Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas


Christmas 2012:
            First of all, let me say on behalf of Monsignor Mike and everyone at St. Matthews: Merry Christmas to all of you.  We celebrate this feast with great joy.  Christ is born for us.  God our Father sent his only begotten Son into the world to bring us healing and peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, he came as our Savior to bring us everlasting life.  Today we celebrate his birth, we see in this little child the hope of the whole human race.  Without him, without this little baby, we are lost, doomed to death as punishment for our transgressions, but with Christ, with this baby, there is hope, salvation.  No wonder we are filled with joy today. 
There is a lot to love about Christmas.  I love everything about Christmas: presents, parties, lots of food, family, fun, etc.  But at the heart of everything we do during this Christmas season is this little baby.  There are many clich├ęs that capture this sentiment, but there is something to these phrases: keep Christ in Christmas, he is the reason for the season, etc.  Without Christ there would be no Christmas, without Christ we would not be here, without Christ there would be no Christianity, no Church, no Mass, no salvation, no parties, presents, or chocolate.  So during Christmas it is important to remember this little Child, it is good for us to contemplate who he is.
This week as I was contemplating Christmas and contemplating this little baby I thought about Star Wars.  Now, this might seem a bit strange.  You might think I had visions of baby Jesus with a light sabre doing battle with the forces of evil.  But, no, I was thinking about the opening titles.  At the beginning of every Star Wars movie is the same phrase: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: Star Wars.  This is George Lucas’ way of saying that this story is fiction, it is not pretending to be real life.  If anything, Star Wars is a myth about good overcoming evil.
Is this how we think about the birth of Jesus?  It is certainly true that it happened a long time ago, over 2000 years ago; and, it is certainly true that it was far, far away, in a little town called Bethlehem.  There are certainly mythical elements involved: we hear about angels talking to people, about Jesus being a divine figure. 
But, this story is no myth, this story is not fiction.  This story is real, Jesus was really born, he really had a mother, he lived in a real time and place.  And as Pope Benedict wrote recently, this flies in the face of the modern spirit.  In our day and age, God is relegated to the realm of ideas and principles.  It is completely acceptable for someone to be spiritual, or to believe in God, just so long as we don’t allow God to affect our real life.  God is certainly allowed to act in the spiritual realm, but not in the material realm, that is the realm of science and physics.  God is allowed to exist in the spiritual, ethereal plane, but not in the material, concrete world.  But, if God cannot act in the material world, then he is not God, for to be God means to be the maker and sustainer of everything. 
When we say that this little baby is the Son of God, who become man, we are saying something amazing.  We are saying that God not only made the universe and set it in motion, but that he entered the world he created.  We are saying that God not only created the human race, but that he became human in order to share his divine life with us.  When we say that this little baby is God we are saying that God is real, that he exists in the real world, that he is tangible and concrete.  The birth of Christ is not some mere myth or morality story.
So, my friends, we celebrate this feast of Christmas with great joy.  We celebrate the fact that Jesus is really God.  That while this story is set a long time ago in a city far, far away, this really happened.  Jesus is God, he was sent to be our savior.  And just as Jesus came into the real, concrete world 2000 years ago, he continues to come into the reality of our lives.  We live every day in the presence of God, he is not remote, he is not distant.  He loves us, cares for us and is present in our lives.  In a sense, every day could be filled with the joy of Christmas because every day can be a day where we experience God’s presence in our lives. 
We experience this presence in a very powerful way right here as we celebrate this holy Mass.  That little baby is truly God, and his is present in the Holy Eucharist.  Right here at this mass Christ comes to us, not as a little baby, but as his body and blood.  Today we celebrate his birth among us, and we welcome him into our lives as our savior and redeemer, but we do so by welcoming him into our lives in this Holy Eucharist.  Jesus Christ is real, he is not a myth, not a morality fable, not something from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  Today and every day of our lives we believe in Jesus Christ, we love him, and we follow him.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete, even in tragedy


3rd Sunday of advent year c 2012
Rejoice in The Lord always.  These words from our second reading today form the theme of the day. In fact, this Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, coming from the entrance antiphon from today's Mass. This is why we don the pink vestments and proclaim rejoice. This color represents the joy that we are experience as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, where we celebrate the central truth that the Son of God was born to be our savior. This is the source of our joy.
But, this day comes to us on the heels of a very sad day. How can we not be saddened when we hear about the senseless violence that claimed the lives of so many people in Connecticut this past week. One headline I read said it all: why would anyone hurt our babies?  Why indeed?
This latest tragedy may be freshest in our mind, but there have been tragedies all throughout history. Just in the last 100 years we have seen world wars, communist oppression, terrorist attacks large and small. It seems like every day the newspapers are just filled with bad news. In this context, doesn't joy seem a bit out of place. How are we to be joyful in the midst of such suffering?  It is certainly true that there are many obstacles keeping people from living the Christian life, but one we might hear quite regularly goes like this: how can I believe that God is loving and powerful if he lets things like this happen?
Rather than simply dismiss this complaint as misguided, I think it deserves a serious response. How do we answer the question of evil?  One that we hear quite often is that God has a plan for all this. But I feel that this answer rings somewhat hollow. This answer almost makes it seem as though God causes evil to happen so that good might come about. But that doesn't make sense to me. Why would God cause evil, just to bring out good? Wouldn't he just bypass the evil step and just jump right to doing good?
I think if we really explore this issue we can find an answer that is more helpful.  Make no mistake, evil is a mystery. It doesn't make sense. As much as we want it to make sense, it won't.  And, that is because evil is not supposed to exist. The best answer to the question of evil is that God didn't create evil. In fact, if we read the book of Genesis we see there that God created Adam and Eve to live and to be with him in the Garden. In that place there was no death, no evil, no sin, no one attacking innocent children. These things only enter the world after the fall of humanity, only after original sin. In other words, God is never the author of evil, never the author of tragedy. It is the case that God allows evil. I remember reading a quote from John Paul once that said although God allows suffering, he does not enjoy it. This is important to remember.
In many ways, the answer to the question why in the face of great tragedy escapes us because evil doesn’t make sense.  But, we could ask another question of God: what?  What did you do about it, how did you respond?  Since God is not the author of evil he was not responsible, God didn’t have to do anything in response to the falleness of humanity.  But, he did respond.  He did do something, He sent his son Jesus.  He sent us Christ as our savior to free us from sin and death.  It is precisely this knowledge, our Catholic faith, that fills us with joy.
Joy is not the same thing as bubbly enthusiasm.  We do not always experience the warm fuzzy feelings of enthusiasm.  Joy is something deeper.  Joy is the certain knowledge that Christ has conquered all.  Joy is the knowledge that evil doesn’t get to win.  Even though evil can bring us pain and sadness, it does not have the last word.  Someone remarked to me that this tragedy will ruin Christmas for so many people, and I certainly understand what he meant.  But, I think the message of Christmas is the best thing we can give to those in pain: I know you are suffering and I know you feel the pain and misery that evil can cause in this world, but fix your heart on Christ and believe in him, for he is close to the broken-hearted.  Jesus Christ is the source of our Joy precisely because he alone can destroy sin and death, the enemies of Joy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

