Sunday, March 31, 2013

He is Risen!

Easter Sunday 2013:
Happy Easter to everyone.  Today we celebrate the greatest day in the history of the world.  We celebrate that day when Christ rose from the dead.  Let that sink in: Christ rose from the dead.  We all know it is the center of our Christian faith to believe in Christ, especially in his death and resurrection.  But, sometimes something as important and as central as our belief in the resurrection can become something we get used to, something we take for granted, something that no longer excites us.  So my exhortation for Easter this year is to get excited.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  No wonder we sing Alleluia!
Today in our gospel we hear about Peter and the beloved disciple running to the tomb in order to investigate what they heard from Mary.  Now, let me make a little confession.  I hate running!  Now, I know many people who love running, they love jogging, they run marathons, etc.  But, not me, I hate running.  As soon as I start running my mind starts to second guess this decision: why am I running, I can’t breathe, you know you are never going to make it very far, why not just stop now, eventually you are going to stop anyway…  With thoughts like these, it is no surprise then that I never run very far, nor do I keep it up; I have often started a program of jogging or running in the past, but it never lasts.  As most of you know, I’m the chaplain at Marian and whenever I talk to the kids on the track or cross country teams I always have a running joke with them: I only run if someone is chasing me with a gun or a knife.  Ok, so you get the idea, I don’t like running.
But, I love basketball and I love racquetball.  Put me in a little court with white walls and I will run back and forth for hours chasing down a little green or blue ball.  Put me on a basketball court and I will sprint around for hours trying to dribble a basketball and put it into a metal hoop.  I hate running, but I will run all day if I chase a little ball or dribble a basketball.  What is the difference?  I can run all day if I have goal, if I have something to chase.  I know myself well enough to know that if I run without a goal, and without a sufficient motivation, I will never be able to keep it up, I wear down, I start to have doubts, I end up giving it up.  But, put a ball in front of me, give me something to chase, and I will run for hours.
I think this can be a certain analogy of life.  St. Paul calls it a race, run so as to win he says.  All of us are running.  That's just life.  But, do we have direction, focus, and motivation?  Why are we running?  Unless we have something concrete and inspirational in front of us I think the run becomes too grueling.  I mean life is hard.  We battle trials and temptations.  We have doubts and concerns.  We face tragedy, turmoil, sickness, death, and sadness.  What are the thoughts and feelings going through our minds?  If we let the doubts, the fears, the anxieties of life have the upper hand, life becomes unbearable, it becomes a torturous slog that we plow through.  But, if we are excited, if we have a goal in front of us, if we have a reason, we will bear the hardships and fight through whatever adversity we might face.
Our gospel today gives us just such a goal.  The disciples ran for that empty tomb.  They ran to investigate the resurrection.  They ran to encounter the risen Jesus.  In our own lives, our motivation should be the same.  We run to see Jesus.
However, today, Easter Sunday, it is easy to be excited about the resurrection.  Today it seems natural for us to run to the empty tomb.  But, it is certainly the case that sometimes we lose our motivation.  Sometimes we might forget why we are running.  Sometimes those doubts, anxieties, and trials of our lives can cause us to forget why we are running.  So, we need constantly to renew our interest in the resurrection.  We need to renew our interest and excitement for that empty tomb.  Here at this mass, and at every mass, every day, and especially every Sunday, we renew our faith in the resurrection.  We celebrate anew the saving mysteries of our faith.  Here at this Holy Eucharist, we see Jesus, we see our goal, our motivation.  No wonder we all go to Mass every Sunday, it helps us to run the race of our human lives.  Here at Mass we see why we are running, and through the power of this sacrament we receive the grace, like Peter and the beloved disciple, to run all the way to the resurrection.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marian All School Mass

