kids who have the worst time going back to school are often those kids who sit around doing nothing all summer, while those kids who kept up their reading, prayer, and exercise seem to be ready for the new school year. The same is true for us, if we want to be ready for the coming of Christ, we cannot expect to just sit around and do nothing. If we want to be ready to welcome Christ on the last day, we must welcome him into every day of our lives. Because, ready or not, that day is coming.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are you ready to die?

Jesus' parable today makes us ask some difficult questions. Are you ready to die? If you life ended today, would you be ready to see Jesus? Do you live every day of your life with this end in mind? We always have this notion that we have more time, we might not.

Are you ready to die?

Alphonsus De Liguroi wrote a whole book called the Preparation for death. I remember being shocked by this book. Here is a quote: "Consider that you are dust, and that you shall return to dust. A day will come when you shall die, and rot in a grave, where worms shall be your covering…" Shocking indeed. So many things seem quite unimportant in light of our impending death. Sounds a bit like our first reading: all things are vanity.

For example, I like to golf: vanity. God's not going to ask me my handicap.

I like to cook, vanity: My bacon artichoke dip will not get me into heaven.

I like football, vanity: even if Coach Kelly leads us to 10 national championships, it is not going to lead me closer to God.

Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with these things. We are allowed to have hobbies and interests, but we have to remember that they don't necessarily bring us closer to God, even good things can take us away from God if they distract us too much.

We need to put Paul's words into action. If you have been raised with Christ then seek what is above. If Christ is important to you, he has to be a part of you day, a part of your lives. Your calendar never lies, the things that are important to you can be found on that calendar. How do you spend your time? How do you spend your energy? Some days I spend 4 hours golfing, do I ever spend 4 hours talking to God? I really get excited about football, but do I ever get excited about God? Insert your own hobbies, interests, and those things you spend time on and you see the point. The same is true of possessions. In the gospel, Jesus is not saying that we are not allowed to have things. He doesn't even say that the man shouldn't build bigger barns. What Jesus says is that this man did not care for the things of God. Possessions and money are not bad things, but they can distract us and take us away from our relationship to God. Even good things can lead us astray.

We overcome this possibility by seeking the things that are above: spending time with Jesus, reading about Jesus, watching movies about Jesus, coming to Mass, going to confession, etc. We need to seek holiness, seek God, leave behind our sins, because this is the pathway to eternal life. There is no getting around it; we are all going to die. There is only one name in which we can be saved: Jesus Christ. We need to set our eyes on Christ.

In a few moments we will receive the Holy Eucharist, we will see Jesus. We can ask him to help us to seek the things that are above. We need to live with our end in mind. We know that even good things can distract us from our relationship with God, which should be the most important thing in our lives. Without our relationship with God there is no salvation, no eternal life. Only with firm faith will we be able to answer the questions that will face us all:

Are you ready to die? Are you ready to meet the Lord?