1st Sunday of Advent


1st Sunday of Advent, Year C: 2012
Today we begin the season of advent.  This is the liturgical season where we prepare for the celebration of the great feast of Christmas, the feast of the Word of God becoming flesh.  Since this is the first Sunday of Advent and we are preparing for the feast of Christmas, you might expect warm fuzzy readings about the birth of Christ.  Instead, we get some particularly terrifying readings about the end of time.  Why is that?
Advent is the season where we prepare to celebrate the feast of the first coming of Christ; but, the Church, in her wisdom, gives us Advent as a yearly reminder that, not only has Christ come once, but he will certainly come again.  Sometimes it is easy for us to get a bit complacent in our waiting for the coming of Christ.  I mean, it has been 2000 years after all.  Subconsciously, we might get the feeling that we don’t need to be mindful of Christ’s coming, but make no mistake: Jesus will come again.  We will all see him face to face, either at his second coming in glory or the moment of our death.  Advent is a good time for us to examine our readiness to see the Lord.
So in our readings today, Jesus tells us what this means.  He basically shows that there are two camps when it comes to the second coming.  Some people are totally caught unprepared.  These people, Jesus says, will die of fright.  Wow, what a powerful image.  Those who are not ready for the coming of Christ will die of fright.  Then there is the other camp: when you see these things stand up straight and get ready for your redemption is at hand.  In other words, if we are ready for Christ the second coming will not cause us to die of fright, quite the contrary.  Those who are ready for Christ will see in his coming the redemption we all long for.  Which camp do you want to be in: those who die of fright or those who are excited by his coming?  Obviously we all want to be in the second camp.
But, Jesus has a warning for all his believers: beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing or drunkenness, but also by the anxieties of daily life.  In other words, don’t let our sinfulness cause us to be unprepared for Christ’s coming.  But not only that, being carried away by the anxieties of life can cause us to be unprepared for his coming.  I don’t know about you, but Christmas time can be full of anxieties: we have so much going on at this time of year that it can be quite easy to let Christ drift to the background.
This is why Advent is so great.  It is a yearly reminder to all of us to keep Christ in the center of our lives, in the center of our hearts and minds.  It is popular this time of year to see bumper stickers and signs that say: keep Christ in Christmas.  And that is certainly true, but we will only keep Christ in Christmas if we invite him into our lives once again during this season of Advent. 
What a great way to begin this season of Advent by celebrating the Holy Eucharist together.  Here at this Holy Mass Christ comes to us, just as he did 2000 years ago.  This time, he does not come as a baby, but under the appearances of bread and wine.  But, it is the same Jesus.  If we welcome him here and now into our lives and into our hearts here at this Eucharist and during this season of Advent, then we will be ready to welcome him when he comes again in glory.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King


Today is the feast of Christ the King.  Today we profess that Jesus Christ is the king of the universe.  The feast of Christ the king was first proclaimed by Pius XI in 1925.  He decided to proclaim a feast acknowledging Christ as the legitimate ruler of the universe because of the problems of nationalism and secularism.  I’m sure Pius never dreamed that he would be so prophetic, for these have absolutely wreaked havoc in the last 100 years.  Think of the destruction of the Second World War, spurred on by nationalism.  Think of the countless millions killed and imprisoned in Soviet Russia or Communist China as a result of secularism.  I heard a statistic one time that said more people have died in the last 100 years from war or violence than any other time in human history.  This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving, and it is certainly true that we have much to be thankful for; but, there should be much that concerns us as well, because secularism is a major problem facing us today.  On this feast of Christ the King, I want to reflect on secularism and see how our faith can counter this terrible trend.
Where to begin?  Before I talk a bit about secularism, let’s begin with Christ.  Today in the gospel Jesus proclaims to Pilot that he has come into the world to testify to the Truth.  For some reason, the people who put together the lectionary left out the next line from Pontius Pilot, he says: what is truth?  This is the question that our world struggles with today.  What is truth, is there truth, if something is true for me is it also true for others?  What is truth?  Namely, Jesus is the Truth.  He is the Word of God, sent from the Father to bring life and light to the human race.  He shows in his very incarnation the truth that God is the maker of the universe, who loves us so much so as to die to reunite us with him.  Christ proclaims an objective reality where God is the maker, ruler, and sustainer of all things, and that his kingdom is precisely a kingdom of love and peace.  This is the truth!  No matter what anyone else might say or believe, this is absolutely true.  No wonder Jesus says that anyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice.  Only in Christ do we find the truth about life, the world, everything.
Now let’s look at the lie of secularism that stands in contradiction to the truth. Secularism is the doctrine that holds for a strict separation between faith and life.  Notice I didn’t say that secularism holds for a separation between Church and State.  In fact, a separation between Church and State is a good thing, we would never want elected officials who are worried about reelection running the Church.  Politicians worry about public opinion and polls; the Church is concerned only with the truth.  But, the truth is that as believers we are believers 24/7.  There can be no separation between faith and life, because our faith is our life.  The truth of existence is that Christ is king, we believe this truth so we listen to his voice.  This voice should shape our lives, everything we do should be affected by our faith, by our belief.  This means that everything we do should be done with the faith in mind: are you a doctor or lawyer, you should be a Catholic doctor or lawyer, do you work in a factory or field, be a Catholic witness in the workplace.  Proponents of secularism want you to check your faith at the door, but if Christ is king then our Catholic faith has to have an impact in our daily lives, especially in the public sphere.
Make no mistake, we live in difficult times.  Secularism is predominant in our country.  Many of us have already accepted the subtle allure of this harmful idea.  But as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, I think we should all renew our efforts to first listen to Christ, to see him as the objective truth that will set us free, then we should not be afraid to share this truth with the world around us.  We draw our strength from Christ, present here in the Holy Eucharist, to proclaim to the whole world that indeed Christ is King.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The end of the World


End of the World


33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B:
            Today we hear some pretty sobering news: the world is going to end.  I'm quite tempted, at this point, to just end the homily and sit down.  The major thrust of Jesus words today is quite simple: this present world will pass away, are we ready?
            Every year at this time our readings focus on the end times.  As we approach the end of the Church's liturgical year we are reminded that time is not simply running without an end in sight.  Rather, the world as we know it will come to an end one day, at that time there will be new heavens and a new earth.  Jesus is giving us a warning in the gospel today: be like the fig tree, know the times and seasons, be ready for trial and tribulation.
            If you are like most people your blood pressure is probably starting to rise.  You might be getting a bit nervous.  Doesn't all this end of the world stuff worry you?  You are probably waiting for me to let you off the hook: don't worry the end is not really coming, etc.  But, you will not get that from me today.  For indeed the end is coming, we know neither the day nor the hour.
            Why do we get so worked up about the end of the world?  I remember once I was  visiting a class at Marian and the kids were all worked up about the end of the world because a movie said that it was coming to an end in 2012.  So they asked me if the world was going to end in 2012 and I simply said yes, next question.  Well, of course, it doesn't look like the world will end in the next 6 weeks.  But, the end of the world should not really cause us much panic for 2 reasons.
            First, there is absolutely nothing we can do about the end of the world.  The Father in heaven knows the day and the hour, none of us know it.  And even if we knew the day, we wouldn't be able to stop it.  This is not Jesus' point anyway.  He does not tell us to forestall the end; rather, he simply tells us to be ready for it.  So we shouldn't be worried about the end of the world, because it will happen when it happens regardless of our worrying about it.  Anxiety will get us nowhere.
            Secondly, we should not be worried about the end of the world because when the end comes Jesus comes with it.  Every week we profess our creed together, we say that we believe that Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and that his kingdom will have no end.  Even though we say this every week, do we stop to think about it?  Just because Jesus has not returned in the last 2000 years does not mean that he couldn't return today.  Are we ready?  Holding the doctrine that Jesus could return at any time should not fill us with dread, it should fill us with excitement.  I mean don't we want to see Jesus?  Every week we pray for his coming.
            Every year at this time we are reminded that the end is coming.  But, this should not cause us concern or anxiety.  First, because that anxiety will change nothing; second, because this end means the beginning of eternity with God in Christ.  The key here is to maintain a balance: yes the end is coming, we should be ready, be on the lookout for the signs, but it should not fill us with dread; rather, it should fill us with hope as we long to see the reign of our savior, which begins even now as we turn our lives over to him and place all our trust in him.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

We are all the blind man...


30th Week of Ordinary Time, year B:
The stories of the gospel are really our stories.  Though the event and words took place many years ago in a land far away from here, these stories continue to speak to us today, the events in the gospel are just as relevant in our own lives as they were to those who lived them.
I think we are all Bartimaeus in one way or another.  In a sense, his story is the story of the human person on the way to God.  All of us can probably see ourselves at some stage in the Bartimaeus story.
The story begins with Bartimaeus sitting on the road, blind, and calling out looking for help.  Isn’t this a great image for humanity!  After the fall, because of Original Sin, aren’t we blind to goodness, aren’t we just sitting on the road, no longer moving toward goodness and fulfillment, but stuck in sin and death.  Yet, we never lost that innate desire for God.  As Augustine said so long ago, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.  Everyone in the world is looking for God, we are all sitting on the path calling out for something more.  Can’t we feel it?  Don’t we want more than this?  This life is good and the world is full of blessings and goodness, but in our hearts we are looking for more.  This is not just us Christians, every human being has this ache in their hearts, many people try to fill it with money, pleasure, power, science, you name it.  We are all searching for something more, but after original sin we can no longer find it.
Enter the person of Jesus.  In today’s story, Jesus walks on the road past Bartimaeus.  I think this this a beautiful way to think about the incarnation.  Jesus comes to us, God walks among us.  We are blind, but searching for God.  So God comes to us, Jesus walks among us.  God comes in search of humanity.
But, God never takes away our freedom.  There is a part of this story that I always find hard to take.  You almost get the impression that Jesus wasn’t going to stop.  Jesus walks past the blind man, and only stops when he cries out.  What does this mean?  Yes, God comes in search of humanity, but he is only found by those who seek him.  When Bartimaeus cries out for Jesus, Jesus stops, approaches him and invites him: what do you want me to do for you?  I will often talk to people who tell me that they feel like they are kind of losing their faith.  “I just don’t feel God anymore…”  Now it is certainly the case that our spiritual life has its ups and downs, and we cannot rely too heavily on our feelings; but, I sometimes ask: have you been looking for God?  If it seems like Christ is distant, it might be that he is respecting our freedom, he did not come to obliterate our freedom; rather, he comes in search of those who are seeking him.
When Bartimaeus seeks Jesus, he finds him, Jesus heals his blindness.  By encountering Jesus, Bartimaeus finds what he has been looking for, so he gets up and follows him.  Isn’t that why we are here today?  We were looking for Jesus, we found him, and now we follow him.  The last stage in this journey to be with him forever in the resurrection. 
So it seems to me that in the gospel story we can see several different stages in life, and we are all probably at some different point along the way.  Also, I think it is important to remember that most of the people we meet will probably be in a different stage than we are.  But, make no mistake, we are all looking for God, and we find him in Jesus, we find him right here in this Holy Eucharist.  And down to this very day, this very hour Jesus continues to approach us and ask us the same question: What do you want me to do for you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A long way to go...