All School Mass at Marian 3/20/13
Today in the gospel Jesus sets up a contrast, on the one hand there is freedom, and on the other there is slavery.  Now, if I asked every one of you which you would prefer, slavery or freedom, you would all surely pick freedom I would think.  I don’t think anyone would want to be a slave.  Nothing could be more harmful to the human spirit than to be enslaved by another. 
But, as is often the case, Christ is talking about deeper concepts of freedom and slavery.  In fact, he is talking about the freedom and slavery of the spirit.  If you remain in my word you will be my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  The people Jesus was speaking to in the gospel immediately bristled at this concept: they remarked, we are slaves of no one.  Jesus replies, anyone who sins is a slave to sin.  This is a huge contrast to what our culture thinks about slavery and freedom.  Today in our world, freedom is the ability to do what you want whenever you want it.  Slavery, on the other hand, is listening to other people.  Freedom is getting to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, slavery is accepting objective moral truths.  The Catholic Church has been in the news a great deal over the last couple of weeks, and I just find it amazing how wrong people can be about truth and freedom.  I have read a number of articles in newspapers, websites, and blogs wondering if the new pope will change church teaching on sex, marriage, contraception, homosexuality, celibacy, abortion, and on and on.  The articles always go the same way, “people are calling for the church to update its teachings on a number of issues…”  Our culture has got it exactly wrong, freedom is not doing whatever you want, freedom can only come from truth, we learn the truth by being disciples of Jesus, we become disciples of Jesus by listening to his word.
And what is Jesus’ word?  Remember that Jesus did not come to accuse us, to push us down, to discourage us, Jesus came to liberate us.  Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.  God sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  Over and again, Jesus reaches out to us to lift us up, to help us, to inspire us.  He came to bring us the truth, and this truth will set us free.  Don’t you want that, don’t you want to be free? 
My friends, there is no other way around it.  Sin is terrible.  It will kill us.  There is only one pathway to life, happiness, holiness, and the eternal life of heaven, and it is Jesus. 
The election of Pope Francis has caused me to reflect upon the office of the Pope, and even upon the Church itself.  Who is the pope?  What is the Church?  This is an important question that we should ask ourselves.  The Church is something that the secular media just doesn’t understand.  They think of the Church as some kind of democratic club or organization.  But, that is not what the church is; rather, the Church is the body of Christ.  The Church is guided and directed by God.  Its main mission is simple.  Jesus said remain in my word, become my disciples, and you will know the truth.  That is what the Church is: the Church spreads the word of God, it is the union of Jesus’ disciples, it is where we find the truth. 
In our first reading we hear about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, these three men were enslaved by Nebuchadnezzar.  But inside they were free.  They knew God, the trusted in him, and no matter what the pagan king told them, they did what was right.  Can we say the same thing in our own lives?  Do we know God, are our hearts free, are we able to reject the lies of our world and hold fast to the truth?  If so we will experience a freedom unlike anything the world can offer us.  You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

St Pius Penance Service

Fr. Bill Schooler asked me to give the reflection at his annual Lenten penance service.  The gospel of the prodigal son was read during the service...

This evening we gather here for the purpose of celebrating and receiving God’s bountiful mercy.  I thank Fr. Bill for inviting me back.  I think this is my 4th straight year of coming to St. Pius for these talks, so you haven’t gotten sick of me yet!  Thanks.
What a crazy couple of weeks this has been.  I for one was somewhat saddened by the news that Pope Benedict was going to resign.  But, recently we have been quite energized along with Catholics throughout the world: habemus Papam, we have a pope, and what a pope we have too.  I don’t know if you are like me, but I have been on the Vatican’s multiple websites every day reading whatever I can about the words and activities of the pope.  In fact, I got up at 3:30 this morning so I could watch the Pope’s Mass of inauguration on TV.  Francis is a compassionate and simple man who speaks with a kind of directness I find very appealing.  As I was composing my thoughts for this penance service today, I thought the best thing I could do would be to share with you a couple of things the Pope has said in recent days.
  Tonight we just heard the story of the Prodigal Son, or, as it can be called, the parable of the Older Son.  I don’t think anyone is exempt from the parable.  We are all sinners, we all need God’s mercy.  We are like one of the two sons, or sometimes a combination.  Maybe we have wandered far from God in our sinfulness, maybe we have squandered what God has given us by our sins and selfish choices.  God is looking for us and ready to run out to meet us.  Perhaps we don’t see ourselves in the Prodigal Son, but one pitfall of being a disciple of Jesus is that it is quite easy to become that Older Son.  It is quite easy to forget just how much God loves us, it is easy for us to think we somehow deserve God’s love, his gifts.  Sunday morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at a small parish church in the Vatican.  His homily that day touched on mercy.  He said something quite profound: “he has come for us when we recognize we are sinners; mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message.”  How beautiful: he has come for us, but we have to recognize we are sinners.  We all need God’s mercy.  Christ cannot be our savior unless we recognize that we are in need of saving.  The prodigal son certainly recognized this, he found that his life of sin left him totally miserable, so he decided to return to his Father: he has come for us when we recognize we are sinners.
Maybe some of us have experienced this profound conversion experience.  We find ourselves, like the prodigal son, fed up with our sins and we can only turn to God for help.  Maybe that is what is bringing some of us here tonight, and that is great and wonderful.  God rejoices to welcome us back.  But, for most of us conversion is an ongoing process.  I don’t know if you are like me, but I really do get sick and tired of confessing the same things over and over again.  Believe me, I know my sins, I struggle against them, but I also find myself falling.  It can get quite discouraging.  How many times can we find ourselves in the pig slop, how many times must we slog our way back to the father’s house?  Again, Francis said something about this that was quite beautiful.  Sunday during his angelus message he said: “let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking him to forgive us: Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”  No matter how often we find ourselves in the pig slop, God never tires of forgiving us, of welcoming us back.  It is we who sometimes tire of asking. 
My friends we are here to encounter our merciful God in the sacrament of confession.  Let me leave you with some final words from Pope Francis that he spoke to the people of Argentina this morning that I think apply quite well to confession: “draw near to God. God is good. He always forgives and understands. Do not be afraid of him. Draw near to him.”  This is precisely what happens in confession, we draw near to God, who never tires of forgiving us.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Go and sin no more