29th Sunday OT Year B:
In today’s gospel, the apostles do no look too good.  James and John look petty and importunate: give us whatever we ask…  The others become indignant and grumpy, almost as if they wanted to ask Jesus the same thing and are mad that the brothers beat them to it.  I am always inspired by the stories of in the Bible where the disciples look bad, because that means there is still hope for me yet!  These apostles are the greatest saints in the history of the Church, but they were not always great Christians, the struggled and had much to overcome.  So if we struggle, if we have much to overcome, these stories should fill us with hope.  If we see ourselves in the apostles when they are petty and grumbling, maybe, by God’s grace, we too can become great saints.  For this reason we continue to read their stories so that we can learn from their example.
What do we learn from today’s story?  If I asked James and John: who is Jesus?  They would reply that they believed he was the Christ, and that is a great start!  But if we listen again to their question, we find out that they don’t really know what it means that Jesus is the Christ.  When they ask for places of honor in Christ’s kingdom, it might be easy for us to assume that they are talking about heaven.  But, I don’t think so.  Rather, I think they saw Jesus as a worldly leader who was about to start an uprising.  They were hoping to gain positions of power when the anointed one restored the earthly kingdom to the people of Israel.  So we could say that they have faith in Jesus, but that their faith still needed to grow.  They thought that Jesus came to rule the earth, this is why Jesus tells them: I can to serve not to be served.  They still needed to comprehend the mystery of Christ.  Christ indeed came to establish the kingdom, but it is a kingdom of peace and service, not a dictatorship. 
Also, look at their first question: we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.  What does this say about their view of Jesus?  Does this sound like a way to approach your loving savior?  Would any of us address a real friend this way?  Much more, would we say something so bold to a complete stranger?  It seems to me that when they confront Jesus in this manner they are not respecting him as a person, they do not love him as a friend.  Rather, in today’s gospel the disciples treat Jesus like a means to an end.  Jesus is like a vending machine: ok, we have followed you, now we want you to give us whatever we ask.
At this point it is good for us to ask ourselves if we ever fall into these two traps.  Do we have the wrong idea about Jesus?  Do we live to serve others the way that Christ came to serve us?  What is our relationship with God like?  Do we love and respect God our Savior, or do we treat him like a machine that should give us the things we want right when we ask for them?
How do we make the transformation?  The disciples changed only when they met the Risen Jesus.  They saw Jesus die on the cross, the met Jesus after he rose from the dead.  They had a relationship with the person of Christ.  No longer was Jesus just their idea of the Messiah, no longer did they treat him like a means to an end.  After they met the Risen Christ, they had a relationship with Christ and they lived to be like Christ for others.
The same is true for us, and while we might not see Jesus face to face the way that the apostles did.  We meet Jesus in his Holy Scriptures, we meet him in our life of prayer, and we meet him, especially, right here in the Eucharist. 
Today we learn that the apostles had a long way to go in their life of faith, and we might have a long way to go as well.  But just as they got their by the grace of God, so may we if we draw close to Christ.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

28th Sunday


28th Sunday of OT Year B:
Today we hear Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man.  This is absolutely one of my favorite stories in the whole gospel.  Every time I read it, I hear something new, I gain a new insight.  The reason I like this passage so much is because it is so real, and I think we can all relate to what is going on here.
The young man in the story is the “basically good person.”  He is a good guy, he does the right thing, he follows the commandments.  How many people, when asked, would say the same thing: I am basically a good person?  One question I always have is: wouldn’t it have been better for this guy if he never went up to Jesus?  I mean here he is, a loyal son of Israel, following the commands, living a good life.  He only becomes sad after he talks to Jesus.  Wouldn’t it be better to just avoid Jesus?  How many of us might think the same thing?  Maybe some of your family members think this way: I don’t really need to go to Church, I don’t really need all that stuff in my life, I’m basically a good person.  Isn’t being good, good enough?
This is a tricky question.  Why go to Jesus, why go to Church?  If I go to Jesus he will ask me to do something hard.  If I go to Jesus I will have to give up my sinfulness.  If I go to Jesus he will ask me to sacrifice for others.  If I go to Jesus he will ask me for something I am not quite willing to give him.  Perhaps it is better to avoid Jesus altogether!
But, we know this is not true.  Somewhere deep down there is a sense that being a “basically good person,” is not good enough.  Don’t we want to be perfect?  Don’t we want to be saints?  Don’t we want to be rid of all the emptiness and pain that selfishness and sin can bring?  Aren’t we looking for something more?  The rich young man in the story was looking for something more, and in Jesus he found it, but he went away sad.
Now it is certainly true that the story intends for us to think that the young man left for good, and perhaps he did.  But, I always like to hope that he came back.  I always like to hope that while he went away sad, he came back happy, that he sold his things and followed Christ.  I would like to think that the desire for holiness and perfection that brought him to Jesus in the first place also led him to make that hard decision, even though it made him sad.
I don’t normally like to talk about myself in the homily, but I think I went through the same thing this man did in my own life.  After high school I decided that I never wanted to go to school again (God certainly has a sense of humor because now it seems I never get out of school!).  So I started working.  I was a manager at Wendy’s for a couple of years, then I started working at a paintball gun factory that my uncle owned.  It was a great job.  In no time I was making really good money, I had a new car, a new apartment, a big screen TV, I had it all, so to speak.  But, then I became an RCIA sponsor, I learned more about my faith, I really started to pray and ask Jesus: what must I do?  The answer that I heard was troubling: go become a priest.  This scared me.  I always thought that I would get married and have kids, being a priest meant being celibate.  I liked my job, had nice things, and was making great money, to become a priest meant losing all these things.  I enjoyed spending time with my friends, playing sports, and practicing my hard rock guitar, becoming a priest meant going away to seminary where I would meet new people (although I never did give up on that hard rock guitar!).  For several months, I went away sad.  I felt like I didn’t want to give up all that stuff.  But, I finally did apply to the seminary, and I can absolutely say that Jesus means it when he says he will repay a hundred times more.  My life is amazing.  I don’t make as much money as I once did, but I have everything I need.  I am not married, but I have hundreds of kids here at St. Matt’s and at Marian that call me Father.  I like this “job” way better than making paintball guns, and I still rock out on my guitar…  Going to seminary was a bit scary, but Jesus is never outdone in generosity.
What is he asking of you?  You will never know unless you ask.  Don’t forget it will not be easy, it might be quite scary in fact.  But, listen again to what the gospel says: Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said…  Jesus is looking at each one of us, he loves us, he wants nothing but our good.  If he asks you to make the hard decision, don’t be afraid to follow him.  Don’t go away sad from Jesus, return to him and open yourself to his will.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The two become one flesh...


27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
It is no secret that many people disagree with teachings of the Church.  So while this is true generally, it is certainly true specifically when it comes to teachings about human sexuality and marriage.  If you want to see a violent backlash, speak to someone about sexual morality who disagrees with these teachings.  I have certainly had the experience where bitterness and anger from normally quite nice people comes out when we get to things like living together before marriage, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, etc.  People can really go crazy when you talk about this stuff.  But, of course, we have to talk about this stuff.  Marriage is the foundation of society.  As we hear in Genesis, it is not good for man to be alone.  Marriage, therefore, is the building block of the whole human race.  I don’t think it is alarmist to say that there is no teaching that is more important to society than that about sex and marriage. 
But, this teaching is difficult to grasp and difficult to share.  More often than not we rely simply on negative commands.  Very often the best we can tell people is that Church says you cannot do this, that and the other thing.  It is a big list of no’s, which doesn’t really work.  So, I think there are basically 2 things we can take from this gospel today that can help us to both understand this teaching ourselves, and help us to present it to others.
First, this is not simply “the Church’s” teaching, as though human beings made it up.  This comes from God himself.  First, it comes from the very design of the human being.  God is a communion of persons, and since we were made in God’s image and likeness we are made for communion.  In the union of husband and wife, and only in this union, we find a place where the longing for communion can be satisfied.  In the union of husband and wife 2 people give themselves to one another completely, totally, and faithfully, and when they give themselves to each other in this way, new life can result.  It was God who created this blessed union.  So everything we teach the world about sex and marriage does not come from us, it comes from God.  Today we hear even more from Jesus.  Someone once told me: your church really needs to change its stance on this stuff.  How could we change the teaching when it is not ours?  This stuff comes right from God.
Secondly, what does God really tell us?  You can’t do this, that, and the other thing?  No, Christ holds up for us not a list of no’s, but a beautiful goal.  “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.”  If you wanted to know where all the hard moral teachings about sex and marriage come from, they all come from this one sentence.  The two become one flesh.  This union of husband and wife fulfills the deepest longing of the human heart.  If you think of the whole list of “no” teachings, this powerful truth is underneath every one.  Why is the Church against sex before marriage: you cannot unite bodily if you have not united in mind, soul, and heart.  Why is the Church against contraception: you cannot hold back something as beautiful as your fertility if you are to be totally united.  Why is the church against divorce and remarriage: if the two are united, neither can be united to another while their spouse is living.  Why is the church against gay marriage: only the union of a man and woman is capable of bringing about new life.  I could go on and on. 
So this teaching comes from God and it not a list of don’ts; rather, this is a beautiful message that if we are going to fulfill that deep need for communion that we all have, we will only do so if we follow this beautiful truth.  To be sure, this is a difficult teaching, a difficult goal to reach.  But, it is Jesus who gives us the strength.  Let us turn to Jesus in the Eucharist and ask him for the grace to live out this beautiful message: the two become one flesh.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Hearts


26th Sunday in OT
Today we hear something pretty radical from Jesus.  If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin gouge it out. Etc.  I don't know about you, but I have been trained to read this passage metaphorically.  "Don't worry: Jesus doesn't literally mean that we are supposed to cut off our hands."  In some sense, this is true.  Make no mistake, no one should go home today and amputate anything.  But, I don't really think that Jesus is being metaphorical.
 Listen again to what he says: if your hand causes you to sin.  Let's think about this for a minute: does your hand really cause you to sin?  As many of you know, in addition to being the chaplain at Marian I am also the girls golf coach.  And it is a lot of fun to work with the girls teaching them the game of golf.  One time I was working with a girl at the driving range.  She was struggling to hit her driver, it was going everywhere but straight.  So she says to me, “I think I need a new driver.”  So I asked her if I could borrow the driver for a second, and I hit one straight as an arrow, which if anyone has ever played with me knows that a straight shot is a bit of a miracle.  So I said, the driver looks fine to me…
 In golf it is usually pilot error not the plane that causes something to go wrong.  If it was really the driver that causes the ball to fly poorly, I would certainly recommend that they get a new one.  But, usually the clubs are just fine.  If we want to fix the ball flight we need to fix the real cause, something in the golf swing.
I think the lesson Jesus is telling us is similar.  But is it really the hand that causes the sin.  No.  Something else causes the sin.  There is a deep truth that Jesus is getting at here.
First, sin is terrible.  Listen to the starkness of the terms here.  Cut it off and throw it away, better to go to heaven maimed.  The stakes are high.  Jesus is not simply trying to frighten us, I think he is trying to open our eyes to the absolute horror of sin.  While we are all sinners, there is nothing good about sin.  It is terrible.  It causes grief and turmoil in our lives.  We should learn to despise sin, pray for its eradication, strive to do better each and every day.  God is certainly loving and merciful, but that is not to say that sin doesn't matter. I've heard people say: Oh, God doesn't care if I'm a sinner... Really!  Jesus says today that sin is so bad that we should take radical steps to cleanse ourselves of sin.  So the first lesson we learn is that sin is terrible and we should get rid of it.
Secondly, what is the cause of sin?  As I have been saying it is not really our hands, or tongues, or eyes, etc.  Even if we use parts of our bodies to sin, these parts are not the cause.  What is the cause?  It's our hard hearts, it's pride, it's selfishness.  Jesus says in another place that it is not what enters a person from the outside that causes us to be defiled, rather all sin starts within and comes out.  Basically this means we all need to jettison our hard hearts and replace them with warm hearts full of love.
This might be a bit discouraging.  In some sense it would almost be easier to chop off something.  Sometimes is it quite painful to come to terms with our weaknesses, to come to terms with our hardness of heart.  Very often, our hardness of heart comes from years of pain and mistreatment.  How do we get rid of something so deep?  On our own, this would be impossible.  But for God nothing is impossible.
We heard in the first reading that Moses prayed and the spirit of God was put into the hearts of the people.  This is exactly what we believe happens at baptism.  The spirit of God was given to each of us.  And if we allow him to do so, the Spirit can reach down even to the hardest heart.  The Spirit can cleanse and purify us.
Indeed our weakness, our sinfulness, our hardness of hearts cause us to sin, but the good news is that we can get rid of these things.  By the power of God at work within us we can be renewed and transformed.  But, we have to be open to this power.  Today as we receive Holy Communion we approach humble and contrite, we approach recognizing our weakness, and we ask Christ to give us new hearts.  The girls on my team don’t need new golf clubs, and none of us need to amputate any part of our bodies.  But we all need new hearts full of love, and only Christ can give them to us.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

We follow Jesus as St. Matthew did


25th Sunday OT year B:
Last week we heard Jesus asking his disciples: who do you say that I am?  Peter responded with his great proclamation of faith: you are the Christ.  This confession is the beginning of faith.  It is the center of our faith.  Jesus Christ, the son of God reveals to us the Father and he sends the Spirit upon the Church.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God, so everything we know and everything we believe begins with this one statement: you are the Christ.
But, faith is more than something we know.  Faith has everything to do with who we are and what we do.  For us to say Jesus is the Christ has implications.  Simply to believe with our minds is not sufficient.  Faith is not simply a matter of knowledge, faith is a relationship with Christ that bears on how we live.  This is why Jesus calls his disciples to follow him.  Last week we heard Jesus invite the crowds: if you wish to follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.  Today we celebrate the memory of one of these disciples.  Today we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew.  Remember that St. Matthew was sitting at his customs post, minding his own business.  Jesus approaches him and simply says: follow me.  Matthew left everything behind to follow him.  What an inspiration for all of us!  Jesus says to each one of us: follow me.
Like St. Matthew we are followers of Jesus, like St. Peter we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.  So today we can picture ourselves in the company of Jesus, we are walking with him, following him.  What is his message: the son of man will be handed over, killed, and rise on the third day.  The central message of Jesus is his death and resurrection.  That was the central message in the gospel, and it is the central message down till the present day.  In fact, we say that every Mass is a renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary.  At every Mass we enter into the very dying and rising of Jesus.  As we walk along on this journey of faith with Christ, the central message is the same: Jesus has died, but he rose again.
But this is, by no means, an easy message.  St. Paul said many years ago that the cross is a stumbling block to the Jewish people and foolishness to the Gentiles.  Remember how we began: Jesus is the Christ, but he explains that the Christ will suffer.  This is not how we would have drawn it up.  In our cosmic game plan Jesus would have annihilated sin and death with fire and brimstone from heaven.  So the cross is indeed difficult to understand.  But, we are in good company: the gospel relates that the disciples did not understand the teaching.  Indeed the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus is certainly a mystery.  But if we probe this mystery we find the love of God poured out upon the world for the salvation of all.  So, my friends we constantly proclaim the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the more we understand this mystery the more we know and love Christ.
But, there is something puzzling about the gospel passage.  It says they were afraid to question Jesus.  Why were they afraid?  Well I wasn’t there, but my best guess is that they were afraid to ask Jesus because they understood the implications.  If Jesus is going to suffer, that means we too will suffer.  If we are following Jesus, and he will deny himself and pick up his cross, then as followers we will have to do the same.  No wonder they were afraid, their whole conversation was not about self-denial: they were arguing about who was the greatest.  The same might be true for all of us: if we follow Jesus as St. Matthew did, if we hear the proclamation of his death and resurrection, we might see the implications.  To follow Jesus means to lay down one’s life like he did.  But there is no other path to happiness and holiness, there is no other path to life everlasting than the way of the Cross: listen again to the words of St. James: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.  But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.
Today we remember St. Matthew, we remember our patron who had the courage to follow Christ.  Through his intercession may we have the courage to do the same: St. Matthew, our Patron: pray for us.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who do you say that I am?