5th Sunday of Lent Year C:
            In today’s gospel we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery.  This is a helpful and insightful gospel.  But, unfortunately, it really only applies to people who are sinners.  So if you are not a sinner you can stop paying attention for the next couple of minutes.  Now, for the rest of us, we are all included here.  Whether our sins are more like that of the woman, or that of the Pharisees and scribes, either way you look at it, this story is talking about us.  I think that if we reflect on this passage we will gain a terrific insight into God's mercy, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.
At the heart of this story is Jesus. He is put in a terrible position.  The scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap him.  According to the law this woman should be put to death for her sins.  If Jesus simply overlooks the woman's sin he would give the impression that sin does not matter and that we should overlook the commandments. But, stoning this woman contradicts his message of mercy: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all those who believe in him might have eternal life. Jesus came to lift us out of sin, not to smite us on account of sin. His solution to the problem is very simple and beautiful. He reminds the scribes and Pharisees that none of us are free from sin, if we remember that we are all in need of God's mercy, we will be more merciful to others. But, then he tells the woman, go and sin no more.  Jesus tells us that we all need God’s mercy, and we need to move away from sin.
            When I meditate on this passage I think about the sacrament of Confession because it really covers all sinners.  Sometimes we are like that woman.  Maybe there is someone out there who is struggling with grave sin.  If so, we have absolutely nothing to fear.  God is all love, all the time.  Christ did not come to condemn, but to heal.  The woman in the story must have seen that compassion written on his face, or else she would have reacted quite differently.  Of course confession makes us nervous, don't you think the woman caught in adultery was nervous?  But, we have nothing to fear.  Jesus came not to condemn, but to heal.  This is what the condemning men in the story did not understand at first.  More than likely, this is what we fail to understand as well.  It is easy to pick up those rocks and hurl them at others who may be sinners, or have offended us personally.  But, as Jesus says, let the one who has not sinned be the first to throw the stone.  The central message of this story is that mercy is for everyone; confession is for everyone, it is only in our sacramental experience of the merciful Christ that we can hear him speak to each one of us: neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.
            Remember, Jesus did not come to condemn, to accuse us, or to discourage us. Jesus came to inspire us, to lift us up, to heal us. In the sacrament of Confession we see the compassionate face of Christ; he forgives us, heals us, and then sends us away with a challenging but inspiring message to go and sin no more. As we enter into the last two weeks of Lent, it is a wonderful time for us to make use of the sacrament of confession. We will have many extra hours of confessions in the next couple of weeks, so check the bulletin. I'm sure that most of you are already planning to go to confession. But, maybe somebody here is nervous or afraid.  Maybe someone thinks they have done something so bad that they cannot be forgiven, think of today's story and trust in the compassion of Christ.  Or, maybe someone thinks they are not sinners and don't really need forgiveness: be inspired by the example of those scribes and Pharisees and remember that we are all in need of God's healing, a healing we find in the sacrament of reconciliation. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Second Scrutiny