24th Sunday OT:

At the heart of our gospel today is the question of identity. The question begins in general terms, even Jesus says: who do people say that I am? The responses of the people are as general as Jesus' own question: some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. In other words, some people say you are a great preacher who is traveling around preaching repentance just like John the Baptist. Others are saying even more, you are a prophet like Elijah who was the man of God. These answers are not wrong, Jesus was a preacher who spoke of repentance; he was a prophet who spoke about and for God. But, while these people who said Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet might not have been wrong, they weren't correct. These titles do not get to who Jesus really is.

After this question of generalities, Jesus makes it alarmingly concrete: who do you say that I am? What an uncomfortable question! Imagine that someone walked up to you and asked: who do you say that I am? Even if it was your spouse or your child, it would be a hard question to answer.

Jesus really puts Peter on the spot here. Who am I? Do you know me better than those others who think of me as just another prophet or preacher? Am I more than that? But, Peter doesn't even hesitate: you are the Christ. This answer is vastly different from the previous answers, which were generic and spoke about the things that Jesus did. This new answer gets to the very identity of Jesus: you are not just some preacher, not just another prophet: you are the Christ, the son of God.

So, it seems like there are two camps in the world: those who know about Jesus, and those who know Jesus. The first group sees only the things Jesus said and did: he is some great prophet. The second group knows Jesus, knows his identity: you are the Christ.

How is Peter able to see Jesus and identify who he really is? How does he get into the second group? There is no doubt that Peter heard Jesus preaching, that he thought of him as a prophet, but how did he get past the generalities? Peter knew Jesus. It is just that simple. Peter had a relationship with Christ, he spent time with him, spoke with him, followed him, etc. He got to know Jesus on a personal level. He was able to move beyond generalities because he encountered Jesus in the specifics of his life.

Don't we all want to do the same? Don't we all want to know Jesus? It is not enough to know about Jesus; salvation, holiness, and grace come from knowing Jesus. How do we get from the first group to the second group? Jesus gives us a roadmap: whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow after me. The way to know Jesus is to follow him, the way to follow him is to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.

This is, by no means, an easy task. The road of discipleship can be a road of suffering and hardship, but this should not surprise us. We are Christians, we bear the name of Christ. He suffered, and we suffer. He denied himself on the cross, we deny ourselves in our daily lives. But it is in and through our difficulties that we follow Christ, that we become like him, that we get to know him. Here in this holy Eucharist, Christ comes to us and he asks us the same question he asked St. Peter: who do you say that I am? We will only be able to answer this question well if we follow Jesus, if we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Our God will come with salvation for his people:

23rd Sunday OT:

Our God will come with vindication for his people. These words of the prophet Isaiah capture the faith of the people of Israel. More than likely these words were written sometime near the time of the exile. It was a difficult time, they were being attacked by Assyria, their nation was crumbling around them. But, they held onto their faith that God would come to save them.

How beautiful for us to read this passage in the light of Christ. The people of Israel believed that God would never leave them, never abandon them. They believed that God would bring them salvation, but who could imagine how God planned, in the fullness of time, to bring about this salvation: 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. The Good News of salvation is that God indeed comes for his people. He came as one of us; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This time God wasn't bringing salvation from Assyrians, Egyptians, or Babylonians. This time he came to do battle with the very brokenness of humanity itself. Our Savior came to do battle with sin, with death, with the fallenness that is ours. Jesus came to speak Good News to his people.

Jesus came to bring salvation to Israel, to the chosen people, but, he also came as a man to speak to all men and women. We see this truth in our gospel today. Right at the beginning of our reading we hear that Jesus entered the Decapolis. This region was a gentile region. The man in the story today becomes a symbol for all the Gentiles, all the non-Jewish people, in other words all of us. We know that in the Old Testament, God spoke to his people Israel through the prophets. But, non-Jewish people might be considered deaf to the voice of God. So, the deaf person in the gospel could stand for all those who were outside of the people of Israel, deaf to the Word of God. But, Christ opens the ears of the Gentile. When Christ comes among us, he opens our ears to hear the Good News of salvation. After he opens our ears, it becomes imperative that he touches our tongues as well, for after having heard Good News, it is impossible to be silent.

Christ came to preach the Good News to all, to open the ears of all humanity so that we can hear God's Word, he came to loosen our tongues so we could proclaim this Word. By his incarnation, by taking on our common human nature, no one is excluded. Christ came for us all. This is why James found the giving of preferential treatment to a class of people so offensive. Christ came for all of us, rich and poor, Jewish and Gentile, slave and free.

And look at the price that Christ pays to open our ears and touch out tongues. It says in the gospel today that Jesus groaned. Think of another time when Christ is in agony: on the cross. Every time we look at the Cross of Christ we see how much he loves every person on the planet, every human person who has ever lived. Christ came for all, and he gave himself up for all. As Christians, as those who have been touched by Christ, we too should go out to all of humanity. By his death on the Cross Jesus brought salvation for his people.

We were first touched by the power of this sacrifice on the day of our baptism, and we are strengthened and renewed by this sacrifice every time we gather at this altar. And at the end of this mass, and every mass, we are sent on a mission to go and announce the gospel of the Lord. Each week we reenact this gospel passage, Christ touches our ears with his words, he touches our tongues in Holy Communion, then we go out to spread the Good News.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Christ came to set us free

22nd Sunday of OT:

This is one of those weeks where our readings are speaking to us about morality. Morality is the way we live our lives as disciples of Jesus. James exhorts us in the second reading: be doers of the word and not hearers only. The word of God is living and active. Rather than being something that can be grabbed and possessed, the Word of God grabs and possesses us, it spurs us on to action. We hear the word of God and we want to put it into practice.

Sounds good so far, right? Hear the word of God and put it into practice by living a moral life. But, there can often be a bit of a disconnect between faith and life. We hear about Jesus, we believe in him, we want to be his disciples, we understand that living the moral life is what this means. Then what do we get? It seems like we get a bunch of rules and regulations. We want to follow Jesus, and we get a list of things we are not supposed to do: thou shalt not this, that, and the other thing. Whether it is the 10 commandments, the moral teachings of the gospel, or something from the Catechism, it seems to outline a bunch of stuff we are not allowed to do.

And, maybe it is just me, but doesn't it seem like God looked at the human heart, found all the things we really want to do, then made commandments against it? Don't we love to speak ill of our neighbor: can't do it, that's gossip. Don't we just love to be angry at our enemies: can't do it, we are supposed to love our enemies. Don't we just love to indulge in any kind of pleasurable thing: can't do it, that is lust, or greed, or gluttony. It seems like we are stuck in some cosmic tug of war. On the one hand there is the moral code, and on the other, there are the inclinations of our hearts set in opposition. So, for many of us, life becomes a matter of trying to dodge the sin we might desire in our hearts. It is almost as if sin were potholes in the road: if we can just make it down the street without hitting any of the major potholes we will be ok. But, this is a crazy way to live life. And this is not what morality is supposed to be about. Morality is not a matter of avoiding sin. Rather, it's about living life to the full.

Listen again to the words from Deuteronomy: hear the statutes and decrees (why? So that life will be miserable and you will be prone to fail? No) so that you may live, and may enter and take possession of the land. I find that so beautiful, hear the statutes and decrees so that you may live. God gives us the commandments through Christ and the Church not because he wants us to struggle and fail, but because he wants us to be happy and blessed. We were not made for sin! We were made to be holy, to be with God, to live.

But, what about our sinful inclinations: today Christ labels it so well, there is a bunch of junk that can pour out of our hearts: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, etc. We have inherited original sin, we are prone to fall. But, Christ came to help us. Through grace, we can be healed, maybe not totally in this life. Christ came to set us free, he came to purify our minds and our hearts. Jesus did not come simply to give us a new set of rules and regulations; rather, he came to set us free. He does this especially through the sacraments. When we are baptized, confirmed, when we receive communion, confess our sins, when we are anointed, when you got married, when I got ordained, the grace of God is at work within us, making us more like Christ, healing us down to our hearts.

So the moral life was not given to us to make us miserable. It is a guide to true human fulfillment. While our hearts are set in opposition to the law, Christ came to set us free. We cannot lose hope. Christ came to renew and transform us, Christ came to heal our hearts, so that a life of discipleship is not one of misery, but one of joy. Right here in this Holy Eucharist Christ pours his life out for us, as we receive his body and blood, he can transform us, heal us, set us free so that we can live and be with him in that promised land that awaits us.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lord, where else would we go?

This is a hard teaching, who can accept it. For the last three weeks Jesus has taken great pains to reiterate a central teaching. He is the bread of life, his body is real food, his blood real drink. Unless you eat his body and drink his blood, you have no life within you. This is a hard teaching: how can this man give us his food to eat? We believe and profess that here in the Holy Eucharist these words come true. That Jesus gives us his body and blood as true food and drink and that through this blessed sacrament we have life and light. But this is certainly a hard teaching, who can accept it?

There are many hard teachings in our faith. It can be quite hard sometimes to believe that God is our loving father, when we live in a world broken by sin, violence, hunger, and war. It is not easy to believe that the eternal Word of the Father took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. It is also hard to believe that this Jesus who suffered death by crucifixion rose after three days. It is hard to believe that he sent the Spirit into the world. It is hard to believe that the Church is his body on earth, led by the successor of St. Peter. And there are a great many teachings in the moral life that are difficult to believe, many hard teachings, especially those about the gift of human sexuality and human life. Even our second reading gives us a hard teaching: wives be submissive to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. The mutual submission of spouses to each other is a hard teaching, who can accept it?

I am sure that every one of us has some teaching in mind right now. Each one of us probably has some aspect, some doctrine of the faith that can be especially difficult. How do we react? How do we respond? Do we embrace and accept this teaching, difficult as it might be, or do we reject it? Do we place ourselves as mediators of truth? If it is hard to accept, maybe it is easier just to reject it. Or, what happens when we are backed into a corner because of a hard teaching? Do we look for a way out? How many times has someone challenged you on one of these hard teachings? Maybe somebody has asked you: how can the church really teach that contraception is wrong? What is our response? It is perfectly natural to have difficulties with the hard teachings of the faith. We might struggle with some of these teachings, we might meet others who struggle. But, look at how Jesus responds. He doesn't soften his stance, he doesn't find some nuance, he just looks at Peter and says: will you leave me too?

Why doesn't Jesus back down, why not nuance his teaching so that people wouldn't leave? Why can't the church change her teachings on morality, sexuality, etc. The words of St. Peter are key here: Lord where would we go, you have the words of eternal life. We believe you are the son of God. Jesus cannot back down, the Church cannot nuance the truth, because we do not believe in teachings or statements. Our faith is not based on a book, it is not based on human rationality, our faith is not simply a great idea. Our faith is in Jesus. We cannot have a relationship with teachings, rather we have a relationship with Christ. Once we have that relationship, then the teachings make sense, the teachings hold together. It never means that these hard teachings become easy to believe, it only means that once we have met Christ there is nowhere else to go. If there are hard teachings that we find difficult to accept, if we are challenged by others who find them hard to accept, the answer must be found in looking to Christ. Only in Jesus do these hard teachings make sense. We will have challenges and struggles in our faith but we face them just like St Peter: we turn to Christ and say: Lord where else would we go?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The tension of human life

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

As human beings we live in a difficult tension. We seem to have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. As creatures we share many things with the rest of the animals: we have bodies, we eat, we sleep, we have to take care of other bodily, earthly concerns. And yet, we far surpass the rest of creation. We were made with God's image and likeness, we have will and intelligence. We can think, reason, choose, and love. None of which the animals can do. Squirrels cannot write novels, monkeys cannot do calculus, horses cannot play football (except in Budweiser commercials), and dogs do not have the capacity to aspire for heaven.

And to make matters worse, all of us live in the world as it suffers the effects of original sin. Not only do we have bodies and earthy concerns, we live in a state of weakness, we are prone to fall morally, we are subject to sickness and death.

Very often we get sick of this tension. We get sick of being stuck between earthly and spiritual. Sometimes people just give up and decide to forgo the tension and to live just one side or the other. We have probably all met those people who just give up on the spiritual life. God seems too distant or too difficult to find. Their hearts and minds might have a desire for higher things, but the search seems too difficult or too elusive, so they focus on only those things they can see, sense, feel. They probably don't go to church, and might look for meaning in earthly instead of spiritual realities.

The opposite can happen too. Let's call these people the holy rollers, who live as though they are already in heaven, removed from the ordinariness of the real world. At first, this might seem like a good thing, but I am reminded of a story I read in a book. The author was sitting next to a man at Mass. The first thing he noticed was how reverently and devoutly the man was participating at Mass. He seemed to be the holiest person in the whole church. In fact, the author remembers thinking that he started feeling jealous, wishing he were more like this guy. Until the sign of peace. The author reached over to the holy roller and said peace be with you: the man refused to stretch out his hand and responded coldly: I don't believe in that garbage... This guy was living like he was already in heaven and forgot something as simple as loving his neighbor.

We live in the tension: we are bodily creatures, made with an eternal spiritual soul. We should keep this in mind in our life of faith. Here is one reason why Paul was so masterful. today in the second reading we hear St. Paul giving his advice to his people. In the first part of the reading, Paul remembers the down to earth side of things: All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So Paul meets us in the ordinariness of our lives: put away evil things and be kind and compassionate. But he doesn't stay on just earthly things: be imitators of God, he says next. Paul has a marvelous way to meet us where we are, but it would certainly be a sad thing if we just remained where we are. Rather, we were made for nothing less than communion with God. We certainly have down to earth concerns, but our goal is eternal life in the kingdom of God.

But this model is not unique to Paul. Rather, it comes from Jesus: I am the bread that came down from heaven. But Jesus did not come among us to leave us here: I am the bread of life whoever eats this bread will live forever. Jesus did not forget our down to earth concerns, he came as one like us in all things but sin, but he came to bring back to the Father.

Again the Eucharist is a sacrament that deals well with the tension of human life. It comes to us in a very down to earth way: it comes to us in the form of bread and wine. But we certainly know that it is very much more than that. It is the bread of life, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The tension of human life can be difficult on us, we might be tempted to give up on the tension, but with the gift of the Eucharist we find the strength we need to walk this difficult journey.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I'm back!

Hello everyone,

I'm back from DC.  I had a good summer.  I learned about the American legal system, the annulment procedure, consecrated life (religious orders), and special issues pertinent to the laity.  It was hot, but it was hot here too I think.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Fr Jake

PS: look at the bottom of the blog and you will see a "follow by email" gadget I added, this will email you when I post stuff on the blog.

Quick Start Guide

18th Sunday OT:

2 weeks ago I bought a new GPS navigating system for my car. I'm convinced that these are among the coolest inventions ever. What did we ever do before that mechanical lady inside that box that tells me where to go? It won't be long until our kids will have never heard of maps before…

When I opened the box there was a "quick-start guide" inside. You probably know what I'm talking about, this guide gives the bare essentials that you need in order to operate the machine. You have to plug it into the car, you have to turn it on, you have to hit the button and enter an address, etc. This quick start guide might not answer every question that I could possibly ask, but it gives the minimum you need to get going.

Parents, wouldn't it be nice if kids came with these quick start guides? Helpful little guides that tell you how to operate these little ones. But, of course, babies don't come with quick start guides. If they did, what would it say? Congratulations on your purchase of a new human being. This man or woman will provide decades of entertainment, worry, grief, and satisfaction. To begin, please ensure that the person is able to breathe. Avoid extreme temperatures. Be sure to give water and food at regular intervals: note: growing teenage football players require much more food… The human person responds well to love and affection… This would be a good start. These are our basic human needs: air, water, food, love.

Today in the gospel we hear about these basic human needs: we hear about thirst, we hear about hunger. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst. In other words, Jesus is reminding us of another basic human need. Jesus is pointing out to us that there is a deeper hunger, a deeper thirst. Jesus Christ is the word through whom was made the universe. If anyone is in position to write that quick-start guide on the human person it is he. We all know and recognize that we hunger and thirst for food and water, but are we always conscious of that hunger and thirst for God present in the heart of every human person. Do we recognize our need for Christ? Do we think of our relationship with him as being more important than food or water?