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C (Scrutiny readings) 2013:
Today we celebrate the second rite of scrutiny.  There is a marvelous continuity between the gospel readings chosen for these three weeks. Last week we heard the story of the woman at the well.  Central to that story was the notion of thirst.  The woman came to that well thirsty for water.  Jesus came to that well thirsting for that woman’s faith.  In the interaction between that woman and Jesus, he also was able to show her that she had a deeper longing, a thirst that can only be satisfied by God.  My friends, Christ is thirsting also for us.  That is why he came to earth, and we are all thirsting for him. 
But, today’s gospel highlights an obstacle, a difficulty in finding that water for which we all thirst.  Today’s gospel focuses on blindness.  This story about the historical encounter between Jesus and a blind man tells us much more than simply about one of Jesus’ miracles.  Rather, this miracle sheds light onto the very mystery of faith.  We are that blind man.  We are born into blindness.  Because of Original Sin, we are unable to see God, to perceive him in this world.  As men and women, made in God’s image and likeness, we have never lost our innate capacity for God, we have never lost our innate desire for God; yet, when our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden they lost their vision, they were no longer able to see God. 
So, we are all thirsting for Christ.  We long to find him, and yet we are blind.  What a miserable state of existence.  But, God had mercy on us and looked upon us in our lowliness.  For, in the fullness of time he sent his only begotten son to be the light of the World.  Our passage today can only be understood in light of the beginning of St. John’s gospel.  There he says: John 1:1-4  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be  4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; and later The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  Jesus Christ is the Word through whom all things were made, and the true light, which came into the world.  Christ is not only the font of water for which we thirst, he is also the light that can cast away our darkness.
How does he do this in the reading?  We notice that he heals the blind man, but does it with some pretty ordinary means: he makes clay and then the man washes in water.  Very simply, very humbly, Jesus works an amazing sign.  He doesn’t heal the blind man with a flash of lightning, nor with a violent earthquake or tremendous thunderclap, rather simply and humbly through ordinary signs and means.  This is why I see this healing in the gospel is a clear type for the sacraments.  In the sacraments God works amazing signs, but he does it by humble means.  We should see in the healing of this blind man a representation of baptism.  When we were baptized, and when these catechumen are baptized, there is washing and the healing of blindness.  Even today, Christ continues to work great signs through simple and humble ways.
But, I think this passage has another important insight.  Notice that while the man is instantly able to see, he doesn’t yet clearly perceive Christ.  He seems to grow and change through the course of the story.  I think this is a good reminder for each of us.  That while our eyes may have been opened to faith in baptism, that is only the beginning of the story.  We all grow, we all change, we all need to deepen our understanding, our vision of Christ.  But, just as that healing came through that simple, humble sign, so will our growth.  The sacraments, especially confession and Eucharist, are the principle means willed by our Savior for us to grow in faith.  As we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, we pray for our catechumen, that God will heal their blindness and give them faith, but let us also pray for all the baptized, that through this Eucharist we will grow in our faith and come to see in Christ the true light which enlightens everyone.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Third Sunday of Lent Year C 2013:
            Lent is a season of prayer and penance.  It is a time to enter the desert with Jesus, a time to look at our lives and repent of our sinfulness.  And I believe that the theme of repentance is the proper context for us to understand our gospel reading today.  This is an interesting, if not strange passage in the gospel.  What is Jesus getting at?
            First, Jesus addresses the concerns that some of the people have about certain tragedies or atrocities that happened in his day.  There was the massacre of Herod and the loss of life when a tower fell.  We could add tragedies from our own times: the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Katrina disaster, the Newtown massacre, just to name a few.  Jesus responds to what must have been an idea prevalent at the time, namely that these bad things happened to these people because they were bad people, and God was punishing them.  I heard similar things about our own tragedies, that 9/11 was God's response to abortion, or that Katrina was God's way of cleansing the sin of Bourbon Street.  But, Jesus instantly rejects this idea and so should we.  Why does Jesus do this?  I think there are two reasons.
            First, if we say that God does bad things to bad people, what does that say about God?  Do we really want to think of disasters or tragedies as God inflicting punishment on sinners?  This doesn't sound loving or merciful.  This kind of behavior sounds petty and vindictive.  Do we really want to say that God is petty and vindictive?  We must remember that 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.  Also, God sent Jesus not to condemn the world, but to save the world.  We will often hear in times of sadness or tragedy, that God has a plan.  But, we must always be careful to remember that God never causes evil.  It is certainly true that when evil occurs, whether it is natural evil like hurricanes or moral evil like the Newtown tragedy, that God can bring good out of the suffering, he aids us in our times of need.  But, God does not cause evil.
            The second reason Jesus dismisses this idea is that he wants to remind us that repentance is for everyone.  If we think that God inflicts tragedy on bad people, and we are not the recipients of a tragedy, then we must be perfectly fine.  This kind of thinking goes like this: "Well God punished New Orleans with Katrina, those people must have been bad, good thing I am so awesome..."  A certain lack of humility will set in and we will forget about our basic need for repentance.  We are all sinners and we all need to change.  And, the stakes are high: Jesus says that if we don’t repent we will perish.
            This doesn’t mean that God is out to get us.  So you don’t have to worry that if you sin the St. Matt’s bell tower is going to fall on you when you leave the church today.  But, it is definitely true that sin kills the sinner.  It is not that God kills us if we sin; rather, it is that we are killing ourselves by our sinfulness.  And this is not a physical kind of death, but rather a spiritual death.  Sin is not good for us, it leads us away from God, it detaches us from one another, it leads to loneliness and isolation, hardship and suffering.  So, we should repent of our sinfulness not simply because we are afraid that God will “get us.”  Rather, each of us should move away from our sinfulness because we want more.  We were made for life, not death; for happiness, not sadness; for peace, not for violence.
            Jesus doesn’t call us to repentance so as to accuse us of our sinfulness; rather, hear his words as a loving invitation.  We stand at the crossroads, one way leads to sin, sadness, and death.  The other leads to life, happiness, and peace.  Which way will we choose?