Paul tells us how to do this in the second reading. He says, the truth is in Jesus. We find in him the answer to the question that is at the heart of our existence: we were made for communion with God. Next, we grow in that communion by putting away the old self, putting away our former lives, turning away from sin and all that ugliness and darkness. Renew the spirit of your minds: turn to Jesus, ask him for his presence in your lives. Renewing our minds is nothing other than inviting God to live within us, to guide our thoughts, feelings, and actions. So we can put on the new self who was created in righteousness and holiness. We might not have that quick start guide, but if we did, righteousness and holiness would probably be listed as the ultimate goal for every human person. We were made with this goal in mind: to love and serve God so that we could be with God forever, to be righteous and holy. And just like we cannot live without food and water, we cannot live without Christ in our lives.

I am the bread of life, Jesus says. We turn now to the Holy Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus poured out for us. Right here from this altar we will receive the bread of life. Together we can all make the words of St. Paul our prayer: Lord as I receive you in the Holy Eucharist help me to put away my former life of sin, renew my mind, help me to put on the new self so that I might serve your forever in righteousness and holiness…

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer in D.C.

Have a great summer everyone! As you probably remember, I am in the process of studying to become a Canon Lawyer for the diocese. So Tuesday I will leave for Washington, D.C. to study at the Catholic University of America. I hope you all have a blessed summer and I will see you when I get back. If I get the chance I'll put some stuff on the blog about my studies in D.C.

God Bless,

Fr Jake

Pentecost 2012

    As a priest there are many interesting things I get to do, saying Mass, hearing confessions, visiting Marian, coaching the golf team, etc. But, one of my favorites is teaching at St. Matt's school. Every Thursday at 8:00 I get to teach the 7th grade. One of the things I do is to help them prepare for confirmation. I really enjoy this work of preparing people for confirmation because every year I get the chance to reflect on my own confirmation, which is a sacrament that we probably don't spend much time thinking about.

But maybe today, Pentecost, is a good day for all of us to reflect a bit upon the great gift of the Holy Spirit that we received at our own confirmation. If you think about it, the sacrament of confirmation is for us the event of Pentecost in our own lives. Those of us who are confirmed already have received the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While the Holy Spirit may not have come upon us in the form of tongues of fire, without question, the Spirit certainly came upon us.

And just as an aside, if there are any adults here who for whatever reason were not confirmed, you might be interested to know that every year there is an adult confirmation here at the Cathedral, I would greatly recommend that you contact the rectory about being confirmed next year if you haven't received this important sacrament. And confirmation is an important sacrament, it is Pentecost in the life of every believer since the time of Jesus. So, if we reflect a bit on the event of Pentecost we will gain an insight into the gift of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.

    First, notice the state of the Apostles at the time before the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel we hear that they were locked in the upper room out of fear. In this part of John's gospel, Mary Magdalene had already told the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they hadn't seen him for themselves. I don't know about you, but this gives me comfort: it is ok to have some fears, doubts, and anxieties about the faith, it happened to the Apostles! What is it that takes away fear? Jesus says: Receive the Holy Spirit. My friends, we received the same Holy Spirit on the day of our confirmation. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will confirm our faith, make it strong, give us the courage to believe in Christ. The first movement of the Spirit is to take away our fears and to firm up our faith. But, the Holy Spirit is not simply inward looking, the Spirit looks to take us out into the world.

    After the Spirit comes upon the Apostles they go out and proclaim the Good News. The gift of the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it cannot stay bottled up inside one person. When we receive the gift of the Spirit, when the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it drives us to share this gift with others. Notice it says that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit were able to speak in tongues. You might ask: why doesn't that happen anymore? It does: the Church can speak in all the tongues and languages of the earth because there are those who have received the Holy Spirit in all countries, everywhere across the world. You too are called to speak in tongues, because there are people in the world who will only listen to you, maybe not simply by what you say, but also by what you do. There are people out there who are starving for Christ and will find him through you. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, because without the Holy Spirit there would be no Church, and there would be no mass. It is the Spirit that brings us together today, it is the Spirit that breathed into the authors of the Sacred Scripture we read together at Mass, it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the Spirit that fills us here at Holy Mass, but it is also the Spirit that accompanies us when we leave this Mass. Just like those first disciples, when we leave this Holy Mass we are empowered by God to carry forth the Good News to the entire world.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I am the Vine

5th Sunday of Easter 2012:

    Our seminarian Matt received a care package the other day from a school in the diocese. Inside this package there were some handmade cards from the school children. One of these cards had a line dividing the front in two. On one half of the card there was a beautiful grape vine that was lush and green with leaves and large clusters of grapes. The other side was not so good, it was drawn with a gray marker, there was no green, no leaves, and no grapes. There was a caption on both sides. On the left side it said: with God and prayerJ. The right side says without God and following the devilL. What wisdom from this little kid!

Did you ever stop to think about the Christian message? In the popular presentation of the faith emphasis is always placed on difficult truths of the faith, and there are many: Christianity is a life of sacrifice, suffering, and difficulty at times. We would never deny this! Christianity is a life of imitation of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of the world. Christians therefore must deny themselves, take up the cross and follow after Christ. If anyone tries to sell another kind of Christianity, beware! There can be no Christianity without the Cross. But if we simply acknowledge the difficulties of Christianity we might forget why we carry these crosses in the first place. Jesus says today in the gospel: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. This is the simple truth of Christianity: without Christ we can do nothing, without him there is no joy, no hope, no blessedness. Without Christ we are dead branches, there is no fruit without Christ. But with him there is joy, love, peace, communion. Sure, Christianity includes sacrifice, self-denial, suffering, and the cross. But, as St. Paul said, we must consider these things as nothing when we behold the glory that awaits. Truly, following God means life and fruitfulness, not following God and being with the devil means death and barrenness.

St. John tells us what this looks like in the 2nd reading: Children let us love not in word and speech, but in deed and truth. Wow, that really tells it like it is: if we want to be at peace, if we want to have joy and fruitfulness, if we want a life of Christian happiness, the path is one of love, not simply in what we say, but in how we live.

Now this might be a bit daunting: this gets us back to that cross: if it were easy to love in deed and in truth we wouldn't need this command would we? But, it can be difficult to love, to lay our lives down for others, to sacrifice and to overcome temptation. We know our sins make us miserable, we know that following God makes us healthy and happy; but, how do we overcome those sins?

Think again about the vine analogy. Jesus is the vine we are the branches. When we stay connected with Jesus his life flows through us, and when his life flows through us so does his strength and goodness. When the love of Christ flows through us we become loving, when the goodness of Christ flows through us we become good and holy. If we are not attached to Christ we wither and die, but attached to him we grow and thrive. This happens for me no more powerfully than in this Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion the life of Christ flows into us. We are no more fully united to Jesus than here at this altar. Here we are in the presence of Christ, we are in the presence of the vine and we find in him life, goodness, truth, strength, and joy. Christianity includes sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial, but there is no other way to peace, joy, life, and fruitfulness. Indeed there are only 2 choices: being with God, which gives us life and joy; not following God and being with the devil which causes us pain, sadness, barrenness and leads to emptiness and death. When considered in this way, there is only one choice: whoever remains in me and I in you will bear much fruit, because without me, Jesus says, you can do nothing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Do we see Jesus?

3rd Sunday of Easter 2012:

We continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior. The resurrection is vital to our faith, vital to Christianity. It should be vital to each of us personally. Because in the person of Christ raised from the dead we see our hope for eternal life, we see the source of our joy, and the inspiration for following the commandments. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain, St. Paul said so long ago. But, our faith is not in vain, Jesus is raised from the dead. St. Peter says it so well today in our first reading: the author of life was put to death, but God raised him from the dead, of this we are witnesses.

These 50 days of Easter is a time to reflect on the resurrection, a gift to us from the Church as a way to bolster our faith. Perhaps when we reflect on this good news we are bit like those first disciples? Jesus makes his presence known to them and what is their reaction: they are startled and terrified! Jesus says: Peace be with you, and the response is terror. I can almost hear Jesus: gee thanks you guys, I rise from the dead and it terrifies you? Yes, and for several reasons. First, the resurrection is hard to believe, usually when people die, they stay dead. To see Jesus walking and talking would be terrifying because this is not what usually happens. Also, they might be afraid because their record is shaky: they had just betrayed and abandoned Jesus. Third, they might have been terrified because of the implications of Jesus resurrection: if Jesus is raised from the dead, then he is truly who he said he was, and if he is truly who he said he was then they had to listen to him, they had to be like him, they had to lay their lives down the way that he laid his down for them. No wonder the disciples were terrified. But, what takes away their fear? They had an experience of the risen Jesus, they saw him face to face, they touched his body, they saw that the resurrection was not just some spiritual ideal, not just an idea about Jesus; rather, the resurrection was a plain and simple fact: Jesus is truly risen from the dead.

We might be filled with those same terrors when we reflect on the resurrection this Easter season. The resurrection is hard to believe: do we really believe that this man, Jesus, died, was buried, but rose on the third day. Can we believe this, do we believe this? These questions might fill us with doubt, terror.

We might be ashamed of all our sins and weaknesses. When we think about the risen Christ, his holiness and purity, if we think that Jesus is with us at all times, we might be afraid and ashamed: who am I to be in the presence of Christ.

We too might be afraid of the implications, if Jesus is truly raised, if he really is who he said he was, if he is not just some ancient character in an old book, but if he is truly raised doesn't that change everything. Wouldn't we have to change our lives if Jesus is really and truly raised from the dead? Maybe there is something we are holding on to that we don't want to let go of, maybe we would rather not be Christ's disciples… But, if, like those early disciples, we have an experience of the risen Jesus our fears and anxieties will disappear, we will gladly follow Jesus because we will see in him the truth of our existence.

Just like those first disciples we draw near to Christ in his body and blood. Right here on this altar we see Jesus, maybe not in the same form as those apostles, but no less Christ. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, because it is Jesus. No wonder the priest says before communion: the peace of the Lord be with you always. Reflecting on the resurrection may fill us with some doubts and terrors, but if we follow God's commands and draw close to Christ in the holy Eucharist we will see Jesus, we will know him, and he will fill us with his peace.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ is Risen: Alleluia, Alleluia

Today is the most important day of the year, because today we remember the most important day in the history of the world. Today we remember the most important event in human history. Today we celebrate the feast of Easter. We recall that day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By his rising from the dead, Christ destroys sin and death forever. He liberates us from our captivity. He gives to each of us the promise of everlasting life. In the resurrection we see the great victory of Christ our hero.

The resurrection is the most important event in human history, but it should also be the most important event in our lives as individuals, because the resurrection is the center of our faith and our source of meaning. Everything that the Catholic Church teaches is held together by the resurrection. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, this is shown most clearly when he rises from the dead. In the resurrection of Christ we see the promise of eternal life for each of us, because if Jesus is raised from the dead then we believe that he will raise us as well. All the doctrines of the Church become easy to believe if we first believe in the resurrection.

And, second, if we believe in the resurrection of Christ this event will lend new meaning to our lives. It is a certain fact that we experience much pain and suffering in this life. We experience physical and emotional pain, we experience sickness, we experience grief, sadness, loneliness, and worst of all we experience death. However, in the heart of each human person there is a subtle rebellion against these experiences. Somewhere deep down we fight against pain, sadness, loneliness, and death. Deep within the human person is an unsettling feeling that this isn't right: we are not supposed to suffer, we are not supposed to die. If we believe that human existence is nothing more than pure chance, then our existence is quite absurd. If death is simply a part of life, then our dissatisfaction with suffering and death simply leads to a kind of meaninglessness, because our lives are empty. This is the sad state of affairs for those who do not believe in Christ. But, for those of us who do believe in the resurrection, we see everything differently don't we? When Jesus rises from the dead, he changes everything. No longer does suffering, pain, hardship, and death have the last word. These things had plenty to say on Good Friday, when Christ suffered and died. But, he silenced them forever by rising today. So when we suffer, when we grieve, when we are lonely, or in pain we look to that empty tomb and see in the resurrection of Christ an end to pain, suffering, and death.

But, the resurrection of Jesus cannot remain simply an historical event, because a merely historical event will not give us meaning and direction. Rather, our faith in the resurrection must come from an experience with the risen Christ. Look at St. Peter for example. Just 3 days ago he denied our Lord 3 times, but today we read about him preaching the truth to thousands: what changed? He experienced Christ risen from the dead. What about us? Can we see Jesus? The empty tomb is Good News. The empty tomb means that Jesus is no longer bound by time and space. The empty tomb means that Jesus is available and present to all believers. We might not see Jesus the way St. Peter saw him, but we can indeed meet Jesus in our lives because he is no longer in that tomb, he is risen.

We see this most clearly when we come here to this altar, when we celebrate this holy Eucharist we see the Risen Christ. Now it is true that we see him in another mode, we don't see him exactly as those early disciples did, but it is no less real, no less true. Jesus Christ, the one risen from the dead, comes to us each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. It is this experience of the risen Christ that fills us with joy, that fills us with Easter faith. Christ is truly risen: alleluia, alleluia.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday 2012

            I was once at a priest’s funeral in Boston.  The preacher was one of the spiritual directors of the seminary.  He began his homily with a phrase that he repeated several times during the homily: we are a resurrection people, and alleluia is our song. 
How right he was!  The resurrection is what makes us Christian.  Without the resurrection there would be no Christianity, there would be no Mass today, there would be no eternal life, no good news, no gospel to preach.  Even Saint Paul said that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.  Indeed we are a resurrection people, and alleluia is our song.  But, as you know, every year during Lent we forego the alleluia.  Right about now, I’m ready to sing that again.  I miss this song.  Why do we go without this during the season of Lent?  I think it is the same reason that we spend today reading the passion of Christ.  In fact, this whole week, Holy Week, is a week-long reflection on the passion and death of Christ.  Why not go straight to the resurrection?  Because Jesus didn’t go straight to the resurrection.
Indeed we are a resurrection people, but we will only understand what that means in light of the crucifixion of Christ.  We will only understand the depth of Christ’s love by reflecting upon the depths of his suffering.  And when we reflect upon the cross we see this simple truth: the resurrection can only take place because of the suffering of Christ.  And if it was true for Jesus, it will be true for us Christians who bear his name: we too will participate in the resurrection of Christ if we patiently suffer our daily burdens as Christ did.
Before we celebrate the resurrection of Christ we must ponder his suffering and death, and when we do so it gives new meaning to our own suffering, which leads to eternal life.  Indeed we are a resurrection people, alleluia is our song; but before we can celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we must ponder the mystery of Christ crucified.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

3rd Scrutiny

5th Sunday of Lent 2012:

Today we hear of the raising of Lazarus. We see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel: Jesus is opening the graves of the dead and calling Lazarus to come out. This reading is one of the more popular readings for funeral masses. Whenever I die, this is the reading I want read at the funeral. This story has an amazing way of capturing the human experience with death. We can all sympathize with the sisters: Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died. This captures well the pain and anguish that we go through when we encounter the death of someone we love: God why did you let this happen? But, Martha follows it with a wonderful statement of faith: I know my brother will rise on the last day. This is a perfect summary of our faith in Christ. We know that Christ has power over death. We know that through his own death and resurrection, Christ has set us free. We know that all those who believe in him will never die. This is our faith. So while we might question why God would allow suffering and death, our faith fills us with hope, not only for our deceased loved ones, but for ourselves as well. And who cannot help but be moved by hearing about our Savior weeping with the family. I find this to be a powerful consolation in difficult times. Christ is right there with us. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but he is not distant or aloof. Rather, Christ is right beside us in good times and in bad times.

So for all these reasons, this gospel makes a wonderful reading at funerals. But, today we read this in a different context. Today we will celebrate the 3rd rite of scrutiny for our elect. I find it interesting that the Church has given us this reading for those about to be baptized. First, it is important to see in Jesus the one who has power over death. All of the catechumen should see in Jesus our savior, the one who can give us eternal life. Surely, this is an important reason as to why they are coming to baptism. But, I want us to think a bit about Lazarus. We see that Lazarus dies, is called out by Jesus, and then lives again. I cannot help but see this as a symbol for baptism. Even since the time of St. Paul, baptism is seen as a little death. If we have died with Christ, we shall live with Christ. Just as Lazarus was buried in the tomb, our catechumens will be buried in the tomb of baptism. Then, when they are washed free of their sins, Christ will call them forward from the tomb. He will order the burial clothes of their old way of life removed, and Jesus will set these catechumens free to live a new kind of life.

Of course, those of us who are baptized already should see ourselves as having died to our former way of life. We have been freed by our Savior. We are dead to sin, and alive in Christ.